OK, new topic.  Any published writers here?


Moderator Emeritus
Dec 11, 2002
I'm not talking about the great American novel, and I'm not even talking short stories. I'm setting my sights lower-- say a local newsletter or a newspaper/online column. Anyone here done that in a way that fits with an ER lifestyle?

Spouse frequently notes my 100 WPM keyboard rattling with the comment "Nords, you have a book in you". She's probably right, but I'm not sure that my literary potential has anything book-length worth foisting on the unwary public. While there's plenty to write about, I tend to have a short attention span and an aversion to tight deadlines. In a world of literati & poets I'm more of a plumber writing "How To" books.

Erma Bombeck used to admonish her writer wannabes "If you wonder whether you're a writer, you're not." Another famous author used to open his workshops with the question: "Who here wants to be a writer?" When all the hands went up, he'd reply "Then why aren't you home writing?" Robert Miles debated Berkshire Hathaway for years on TMF and then wrote a book excerpted from all those posts-- "101 Reasons to Invest in Berkshire Hathaway." The irony was that people paid good money for an organized paper version of TMF's archives! Po Bronson ("What Should I Do With My Life?") took publishing jobs for five years to learn how to get his writing published more effectively.

I'm not trying to make any money or to change the world-- I'm just wondering if there's a coherent focus for all of these backlogged words. It would probably take the form of answering questions or expositing on something interesting (hopefully short of Andy Rooney). Does anyone have any words of wisdom on what worked for them? Sending articles to local newspapers or magazines? Seeking on-line assignments? Attending writer's workshops (bleagh)? Picking contract work off the internet?
I have letters and an occasional column published in several of the local newspapers from time to time, usually about some current topic. Recently I've written half page columns on drunk driving, cell phone usage by drivers, and the closure of a local throughway due to terrorism concerns. All three issues weigh heavy with statistics and studies, hence my interest.

The way I went about this was writing letters to the editors, corresponding with them about many issues, and in general becoming "known" to them as a supplier of good free material. Several of my submissions brought requests for fleshing-out into columns. I even felt like I was really more engaged in the community by writing about local events.

The book thing keeps coming to me and I must have had 50 people tell me to write one.

About what? I guess a topic that would root me to the word processor just hasnt occurred to me yet.

I hate deadlines as well, and I cant imagine spending structured time trying to "produce" sometime. Hell, the oil in one of my lawnmowers needed to be changed two years ago...
Re: OK, new topic.  Any published writers here?

No, blog. If you just want to make friends and influence people, then blogging is a simple way to self-publish. If you want to make money, that's harder.

Even if the goal were making money, I would start with a website. Pick your subject. Go into enough depth to build traffic to your site. Having a site out there will give you lots of immediate feedback (if people can find you) -- something you can't easily get by publishing on paper. You can always transfer the electrons to paper once you have enough material, structure, and positive feedback from your online audience.
am Re: OK, new topic.  Any published writers here?

Nords, I have authored and published a book (non-fiction) and magazine articles. Of course there are entire books written on how to get published, but here are few observations:

-- Major publishers (most of the heavy hitters are located in New York) have largely left the screening to literary agents. Most agents are inundated with book proposals, so your goal is to keep your proposal from ending up on the slush pile. So the most important thing you'll write isn't the book, it's the proposal (non-fiction writers don't write the book until they get a publisher and a contract).

-- Publishers are risk averse, so it helps if others have already passed judgment on you. Getting some national recognition in the area you're writing about is essential. Having some magazine articles under your belt helps too. For example, I started by volunteering to participate on a televised panel sponsored by a national magazine. I just wrote to the editor and offered to participate. I had a unique angle they were interested in using, but I was an unknown. To get around that they hired me to write an article for them, which they rushed into the next issue to get me some exposure. Then I spoke at the event they sponsored, along with their editor, a best-selling author, and an industry expert. That led to another magazine doing an article about me, and then another, and so on. Within a year I was able to list several things that sounded impressive, but in reality were only the result of being on that one panel. (I am no longer impressed when I hear others list media exposure).

-- The key for me was to separate myself from the herd. I examined what others were writing and developed a different approach nobody else was doing. While it IS important to write in an area that is hot at the moment, it also helps to approach the subject differently.

-- The whole process was much more work than I ever anticipated, but most can be done from home. Writing the book with all the contractual deadlines wasn't even half of it. Marketing the book consumed a great deal more time than writing it. It involved travel, TV appearances, many radio interviews (in my case around 50), newspaper interviews, and public appearances, usually at book stores. Most of the radio can be done from home by phone (but not all). The publisher paid all airfare, hotels, meals, and other expenses, but the time involved was significant and went on fairly regularly for about a year. I had grossly underestimated the time involved in marketing. I expected the book tour, but the book was published about four years ago, and I still get an occasional call from newspaper columnists wanting a few quotes. I always oblige and hope to use the exposure to do another book someday. For now I'm still burned out on it.

-- Marketing is more important than writing when it comes to getting published, although both are required. I'm certain there are many unpublished books that are far better than mine.

-- Some authors are self-publishing and I will seriously consider that if I write another. I'll need to do more research on that. With a publisher you'll get an advance and there will be no out-of-pocket expense. But after that you have a very steep mountain to climb before you earn any more.

