Trading In On Success By Rachel Singer Gordon

Like many aspiring writers, I knew I wanted to be “an author” since I first learned that the ABCs, put together in just the right order, could form words. Like many aspiring writers, I allowed real life, self-doubt, and practicality to win out over that dream, and pursued varying careers in academia and librarianship. It is this last career that has allowed me to come full circle and again pursue the idea of being a writer.

During my first year as a professional librarian, I started familiarizing myself with various library trade publications. One day, as I was flipping through American Libraries, a notice caught my eye. The journal was seeking contributors to write short opinion pieces on library-related issues — and I had just the opinion for them. I tossed off a short article, sent it in, and received my first acceptance letter a month later.

Finding success on the first try buoyed my spirits (and the $150 check for an hour’s work didn’t hurt, either!). I began to keep an eye out for “calls for contributors” in library trade journals and e-mail discussion lists, and over the next few years published a number of articles in trade publications.

Writing for the trade journals also gave me the confidence to attempt more ambitious projects. When my library started offering public Internet classes, I was in charge of creating class materials and organizing workshops. Being a librarian, my first thought was to look up how. I found that there was quite a bit of material on teaching adult learners to use computers, but little aimed specifically at librarians.

The librarian in me saw a hole in the literature, but the author in me started thinking: “Someone should write a book.” I visited the web site of a large library trade publisher, found author guidelines online, and sent in a proposal. A year and a half later, I was holding an author copy of Teaching the Internet In Libraries. Because it did fill a need, the title has sold steadily — and the royalty checks have started coming.

The past couple of years, I have built on these initial successes by focusing on library trade publishing, finding success with sticking with what I know. Since publishing my first book, I’ve co-authored a second and have contracts for two additional titles.

Publishing steadily in a single field and building name recognition has paid off in another way; editors now sometimes come to me. I was contacted this past fall by an editor at a library journal to ask if I’d be interested in applying to write a monthly book review column. I was, I did, and now have a regular paid gig writing computer book reviews for them. The contract for book number four came through when an acquisitions editor read my previous work, e-mailed, and asked if I’d be interested in writing for their press.

Having a somewhat steady income in the form of royalty checks and article payments has recently enabled me to leave my library job and pursue another career as a freelancer. This type of writing is not exactly what I envisioned when I dreamed of being “an author,” but it has enabled me to combine my interests in both writing and librarianship — and to find professional, personal, and financial success.

Rachel Singer Gordon is a Chicago-area freelance writer and library consultant. She is the author of Teaching the Internet in Libraries (ALA Editions, 2001) and The Information Professional’s Guide to Career Development Online (Information Today, 2002), and her work has been published in Library Journal, Computers in Libraries, Link-Up, and Marketing Library Services. Rachel edits and publishes a bi-monthly electronic newsletter on career development issues for information professionals, and maintains a library careers web site at: