9 Habits: Keep Score

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

We all have desires for our writing careers, whether it’s making $150,000 a year from home or getting that novel published. The thing is, most writers don’t make those desires real goals.

 

 

By “real goal” I mean something you’ve expressed in a way that’s measurable and specific, attached to a time limit, written down, then checked regularly.

  • You make it measurable so you’ll know when you’re done, and how much progress you’ve made at any given time.
  • You attach a time limit by setting a specific date by which you promise yourself you’ll be finished. With large goals, it’s a good idea to split it into smaller chunks along a timeline, such as writing a page a day to finish a 300-plus page book in a year.
  • You write it down to give the goal psychological importance and permanence. Steve Maraboli once said a goal you don’t write down isn’t a goal. It’s a wish.
  • You check it regularly to keep yourself inspired, and to confirm your daily decisions and progress are in line with reaching your goals.

You might have heard of SMART goals, which is a decades-old way of checking to see if your goals are really goals, or if they’re just wishes. I’m a big believer in this, so much so that I wrote a blog post about it.

Metrics and Key Performance Indicators

Keeping score is a matter of tracking your progress toward all of your goals. Metrics are how you keep score. They are ways of measuring your progress to keep yourself on track. I learned about metrics during my time running a martial arts studio. With 120 students and a staff of over 20 employees and volunteers, I had a lot of metrics to track. In my simpler life as a freelance writer, I track only a few.

Each of these metrics is like a vital sign. They tell me how “healthy” my writing business is at any given time, and — because I know how they work — if one number isn’t up to speed it gives me some ideas of how to fix it.

Every week, I go over these numbers.

  1. How much money I’ve earned by writing.
  2. How much money I’ve been paid for writing (sadly, not always the same as number one)
  3. How many posts for my blog and social media presence I’ve completed.
  4. How many action items – for example writing a scene or editing a chapter – I’ve completed on book projects.
  5. How many pitches I’ve sent to potential clients or new magazines.
  6. How many “acts of marketing” I’ve performed.
  7. Whether or not I’ve completed my weekly administrative tasks.

I hold myself to specific standards for each week, and plan my weeks to make sure I reach the monthly numbers I’ve promised to myself. The specific numbers are tied to my needs, my schedule and what my clients are asking me to do. Over time, the individual pieces add up to success.

It’s also important to identify one to three Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a given week, month or quarter. These are the numbers that really tell you how you’re doing, and which — if they don’t look good — could threaten the health of your writing career. 

If the metrics are your blood pressure and body fat ratio, the KPIs are whether or not you are breathing and able to move your legs.

My KPIs change based on what I’m focusing on at any given time. This quarter, I’m focusing on earning my monthly minimum income, and building my mailing lists and social media following. Thus, my KPIs are:

  • Amount of money earned and paid
  • Number of “meaningful contacts” made for potential followers

Watch both kinds of numbers and you will see your writing business grow. Fail to keep an eye on them, and if you succeed it will be a matter of luck. You can’t control luck, and you sure shouldn’t rely on it. 

Ways To Keep Score

Really, any system that keeps your finger on the pulse of your writing business is a good system. If you already have a good handle on this, don’t go looking for a new system to learn and apply. If you don’t already have a system for tracking your metrics, here are a few that work pretty well.

Spreadsheets

It’s possible you already use this for your family finances. Apply the same concepts to track your progress toward earning a month’s worth of income, accumulating finished pages for your novel, and sending enough queries out to get the clients you want.

Paper/Whiteboard

I use whiteboards to track my daily assignments. They’re easy to update as my day progresses, and they’re right there on the wall to remind me to stay on task. I have a big one for my work station wall, and a little one I carry around with me. You can do the same thing on a piece of paper, a drawing pad, or whatever else suits your fancy.

Professional Software

The advantage of professional metric tracking software is it’s the perfect tool for the job, fine-tuneable to your exact needs and built with tools to remind you about important assignments. Some will even lock down the games on your computer if you’re too close to deadline without showing sufficient progress. The bad news is these are expensive, sometimes very expensive.

Apps

Apps are the flip side of the professional software coin. They’re cheap or free, but don’t have the robust tools and easy customizability of the bigger suites. Still, a simple reminder app like Remember the Milk can combine with a to-do-list app to track a lot of your basic metrics.

The 3/4 Double-Whammy

As you recall from the last post, Habit Three is all about “Acting Your Age” and being responsible within your writing business. This habit is about getting serious with the metrics and numbers that drive your success.

