It’s that time again.
Welcome back to Hints, a miniseries of Mr. Horne’s Book of Secrets.
There is no shortage of people who will try to control you, as a writer. Advice can be helpful, but for some people it is just a way of trying to hijack your story to make it their own. At the end of the day, the only one who can tell your story is you, and you can’t rely on someone else to fix whatever problems you encounter.
At the same time, it’s wrong to expect you to make it completely on your own. You are not the first writer the world has ever seen, and you should not have to reinvent the wheel.
So how about a compromise? Just a glimpse of the direction you should be heading. Because what you really need…is a hint.
“Hints: because you only need a little help.”
Pop Quiz, Hotshot
Say you’re an unpublished author trying to sell your first book who suddenly gets asked to contribute a short story to an anthology.
What do you say:
- “Gee, I dunno.”
- “Short stories? I’m more of a novelist.”
- “I need to ask my agent.”
On a blank sheet of lined notepaper, write down your answer. Then crumple the paper up and throw it in a campfire because the real answer is “What’s the pay?”
Judging by the title of this post, you probably thought that the answer was going to be “yes”, because this is a post about how budding writers need to say yes to everything.
And they do…as soon as they know they’re getting paid for it.
Because there is one situation in which every writer—established or not—should always say no, and that is when people offer to pay you in “experience” or “exposure”.
When people offer to pay you this way, it means they want you to work for free, and once you have a reputation of working for free, no one will ever pay you for anything ever again!
It’s important you know this to begin with. Usually, whenever I have to list caveats and exceptions to a post I put them at the bottom. But this one exception is important enough that it needs to go first.
And with that out of the way, we can proceed to the actual hint.
Say No to Unpaid Work. Say Yes to Everything Else.
If you’re an author, fame and connections are not just nice things to have, they’re the key to survival. An author does not need to be a household name to earn a moderate living, but he would be an idiot to not even try.
And the most lasting way to become memorable is to become prolific. One book alone is not enough to build a career. You need to be churning out projects with gusto. So when you are asked to contribute to an anthology, or write a script for a radio-style podcast drama, or convert one of your existing manuscripts into a graphic novel, and once you are sure you are getting paid for the venture, your answer should be “yes”.
And if It’s Unpaid but Not Work…?
To split hairs even further…
There are some non-paying opportunities you should say yes to, but only if they do not count as work.
For example, if a TV show, radio show, podcast, or YouTube channel invites you to briefly appear on their platform and plug your book, you probably don’t want to demand some kind of payment. Here you’re just trying to make friends.
If, however, these same venues asked you to do something more intensive—say, for example, that a YouTube channel asked you to guest host an episode or make a series of videos for them detailing your writing process—then you’re going to want to stand up for yourself and require payment.
Once you know you are getting paid, or that you are not doing any work, then your job is to say yes to everything.
The Benefits of Saying Yes
When people know you are up for anything, they tend to call on you more.
And the more you are called on, the more you will get called on in the future. Opportunities lead to more opportunities. Success breeds success. And all that can be derailed if you say no too often.
Sometimes, it is hard to say yes. To use the anthology example again, you may end up having to write a short story in a genre you’re not familiar with. Or you may find out, too late, that you do not excel at short fiction. Saying yes to that may seem like taking a stroll into crisis.
But some of the best opportunities come from leaving your comfort zone. And if you can prove your mettle in multiple genres, then you’ll have so many more avenues to get your writing out to the world.
I’ve already said too much. This was supposed to be a hint, not a diatribe.
But this is a problem that many budding writers face, as a lot of us are shy and scared of new opportunities. It’s important to know that walking headlong into scary new territory is the most important part of being an inexperienced professional. Your first step is always going to be a “yes” moment, so you have to prepare yourself to say yes to it.
Look forward to those moments, because they will carry you to amazing new heights.
[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…to agreement.”]
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