Becoming a professional writer

The new cover!

The new cover!

A while ago, I decided that  one of my self-published books needed a new cover. I’d done the original, back in the days when I thought I could do it all. I have a little graphics experience. I thought I could make it work. But no. If my cover is anything to go by, I best leave cover design to the professionals.

So I commissioned a new cover, and then I thought—in for a penny, in for a pound. I’ll move it into print, too. Get it out onto more platforms. Go the whole nine yards. After all, I want to be a professional novelist, right? I have to act like a professional novelist.

To go into print, the cover needs a spine–the part of the cover that faces outward when the book is on the shelf. The spine width is determined by how many pages the book has. So then I thought, I should do a quick edit pass, take out one excerpt from the back, and make sure this book is as tight as it could be.

How much have I edited so far? Not counting the excerpt I deleted, I’ve cut 8,500 words from the original manuscript. I’m happy about it. The book is better, and readers will kill fewer trees when they buy it. Now I have a second edition, edited for conciseness and clarity. I feel that I’ve made a good professional decision in upgrading this book.

Not that my family gets it, exactly. What do you say when your friends and relations ask you what you do? Do you tell them you’re a writer? And if you say that you are a writer, how do you answer the follow-up questions? (Is there a lot of money in that? Where do you get your ideas? How do I get an agent? Can I give you this great idea, and then we can split the profits?)

Tom Coyne, a published author and creative writing teacher at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, reminds us that writing is about process, not perfection. See what else he has to say about calling yourself a professional writer.

6 responses »

  1. I have had people offering me “good” stories to write. But I always politely turn them down. I believe if their ideas were that good they would write the stories themselves. Their excuse is that I have a way with words. I have a “way” with words because I am passionate about my stories and ideas. I write what I like, know or love or what I am interested in. I find the canI give you a great idea proposal simply a way of people trying to get you to do the hard work and they reap the rewards for it without sweating for it. You are right to turn them down. The only time I would consider writing for anyone is writing paid articles or ghost writing but with an initial deposit paid upfront and instalments at regular intervals onpreagreed targets. Thanks forsharing your insightful thoughts.

    • Exactly! Plus, you never want to be in the position of using someone else’s idea, or even riffing on the idea, for fear of being accused of plagiarism. Ghostwriting is different, because it involves contractual obligations. But for those who think they’re entitled to fame or fortune because they “gave” someone an idea—no.

      • That is so true. It is funny though how people think of making a fortune and fame through giving away an idea because those two reasons are probably not the foremost reasons most writers pursue. Love of writing is probably the main one and the desire to be read following somewhere close. The ability to earn from their passion – writing – might be a desirable outcome but not a main motivator to make a fortune. Though if it comes, I’m sure many writers will take it as the icing on the cake as it will allow them to concentrate solely on their writing without worrying about bread and butter issues.

  2. You’re exactly right. The writers I know are people who have to write. They want to make a living at it, sure, because that means they have more time for their passion, rather than worrying about the day job AND the writing passion. But the need to write—and the desire to be read—are the main motivators for the writers I know.

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