If you’re slacking on Habit Three, it can become easy to let your numbers fall because tracking them isn’t very entertaining and besides, there’s Netflix to watch. This can end very badly for your and your writing.

But if you’re strong on Habit Three, Habit Four becomes pretty easy. Just promise yourself you’ll keep an eye out here, then keep that promise.

Simple enough?

9 Habits: Act Your Age

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

This habit is the scourge of freelancers of all stripes, but especially creative types like writers, web designers, musicians, and artists. If writing nonfiction is the habit that’s the most important, this is the one that’s most commonly missing among the people I coach.

The thing about freelancers is we fired our jobs for a reason. We went out on our own because we were sick and tired of being told what to do. We all thought we were smarter than our bosses, and we knew for damn sure we were better looking. We may even have been right, but do you know what we’re all worse at than our old bosses?

Being A Boss.

And that’s where so many writers get into trouble. We’re great at writing. Some of us are even good at planning long-term projects, but as a group we’re pretty terrible at following through on our plans. The sad truth is that if we were good at the daily grind of getting stuff done, we’d be happy punching a clock for full-time work with benefits and paid vacation. The result of this is a host of obstacles between the average writer and the freelance income you need.

Common symptoms of a Third Habit Deficit include:

  • Turning in assignments late
  • Working until 2 in the morning to turn in something on time
  • Having no clear budget, and no solid idea of how much money you made this month
  • Forgetting to invoice clients
  • Showing up late
  • Having to leave early
  • Not sticking to a budget you create
  • Slow or frustrating communication with clients
  • Constant worry about if you’re forgetting something
  • Constant worry about money
  • Having to miss family commitments to finish work
  • Taking on more work than you have time for
  • Finding yourself with insufficient work to fill your time
  • Disorganized time
  • Looking for key materials in your office, files or hard drive when you should be writing
  • Taking basic requests for change personally
  • Working poorly with editors
  • Knowing about solutions to your problems, but never having time to learn how to implement them

Don’t judge yourself too harshly if you resemble the above remarks. They’re epidemic among freelancers and consultants. Most of us are constitutionally challenged when it comes to professionalism and organization. I resemble those remarks more days than I care to admit. 

The good news is this is true of nearly all of us, which means if you conquer this disadvantage by building a contrary habit, you’ll have a competitive edge over all the competition who haven’t.

Lemmetellyouastory

A couple weeks ago I was visiting friends and family out of town during a long-planned trip. By chance, I also had two huge assignments due by the end of the week. I mentioned this to two literary agents, a film editor, and a professional writer.

All four of them made noises about how turning in a week late was still considered on time, or even early. They made it clear that industry-wide, deadlines are these porous concepts that nobody takes very seriously.

Which is good news for those of us with a Third Habit deficiency…but even better news for those of us who turn in on time regularly. When I made noises back to the effect of I know, but being on time is kind of my thing, they looked surprised and impressed.

Be Polite, Even When You Don’t Want To

A few years back, I did a series of blog posts for a medium-sized business in Los Angeles. As we were wrapping up the deal, my client told me I beat out 150 other applicants to get the gig. I asked him if he’d mind telling me how I floated to the top of that heap. He said that 98 percent of the applicants obviously hadn’t read the entire job description, done basic research into his industry, provided work samples or even bothered to spell-check their cover letters.

That goes beyond basic professionalism and into the realm of common courtesy. It’s not okay to ask somebody for money while simultaneously demonstrating no regard for or interest in that person. Professionalism starts with being polite, whether it’s this kind of research or simply thinking about how your decisions impact the time, stress or success of the people you do business with.

The Solution

We’ve established that we freelancers are bad at this, and that being bad at this keeps us from making the living we want. You’ll not I don’t say “the living we deserve,” since maintaining unprofessional habits means we don’t deserve to make any more money than we’re already making.

So how do we fix it?

We find a boss.

I don’t mean going back to a regular job. That defeats the whole purpose of having a freelance career. I mean find somebody who will hold you accountable for your success, and who you’ll listen to when you make them kick your ass. Whoever you choose needs to be able to:

  1. Make you commit to timelines and deadlines for finishing your projects.
  2. Touch base with you on your progress in a way that encourages you to stay on schedule.
  3. Chide you as gently or firmly as you need when you fail to keep your promises to yourself.
  4. Encourage you when you don’t feel like doing something important.
  5. Do all of the above without the kind of drama that leads you to rebel and sabotage your own success.

