I want to share a secret with you. A secret that will help you make your reputation as a writer and land repeat assignments with editors in every field.
Years ago I worked at a daily newspaper as a reporter and covered the city beat. One particularly slow Friday afternoon the city editor buzzed me to let me know I had a call. It was the city manager, and he was not happy.
“Tom, is there any way you can come by my office in the next hour or so? I’ve got a story for you, but I can’t wait long.” We knew each other well enough that I didn’t even ask what the story was. I just told him I’d be there in fifteen minutes. As I headed through the newsroom I stopped at the city editor’s desk and said, “There’s something going on with the city manager and it sounds big. I’m going to go talk to him.”
I had no clue what was going on until I arrived at his office.
“Tom,” he said, “we screwed up. The city has made a big mistake. And even though it was an honest mistake, we’re going to get a black eye from this one and that’s why I called you first. I’ll call the other papers after we finish, but it will be too late for their deadlines.”
I thanked him and he cut me off. “Don’t thank me. I’m looking out for the city. At least with you, even though this is going to be bad, you’ll show both sides of the problem and let the readers draw their own conclusions. You’ll give us a fair story.”
Those words are gold to a reporter. And to a writer.
Your integrity will take you places you never imagined and it will get you repeat assignments.
Another example: I have written eight study guides for one particular publisher. After writing the first two, I got a call from the editor asking me if I could write in a third project for them.
“I’m in sort of a bind,” she told me. “I need it pretty quick and I told my boss I’d call you because you tend to work fast, you give us exactly what we want, and we don’t have to edit your work very much.”
I finished that one a week early.
Integrity is more than just being fair and telling the truth, though those are important qualities. Integrity is also about hitting deadlines. Doing your best work. Being easy to work with. Being a professional in every sense.
If you talk to enough editors and agents you will find that such traits are highly prized in the writing community…and not always in great supply.
Integrity also means making career decisions based on what is going to work. Not what we feel like doing. I had a conversation with my agent two days ago and the result of that conversation is that I am (1) putting my current novel aside because it probably won’t sell and (2) striking out in a new literary direction because it probably will.
I really hate that I’m not going to finish the novel. But I like the fact that I am about to embark on a new writing adventure. One that will allow me to tell my stories to a wider audience.
So, this week, I have no markets for you to check out. No free writer’s tools. Just a promise that the integrity you bring to your writing career will pay off in ways you never imagined.
Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense/Christian horror and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (www.somethingstirs.com). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show.