Archive for October, 2007

So here are five books on writing for a living.

What I find interesting about these authors is that they have pretty different views of where writing for articles fits into the plan of becoming a successful writer. Some think it is essential. The first thing you do is go buy Writers Market, and then start writing and proposing. But for others, writing articles is only helpful in that it distracts other capable writers from competing in the ad copy business. Articles are fine for PR and self-promotion, but they pay far too little to be pursued as a real source of income.

For myself, I did buy a copy of Writers Market in a fit of hysteria, but after looking at it, I couldn’t understand why I did so. The pay is way too low, the time between acceptance and payment way too long, and you are supposed to be motivated enough to work on a proposal without knowing for certain that you have a customer. Maybe some people are able to do this often and fast enough to build a business, but my sense of things is that you would be far better off finding a couple of people who will let you write a brochure for them (for free if necessary) so that you can make a portfolio and try to get some business clients.

I talked to a publisher of a news magazine recently who was an editor about fifteen years ago when I did a few stories and book reviews for his publication. I asked him casually if he still did any journalistic assignments, as he did back when I worked for him. His answer didn’t surprise me. “Writing is for young people.” The people who write for those rates are those for whom writing is still somehow romantic as an activity. For those of us who are trying to make a living, it simply doesn’t make sense.

Of course, I’m sharing my opinion on the premise that I began a writing business earlier this year–that I am a “beginning writer” as of 2007. But I got my first job based on previous work I did part-time while a solo pastor. And I got that work based on relationships I built up before seminary when I did that low, low paying work. So I can’t deny that a history of writing can help–including a history of writing articles.

It all depends on your needs. If you have an income and can do some work on the side part time for awhile, then it might be worth investing a year of barely-worth-it writing so you can get a portfolio going (“Here are my two most recent projects,” is always technically true). My strong advice is to do some non-controversial pieces on health or technology or something that might be perceived as translatable into sales writing.

For the record, I personally found all of the above books worthwhile, even if I disagreed with a couple of them about the usefulness of writing articles for magazines.

Scrivener

I think Scrivener is a great program for writers working on long-term projects.

Sold from the hip/cool-sounding “Literature and Latte” website, Scrivener is for writers sort of what iTunes is for listeners. It organizes your writing projects and allows you to see them on the left hand column. It gives you as a user a convenient way to keep research notes connected to your manuscript, and it allows you to import a variety of things for research–web pages, audio, video, etc. If you want to keep clip art handy, it is easy to do with Scrivener. The application also has a really neat and usable virtual corkboard that allows you to see the structure of your whole project at a glance on virtual notecards.

I used the program for the first project I got when I started my business. It was a great help. I got all my sources for various sections stored in the program. The research done and organized, I was able to write it easily.

The main drawback for Scrivener, for me, is that it does not give you a WYSIWYG interface. For smaller projects I found the program wasn’t helpful. I wanted quick turn around and simply wasn’t comfortable waiting to deal with format when I was done with text. When I started my business I had envisioned doing longer projects. However, my first book (which was a really small paperback for direct marketing) turned out to be the longest project I have done. Since then I have worked on smaller projects (and found the remuneration to be just as good or better than what I have made as a book ghostwriter). For these writing jobs, I have found working in Scrivener and then converting to an office document to be too complicated. I prefer just to get it done in a way that let’s me visualize the pages.

If you have longer projects (or don’t have my hang-ups about shorter work), you will find the program extremely helpful. It is inexpensive and, even though I don’t use it in my profession as I thought I would, I still don’t regret having it available for other projects.

NOTE: this is a Mac only program.   However, the website includes a page which contains links to all Scrivener’s competition, for both Mac and PC.  If you find something that works for you, let me know.