Friday with Friends

I want to welcome another ACFW friend, Karin Beery, who is sharing her unique perspective on learning this writing business.

Real World University, by Karin Beery

I never intended to be a writer. Though I love to read and I had a degree in English, I enjoyed working in hospitality. Writing was just something I did for work, but then my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I quit my job and started substitute teaching so I could take care of him. I also started writing. I didn’t have a goal or deadline, and I think my ignorance saved me. This has been a long journey, and it’s not over yet.

Like many writing newbies, I thought I’d jump right in and get a novel published. I wrote the manuscript. Friends read it. I edited it. Then I did the research – I knew nothing about the publishing industry. Instead of giving up, however, I decided to press on. I’m glad I thought so highly of myself at the time, because if I had honestly realized how long it would take me to develop my career, I don’t know if I would have kept going.

The first thing I knew I needed to do was get some bylines. Truthfully, that was pretty easy. A local paper needed help, and they were willing to work with an inexperienced writer. Once I had gained some confidence, I branched out to other local weekly papers and got more gigs. Though I love writing for the small town rags, they don’t pay a lot. If I could afford to do nothing more than write local human interest stories, I would, but I can’t. I had to branch out even more.

I started scanning the Writer’s Market Guides for new markets. Those books are huge, however, and only a handful of the magazines want what I write. It would have been easy for me to spend days researching the possibilities.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to hone my craft and break into fiction. One of the best ways to do that is by attending writing conferences. They, of course, require money. What little I made writing locally I poured right back into conferences. To get the most bang for your buck at a conference, you really need to find out which editors and agents will be there, as well as who’s interested in your type of work. That meant more and more research, and none of it paid.

Then I heard about the wide world of freelance editing. The same writing skills are required, but it’s faster to edit a book than it is to write one. That’s why so many writers dabble in both worlds. I decided to do the same. I wasn’t entirely sure where I should start, but I knew where I wanted to start – online.

During all of my research of conferences, editors, and markets, I discovered something about myself – I love a well-designed website. Unfortunately, I know nothing about creating one. It made sense to hire someone to do it for me. Sounds simple enough, right? I wasn’t prepared. It took weeks of brainstorming, proof-reading, second-guessing, mind-changing, and other nit-picking before I finally had a website I liked. It lasted less than a year – I’m already changing it, and I’m still paying for it.

Recently, I received my first unsolicited phone call from an interested client (thank you, website!). We’ve met once and are going to do a couple of test-runs to see if we’re compatible. If we work well together, he’ll start sending work my way – as an editor. I do already have many of the skills necessary for that, but I want to make sure I’m the most professional, well-informed editor that I can be, so I’m going back to conferences, buying resources, and doing more research. This is all speculative, too. I may not get the job. Even if I don’t, I’ll be better prepared for the next call.

I’m now over two years into my career, not making much money, and spending many more hours studying and learning than I am actually writing and selling. It’s taking longer than I anticipated, but I don’t regret it. After all, it took me four years to earn my Bachelor’s degree. I figure I’m just about halfway through my Real World Education.

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