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Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Twin Keys to a Long-Term Writing Career

Someone asked me the other day how I get writing work in these recessionary times: is it through advertising, my website, my blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites..?

I think they were surprised by the answer I gave. Nowadays, by far the most important source of work for me is clients I have worked with in the past, often for many years. And the next most important is personal recommendations.

I do get work offers from the other sources mentioned, but it is much less significant in financial terms. Other than maintaining an online presence, I don't advertise my writing services at all.

It comes down to two things really: the first, of course, is delivering a good service to clients, so they want to hire you again. And the second is networking, by which I mean building and cultivating a network of contacts, both online and in the 'real world'.

One obvious method of networking is to build good relationships with the publishers and editors you write for, and other writers you meet and work with. This can pay off in all sorts of ways. First, if they like you and your work, there is every chance they will come back to you for more in future.

Here's an example. Over ten years ago I answered a newspaper ad for a short story writer. I sent in a sample story, which was accepted, and ended up writing 11 more for the novelty publishing house in question. Another editor in the company saw my stories and asked if I'd like to contribute to a project he was working on. The upshot is, for that one company I've written humorous recipe books, Internet guides, quiz books, party packs, 'Cyberbabe' and 'Cyberboyfriend' CD-ROMs, online games, tee-shirt and mug slogans, and many more - all stemming from that one 'little' job ten years ago.

What's more, editors move on to new jobs, and naturally they like to bring their favorite writers with them. An example again: years ago I wrote a series of articles on business-related matters for an editor I'll call Vanessa. That went pretty well, then she got a job as editor for a personal finance newsletter, and she asked me to write regular articles for that as well. This continued for some time, and I even carried on writing for the newsletter for several years after Vanessa moved on.

Then Vanessa went freelance, and one of the assignments she got was writing a series of travel books. While she was working on those, the publisher asked her if she knew any other writers who might be interested in writing a similar book, and she put my name forward. The result was that I ended up writing two books about living and working in Italy and Germany.

Of course, networking is a two-way thing, and it works best if you can reciprocate. So I was pleased to be able to put some work Vanessa's way later with another of the mail-order publishers I work for regularly.

And here's another - slightly strange - example of how networking can pay off for all concerned. Last month, I switched roles with a fellow writer/editor called John, whom I've known for many years. Here's how it happened...

For over ten years I've been editing a series of monthly updates on investment-related topics. Most of them were written by John, though occasionally I contributed one myself.

Anyway, the publishers decided that the series finally had to end, so I thought that was both me and John out a job. Then they got back to say they were launching a newsletter on a similar topic, and would I be interested in editing it for them?

Well, because of all my other work, I didn't want to take on another major monthly commitment. But it occurred to me that John would be ideal for the role, so I recommended him to my client. The result is that John has just been appointed editor, and has asked me to write articles for him every month. So, as I say, we've swapped roles, but otherwise it's business as usual!

These things happen regularly in the writing world. In my view, delivering a good service and building up a network of fellow authors, editors and other publishing industry professionals are the two most important things any writer can do to ensure a long and successful career in this field.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Shruti Chandra Gupta said...

I agree with you, Nick. Building personal relationships is a good way to promote your writing. Of course, good writing is a must.

I think that holds true for every profession where selling is concerned.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Shruti. That's certainly been my experience. Reliability is a key factor too. Clients want to know that they can rely on you to deliver the goods.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Cheryl Antier said...

Hi Nick,

I totally agree with you - probably 85 -90% of my work as a writer comes these days from referrals, and a good percentage of those come from people I've never met. (Living in France makes it a little difficult to jet over to the states or Canada or Australia or New Zealand to meet people for some face-to-face networking!)

So I think building the relationships is more important than where you live. And if you have to, you can create strong relationships completely online. Although I enjoy meeting my clients whenever possible, and I'm thinking about attending some workshops and seminars next year too, just for the fun of getting to put faces to names.

And I also agree that you have to deliver a "good product" - even when that product is your services as a writer. This is especially crucial for writers just starting out and trying to build their reputation - and just like you said, if your first clients like their work, there's every chance they'll come back in the future.

Thanks for another great post - as always, your blog is both entertaining and informative!

Warmly,

Cheryl

10:29 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Cheryl. I very much appreciate your kind comments.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Maria-Thérèse said...

What if you're new though? What if you don't have a lot of previous work which may generate more? I'm mostly interested in writing fiction and poetry. One of my scripts was accepted by a publisher who wanted to change EVERYTHING so I ended up taking it back. I live in a small country and find it hard to get real opportunities.

Is it true that you need an agent to get published in America and England? (I write in two languages and speak four.)


www.afiori.com

10:48 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Interesting questions - thanks! I'll try to post a more in-depth answer to your first question on my blog soon.

Even if you're new to writing, I think the principles set out in this post apply, although I accept that you would need other ways of finding work initially. If I was starting out today, I would certainly try writing for sites such as Helium, to start building my online profile. I'd also consider bidding for work on job auction sites and such like. These are all matters covered in my course The Wealthy Writer, by the way: http://www.nickdaws.co.uk/wwriter.htm

And no, you don't need an agent to get published - I don't have one and have never found any need for one. If you write a best-selling novel (say) you would certainly benefit from having an agent then, but otherwise I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Hope that helps!

Nick

5:01 PM  
Blogger Maria-Thérèse said...

Thank you! I will check out your suggestions.

♥ maria-thérèse www.afiori.com

7:49 PM  

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