Coaching clients sometimes ask me about how to continue a writing career that has gotten off to a promising start. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has written a book on how to break into publishing, but maintaining a writing career? Being a mid-career writer? Being a midlist writer? Those concerns are skated over.
Why? Because there are a lot fewer people in this group, and the information is less standard. If you want to get your first novel (traditionally) published, then you have to write the novel, polish the novel, find some agents to query, write a query letter, and see what happens. That’s pretty much it. There are other things you can do, but if you don’t do those things, in approximately that order, you’re not going to get anywhere.
But when someone says, “I’ve written some books, and I want to take my career to the next level,” there’s no obvious procedure you can point out. It’s a lot easier to talk about query letters. Even so, here are, forthwith, my thoughts on taking an already established writing career to the next level.
- Figure out what you want. Do you want to make a living as a writer? Do you want your books to bolster your main career and showcase your expertise? Do you have ideas you want to share with people, period? Your answers will guide your decision-making. If you just have ideas you want to share, there’s nothing wrong with starting a blog and putting together some ebooks and seeing where that goes. If you want to make a living, you have to be more strategic: who buys writing, what kind of writing do they buy, how will you find these people? If you want to be the go-to expert, then writing books is just one part of the platform-building that you need to be involved in. Speaking at conferences, doing radio interviews, and otherwise spreading the word about your brilliance should all be part of your strategy.
- Join writers’ organizations. It’s one thing to go to the local writers’ group when you’re just starting out, but if you hope to get to the next level, it helps to have mentors who are already there—people already doing what you want to be doing. After I’d published a couple of books, I joined ASJA (the American Society of Journalists and Authors) and a couple of others. Later when I started publishing novels, I joined genre organizations, like the Romance Writers of America and Thriller Writers of America. All of these organizations had well-established authors who knew what they were doing and were willing to provide mentorship to newer authors.
- If you don’t have an agent, consider getting one. But make sure it’s a good one (check out my blog posts on the querying process for more information on this).
- Network with other writers and editors. Online, there are many opportunities for this: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and more. Connecting with colleagues is a great way to find out about opportunities and to give and get referrals. Networking isn’t a scored game (you give me one and I’ll give you one) but it is a numbers games: the more you’re out there, the more you’re likely to be remembered. People who ask me for help, then piss all over my help, don’t get more help.
- Specialize. I’ve been a literary agent, a magazine editor, and an acquisitions editor for a publishing company – I’ve given lots of opportunities to writers over the years. But I have never needed to hire a writer who can write about anything. I almost always had to have a writer who can write (and has written ) about a specific niche or area of expertise or in a specific genre. You can certainly have more than one niche, but it makes life much easier to be able to say, “I write about x.” That’s not just for editors, by the way, that’s also for you. “I can write about anything for anyone” doesn’t give you any idea of what your next step should be. “I write about tech issues businesses face” gives you a lot more information about what you should be doing right about now.
- But diversify. The “diversify” part of the plan means that you should look for more than one kind of outlet for your writing. For example, I found early on if I wanted to keep writing books, I had to promote them, and one way I could promote them was to write articles based on the material, for which I got paid. It’s a nice little racket once you figure it out. Now more than ever writers have plenty of outlets: blogs (your own and others), podcasts, traditional book publishing, traditional magazine publishing, self-publishing, trade publishing, online magazines, podcasts. That’s just the surface. If you’re working in a couple different areas, if one disappears tomorrow, you are not dead in the water.