Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

I received the following question from a friend of a friend. I took the time to write up a thorough answer and then realized, heck, if this person wondering about this, others may be too so I’m sharing the question and my reply here for your benefit.

Hi Hillary!

I’m [redacted]. I was mentioning to [our mutual friend] that I was interested in submitting some articles to different blogs or online magazines and he thought you might be able to help me with some information on that? I actually majored in journalism in college but until now haven’t actually used it. Isn’t that the way college always is? I’m currently writing a novel about [redacted].

OK, this is actually a couple of questions piled into one so let me try to tackle them one at a time.

I was interested in submitting some articles to different blogs or online magazines

The first question is: why do you want to do this? Are you looking to just submit articles for fun just to exercise your writing muscles and get back into it? Or are you looking to submit articles as a freelance journalist/writer for pay? Or, looking ahead at the rest of your message, are you doing it to start building up a web presence and platform ahead of trying to query a novel? Because my answer is very different depending on what you’re trying to do.

If you’re doing it for fun and aren’t expecting pay, you’re in a good mental place as most blogs and online magazines don’t pay for posts or articles. They usually pay in “exposure” which is just a way of saying that your name and usually link will appear at the end of the post or in your byline. Many blogs accept guest posts (including this one) as long as your post topic is related to what they write about and it’s usually just a matter of asking and sending in a sample. Start with some of the sites you love to read and see if they have a submission policy and what it is. If they don’t have one posted, it doesn’t hurt to ask, just be professional about it.

If you’re looking to start a freelance career writing for publications online and off, that is a whole other massive conversation that is too long for a blog post. There are hundreds of books and articles about getting started as a freelance writer so you’ll want to start there. While it can be lucrative, it is highly competitive so it’s not something you can just jump into without doing your homework first.

If you’re looking to write to start to build up a platform ahead of trying to publish something (which, incidentally, is something you have to do), you’ll want to do a mix of writing for free and the paid writing. Doing free posts as favors on the blogs of people you admire and think would be good contacts is a great way to network and a few prestigious writing credits to your name are worth it even if they don’t pay well if it gives you an edge in future publishing endeavors. Meanwhile, paying writing gigs also make you more attractive to editors and agents because it shows that you can be professional, work with editors, meet deadlines, etc. Unlike with the first scenario, where you can really just get your feet wet writing anywhere that will have you, with this method you should really focus on the genre or industry you’re hoping to specialize in.

What will you be trying to publish later? If it’s non-fiction about the history of women’s rights you’re going to be seeking out very different publications for your portfolio than if you’re hoping to be the next big thing in romance novels. If this is your approach, think of every writing job you go after in terms of how it will look on your writing resume when you start shopping your book.

I’m currently writing a novel about [redacted].

Who isn’t?

That sounds really harsh, doesn’t it? Well, it’s true. Lots of people are writing a novel and many of those people are writing something that is thinly veil autobiography.

Listen, I run an area of thousands of writers every November as part of NaNoWriMo and I see the same things over and over again. There are millions of people all over the world right now who would tell you that they are writing a novel but very few actually ever finish it. Still fewer ever take the time to truly edit it as much as is needed.

Here’s what separates everyone else writing a novel from the people who are going to do something with that novel: They finished it. “Finished” here means that they not only wrote every single word up until “the end,” they also edited and then rewrote it again and again until it’s the absolute best possible book it can be. Editors and agents want something that they can publish tomorrow and you can’t send them something that needs work or they’ll just move on to the next thing in their overflowing inboxes.

Maybe you’re planning to self-publish? That’s great just understand that you’ll still need to get it into that perfect edited state and you’ll be responsible for 100% of the marketing, promotion, formatting and other work related to getting it out to buyers. The decision whether to take the self or traditionally published route is also a whole other massive topic that will involve a ton of additional research on your part. Writing and especially publishing is exactly like starting any other business and there’s a ton of prep work you need to do before you get started both to protect yourself from losing money, rights, and time.

Now, you also may be just writing it for fun and never plan to show it to anyone. That’s fine and there are many people who do that, just write for the love of the craft. That takes a lot of the pressure off, obviously, but I suspect you wouldn’t be emailing me about this if that was your plan.

Of course, you aren’t one of those people who doesn’t finish what they start, doesn’t go into anything, especially not a business venture, without thorough research and you have your head firmly planted in the reality of just how difficult the writing/publishing industry is, right? You are going to go into this prepared, having done all your homework, and ready to work hard in the face of rejection. As long as that’s the kind of person you are, then you’ll be fine. It will be a lot of work, yes, but you can have success as a writer as long as you go about it the right way.

What advice would you add to this person?