50 Ways to Sell Your Writing (Part Two)

A little while back I wrote the first part of this two-part series on the myriad ways to make a living putting words on paper (or on the ethereal electronic shared hallucination that is the internet). Click here for part one

The short version of why I’m writing this. Our culture and school system do a terrible job of explaining how to make a living doing creative work. I don’t know how to make a living as a singer, or sculptor, but I know 50 ways to do it as a writer.

So here’s the second third of those 50 ways.

17. Cyrano DeBergeracing. Online dating doesn’t really have a stigma anymore, and why would it? Some people take it a step further and have people write their profiles, and even communicate with potential dates, for them on Match.com and the like. Pros: surprisingly robust market. Kind of fun. Cons: A bit sleazy.

18. Press Releases. Since the Internet made everybody a journalist, the demand for press releases is greater than ever. It’s a specialized skill, but one you can pick up pretty quickly. Pros: High pay per word and per hour. Cons: Becomes formulaic quickly.

19. Native Content Creation. Native content is the newspeak word for advertising that looks like journalism. It’s the “investigative” article about a vitamin supplement that comes to the conclusion that it’s pretty neat and people should buy it. There’s a bottomless market for this kind of work. Pros: Regular work. Cons: Pay is low, and the work isn’t the most honest ever.

20. Grant Writing. Nonprofit organizations, corporations, and individuals can ask governments and charities for money. Writing the request is a skill in and of itself, and one the people who run those organizations and corporations lack. Pros: You’re bringing in money, so your employer will invest accordingly. You’re doing good works. Cons: Specialized and highly competitive market. More feast-or-famine than other writing gigs.

21. Catalog Copy. You know those little blurbs describing products in print and web catalogs? Somebody had to write them. Often it’s the person at the company who said “123 Not It!” last, but the best companies hire it done. Pros: Lots of repeat work once you get in the door. High pay per word. Cons: It gets really, really repetitive. If doing it online, you’ll probably need some strong WordPress or other light coding chops.

22. Technical Writing (Full Time)Technical writing is the art of translating from geek to regular english, and consists of writing the instructions and spec manuals of things. The bulk of this market is for software, but you can still find gigs for actual, physical products. It’s also one of the few writing gigs that has a strong market for full-time jobs with benefits and paid vacation. Pros: Very high pay scale for writing. Cons: all the disadvantages of a regular job.

23. Technical Writing (Freelance). You can also do technical writing as a freelancer, though this usually consists of taking full-time assignments serially. Pros: Even higher pay scale. This specific gig routinely makes the list for Top Ten Jobs For Quality of Life. Cons: you will need more formal education to be seriously considered for these writing jobs than for others.

24. Webcomics. If you like to draw, the comics market has exploded online. Blogging a regular comic strip takes a huge amount of work and dedication, but the rewards can be equally huge. The Oatmeal‘s card game Exploding Kittens Kickstarted at 8 Million. Pros: really, really interesting work. All the freedom of self-publishing. Cons: Very niche market with high barrier for entry. Requires extremely regular updating.

25. Webseries. What happened with publishing books last decade is beginning to happen with film. If you can write a good script and find actors and a cameraperson, you can put your work up on YouTube and derive ad revenue. If it succeeds, Patreon and Kickstarter will provide other forms of funding. Pros: Potentially staggering income. Lots of secondary income possibilities. Cons: Most webseries make very little money. Requires more skills and people to make happen.

26. Graphic Novels. You can also write your comics in book form and release them in volumes online. Many of the most successful webcomics collect their online posts into graphic novels once or twice a year. Pros: The graphic novel industry is growing hugely, and becoming more critically accepted. Cons: You have to know how to draw. Print costs are much higher than a regular book.

27. Online Curation. The great thing about the modern web is there is so much information available. The problem with the modern web is there is so much information available. Online curators find the best and most relevant pieces of info and guide readers to them. You’ve seen this in the form of listicles and slide shows recently, and they pay about $100 a pop. Pros: you end up learning a lot of cool trivia. High pay per word. Cons: time-consuming for those high-pay words. Individual clients come and go quickly.

28. Podcasting (Monetized). Step one: write a script for a podcast. Step two: record the podcast. Step three: grow a fan base. Step four: use advertising, affiliate sales, and products to make your fortune. Pros: dynamic and surprisingly easy to succeed if you can put in the regular, disciplined time. Cons: costs a bit to set up. Will definitely require you to learn a few new skills.

