Building Your Profile as a Writer
“Have you ever had anything published?”
That seems to be the first question people ask when they find out you want be a writer. It’s such a frustrating question, because it whittles your passion and commitment down to a simple byline. And when you explain how hard it is to achieve the right combination of luck, talent and good timing when appealing to a literary journal or publisher, it sounds like you’re making excuses for yourself.
Then there are the writing mentorships and residencies. Sure, they’re targeted at fledgling writers looking to develop their craft, but there’s no denying they look favourably on applicants with an established history. Applying for one can seem a little like applying for those entry-level positions that ask for 1-3 years experience when you’re fresh out of uni. You need the experience to apply for the job, but you need the job for the experience.
It all depends on the kind of writer you want to be. If you intend to approach a publisher with your manuscript one day, it could help to have proof that you can engage readers. If writing is a hobby or a more personal passion, maybe you want to confirm to yourself that ‘yeah, I can do this!’ by seeing your name in print. Regardless of your reason, there are some approaches you can take to build your writerly portfolio.
Submit to small literary journals
Though we’d all love to see our name smartly printed in Meanjin, small literary publications are thirsty for work by new and emerging writers because they’re also trying to create a name for themselves, and they can be very receptive to your work. Many of them can’t afford to pay you, so you will have to decide how comfortable you are about publishing your work sans compensation, but I think we all know that writing isn’t always going to bring in the big bucks.
A good way to find these pubs? Pick up an issue of a well-known journal like Meanjin or Overland and flip to the contributors section at the back. Skim through the authors’ publication histories, and you might find the name of a niche journal that’s perfect for your zany speculative fiction or experimental literary prose.
University publications are another excellent option. Offset and Visible Ink are both currently on the hunt for submissions. Big names like MJ Hyland, Kate Holden, Toni Jordan and Chris Womersley have all had their work published in back editions of these journals, so they’re nothing to scoff at.
After serving on the committee for Visible Ink last year, I can tell you your work will be carefully considered by a group of committed editors. More often than not, rejections are based on a piece’s lack of suitability rather than a lack of talent, so keep that in mind when submitting. Follow the guidelines (adhere to the theme, if there is one. Don’t go over the word count!), because these basic instructions are so often ignored, and this makes the editorial committee cranky. Lesser known literary journals are also often quite light on artistic submissions, so point your artist friends there, if you’re not that way inclined yourself.
Make sure you keep up to date with these pubs on Facebook and Twitter so you know when submissions open and close. If they extend their deadline and you’ve been waffling about a submission, send it in – it might be code for ‘we don’t have enough work’ and you could be missing out on an ideal opportunity.
Don’t let fear hold you back – if you have something you think others might enjoy reading, send it in!
Submit to local competitions
Small competitions are going to have fewer entrants due to the limits of their publicity, so there is a greater chance that you will place. And that prize is something you can add to a grant application or a fellowship application in the future.
Local councils can also be quite generous with prize money – we’re talking thousands of dollars here – and entries are restricted to residents, so it’s worth checking out your local council website to see if they run any creative competitions. The City of Monash is currently running the WordFest 2013 Short Story Competition. The Brimbank Short Story, Poetry and Songwriting competition closes July 12. The Boroondara Literary Awards run until August 30.
The Australian Writers’ Resource is regularly updated with area-specific, national and international writing competitions.
Volunteer to write reviews and commentary for websites
If you’re not a fiction writer, never fear. There are countless websites out there looking for your opinions. Killings accept pitches on all manner of pop-culture subjects, while Lip publish one-off reviews, opinions and commentary (they also advertise for columnists on an irregular basis, so they’re worth following on social media). Email blogs you enjoy reading to find out if they accept pitches – you won’t lose anything by trying.
Again, they rarely pay, but there are other benefits. Your work is exposed to a wide network of readers and you’re promoted on their social media pages. Lip send free books out to reviewers.
Despite the fact that you’re writing this work for free, the quality still matters. Edit ahead of time. The online editor will appreciate it because it shows you’re serious about your work, and it can’t hurt to establish a relationship with them. Their print counterpart (if they have one) will remember your name if you submit something down the line. And you know who else remembers you? Google. That article will be associated with your name for a long time, so it shouldn’t be something you hastily cobbled together when you were watching Game of Thrones. Especially if Daenerys was being a badass at the time. How could you possibly concentrate?
Start a blog
It’s no secret that blogging is a popular pastime among writers, which can make it can seem like a pointless exercise – what if your blog just gets lost in the conversation?
The thing is, you never know who’s going to stumble across one of your articles. What if they approach you to guest blog on their site? Before you know it you’re attracting traffic and making a name for yourself.
If nothing else, a blog demonstrates your passion for writing.
It’s all about consistency, which can be surprisingly hard to manage. Many bloggers (myself included!) get hit by a burst of energy when they first start out, before they’re sidetracked or uninspired and the posts start to languish. You have to be committed to it. It’s important to understand from the offset what you want your blog to be about, to give it a consistency in tone and subject matter. It’s also worth building up the frequency of your posts, instead of starting with 5 posts a week and dropping back to 1.
There are some tricks you can use to get your WordPress posts ranking on Google, if you have the time to do the research. Plug yourself on social media, look into the mechanics of SEO, or set up a gravatar, link it to a Google + profile, and hey presto, your image appears alongside your posts on Google searches.
Now over to you. How are you building your profile as a writer?