Anyone can blog — not everyone can write
This series of articles was specifically designed to help aspiring writers — people who look deep within themselves and say, yes, I want to do this for a living.
If you are not that person; if you only want to write to get your feelings and emotions out of your head and onto paper and don’t care about making a living doing it, this advice is not for you. That doesn’t take anything away from what you are doing, it’s just very different than people like myself, who dissect news articles for how they might have been done better.
We read movie and restaurant reviews and often ask ourselves, but was the place nice? If you were reviewing the restaurant, why order a hamburger?
If everywhere you go, you see a story, or you imagine writing fictional accounts of real-life events —or if you get infuriated every time you read or see a news report that is so blatantly the reporter’s opinion, an opinion that they do nothing to factually support, and if this fury makes you want to write the truth and shout it to the world — if you’re one of these like I am, this series of articles is for you. If it is you, you are going to want to read every word of this article and the others I write like it.
No, not to make sure I get $.05 in my next Medium check instead of $.02. But because it is exactly that type of lust for expressing ourselves that sets writers, journalists, and authors apart from the wannabes —dare I say, from the bloggers.
There is nothing wrong with being a blogger. But by definition, bloggers are only interested in disseminating their opinions. That’s what blogs are, personal op-eds (opinionated editorials) — basically personal rants about any topic the owner of the blog wishes. Blogs require no training, no skill, and certainly no talent. They are nothing more than a modern way for people to express themselves and there is a huge need for that in the world.
However, bloggers are NOT writers.
Before we get into all of that, just a short preamble
Okay, anyone who knows me knows that I do not harp on negativity. I genuinely like to see everyone thrive and succeed. That being said, anyone who has succeeded will tell you one common factor to success… hard work.
I published my first paid article in 1987 when I was 16 years old. I am a member of countless writer’s groups, across numerous platforms and I have taught English and Creative Writing to more than 5,000 students of all ages. The most common question asked by new and aspiring writers and authors is, not surprisingly, how can I get my work published?
It’s an important question, to be sure. But the question also carries a deeply rooted psychological inference which is part of the problem when it comes to trying to teach today’s students how to fulfill their dreams of becoming writers and authors. That is, many of them assume it is up to them if they become accredited writers and professionally published authors.
What’s worse, there is no shortage of people out there (professional marketers and salespeople) telling them that they alone can determine if they are a writer or not, mostly just by writing consistently and not giving up. These professional marketers and salespeople make their livings off of the ‘lessons’, ‘workshops’, ‘bootcamps’, and ‘courses’ they manage to sell to these aspiring writers.
While it is certainly true that the only way to perfect the craft of writing is to write incessantly, what they don’t tell you is that you also have to write correctly — incessantly. Something none of them offer, and for good reason, they themselves don’t know how.
Now I’m not talking about adjectives and adverb abundance (although those things are very important). We learn most of that in elementary school and, if we are substantial readers in our own right, there’s a good chance we’re pretty adept at this, even without knowing that we are. No, I’m talking about participles, verb tense agreements, and the proper use of compound modifiers. I’m talking about the formulas for plot conflict that every good story must have, the structure of the beginning, middle, and ending, and the fiendishly delicious use of masterful plot forms, allegories, and analogies.
If you want to be a professional writer, be it a journalist, non-fiction documentarist, or the next Stephen King, you need to know these things. But more than knowing them, you need to be able to identify them when you see them and even more immediately and instinctively miss them when they’re not present. That’s what professional writers do. All of us. Everyday.
Learning enough of this to pass high school is a pain in the ass, but not too difficult. Learning it well enough to use it effortlessly and consistently in your own writing, as well as to teach others how to do it — now that’s fracking hard!
This is just one small example of what makes a professional writer, a professional writer. And, no matter how smart we are, or how talented, none of us is ever qualified to give ourselves that designation. To do so is exactly analogous to someone going out and buying a really expensive stethoscope, then pronouncing themselves a brain surgeon.
Here’s a fact: All the YouTube videos, Google searches, and practice in the universe will never make you a brain surgeon.
Here’s another fact: None of those will ever make you a professional writer either.
About working to become a writer
While it is certainly up to each of us to put in the work, do the research, and understand the rules of grammar, diction, and syntax, just as with any other professional endeavor in the world, it is our peers and our colleagues — the masters of our chosen professions — who will ultimately decide if we have done enough and have what it takes to be considered a professional in our field, whatever field that is.
How Do Writers Get Published?
One issue that has been recurring amongst new and struggling authors since I came on the scene in 1987, and I’m sure, long before that, is how to get published. In recent years, deciding what publishing vehicle to use has also become a dilemma new writers must face.