Anyway, those are a few things that come to mind. In my opinion, writing is an ideal ER activity, and I plan to do more of it. You, and many who post here are excellent writers.
I've had a few odds and ends published so far. I did an entry for the "Dictionary of Literary Biography" when I was still a grad student, and my dissertation is "published" in the sense of being available through whatever company handles copies of dissertations... At least one person did buy a copy last year, though - I got a royalty statement for something like $1.78! :)

I've been trying to "break through" and get more stuff published... most notably a book I'm working on (and almost finished) called "Spending Wisely, Living Well" - basically a how-to on how to make decisions about money. Not on how to invest money, or how to get out of debt - there are tons of books about that - but just the 'common sense' decisions of judging price vs. quality, how to buy things used, etc., that a lot of people haven't learned. So far no luck with a publisher - the proposal and sample chapters are at the second publisher for consideration so far. It's a good book, dammit! They should publish it! :D On the same theme, but more productively, I did sell a couple of short articles on frugality topics to The Dollar Stretcher, which boosted my self-esteem at least!

I actually do a lot of writing every day, because when I'm not working on my book, I'm writing DVD reviews. I write reviews for a web site called DVDTalk - I don't get paid, but I get free movies, and LOTS of them! Sure, not all of them are great, but it's like having my own personal Netflix for free. And since I'm near the 500 mark for total reviews, it does give me a degree of credibility as a reviewer - a lot of the DVD reviewers out there will do some, then get bored and stop. It's nice to know that what I write actually gets read by a lot of people, and even helps them make decisions about what to buy... I get a fair amount of nice emails from readers, especially since the titles I review often haven't been reviewed by anyone else.

I have a ton of projects that I want to work on... Rewriting my dissertation for a general audience... a kids' story... Lots of things. I'm trying to keep focused on "the book" right now, though - I really want to see it published. (And get paid for it - I don't want to self-publish.)
Re: OK, new topic.  Any published writers here?

Consider publishing a web page using Google Adsense to advertise. Some suggestions for successful websites using Adsense:

  • Write many small pages, about 500 - 1000 characters each
  • Make sure the pages are optimized for search engines
  • Target focused niches where you can get good search engine ranking
  • Choose subjects which are interesting to you
  • Try to keep an overall theme to your site, but follow a number of subjects when writing pages
  • Write one quality page per day

This strategy works well on the web today, however the web does change rapidly.
Re: am OK, new topic.  Any published writers here?

You, and many who post here are excellent writers.

Allow me to second this. Right away I noticed that people write more clearly and interestingly on this board than on others that I know about.

And now, it turns out that many are professional writers. I guess that explains it!

Re: OK, new topic.  Any published writers here?

I really want to see it published. (And get paid for it - I don't want to self-publish.)
Holly, good luck with the book. Regarding your comment about self-publishing; for a first book I believe it is good to go with a publisher for many reasons. That's what I did and I don't regret it. But there are two types of self-publishing:

Some "writers" self publish through a vanity press. The author pays for the printing. They buy a couple hundred books and go around telling everyone they have "published" a book. They announce it to the local small town paper, have book signings locally, sell 50-60 books locally, and are forever viewed as an "author" by many of their friends and neighbors. They are the ones who give self-publishing the stigma it has.

The second type of self-publishing is becoming a more frequent path taken by genuine writers. Once they've used a publisher to gain some credibility and learn the ropes, they run the numbers and discover that while the publisher did pay for their work, they may very well have made much more money if they had hired an editor, proofer, printer, publicist, etc. Once you've been through the process, you tend to examine the role of the publisher and see that their contributions, while valuable, could have been purchased for a much lower cost elsewhere.
Re: OK, new topic.  Any published writers here?

I have some experience writing, editing, and publishing. I have 5 technical books, 2 young adult fiction books (co-written with my DW), a regular column for a quarterly magazine, and hundreds of journal and conference articles.

I like writing and that's the primary reward. If you add up all the advances and royalties for all the published material and divide it by the number of hours I've spent writing, I'm sure that I'm well below minimum wage.

A second benefit is that I am sometimes treated "special" by engineers or young adults or teachers or archaeologists that are familiar with my work. When our first book was published, my DW and I got invited to be guests on radio and TV interview shows and were featured in a number of newpaper and magazine articles. That was a neat experience -- not as glamorous as it sounded before we did it -- but neat.

I haven't really taken on a writing project (other than my regular magazine column) since I retired. I have a few projects in mind, but I'm enjoying retirement too much right now. Eventually, most writing projects involve effort that resembles work. There is a deadline for some part of the work, there are galleys to proof, there is the need to sell your idea to a publisher, there is the gawdawful book signing event, . . . It may be very satisfying in the end, but I'm avoiding the part of writing that involves effort right now by avoiding the writing.

I'm not high on self publishing -- even for most experienced authors. One of the problems with self-publishing is that it also means self distribution. I met an author (at a book signing event) who self-published a book about fishing spots in Arizona. He had been very successful with his book because he went around to lodges and general stores, etc. near all the spots he talked about in the book and distributed it himself. But he is the only self-published author I've ever known personally that really did well.

One thing I've learned by working in more than one publishing market is that they all work differently. Some require an agent, some don't want to work through an agent, some want a query letter, some want samples, some want no samples but a summary, . . . And all are quick to reject if you haven't researched them first and given them exactly what they want. I once read a quote from a very successful author who said, "Getting a publisher to publish your book works like this: No, no, no, no, no, no, . . . . . . yes. It's important that the author knows that only the yes at the end matters."

I think you might like and certainly deserve to see some of your writing published. I would suggest you think about some opportunities you might want to try, research how those opportunites choose their words, and jump in and submit.
Re:  Thanks, this is good.

I spent the final eight years of my career in adult education, including writing curriculum and textbooks. So the columns & technical-writing aspects appeal to me.

The best part is that everyone here seems to do it a different way. I can only imagine the number of times I'd have to fly through LAX on book tours. No thanks!

I suspected that most of writing was too much like real work. But I also see that someday an opportunity is going to hit me upside the head like a wet mullet. I can wait!
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