Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Cream of the Crop

Why do you think it is that some magazine writers, are more successful than the majority of magazine writers, both financially and career wise? Whenever I read about professional writers doing well, I find myself grabbing one of my cats and weeping with envy into their fur. Or I have to go and do something drastic, like weed the garden or clean behind the cooker, to get rid of my angst at not being able to be a successful writer. Throw into that, I live in the UK (horribly low pay rates) and it's enough to make the management track at the supermarket look tempting. :) I know the usual advice is 'ditch the not-so-profitable mags and go for higher paying ones' but how can you do that when you need the former to pay the bills? Is it just lack of faith on my part? A lack of faith that the bills won't get paid if I ditch the low-profit mags? Or that the more profitable magazines will take one look at my work and say: 'get back to the trades honey, you ain't cut out for this world.'

Okay, this is a big, sweeping question that I'll do my best to answer, but I'm not sure that there are indeed concrete answers to it. And that's because there are a lot of intangibles that lead to success in this business, in my opinion, not the least of which is luck. Yep, luck. Look, I'm not going to dispute that I can write a kick-ass article, because I can. And yeah, I think I'm a decent fiction writer too, but I'm not so pompous as to assume that part of the reason that I've had more success than some other writers isn't due to dumb luck. I landed a big ghostwriting gig right at the start of my freelancing career (The Knot Book of Wedding Flowers), and yes, arguably, it was my writing skills that landed me that gig, but it was also timing and sheer luck. That I happened to be getting married at the time they were looking for a writer. That I happened to pitch them a story idea at this very same time. That I'd previously happened to be hired to ghostwrite for some celebrities and the Knot wanted someone who was interested in weddings, as well as who had ghostwriting experience, etc, etc, etc. So they hired me. And from there, I landed my first national story in Bride's. It was one of my first pitches, actually. So yeah, I definitely think that some of this was due to sheer luck. Lucky me.

Now. There are many who will argue that you make your own luck, and I am among those many. (This, incidentally, is a big theme in TDLF.) I'm not sitting at home rubbing rabbits' feet, hoping that good things will happen to me. I'm going out there and creating every. possible. opportunity. in order for some of this good fortune to come my way. That means querying, querying, querying. It means being open to opportunities that you wouldn't necessarily originally be interested in. It means admitting that there might be room for improvement in your writing and seeking out classes or critique groups to bolster you.

One of the underlying commonalities that all successful writers share, I believe, is that they're a) persistent and b) unsinkable. Which means that no matter how often they're rejected, they'll keep at it, and they don't let all of these dings to their armor get them down. There's no crying in publishing. Okay, that's not true. There's plenty of crying in publishing, but there's no drowning in your tears. Because there are too many other writers who won't drown, and no one will miss you if you do. Rejection is a matter of fact in our industry, and the writers who make it are the ones who don't take it personally and who use it to push themselves higher.

So what does all of this add up to? Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. What's your other option? Quitting? If quitting is an option, then I'd say - and I don't mean this rudely at all, only as advice to people who waver in this industry - that writing probably isn't a career for you. Because there are too many other things for you to do and be good at and be happy at than to bog yourself down in a writing career that you'd be okay walking away from. I once had an acting teacher tell me the same thing: if can think of anything else you want to do with your life, then do that, not this, and I think the same thing applies to writing. And if you can't think of anything else, then hang in there! Timing, persistence and skills will often pay off in the end.

So readers, what do you think separate the successful writers from the rest?

3 comments:

Dawn Weinberger said...

Also, keep in mind that success for you could be something completely different than success for another writer. Set your own goals and create your own definition of success! Yes, as a prolific writer for well-known publications and a novelist, Allison is very succesful and an inspiration to us all. But that does not mean we all have to do exactly what she does in order to achieve success. Some writers (like me) have only written for a handful of national publications, but I have consistent work that I enjoy from newspapers in my local market and regional magazines, and this work (though less prestigious by some standards) allows me to meet my income goals in a relatively painless manner. Ultimately, what separates succsesful writers from the rest is the ability to determine what "success" means to us and to go after it!

Manic Mom said...

You said it Allison--that's the motto I got from Cindy Procter-King...

Talent, Persistence, Timing. She blogged about it once, it struck me, so I look at those words every single day, stuck next to my desk.

I also believe in this one:
A published author is an amateur who doesn't quit.

kathie said...

"there's no crying in publishing." love that one. I'll keep it in mind as I struggle through the ocean of getting close to selling a book...