Several years ago, my wife gave me a book for Christmas. That’s usually a safe bet for a gift to me since I will read and enjoy practically anything.
The book she bought that year was, “Sincerely, Andy Rooney.” This book was comprised of a collection of questions people had sent to Rooney, along with his responses. Some were deadly serious; others were insanely funny.
One letter caught my attention. The writer asked Rooney:
Dear Mr. Rooney,
How can I become a rich and successful writer just like you?
The curmudgeonly columnist answered in typically Rooney fashion:
Becoming a writer is easy. You just find out what the publisher wants, when he needs it, and how many words he needs. It doesn’t have to be very good.
When I read that, I laughed so hard I almost spewed my Cheerios across the breakfast table.
The trouble is that what Rooney said is very true. Being a writer really is about that easy. And, being successful in the writing business really does amount to the steps Rooney listed.
1. Find out what the publisher wants. Finding out what a publisher wants is as easy as reading the publication, checking out their needs in Writers Market, WritersWeekly, and other publications. Editors will even tell you what they want, but you must ask, and listen when they answer.
As the former editor of a small, hometown magazine, I can say that editors receive massive piles of submissions every day, most of them junk. This includes science fiction, “Me and Joe” stories, and nearly everything else—all of it not the least bit usable.
2. When he wants it. Being an editor means more than just making sure the words stand up straight. In fact, with the smallest publications, being an editor means having to deal with budgets, schedules, and nearly everything else at a publication. Editors nearly always schedule stories to appear in certain issues, which necessitates knowing when a manuscript will be received from a writer. When an editor asks for an ETA, give them one—and stick to it.
I can’t tell you how many times I have received a call from an editor when they were working with a writer who failed to deliver an article, and that editor needed to fill a space. Fortunately, I usually had something they could use, and I was handsomely rewarded for it. This doesn’t even count the reputation I earned for being a reliable source.
3. How many words does he need? Editors don’t like white space in their publications. Neither do subscribers. Having enough articles with enough words in them to fill pages is a critical matter. When an editor says they need a given number of words, give it to them—no less.
4. It doesn’t have to be very good. This is a joke, sort of. The truth is, good writing trumps everything. But don’t sell yourself short. Being a writer is a mental game, as are so many other things in life. That’s all.
When I started writing about 40 years ago, I had what most people would consider a “charmed” background. I had a college degree in journalism, along with a bit of experience. What I didn’t know at the time is that I had everything I needed.
After I was graduated, I went in search of whatever it was that I thought I needed. This often entailed taking classes that, as I look back on it, were taught by people who didn’t have near the experience I did. One instructor even told me, “You’re better qualified to teach this class than I am.”
That’s when it hit me that I had everything I needed to be successful. College degrees and other credentials don’t matter. It’s the desire to work and learn that makes all the difference in the world.
Go out and do it. Make Andy proud.
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- Upselling Editors for Added Income By John K. Borchardt – 04 2011
- If You Are “Sympathy Pitching” Editors and Publishers, PLEASE STOP! by Brian P. Whiddon, Managing Editor – 01 2019
- When Freelance Writers are Toxic, Unstable, and Abusive to Editors By Angela Hoy – 07 2015
Michael W. Michelsen, Jr. is a freelance writer living in a cultural wasteland commonly known as Southern California. He specializes in business and technology subjects, but is not too proud to consider virtually any subject. Readers can reach him by email, Muck Rack, or LinkedIn. Facebook does nothing but frustrate him, but if you insist, you can see his page here.
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