P / P Master Class is a series of writing advice for aspiring writers.
I know there are some writers that, from the outside, make their careers look easy. But attaining, and more importantly, maintaining a professional writing career, whether it be creative writing, nonfiction or journalism can take decades.
I personally began writing as soon as I learned how to write my letters and structure sentences, around the age of 5 or 6 years old. By the time I was 8, I was filling drugstore spiral notebooks with imaginative short stories. The stories ranged from innocent love stories, to fables to scary vampire tales. Once the internet became accessible to the public (1998 or so), I began blogging and building my own websites that functioned as glossily designed journals where I could digitally share my thoughts and youthful perspective of the world with anyone who wanted to connect with my writing.
Nonetheless, my writing career didn’t begin to gel and open professional doors until 2010 when I created a music blog called, TPR-Mag.com, which covered experimental, shoegaze and underground psych rock music from North America, Asia and Eastern and Western Europe.
Stroke of luck – you can network at any age:
In 2009, I moved into an old, refurbished loft building in Brooklyn, NY filled with dozens of young, ambitious, diverse people who were jump starting their creative arts, fashion design, performance and writing careers. We were a community and threw parties, spending as much time as we could together, bonding, making music and using our live/work spaces to craft and further whatever creative pursuits we were chasing at the time. It was a really fertile (and affordable) time in New York City. My neighbor, Isabela Raygoza (who has gone on to edit for MTV, Audible and is currently a regular writer for Rolling Stone), got a job as music editor for Remezcla.com, the largest English language Latin American culture website in the United States. Isa offered me a job as a writer and I jumped at the chance. Remezcla gave me a name for myself as a popular niche writer who covered underground music in Central and South America.
Respecting your paid opportunities.
When I created TPR-Mag.com (TPR was short for a small record label I started called The Process Records in 2008), I made sure I didn’t cover Latin American music on the blog because I wanted to respect my job at Remezcla. I know that seems like a very simple decision, but respecting the boundaries of your paid work opportunities is incredibly important.
For Example: if you have a paid freelance writing job for a popular food blog and decide to start your own blog with your personal recipes, make sure you put a unique spin on your blog so it doesn’t create direct competition with your paid job.
This is really important. Most, if not all professional writers and editors, which includes your bosses and colleagues, are almost sure to follow your career on social media. If they liked your samples or ideas when you applied for the job, they’ll most likely naturally enjoy following anything your write. So, if they come across your social media premiering a new blog similar to their publication, it could look like you are attempting to step on some toes or use the opportunity they offered you to advance yourself without tact and/or reciprocity. It may not be intentional on your part. It’s natural to want to express yourself and write as much as possible, but it’s best to be as mindful, appreciative and respectful of your employers as you can be. You don’t want to inadvertently get a reputation for misusing your opportunities.
Now to get to the true topic at hand-
P / P Master Class Lesson Two: Commitment to Surviving Rejection
Professional writing is 95% rejection.
It took me two tries to get my first professionally published book, Don’t Lose Track Vol. 1 by my former publisher, Zero Books (John Hunt Publishing) published. When my first two books were rejected, I read my publisher’s staff’s feedback on my submissions very closely. The first book didn’t make it through the first round of consideration. The second book made it through the second round and was later rejected, but I saw the second rejection as progress because I made it to the second round of consideration. Try think positively and appreciate every serious consideration you receive as a new writer. It’s not easy to break in.
Every publisher has “readers.” Readers are people who read through manuscripts and hand off books they like to their bosses. Zero was hands on gave me at least three pieces of strong feedback from each reader. So, when I knew how they felt about my first two manuscripts I understood more of what they were looking for. I thought, “Well, if they liked my second book enough to send it to the second round of consideration, I think I know what they’ll really like. Sure enough, I had a book deal within 48 hours of my submission of my third submission.
As a new writer, taking rejection personally is a
Waste of Energy.