When I mention this to coaching clients, a lot of them immediately think of a spouse. That’s a natural idea, but in most cases it’s also a mistake. There’s too much emotional baggage, and too much ignoring of one another, in most marriages for this to succeed. Instead, try

  • A parent
  • A sibling
  • A former co-worker
  • A former boss
  • A writing group
  • A random friend

If you’d rather not work with somebody you’re that close to, my Iron Writer Community on Facebook provides some basic accountability to people, along with a group of freelance writers who commiserate and give one another advice when needed.

You can also take advantage of the burgeoning mobile worker community, which has meetups in most cities where work-from-home professionals of all stripes get together for companionship and accountability. Sometimes a like-minded stranger is a better person for giving this kind of advice than even your closest friends.

Exactly who you choose to hold you accountable is up to you, but you must have somebody. I meet weekly with a friend who owns a small motorcycle accessory business. We act as one another’s accountability partners – him for my writing, me for his shop. That works for my business writing. For my fiction projects, I meet with a writing group every other week…and they give me static if I haven’t delivered the chapters I promised.

Write Like Hell: Goals

Some folks who follow the blog, or connect with me over on social media, know about my Write Like Hell program. It’s a year-long program of coaching and accountability designed to get participants supercharged in their progress toward being a published and/or professional writer.

I was taught early on to lead by example, so here are my goals for the program. I’ll post at the end of each month with my progress, so the whole damn world knows whether or not I’m sticking to it.

 

Setting Effective Goals

smart goal setting for business writing coachBefore I get into the goals themselves, I want to address why the goals look like they do. It’s based on a few rules for making goals as motivational and effective as possible. I’ve posted on this before (and have a new post coming soon), but here’s some key guidelines you’ll see in action in this post:

  • They must use numbers: results must be measurable by numbers, and there must be a specific deadline for each goal. Without numbers, goals are just ideas you’d like to see happen.
  • They must be in my control: I’ll never set the goal of “sell 10,000 copies in a month” because I can’t make that happen. Instead, I’ll set the goal of performing Acts of Marketing that are likely to produce those sales. I can’t control who buys my books. I can control whether or not I get off my ass and chase those sales.
  • They must be realistic: if I don’t believe I can accomplish the goals I set, I’ll never really be motivated to pursue them. Some folk disagree, saying they can chase an impossible dream and be happy with what they do get. To me, that’s just starting the process with permission to not reach your goals.

One last rule for setting effective goals: I must give a damnIf the goals don’t serve something I care passionately about, then I’m not going to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish them. Every goal I set leads me toward someplace I deeply want to be. To that end…

The Long Game

I start any goal-setting session for myself or with my clients by thinking about where I want my goals to take me. Here’s how I did it for myself.

First, know that the Write Like Hell program has each person identify five categories of goals:

  • Writing
  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Health/Fitness
  • (Bonus/Wild Card)

For each of those, I looked at where I am, and where I want to be in five years.

Writing & Career: I currently make most of my money from work-for-hire arrangements like ghostwriting, online content, and magazine articles. In five years, I want to make my money exclusively off my own writing (plus a few assignments in the role-playing game industry, because I love doing those).

Relationships: I currently have good relationships with my wife, kids, and friends. One of the kids is transitioning to living out of the house (he’s 18 and off to seek his fortune). I also have a bad habit of going long spans without connecting with friends who are off my immediate radar, if you know what I mean. In five years, I want those relationships with my wife and kids to be just as strong, and to strengthen my relationships with friends and family not in my daily contact sphere.

Fitness: Between being married, getting busy, and a couple of injuries I’ve let myself go a bit in the past two years. In five years, I want to be back in 100 push up, 5 mile, flat belly, black belt shape. I also want to knock the rust off much of my kenpo, and achieve a purple belt in brazilian jujitsu.

(Bonus) Self-Publishing: I currently earn between $150 and $250 a month from my self-published works, plus $4,000-$5,000 from crowdfunded projects. In five years, I would like that number to equal a total of $60,000 a year.

Now that I have my five-year goals, to which I am attached, I can set my one year goals and divvy out my promises to myself for November.

Writing Goals

By September 30, 2019, I will have finished three YA novels for traditional publication. These will include:

  • Bushido Chronicles 2: Fighting Upstream, turned in to my publisher Not a Pipe by November 30, 2018.
  • Rio Sangre, finished and sent to at least 50 agents (or accepted by an agent) by March 30, 2019.
  • Bushido Chronicles 3: Title Pending, turned in to my publisher Not a Pipe by Aug 31, 2019.

 For November, my goal is to finish the penultimate draft and receive feedback notes by November 30th.

Career/Marketing Goals

By September 30, 2019, I will have substantially increased my social media following and mailing list subscriptions through the following initiatives:

  • Completed and set up an implementation schedule of Russell Nohelty’s Sell Your Soul course by Nov 30, 2018.
  • Directly invited a total of 1,000 writers (including people at speaking engagements) to my Iron Writer Facebook Group by Sep 30, 2019.
  • Engaged in 24 public announcements of my Iron Writer Facebook Group by Sep 30, 2019.
  • Directly invited a total of 2,000 people to join my two mailing lists by Sep 30, 2019.
  • Engaged in 48 public announcements of my two mailing lists by Sep 30, 2019.

For November, I have the following goals. Finish the Sell Your Soul course by Nov 16. Create an implementation calendar for same by Nov 30. Invite 10 people each a week to join my Iron Writer Facebook Group, my Break From HOKAIC writers’ newsletter, and my Martial Arts Social Media Pro newsletter. Announce Iron Writer and both newsletters individually on Facebook twice each. Make 12 contacts for publicity opportunities around my communities.

Relationship Goals

By September 30, 2019, I will have taken action to enrich my relationships with the people in my life. These actions will include:

  • 12 date nights and 4 retreats with my lovely and talented wife by Sep 30, 2019
  • Going on 24 excursion adventures with my youngest son Gabriel by Sep 30, 2019
  • Made 100 quality check-ins with my oldest son DJ by Sep 30, 2019
  • Hosted 20 family dinners at my home by Sep 30, 2019
  • Made 300 quality check-ins with friends and family who aren’t in my day-to-day connection sphere by Sep 30, 2019.

For November, that means a date night with Rachel, 2 excursions with Gabriel, 8 check-ins with DJ, 2 family dinners, and 30 check-ins with other people I care about.

Fitness Goals

By September 30, 2019 I want to be back at my “fighting weight” of 190 pounds and achieve flawless execution of 6 of my kenpo katas. Toward that end, I will perform the following:

  • Walk, run, bike, or swim a minimum of 150 hours.
  • Perform 15,000 repetitions of pushups, situps, and superman twists.
  • Perform physical therapy for my left shoulder and right elbow so I’m off the disabled list.
  • Perform 1,200 repetitions of various katas.

For November, my plan is to perform 10 hours of cardio, perform 1,000 repetitions of the calisthenics, engage in daily PT stretching, and perform 100 repetitions of short one kata.

Bonus Goal: Self Publishing

Moving toward self-publishing success means pushing my Random Encounters series and my Kickstarter presence. By Sep 30, 2019, I will have:

  • Self-published 5 volumes of Random Encounters, Season 2. 
  • Self-published the print anthology edition of Random Encounters, Season 2.
  • Delivered 9 editions of a Random Encounters newsletter.
  • Successfully Kickstarted the Itty Bitty Writing Space anthology.
  • Successfully Kickstarted one other self-publishing project, exact nature to be determined.

For November, I will achieve the following. Establish a template and style for the RE newsletter. Release Episode 1 of RES2. 

 

This Ain’t Your Mom

It’s not easy. It’s not cheap. Write Like Hell was initially inspired by Tom Callos’s now defunct Ultimate Black Belt Test. I completed that program three times, and it utterly changed my paradigm for what I’m capable of accomplishing in a year.

So I’m pushing hard because my family deserves to have me at my peak, physically, emotionally, and with my career.

If you’d like to know more about Write Like Hell, email me or find me on Facebook. We’re full up for enrollment this year, but you can get on the waiting list.

Till next time, then. What are your goals for this month?

 

9 Habits: Dress Up

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

Habit Two: Dress Up

Yes, freelance writing often means you get to telecommute.

Yes, that means my work day starts and ends with me in my jammies and a three-day stubble on my face. Yes, people who come to my door are lucky I’m wearing pants. Yes, this is one of the best parts of my job.

And yet….

You still have to maintain a professional appearance. The “face” you put forward to potential clients will determine whether or not they offer you a chance to impress them with your writing skills.

There’s a story…

Husband: Honey, would you still love me if I was ugly?

Wife: If you turned ugly tomorrow – got burned in a fire, or cursed by a witch or something – of course I’d still love you. It’s the parts on the inside that I fell in love with.

Husband: Awww. Thanks, honey, that’s just what I needed to hear.

