It’s disheartening, to put it mildly. Writers with dreams of making their living by the clicking of their keyboards go to college, get a degree, and then vanish. The novel was finished, but never really went anywhere; the blog died after its seventh post. Student loans and jokes about what to do with an English major only add insult to injury. There’s no traction. So what’s missing?
If you want to be a writer, then you probably think (in those moments when you aren’t crippled by self-doubt) that you have something worth saying. The good news is, you probably do, and college is a great place to start recognizing and refining those ideas. But you can’t do it alone. The act of writing might happen in isolation, but the heart of writing is founded in experiences. Writers must surround themselves with others writers, but also with people who are passionate about everything but writing, be it social justice or the technicalities of rock climbing. You need people to rattle all that you take for granted. Choosing not to network is like choosing to turn off spell-check and swearing off a thesaurus. Fortunately, we live in the age of the Internet and networking has never been easier. Social media has developed to the point that we can connect with communities across the world. We literally don’t have to get out of bed to engage with new people every day.
Whether you decide on a traditional publishing house or strike out on your own through self-publishing, every new author must understand the basics of marketing. People often confuse networking with marketing. Having 500 Facebook friends does not mean more people will buy your book or read your blog. The kid you knew in elementary school and what’s-his-name from that party last month might “like” your status, but that’s it. Marketing is one of two things: identifying and reaching your target audience, or finding an audience, identifying its needs, and then meeting those needs. If you want to make it as a writer, you need to find people who are willing to put down money for your work.
Engage and Contribute
Finally, writers need to stay engaged with and contribute to their communities. The work you’ve put in networking and researching your audience will make this easier. Engaging with a community keeps your ideas fresh and helps you identify that community’s needs so that you can better meet them. Writers also need to be contributing. Communities are sustained through contribution and it is communities in turn who sustain writers. You shouldn’t be willing to give away all your expertise for free – college degrees and textbooks are expensive for a reason – but helping others out and contributing new ideas will take you from being an observer to being part of that community. It is within such a community that a writer can finally get traction and begin to thrive.