To be totally honest, there is no single answer that suits everyone. However, pasting a link to your work onto a site that helps you sell it, without it ever having been vetted or edited by a professional writer who is so good at their craft that they became a professional editor, does not make you a published author — not under any definition of the word.
Since the advent of the internet and especially social media, when people post these questions and ask for help, I have always remained silent. That’s because what I’ve found usually occurs is sadistically fascinating to me.
Until now, I have been simplistically amused by this and never spoke up for fear of interfering; which would only taint the ebb and flow of what almost always happens next — the string of people who come out of the woodwork to offer advice.
On everything from whether to go traditional or indie, how to get an editor, whether they need an editor, how to get a good cover, what price-points are best, etc…, etc…, etc…
If You’ve Never Dealt With a Real Publisher, Don’t Give Advice!
First, it never ceases to amaze me that the people who jump to answer these dilemmas are not what anyone would consider front-line authors. Sure, you can be an Amazon Best-Selling Author in any of the 2 million + sub-categories Amazon uses to track data. But how many people actually know that you can be an Amazon Best Selling Author without ever selling a single book?
Yes! Amazon has an entire classification of “sales” categories for books that are listed on their site for free. This means that you can be an Amazon #1 best-selling author of “Children’s LGBTQ+ Romantic Thrillers”, which are listed on the KDP site, just because you convinced 20 different people to download a free copy of your manuscript.
Whether or not any of them actually read the book, is entirely irrelevant! Since there are very few titles in that specific category (as well as many, many others), CONGRATULATIONS! You are now the Amazon #1 bestselling author in that category! Wow! What a great writer you are!
But that’s only part of one issue.
Giving Advice Based Upon Gossip
Another problem is that people are asking for advice and scrambling to attain “success” while the term “success” is intrinsically unique to each person. Now, for most of us in any kind of entrepreneurial type business, the word “success” translates to ‘I can quit my day job and make a pretty decent living doing this.’
True, for some, “success” means earning millions, developing your own brand, and/or becoming a household name. The reality of the situation is that less than half of 1% of all people who write for publication (particularly fiction) ever earn more than $25,000 in their entire lifetimes off of what they’ve written.
Sadly, if you self-publish, that number plummets even more drastically (this data does not include freelance article writers and journalists). Those will be the subject of another article I am in the process of writing.
Yeah, we could debate royalty percentages until we turn blue. We can also talk boldly about the creative freedom of not being bound to any publisher’s publication calendar.
The bottom line is this — and it always will be— at least from a business perspective, it is better to own 1% of the New York Yankees than it is to own 99% of the Toledo Mud Hens.
In the first scenario, as a minority partner, we trust the professional team ownership to continuously turn that 1% into REAL dollars. In the second scenario, we may own a controlling and decision-making interest in the brand, but we continuously lose our shirts monetarily, because the brand itself is virtually worthless.
In that second scenario, year after year we pump more and more good money on top of bad because we are not masters of our craft and have no idea how to make our investment of both time and money profitable in any sense of the word.
But, and this is perhaps the most disturbing element to this entire dilemma, not once have I ever heard any of these so-called “successful” authors suggest to any of these “struggling” authors that perhaps they are struggling because they don’t write very well.
OH MY GOD — he said it!
Yes, and I will say it again — not just many, but MOST self-published authors become self-published authors because they aren’t good enough writers to have anyone else invest hard-earned money in their work (other than close friends or family members).
The most laughable of the oft-shared reasons I see are public declarations that they self-publish because they refuse to sign away their rights to their work. Wow.
This just leaves me speechless every time I see it, especially when combined with the manufactured vitriol most of them employ while saying it — like they’ve been victimized by publishers their entire lives.
In reality, the overwhelming majority of the people I’ve asked about their personal experiences have never actually had contact with literary agents or publishers; only vanity publishing houses — the kind where you pay them to publish your book.
This is NOT dealing with a publisher, but that’s an issue for another article.
Fact vs Fiction: The Truth About Traditional Publishing
Truth: Traditional publishers do keep a larger percentage of the royalties your books earn.
Why: Once a traditional publisher accepts your manuscript, they give you an advance on future book sales (yes, before your book is even sellable yet). This advance can range anywhere from $1,000 to millions depending on a lot of factors.
Further, traditional publishers then have your manuscript formatted and edited by the best editorial minds on this planet, all working to make your project the best it can be.
A quick caveat
Yes, there are typographical errors in EVERY book. This is 100% intentional. This is a weapon reputable publishers use to combat intellectual property theft. Anyone claiming to have been the actual publisher of the book will have a hard time explaining how they decided to make the exact same typo in their unique production.
