Having your adolescence formed by the trifecta of private school, gangsta-rap, and a venal, acquisitive culture that values wealth above everything else (but I repeat myself) is a dangerous thing, when it comes to setting your priorities. Which is to say that for myself, high up the list is cash money. And this is the thing. This right here is my sole marketable skill. I can write a little bit. Beyond that, my only talents are balancing in high heels and drinking an inhuman amount of pineapple juice, and no-one outside of Dubai is going to pay me to do those. So with that in mind, and noding for the ages, let me give you a little career advice.
If you want to get rich, don't be a writer.
You'd think that would be obvious. Note that I'm not saying it's impossible. Maybe you're lucky enough or talented enough to pull it off. People do. But if that's the only reason you're doing it, then, in the nicest possible terms, I ask you cordially to fuck off and become an investment banker instead. You'll get much wealthier with much less effort, with only a slight risk of being the first up against the wall when the revolution comes. Because if you intend to write for publication, I have a lot of bad news for you.
Firstly, make friends with rejection, because you'll be spending a lot of time with it. It doesn't matter how talented you think you are. That thing you spent months working on, that you polished to within an inch of its life, that you are proud of like a father with his newborn child? Expect it to get rejected out of hand everywhere you try. Don't expect feedback, and don't expect reasons. If you do get reasons, don't expect them to be good ones. You could try and pitch an article about flanges to Flange Magazine, 'home of the flange', and get a letter back saying that it's not in keeping with the tone of the magazine. This will happen a lot. And every time it does, you need to suck it up, work out what needs changing about it, and send it somewhere else or start on something new. Ideally both. I have a lot of respect for failed writers, partly because I am one and partly because it takes a certain resilience to keep being a failed writer. A failed actor is just another name for a waiter, but it's a different kind of failure. You see, the 'failed' in 'failed writer' is misleading. Failure is not a one-time thing, or even a gradual thing. It's a constant background noise, that continues until you do get something published, and then fades once it's out of circulation or you've spent any money you earned from it. You see what I mean about persistence? Hard work is always mandatory, but it's no guarantee that you'll get even the slightest thing back.
Being a starving artist is not romantic.
You are not Arthur Rimbaud. You will not be sitting in a garret drinking absinthe. You will not be able to afford absinthe. Possibly you will not be able to afford a garret. And sooner or later you will end up paying for things in pennies, because all the money you have in the house is in accumulated change. At which point, you'll either have to get a straight job or resort to whoring out whatever talent or work ethic you have online. Which brings me onto lesson number three.
When doing hack writing jobs, the question is not 'will I get fucked', but 'how badly will I get fucked'?
It is possible to earn money doing the hack writing jobs that crop up on the internet. Note that I said 'money', not 'a living', because you will not make more than a pittance, at least at first. There are a million sites that will promise you the moon - oDesk, Elance, Associated Content or even the goddamned fuckmothering Mechanical fucking Turk. Allow me to offer you a piece of advice. You would make more money by volunteering for laboratory tests, and probably it would be less humiliating. The reality of writing for payment online is getting an email saying, "Hey, we need a 400 page eBook on windscreen wipers by tomorrow", and being excited. You will see jobs offering $12 for 50 hours of transcription, recorded in a room where someone was banging two dustbin lids together over the entire conversation, and seriously consider whether that's a good investment of your time. It isn't.
Spending five minutes looking at what people are willing to pay for will crush any optimism left in your soul. Here are some examples I've grabbed just now:
- ghost writer needed. write 10 prime rib recipes
I NEED A RESEARCH PAPER DONE BY 7 AM EASTERN TIME TOMM MORNING. MUST BE A MINIMUM OF 5 PAGES THE TOPIC IS : HOW HAS/DOES THE INTERNET AFFECT MARKETING/ADVERTISING MUST BE ORIGINAL WORK
I have a Facebook Game that is loosely based around Kung Fu Pets, You start off as a baby animal and train him to be a grand master. The game has 15 Tiers of levels and each tier has 8 Missions / Lessons. I need a creative person to come up with a very compelling story for the game
URGENT HELP: WE REQUIRE A SCRIPT FOR A 30 SEC VIDEO. Concept is below. MUST PROVIDE SCRIPT IN 3 HOURS OR CONTRACT WILL BE CANCELLED!!
I need 10 unique articles on the following topic of 500 words a piece: How to choose the best Tampa chiropractor.
The job will be to read a blog article, come up with a relevant and descriptive comment for it. I will pay $0.33 cents per comment submitted.
And you'll write worse. You'll write articles about piles. You'll write about kettles. You'll do kids' homework for them. You'll ghostwrite law school personal statements. You'll ghostwrite sermons. And at any given time there will be a thousand people who could do it just as well, cheaper. And you'll hate it. But if you want to write and get paid for it straight away, that's what it is. Oh, and while you're doing that, you still have to keep doing the writing you were already doing, and editing it, and submitting it, and living with it when it gets turned down again. You have to keep coming up with new ideas while getting every ounce of creativity pulped out of you by an endless stream of shitty jobs.
You might say, Montag, how do I avoid this horrible trap? Well, my answer is, don't try and be a writer. There are ways to limit how badly you get fucked, though. For god's sake, don't use oDesk, or Elance, or Textbroker, you'll hate yourself for it and earn nothing, and Elance in particular is a bitch to use. Constant Content aren't too bad, because their fees aren't outrageous (thirtysomething percent) and you're writing trying to anticipate what people will want, not barking like a trained seal. You might also give Demand Media Studios a try. Never pay for work, fucking ever. If a site tries to charge you a registration fee, it's a scam. But even if you do well and earn money and don't hate it, it's not writing. It's purely mechanical. It's information. And information wants to be paid.
So how do you become a successful author? Well, I mentioned luck already. You might also consider cheating. Christ, half the jobs on webzines go to the people who Know A Guy. Don't expect to get paid for that, and laugh in their face if anyone promises you 'future money, once we're up and running', but it's all experience, and it fills up the gaps on your CV. Plus it's very, very useful to have a stock of published work to fall back on when pitching ideas elsewhere, because editors will always want samples when it comes to journalism. On the creative side, I'd tell you to read the magazine you're submitting to first, but no-one fucking does that, even if it is a good idea, because who can afford it? They should have stuff up on the website you can read, so judge the content they're looking for as best you can from there. And never send a bitchy reply to a rejection letter. It isn't funny or clever, it will not change anyone's mind, and if you ever do any editing you'll learn this first-hand.
Have I put you off writing? Good, fuck off. If not, congratulations, you may actually be suited to it. Welcome to the club, here's your first bulk pack of Ramen to get you started. Because the truth is, you never really had a choice. There's one thing writers have in common, and nothing else, and that's the compulsion. You may as well have a gun to your head for all the difference it makes. This isn't a career, it's a hostage situation. Because whatever I say to dissuade you, whatever happens to fuck things up, you're going to write because you can't not. Solidarity.