Don’t allow your personal emotions get you down when you receive rejection letters. It’s not personal. Those who are rejecting you are making decisions based on your commercial marketability, book structure and professional reliably. Your personality, talent and personal life play a very small part in being published, particularly in your early career. Don’t waste energy on getting angry or having a pity party. We’ve all been there. I still experience rejection, but it’s so much healthier for your well-being and self esteem to focus your energy on receiving feedback positively and taking the information you receive to grow and enhance your writing style.
Don’t focus on getting published. Focus on being an excellent writer.
Sharpen your toolbox! Work on your skills every day by reading books about writing, biographies and tips from successful writers and reading the publications you want to work for. You should also enjoy reading books on any topic you like. Reading is the best thing you can do for yourself to become a better writer.
In all honesty, getting accepted to be published is really just an adrenaline high, an ego boost. It’s the calm before the storm of producing the actual article, essay or manuscript.
Set your sights high and have your goals, but there are writers in the world who write just to prove to others who hurt them in their childhood and adult life that they can make something of themselves. Have a conversation with yourself and make sure you’re jumping into this field for the right reasons. You’ve got to be passionate, full of courage, confident in your talent, easy to work with and willing to learn if you want a successful writing career.
A way to know you will officially be published is that your editor will give you “guidelines”.
Guidelines come after your idea has been accepted. You will receive specific instructions for your assignment which can include a “word count” (the exact number of words the piece of writing must be), a deadline date and what they plan to pay (or not pay) you.
You must follow guidelines as closely as you can when writing your first draft. After you hand in your draft, your editor will send you notes on what to revise, change or clarify in your writing. Once you make the changes your editor requested, you’ll hand that piece in as your second draft. Once your editor is happy, they’ll let you know when you’re piece will be published.
Before you celebrate an article, book or essay getting through the editing process, nothing is guaranteed until your contracts are signed.
Once you get an article, essay, interview or book accepted by a publication or publisher, don’t celebrate and call all your friends and family until you and your employer’s name are both signed on the dotted line and your financial paperwork (w9 , and at times, direct deposit paperwork) have been filled out (by you), handed in and processed.
Beware of “on spec” offers.
There are times, particularly in your early writing career, when you’re asked to write an article or op-ed (an opinion article) “on spec.” Dictionary.com defines, “on spec” as: “made, built, or done with hopes of but no assurance of payment or a sale; without commitment by a client or buyer.”
This means you’re asked to write a full article without any guarantees of being published or paid. I don’t recommend doing this because you can spend weeks on a piece only to have it rejected. The time you spend working on an on spec article will take away the time you could be spending sending ideas to 10 other editors who will pay you.
Most publications don’t negotiate publishing articles on spec. If you’re going to write for free (which I’m not opposed to for new and aspiring writers), you might as well write your own blog or agree to write for a publication with the guarantee of getting published
You’re first article or book is always a “trial run,” whether your employer expresses it or not.
Plain and simple. Just because you were published once as a freelance journalist and signed contracts, your editor is not obligated to accept any other article ideas from you. This is the tough part about freelance journalism and writing. Same for publishers. Unless your contract is a multi-book deal, there’s no obligation on the part of your publisher to take on another book idea of yours. It’s a harsh reality, but it happens.
*In another Master Class post, we’ll go into how to become a regular contributing freelance writer.
Finally, ignore the negative connotation behind the word “rejection”.
In writing, rejection is an opportunity to get good feedback and insight on how to improve and get published in the future.
Early in your career it can take up to 2-5 years before editors begin to respond. It takes time to understand how to get your talent noticed.
Don’t be discouraged! It took a couple of years and many tries to get into some of the publications I’ve written for. That’s why I tell you to have fun and work on your craft. You shouldn’t be stressing early in your career. You should be playing with words, ideas, learning and bonding with other writers. If you keep at it, the professional writing community will begin to recognize your hard work. Patience and enjoyment is key.
I hope this helps. Until next time!