As an additional morsel of trivia, every dictionary ever made contains at least 3 unique words that are not real words. This is done for exactly the same reason. Nobody can claim to have independently created that dictionary and made up the exact same words with the exact same definitions.
Now, back to the typical duties of traditional publishers.
They design the cover, decide on the final title, help you produce jacket blurbs, and — most importantly — they market your book to every library on the North American continent and usually most of Europe as well. They do this through weekly private industry brochures in which every mainstream publisher lists their newest releases to every librarian.
As a self-published indie author, there is absolutely no way to get your work into this brochure — ever.
Yes, it will be up to you to do most of the social media marketing for your book. But, between the library brochure and the press releases major publishers issue to all the reviewers and book clubs, they are doing far more promotion for your book than you and all your friends combined could ever do. And, they are promoting your book directly to people who all buy a lot of books and in a lot of different formats.
Because these publishers are assuming all the cost and all the risk associated with publishing your book, yes, they keep a bigger percentage of the sales receipts.
However, the advances most authors receive initially are almost always more than an indie author would ever earn for that same title over its entire life in print. You can check yourself with Bowker (the company that tracks books sales and issues all ISBN numbers in the US). This is a statistical fact.
Lie: Publishing a book with a traditional publisher is signing away the rights to your work.
Why: There once was a time, many, many years ago, when this was a possibility. Unscrupulous people find ways to cast a pallor of distrust even on churches. That doesn’t mean that every church can’t be trusted — or even many of them.
This is also why we have literary agents — agents who only make money when we make money.
But agents are another article altogether. For now, we will just focus on publishers, except to make sure you understand that agents negotiate our contracts as well as the clauses in those contracts. They do this because they have a lot of experience specifically with publishing contracts, and they make sure we aren’t taken advantage of.
The point I’m making here is simply this: there are no cases of a reputable publisher taking advantage of a writer that I am aware of in the past thirty or forty years, so this is a baseless fear. (There are many such instances regarding very small publishing houses and vanity presses, however). Today’s publishing industry could never survive that kind of provable reputation of debauchery.
The biggest problem I see for many of today’s writers is that they just don’t want to go through the process. But more, many more of them choose to self-publish because they just aren’t qualified to go through the process.
That process includes being a good enough writer to provide your work for the close perusal of several professionals who have decades of experience separating good manuscripts, from hapless strings of words — and passing that test.
Fortunately, the same test is required to obtain a worthwhile literary agent as well. Therefore, publishers instantly know that agented authors are most likely good enough to pass the muster of professionalism. That’s because they are being represented by a professional who only gets paid if their author makes money.
Instead of subjecting themselves to this gauntlet of professionals, there are now countless aspiring authors who decide to take advantage of the self-promotional infrastructure that exists today. They also take every opportunity to badmouth the traditional and professional methods because they believe the more they can discredit the other forms of publishing, the more likely people are to buy their poorly written, often unedited books.
The biggest problem with this is that most of those self-reliant authors have no formal training in the English language, its application, or its nuances. Without even the benefit of a professional editor, millions of them flood sites like Amazon KDP with some of the most horrendous ‘books’ — and I use that term very loosely — imaginable.
Contrary to what some love to spew online, not everyone is equipped to be an author
Sure, you might have a great story to tell, in fact, most people do — but if creative writing isn’t a skill you possess, I dare say, you aren’t the one who should try to tell it.
Many people realize this which is why ghostwriting is a multi-billion dollar annual profession.
Sadly, rather than suggest this undeniable truth to some of these “struggling authors” I see many of these marketers and salespeople, on social media platforms especially, assume what I can only call a predatory posture. Rather than suggest that someone’s skills might not be up to par, I see them descend like carrion to a fresh corpse and begin suggesting the “struggler” invest a few “extra” dollars to hire them — or someone they know — to make a better cover, edit their manuscript for them — attend a workshop or a masterclass, etc…. Almost none of which will do a thing to increase sales of a book that — uhm — well — sucks!
My advice? Ask yourself the tough question
And be fearless enough to give yourself an honest answer. Do you have a background in professional Creative writing? Yeah, you might understand how to write a sentence, but being able to write and being able to write a commercially viable product that is suitable for retail sale are two VERY different things.
My baking analogy
Most of us have the ability to bake a cake that will taste yummy when it’s done. However, very very few of us, in fact, almost none of us, have the ability to produce a commercially viable cake — that is, a cake that we could place in a display case, merchandise to the public, and expect to be paid $30 or $40 for it. That is, not at least without some formal training in how to make that cake LOOK like a professionally baked cake and not a box of Betty Crocker.