29. Podcasting (Audiobook). You can also record your own voice, or somebody else’s, reading your books or short stories out loud. Then you sell those stories. The market for this is only beginning to really shine, but the potential is strong. Pros: gives a competitive edge to your fiction over the millions of self-pubbed books out there. Cons: costs to set up, and requires new, non-writing skills.

30. Movie Scripts. This one’s a lottery ticket. You write a script and you (probably) don’t sell it. Then you write another script. If you win, it’s six and seven figures overnight and your life changes forever. If you lose, you’re still working at home depot twenty years later. In the middle, you can get a high 4 or low 5 figure fee from an independent film producer somewhere. Pros: exciting, potentially enormous money. Cons: the lowest chance of success on this list.

31. Television Scripts. You won’t sell your script on television. This. Will. Not. Happen. But you might get the attention of a producer or manager who will put you to work on somebody else’s show. This is working-class scriptwriting, and a good career for many. Pros: regular work once established. Your stuff will be on TV. Cons: high barrier to entry. Requires as much social skills as it does writing chops.

32. E-Courses. The market in online classes and instructional videos is surprisingly large, and a lot of people need them written. Right now, most people think they can write their own, but those who can’t are willing to pay pretty well for the work. Pros: high rate of pay. You learn interesting stuff. Cons: inconsistent market. You will not make a full-time living doing this and this alone.

What on this list has you excited to try it on for size? Stay tuned. Next time we’ll finish off the list.

6 Ways I Screwed Up Big Time

I spend a lot of time on this blog telling people how to do stuff, as if I’m such a high-and-mighty, super-duper success with a cherry on top. I’m not that.

I have had a lot of success in this writing thing, and some success lately in speaking and coaching about writing and business. I’m proud of those things, because I’ve worked hard and practiced discipline and applied things I learned.

I’m happy to say I’m pretty awesome that way. But folks who’ve seen me speak might recognize what has become one of my taglines:

Here’s what I learned by making mistakes, so you don’t have to make them yourself. 

In the spirit of that, I wanted to admit some of my biggest failures and mistakes. These aren’t one-and-done anecdotes. They’re habits I need to break, or habits I can keep but only if I adjust some of my life goals. For better or worse, here they are.

1. Too Many Ideas

I have a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas. Many of them are terrible ideas. Many more are good ideas, but not good ideas for me to do. Some are good ideas, even good ideas for me to do, but not ideas I should take on right now. And even the ones that are good, good for me, and good for now will fail if I try to do them all at once.

And yet I keep trying to do them all at once. Or I walk away from an 80% done project to take on something new and shiny. Of all things in my professional (and honestly my personal) life this is the worst habit I have. What’s worse is, as I plan and schedule my quarters I can’t help myself from saying “Well, all right, let’s let you three in anyway.”

2. Not Keeping the Front Door Open

Some small business advice people use the metaphor of the front door and the back door to describe the two kinds of customers. You keep your “front door” open — meaning you’re always welcoming in new clients. You keep your “back door” closed — meaning you retain all the clients you can.

Despite what I said in #1, I can overfocus at times. When my dance card is full, I consistently quit looking for new work. This becomes a problem when the existing assignments end, since the money dries up with nobody on deck. What’s worse is how easy this is to solve. Just a matter of putting the hours in.

3. Planning as Procrastination

My heterosexual life partner Matt Zanger (and my lovely and talented better half Rachel Letofsky) will both make fun of me for saying this out loud. They consider me an overplanner, and I consider them both underplanners.

I talk a lot in this blog about the importance of planning (I even did several articles about choosing my favorite planner). None of that is false. Planning is as vitally important to succeeding in your life plan as proper driving directions are to taking a successful road trip.

But sometimes I overdo it. I spend time planning and overplanning, because planning is comforting. And sometimes I plan again when I should be sticking to my earlier plan. It’s hard for me to admit that I plan too much, but at times…I….um…ergh…erk…plan too much.

4. The Shoeless Cobbler

I make a huge deal on this blog, in my books, and in my presentations about the importance of a good website, a solid mailing list, and systematic, tactical social media. I do that because they are hugely important.

But do I practice what I preach? My website is out of date stylistically. My newsletter gets updated on schedule (some of the time). And my social media is random. Hit and miss. I tell myself that’s okay because their job is to get me work, and I’m not doing it because I have so much work.

But still.

What makes this work is the one time I really nailed this, I had five books all in the top ten of their Amazon category just from the tactical social media part of it. This stuff really works, and could skyrocket my career. It’s there for the taking, and will still be there next week.

5. Saying Yes Too Much

This is so common  there are books about it. People give in to social pressure to take on more and more responsibilities and activities because we all want to be liked. Then you start dropping balls, or being surly during performing those responsibilities, or generally screwing the pooch because you overcommitted.

I am really, really bad about this. For me it’s a double-edged sword because my two superpowers are boundless energy and hyperfast work speed. For a long time, there wasn’t much such thing as “too many commitments.” I got it all done, and done well.

But I’m older now, with kids and a family and friends and all manner of hands on my time. I recently made myself stop pretending I could get any work done on weekends. It never happens. So baby steps, baby steps.

6. “Too Busy to Sleep”

I wrote an article once upon a time about the ROI (Return On Investment) of putting time into self-care. One of the best, most clearly proven examples, was getting enough sleep. Multiple studies show that sleeping 7 hours instead of 6 makes you at least two hours’ worth of more productive in an 8 hour workday. Six hours instead of five is even better.

This is something I know, both from research and personal experience. And yet one in the morning finds me hitting the Netflix feeder bar more often than I care to admit. Like the first item on this list, what’s even more frustrating is how easy it would be to act on my knowledge here and just kill that bad habit.

These are the things that keep me in the job I have, instead of the job I want. I’m working to fix each of them. In fact, a monthly piece on how I’m fixing them item-by-item is part of my plan for the coming few months. I’ll close today with a pair of quotes that’s always been near to my heart, and applies to these screwups and screwups of all kinds.

“Fall seven times and stand up eight.”

That’s one of my very favorite Japanese proverbs (“Nanakorobi yaoki”).  Or, as Rocky Balboa put it while talking with his son:

“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Either way, success in all things isn’t a matter of not making mistakes. It’s a matter of learning from those mistakes and making each mistake less often.

How have you screwed up? What are you doing to screw up in that way less often? How can I (or anybody else in the blog community here) help?

50 Ways to Sell Your Writing (Part One)

A year and a half ago, I thought to do a blog series about different markets for writing, but my projects are taking me away from the blog more and more. So instead of depriving you of the information entirely, here’s the short version of what I was going to do. 

One of the things about education and how we raise kids in this country is how badly we teach what’s possible in terms of how to make a living. Lemmetellyouastory…

A young woman now in her 20s I’ve known for about a dozen years. She sang choir in school and graduated college with a music degree. Tried working in public education, then discovered she couldn’t work for that company. We were talking about next steps, and I asked her if she’d looked at becoming a session musician.

“What’s a session musician?” she said unto me.

“A session musician is a blue-collar musician. You would sing background for people who need background singers, play for pay at choral concerts, do ad jingles, that sort of thing. You won’t make Lady Gaga money, or even Megadeth money, but you’ll make a decent middle-class income if you work reliably and well.”

You might or might not have known what a session musician is before reading that. It’s okay. But it’s only okay because you didn’t spend your high school and college years taking classes about how to be a musician when you grow up. That I had to explain this concept to a woman with that much education about music is a goddamned travesty.

Same goes for writing. Everybody knows about Brian Singer and Stephen King. Aspiring writers want to be them, but they don’t know how many opportunities there are to write for a living if you don’t catch the brass ring. But you can be a working writer of fiction like Joe Lansdale, or write scripts for TV and film, or get a paycheck with your words from any number of ways.

For better or worse, here’s 50 of ’em. Don’t go work in an office until you’ve tried them all:

  1. Traditionally Published Books. This one you already know about. Pros: highest level of legitimacy. Cons: long timeframe and low chance for success.
  2. Magazine Writing (Nonfiction). Another you know about: writing articles for paying magazines. Pros: good living once you’ve broken in. Cons: takes a long time to break in.
  3. Magazine Writing (Fiction). Another one you know: writing stories for paying magazines. Pros: fun, can launch you to a traditionally published book deal. Cons: almost impossible to make a living on this alone.
  4. Content Mills. Writing short-form, medium-quality articles for low pay per piece. Pros: easy to enter, good money if you write enough articles. Cons: low quality, poor treatment by most bosses.
  5. Content Brokers. Putting your profile in at upwork.com, contently.com, Enveritas or similar. They find assignments like white papers, books, articles, etc. You pay them a portion of your earnings. Pros: lots of opportunity, you don’t have to market yourself as much. Cons: lower earnings, huge amounts of competition (including people in countries with much lower cost of living).
  6. Freelance Blogging. Writing blogs for other people’s’ websites, especially corporations. Pros: good, often excellent, pay. Cons: Rarely long-term, sometimes research-heavy especially early in a new assignment.
  7. Monetized Blogging. Writing your own blog, and using it to drive income from advertising, affiliate sales, your own books or products, etc. Pros: you’re your own boss — the only one responsible for your fate and success. Cons: you’re your own boss — the only one responsible for your fate and success.
  8. Blog to Book. Writing blog posts, which you then collate into a complete book which you sell. Pros: the blogging process creates a ready-made market for your book when it comes out. Can be combined with monetized blogging and other models. Cons: only works if you are strong on marketing and building platform.
  9. Ebooking. Writing and selling ebooks on platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Marketplace. Works best if you write a lot of books. Pros: flexible work, high earning potential. Cons: extremely uncertain earnings, requires lots of marketing savvy.
  10. Poetry. Writing poems for a living and selling them in books, plus some speaking gigs. Pros: you get to write poetry, which is pretty neat. Cons: almost impossible to make money at it without grants and fellowships.
  11. Greeting Cards. Believe it or not, greeting card companies pay a few hundred bucks for a good idea. Pros: high per-hour earnings. Kinda cool if you think about it. Cons: not much market. No way to do this full-time.
  12. Write, Speak, Repeat. Write any number of other models, and speak on the same topics. Make money from both and use both to synergize each other. Pros: solid, reinforcing business model. Speaking fees can be astronomically high. Cons: requires marketing. What if you don’t like public speaking?
  13. Speechwriting. Basically what it sounds like. You write the words other people say, for television and in-person appearances. Pros: really good pay per word. Access to some high-level people. Cons: highly specialized, with a higher barrier for entry than many other models on this list.
  14. Ghostwriting. You turn other people’s’ ideas into books, for which they take the credit. Pros: the money’s very good at professional levels. You learn a lot of interesting stuff. Cons: people and project management required. Sometimes the kind of person who wants a ghostwriter isn’t the kind of person who treats other people very well.
  15. Ghostblogging. You write content for somebody else’s blog, for which they take credit. Pros: can be regular and long-term, with good pay attached. Cons: people management required. Can sometimes become a game of “Guess what I’m thinking?”
  16. Resume and Bio Writing. Being awesome and writing about how you’re awesome are two different skills, and people will hire you to do the writing part. Pros: people are investing in their future, and will pay accordingly. Cons: very short-term gigs. Requires specialized knowledge.

Tune in next time for the rest of the list. Until then, try some of these on for size in your head. See what makes you smile.

 

A Modest Proposal


I only get political here on the blog every once in a while, but I have something needs saying so I’m going to say it here.

We should invade Mexico.

Seriously. We should do it. This year.

I came to this conclusion after reading an extremely smart article suggesting that no border wall will solve the problems of south border immigration in the United States. It posited that the reasons people are leaving Mexico in droves will always outweigh any attempts we make to restrict the influx…so instead we should spend that energy and budget on helping to stabilize Mexico.

But stabilizing her is a sisyphean task that would cost trillions to maybe work. A full-on invasion would be cheaper and more effective.  And I don’t mean a take-backsies invasion like what we did in Iraq. I mean making Mexico part of the United States permanently like we did with parts of Mexico coming on to two centuries ago. Let’s look at some of the benefits:

  • Make the Drug War a Real War. Our “wars” on poverty and drugs have not gone well, but we’re pretty good at actual shooting wars. The power of the cartels is the single biggest factor that makes life in Mexico terrible for (almost) everybody, and our sad civilian law enforcement efforts have made no significant headway. If we got busy dropping a SEAL team on the heads of each of those snakes, then played whack-a-mole with whoever stepped to the plate, actual legitimate government could actually make some headway toward establishing just social order.
  • They Have A Lot of Natural Resources. Even oil, Republican friends. Those resources aren’t being tapped effectively right now because of the state of disarray for government and business. This makes an admittedly expensive invasion less of a budget buster and more of an investment. They get a nicer place to live and raise families. We get lots of silver, copper, salt, fluorspar, iron, manganese, sulfur, phosphate, zinc, tungsten, molybdenum, mercury, gold, and gypsum. And oil. Lots and lots of oil.
  • We Cut the Source of the Undocumented Labor ProblemEmployers are the real bad guys in the immigration story. They take advantage of illegal aliens by paying them below market wages because the power differential is big enough to get away with it. They screw over American workers by hiring cheaper labor. If all Mexicans became Americans, this wouldn’t be possible. Employers would have to hire local labor for market scale. (Yes, I know lots of illegals are from other countries, but at last count this would cut off 59% of the supply).
  • It Might Save Tequila. You might have read a few years back about how we’re about to face a worldwide tequila shortage. Thing is, farmers are growing less agave and more things like coca plants and marijuana because of market forces and the influence of the cartels. A stabler Mexico could put those agave plants back in the ground before we have to start making our margaritas with vodka.
  • “Fuck Yeah.” Politics in the USA has never been so viciously divided, which is why we let the foxes run the henhouse for so long. For better or for worse, we’ve done better at remembering we’re all Americans when we have a common enemy to face off against while we sing the iconic song from our favorite movie.

So sincerely. Let’s invade Mexico. If nothing else, it will make our Facebook feeds even more interesting.

Who’s with me?

The Scurrilous Sin of Soft Hitting

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My beloved and departed sensei Lee Sprague used to say “If you hit a man, kill him.”

If sounds macho, brutal, and unnecessary, but what he always said next demonstrates why he’s right.

“If you have to go hands-on with somebody, fight the best fight you can or he has a better chance of killing you.”

That follows, and it’s tactically sound, but still seems to fall squarely in the macho warrior thug box. But his second insight is what makes this some of the best advice in the world:

“And if you don’t feel comfortable killing the man, you shouldn’t hit him in the first place.

There’s huge wisdom in that, as applied to all endeavors. So much that Our Most Badass President ever said similar words:

The unforgivable sin is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.

Apply this to your writing…

If you’re going to bother writing at all, it’s a sin to write soft. Don’t write what comforts you. Don’t write what the market suggests will give you a soft life. Write what scares you, what hurts you. Write the yucky stuff that will help you grow as you pour it out onto the page with a feeling exactly like what you get when you pour alcohol on some road rash.

And don’t write just stuff from that space, but write it hard. If you have to drop an f-bomb to make it real, drop an f-bomb to make it real. If one of your characters is an ignorant hillbilly from Kentucky, don’t you dare not write the word “nigger” for fear of offending some middle-class white book reviewer. If the story calls for ugly, write the ugly and put it boldly on the page. If it calls for beautiful, write a rainbow that leaves people weeping. If it calls for staring at the abyss, stare hard until it blinks and asks you about the weather.

Write hard. Leave your reader feeling like this:

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Apply this to your life…

Same goes for your hopes and dreams. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t halfway do it. Don’t go through the motions while giving most of your attention to safe, familiar other things. Don’t wish and whine and hold back until your time and life and opportunities are all spent. Hit it hard and try to kill everything in your way just as ferociously as you would kill a human attacker that stood between you and seeing your family again.

A close friend of mine recently experienced the importance of this. Last summer, he needed to make a Big Life Change which involved having a very hard conversation with somebody he cared a lot about. He did it exactly wrong, having instead a series of soft conversations that left room for equivocation and negotiating.

Six hard months with lots of tears later, he had to have the very hard conversation anyway. The stuff that happened during those six months irrevocably (probably) destroyed that relationship. They are no longer friends, because he hit soft when hitting was necessary.

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Most of us have been there or seen it from reasonably close up. That hit should be hard, and clean, and decisive. End the fight so everybody can move on with the least amount of damage possible.

The exact same thing applies to the big things you want out of your life. You can say to yourself “I want this thing” and approach it in tiny steps that never amount to anything. Years of frustration later, you will either decide it wasn’t really for you, or decide to finally hit it hard.

Or you can decide to hit it hard from the beginning. Decide nothing in the world will get between you and this accomplishment, then map it out and work the plan you make. Ruthlessly eradicate everything in between you and that goal (including and especially your bad habits, which will amount to 80% of what’s in your way). Fucking commit to it and make it happen.

And if you’re not ready to make that kind of effort and commitment? Just like killing a man, maybe that means you shouldn’t get started on that road in the first place.

Hell Yes or Fuck No

Derek Sivers is a smart guy who recorded a video with the best message about commitments I’ve ever read: Hell Yes or No. You can watch the video, but I’ll explain it in three points.

  • You are overcommitted
  • When asked to commit to something else, check to see if you feel a physical “Hell Yes!” response in your body.
  • If you don’t, the answer is “No.”

I added the “Fuck” because to me just saying “No” to myself is hitting too softly. Whether or not you need the f-bomb in there, the point is easy to understand. Only commit to responsibilities and social engagements you’re actually excited about. The stuff you can go in whole hog on. The stuff you look forward to.

If you say yes to things you’re luke warm about, you hurt yourself by stealing time from what you value. And you hurt the person who asked you by doing something half-assed…or worse, by beginning to resent and ultimately dislike that person because of an unnecessary series of soft hits against you.

To Review

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If you’re going to write something. Write it hard.

If you want to be or do something in your life, attack that goal it with total commitment.

If you’re going to do something or help somebody, do what you can engage with passionately.

Don’t leave life just swaying against the ropes. As they say in a famous video game…finish him!