Wife: But if you were born ugly, I wouldn’t have ever asked you out in the first place.

That’s doubly, maybe triply true in the world of finding clients. If you don’t show up at your best, then potential clients will never go on that first date than shows the substance behind your style. This doesn’t just apply to how you personally look. 

8 Keys to Looking Good For Potential Clients

  1. Having a professional website. Does yours look current and professional, or like you hand-coded it using a Dummies book in 1998? Does it demonstrate that you can write coherently, and edit what you write? Does it include current contact information, and a recent resume?
  2. Maintaining a social media presence. Do you have a compelling profile on at least two social media platforms? Does your content there compel comments, likes, shares and retweets? Do you have a following that you can use to promote clients who hire you? Do your comments demonstrate professionalism and a positive attitude?
  3. Using images effectively. Are all the images on your website of high quality? Do they show appropriate subject matter? Do your profiles include a photo of you looking good while doing what you do? Do you provide proper accreditation for images you didn’t make yourself?
  4. Communicating professionally. Do your emails to potential clients observe proper grammar and get your point across as effectively as possible? Do you avoid foul language in your public posts, and in your messages to clients? Do you respond rapidly to questions, and give advance warning if something happens to put you off schedule? Do you follow basic professional protocols in your communication on the phone, in person and via electronic media?
  5. Maintaining an impressive portfolio. Do you provide compelling and recent work samples related to the jobs you’re seeking? Is there a testimonials page on your website? Do you solicit testimonials from your favorite clients once or twice every year?
  6. Grooming yourself. Do you see to basic hygiene before meeting somebody in person or via video chats? Can you put on a suit or good dress for important client meetings and initial interviews?
  7. Have an elevator pitch. Can you communicate what you write, and why you’re great at it, in a 2-3 sentence statement taking less than a minute to deliver? Can you deliver it without stuttering or otherwise sounding unprofessional?
  8. Getting those letters. They don’t have to be Ph.D. or MFA, but any kind of awards, testimonials, speaking credentials, or similar badges of authority go a long way towards making you look like a serious professional doing serious work.

If you have to answer “no” to some or even most of these questions, don’t panic. You’ve simply identified a few of the habits you need to build over the next several weeks.

Avoiding Dealbreakers 

Here’s another story.

In 2014, I would take my toddler son (now 8 years old) to buy groceries. He liked identifying and counting food. I liked getting the job done and spending time with him. It was a win-win father-son outing of lovely proportions. 

One day in line, a young woman in front of us offered her nannying services while we were both waiting at the register. A total stranger hit me up for a job, just like I tell all my writing coaching clients to do. She did a lot of things right.

  • She observed the first rule of freelance job hunting: tell everybody you meet what you do, and ask them to pay you for doing it.
  • She opened the conversation by demonstrating her knowledge of her field. In this case, she engaged me about parenting and her experience with children.
  • She asked me for work in a straightforward, almost abrupt, manner.
  • She told me about her past experience, and offered to provide references.
  • Her entire communication was professional, yet approachable and friendly.

It was an excellent pitch, but I never called her. Despite having five things in her “pro” column, she had two in the “neg” that absolutely nixed any possibility of my hiring her.

Reason #1: She was dressed in a ratty sweatshirt and very (very) tight camo pants. Sure, it was Sunday morning at the grocery store, and she even apologized for the outfit. But if you’re in the game of asking for work every time you leave the house, you should dress for work every time you leave the house. It made me wonder what other details she was in the habit of forgetting.

Reason #2: She smelled like cigarette smoke. I don’t consider this the sin a lot of people seem to think it is these days, but it is a deal-breaker for anybody who wants to spend time with my kid. My attitude on this is pretty common up here in the granola-chewing, tree-hugging, holier-than-thou Pacific Northwest. She’d neglected to do basic market research in her chosen field. 

Two small details of her appearance outweighed multiple excellent points in her favor. Remember: the people who make decisions about hiring freelancers are besieged by people asking for work. They’re not looking for reasons to say yes. They’re looking for reasons to say no.

Don’t give them easy reasons. You should never miss out on a client just because you didn’t feel like getting permission to use a photo, or put on your grownup pants on your way to get some milk. On the job, on the web, and in the world…dress up of you want to make it as a freelancer.

9 Habits: Write Nonfiction

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’massaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

Habit One: Write Nonfiction

This is absolutely the most important piece of advice you will ever hear about making money from your writing. It’s simple, direct and to the point. In case the name of the habit didn’t make it clear enough, I’ll say it again:

If you want to make money writing, write nonfiction.