Writing works exactly the same way
I believe it is great to encourage people who dream of being authors to not give up and to work to realize their dreams. That being said, taking a quick way out and self-publishing a book because they can’t get any professionals to buy it, isn’t working to realize a dream, it’s cheating yourself.
If your dream is truly to be a writer or an author, a formal education in English and creative writing is a must. You don’t have to be a Grammarian, (though it never hurts if you are), that’s why we have editors — and yes, no matter how much of a master of the written word you are, you absolutely, 100% need a professional editor. (This absolutely cannot be your sister or wife who reads a lot of books and knows what they are supposed to look like — UNLESS the sister or wife is a professionally trained editor).
Your ‘editor’ also cannot be Grammarly or Hemmingway, or any of those sites that actually write material for you. I’m here to tell you, I use Grammarly to catch typos — because my mind works a lot faster than my 50-year-old digits do.
This element is non-negotiable if you want to think of yourself as a professional Author. A professional editor is a must and before you say you can’t afford one, let me stop you there. There are many writers who are very well qualified and who will be happy to earn an extra $50 or $100 — depending on the size of your manuscript and how much work they need to do to fix mistakes.
Here’s a newsflash: Stephen King, Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz, Jackie Collins, ….literally… every professional author you could think of, has to pay an editor.
If you can afford these bullshit online workshops and courses to help you market your work, you can afford an editor to help you get a literary agent to represent you to reputable book publishers and top-notch acquisitions editors for mass-market periodicals like The New Yorker, Newsweek, Car & Driver, Motor Trend, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, etc….
If they, who could quite possibly publish their grocery lists, need to pay an editor, so do we all and anyone who suggests differently is NOT a professional in this industry. Period.
The bottom line of this article:
If you want to be an author — I mean REALLY want it, then there is a minimum threshold of competency you must attain and be able to demonstrate at a consistently high level to other professionals before anyone will consider you a professional in the industry.
If you want it, don’t sell yourself short.
Online hustlers who tell you that paying them to learn their marketing tips, or hiring them to make you a better cover, will increase your chances of being a self-publishing “success,” are lying to you.
The hard truth is that if you don’t have a solid background in writing — the proven and verifiable educational and mentorship credentials of working under a master of the craft for some time, chances are your marketing strategy and your covers aren’t why you can’t sell a lot of what you create. It’s also why a lot of people buy these books on Amazon and then return them. It’s not because they are all scammers (although some definitely are). Many of them, (including myself) have bought even $.99 books and felt like I got ripped off. Yes, the books were that bad.
Another quick piece of advice while I’m on the topic of scammers — professional editors and graphic artists don’t spend their days trying to strum up new business in Facebook writer’s groups. That is well known and well regarded in the industry as strictly wannabe amateur theater.
Professional cover designers and editors are registered small business owners that are rated by the Better Business Bureau and have articles of incorporation on file with some state’s Secretary of State.
Look for those before you buy or hire.
They aren’t hard to find in today’s world, and yes, they will cost a marginally larger amount than the people you encounter on Facebook, — and I do mean marginally larger — but you will have the peace of mind knowing that your work is being edited by a professional, who’s entire reputation depends on their ability to elevate your work to shine as brightly as it can. In contrast to a Facebook ‘editor’ who can change their name tomorrow and sell their unprofessional wares under a different persona to someone else under that guise, the next day.
Final advice from a friend….
Be smart. Be diligent. Be relentless. But also be able to ask yourself the million-dollar question, and make damn sure you can answer it honestly. When you lie to yourself, the victim ends up just as guilty as the offender.
If you’re interested in becoming a professionally accredited writer, with a peerless portfolio of paid works to submit for the highest paying freelance gigs, and you want to learn how to apply for those gigs and how to pitch and query the highest paying mass-market periodicals, subscribe to my newsletter below. (it’s free and it doesn’t suck). If you are not already a Medium member, use my referral link (also below) to join at no additional cost to you (I do get a piece of that if you use my link) but it doesn’t cost you a penny more than joining without using my link, so I would appreciate it if you use mine since you’re here.
I will soon be calling for applicants to submit work demonstrating their writing abilities — writers who wish to be personally tutored by me (an Ivy League-educated 30-year professional writer and former Associate Professor of English). The students I select will be taught not only how to write better, but how to sell what they write.
If this sounds like the path you envisioned for your writing career, I can teach you how to master your craft and sell your work to the big boys for up to $2.00 per word instead of on crowdsourced publishing platforms like Medium or Upwork for pennies per thousand clicks or $10 per gig. So please stay tuned for the announcement of the release of my MasterClass series on any of my social media platforms or here at KurtDillon.com
What I will be offering is the trade school equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing.