Home » About Me » Dream Big? Start Small

Dream Big? Start Small

The first time I sold a short story, it was a very small sale. It was for a tiny little e-publishing company that published on a website and sold compactions through Amazon. I wasn’t paid. And I’m pretty sure it was simply someone looking for stuff to sell through Amazon Kindle. It’s not a bad site, but I think they would have accepted just about anything given them.

But, you know what? I was excited. It made me happy that I’d been published, even if it was a much smaller venue than I’d hoped.

The second time I was published, it was a small writing/drawing job for the office where my mother works. This one, I did get paid for, and I wrote illustrated information pamphlets to be handed out at the office. It wasn’t much of a first paying job, as my mother had gotten it for me. Still, it made me feel good to get paid to write and draw something.

When I mentioned this on a forum, and mentioned that my credentials were nothing special, someone told me something that’s stuck with me for some time.
“A sale is a sale.”

This is true. Naturally, when I first started trying to get things published, I submitted things to well-known magazine titles with large reader bases, good sized publishing houses and things like that. Like so many of us, I got rejected. Surely it was the quality of the writing that counted, and not the length of my resume or the fact that I was an unpublished author that mattered, right?

Well, the truth is that occasionally a publishing house will find someone they are very excited about who has never been published, and declare to the stars that they have “discovered” them.

Do not count on this happening.

As heartbreaking as it is, a writer needs a resume. In order to build your resume, please know that there is no shame in thinking small. Poetry contests for county fairs, articles for church newsletters, community newspapers, all of these things and more provide an invaluable source of beginning resume fodder.

No, writing for your church newsletter will not get you discovered by Random House. But, it might get you noticed by someone looking for someone to write for a local newspaper, which might get you work for a small circulation magazine and so on.

I think we all remember the 1990’s movie “What About Bob.” The “Baby Steps” joke did get worn out. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable.

Start as high as you want. If you wrote a story that you love, submit it to the biggest, most famous publisher in the land. If it gets rejected, it’s not going to get a big “Rejected by…” stamp on it for all to see. There’s nothing to lose. If you get published, that’s great. But, if you don’t, you might want to build your resume and readership.

And, if it’s your resume you’re looking to create, don’t be afraid to think local, and think small. Eventually, the more little jobs you do, the bigger the jobs will become. Then, with hard work, you just might reach your writing goals.

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2 thoughts on “Dream Big? Start Small

  1. Unless you’re actually in it for the money, the only thing making a sale gets you is some outside validation as to your worth as a writer – unless of course you’re doing as you suggest and building up your résumé. Long ago I decided my goal as a writer would be to get read, not of necessity to get paid. Getting published in a reasonably popular venue does increase your chances of being read. Getting paid to be read would add some welcome garnish even for us into writing as nothing more than a hobby. And getting paid consistently might mean you’d be able to quit all your other jobs and just write. (Since I’m retired, that’s not an issue for me.)

    Because my goal is so limited, I’m not bothered by a lack of monetary validation. But then I’m primarily into local history. That’s a bit different than fiction in that most local history venues are so starved for copy they’ll at least do a partial read-through on most any legible manuscript submitted. So for me a résumé is more a personal memento than a business credential.

    I would think of the many torpedoes a writer launches, the one most likely to loop around and sink your own boat is to write for any reason other than creating a readable story. The singular axiom of writing – that nasty little truth that eventually has to crowd out dreams of commercial validation, issues of self-worth, thirst for peer vindication, and even that elusive spark of fame – is that the story always has to be the primary objective on the writer’s mind. Once you believe that, it’s much easier to shape your story to the specific market.

    And to consistently sell your work, you do need to target your markets. You’re no longer writing for pleasure, self-gratification, or to pass the time. You’re out to create a commercial product. If you can still have fun with your writing – and why write if you can’t – then that’s all the better. And while it’s true that a track record of published works might get your manuscript picked out of the slurry of incoming submissions, the story you’re submitting is still – in each and every case – going to have to convince the publisher to buy on its own merits.

    Chances are at least a few people will be reading the bits of local history I string together for years to come because they do preserve some specific little piece of the past. Not many people will be interested in any given historic slice perhaps, but enough will be interested to have made the writing of the item worthwhile. The thing is, because I’ve targeted my writing to a specific audience, coming up with story ideas and then writing those stories down has become a whole lot easier. I expect the same would be true if the goal is to write for profit – or to build your résumé. Pick a target or set of targets, then go on the hunt for something those targets are likely to like. You can do it the other way around, but I’m not sure that’s as businesslike.

    • I think a lot of people forget, creativity is as important to a non-fiction writer than it is to a fiction writer. Writing what you love is the most important thing. Some people love journalism, some history, some love making up wild fantasies, but writing is writing.

      And, yes, a lot of us would like to make a living writing. If that’s is the case, your resume does matter. A lot of us forget that.

      Of course, targeting your audience is vital. We forget that too. As always, I so love reading your replies. Thank you!

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