Why do I say that? Most people who say they want to write for a living envision turning in a novel or two a year, maybe going to a book signing or a reading in the Village every summer. Doesn’t writing nonfiction defeat the whole purpose of being a writer?

I say it for about 70,000 to 100,000 reasons every year that I earn in about three hours a day. If that’s not enough to convince you on its own, let’s break down some of the facts that make this so.

  1. The market is much larger. Specifically, the 2013 Writer’s Market contains 412 pages of listings for magazines that buy words. Forty of those pages describe magazines that buy fiction. The other 372 are nonfiction markets. The ratio is even higher with online opportunities.

  1. The competition for that tiny fiction market is ferocious. Just about everybody has a short story or half-finished novel sitting on a hard drive somewhere. People who can write compelling nonfiction are rarer, and people who want to rarer still. On average, even professionals can expect about 2% of their submissions to new markets to get accepted. Compare to 10% for nonfiction publishers.

  1. Nonfiction rates per word range from 5 to 10 cents to a dollar or more. Most fiction magazines want you to give them work for “exposure” or a couple of copies of the magazine so you can show your parents. Of the fiction markets that do pay, even the high-end markets top out in the 10 to 25 cents range. An average of 2 cents per word is what you can expect starting out.

Add all of those together, multiplying each factor by the next. Using even the most generous numbers in the fiction range, and the most conservative in the nonfiction range, and here’s what you get:

See that tiny line on the left, the one that’s only visible because I doubled it from its original size? Yeah. Running the numbers above, nonfiction writing is over 200 times as profitable as fiction writing.

If you like those apples, here are a few more to add to the bushel:

  • You can take a single nonfiction idea and spin it into a dozen saleable articles without looking like a jerk.
  • Marketing copy is an excellent source of recurring work at 10 cents to a dollar per word.
  • In the past few years, nonfiction books have started hitting serious bestseller, lottery winner sales.
  • Nonfiction is much easier to write than fiction. That means you write more words per day, at a higher pay rate per word.
  • Nonfiction magazines and websites are far more open to repeat contributors.
  • Nonfiction books and articles have a much longer self-life than fiction. People buy them or bring them up years after their publication.

Best of all, you can work on your fiction in the time you’re not writing nonfiction to make a living…and while you write your nonfiction, you’re still exercising your writing skills. You improve your craft with every sentence you type into your keyboard. This beats the hell out of working a non-writing job to pay the bills, then trying to throw down a few hundred words in your off hours. (More on that in a minute).

Eight Ready Nonfiction Markets

My first paid nonfiction article was in Black Belt Magazine. I got $250 for 1,000 words. It was my first submission to that magazine, and led to more than 20 assignments over the next five years.

It tell you this because my first paid nonfiction article was in the industry where I had been working before I became a writer.

When you’re wondering where you’ll find nonfiction markets to by your words, ideas and expertise, look to these options for starters.

  1. The blogs you already read right now.
  2. The magazines in the hobby shop you regularly visit.
  3. The web pages of businesses you go to frequently.
  4. Trade magazines from your previous careers.
  5. The website and newsletters for any trade, professional, or alumni associations to which you belong.
  6. Consumer magazines for your hobby or your industry.
  7. YouTube channels about your areas of expertise. These people often buy scripts.
  8. Publishers focusing on your hobbies and professional realm.

If you list everything you already know about in all eight categories, you’ll likely end up with a list of 50-100 ready-made markets for your words. That’s not a bad lead list for someone new to any game.

But Aren’t You Selling Out?

When I talk about this at conferences, I hear a few people every time talk about how writing commercially is somehow “selling out.” They seem to consider it a pedestrian sullying of their talent, something to which they could never condescend to stoop.

If that’s how you want to live your writing life, go right ahead. It’s a free country. But consider these two scenarios:

Scenario One: Spend two or three hours a day writing commercial copy, business documents and nonfiction articles. Spend another three hours working on your novels, poetry and short stories. Finish work two hours earlier than at a regular job, without a commute. Recharge with your friends and family, and then do it again tomorrow.

Scenario Two: Burn eight hours of every day working at Starbucks or Home Depot, then commute home and give your family the attention they need. Then find the time and energy to produce your writing in the corners of time left over.

Which of these truly “sells out” your talent as a writer? Which is more likely to mean you never finish, let alone sell, the masterpiece that’s waiting inside you? It should be pretty obvious which of those two I think constitutes a crime against my writing talent.

What do you think?