How to Get Your Next Assignment Easier Than Your Last, or Easier Than You Ever Imagined

If you are – or want to be – a working professional writer, then it’s time to realize (or remember) that being able to write a great piece is winning only half the battle.

The other half is being able to sell it.

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to sell your work:

1. Find your own audience to pay for reading it.
2. Convince someone who already has a paying audience to provide your work to their audience.

I’m all in favor of finding your own audience. I’ve self-published several books and I plan to do more. I’ve known or heard about people who’ve started their own publications, promoted their own blogs and websites, crowd-funded their books and other writing projects, and so forth. I’ve even met people who have sold their own poetry on street corners for as little as 25 cents a pop.

There are lots of ways to find your own audience and I encourage you to try some or all of them en route to building your writing career.

But it’s always helpful to take the easier route and piggyback your desire to be published on someone who already has access to a paying audience.

Again, I believe there are basically two ways to do this. First, you can write whatever you want and then hope to get someone to pay you for it, or second, you can find someone willing to pay you for writing something they assign to you, whether that’s a newspaper or magazine article, a book, a poem, a white paper, liner notes, a website, a blog post, or anything else.

Here’s how to make getting such an assignment even easier.

1. Try Lots of Avenues to a Wide Range of Outlets (and Keep Trying New Ones)

Selling your work is something like a lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, and the more entries you have working for you, the greater your chances of winning.

If you’re interested in writing magazine articles, for example, make contact with lots of different publications and editors. If you want to write a book, talk to lots of agents. If you’re interested in ghost writing, beat the bushes for lots of different potential clients.

Accept that this is part of the business, and like any professional looking to make a sale, recognize that every rejection brings you one step closer to a “yes”.

2. Be Flexible, Professional, and Easy to Work With

Maybe if you’re the next Hemingway or Doris Lessing, you can afford to be grumpy. But it you’re not, or not yet, then make it pleasant and relaxing to work with you. Hold your complaints, say “yes” as much as you can, and try to find ways to work around the unpleasantries that come with almost every assignment.

I remember when I was young and reporting for a newspaper in Philadelphia, I would sum up the entire wisdom of the world – as it pertained to the topic at hand – in the last paragraph of every article I wrote. The editor would inevitable chop that last paragraph for reasons of space.

I could have gotten angry. Instead, I simply put that wisdom into the second to last paragraph.

Of course, if things get too terrible for you, you can always find a different outlet for your work. But don’t burn any bridges on your way out. You never know when you may have to re-cross that bridge on your way back.

3. Always Have A “Next” Project to Offer

Whenever you sell something, immediately implement the successful professional writer’s “two step”: First, deliver what you promised, on time, as terrific as you can make it. Second, start setting the stage to sell that outlet more of your work.

For the professional writer, a sale is not the end of the process, but the beginning.

4. Go Back to the Best Wells Again and Again

Although following these directions will eventually net you a variety of places to sell your work, some will inevitably be better than others: more interesting, challenging, lucrative, friendly, easy, or whatever.

Don’t be shy; keep going back to these outlets with better and better ideas, as well as better and better work. I mean, if you have found two peach trees, and one makes better peaches than the other, isn’t that the one where you should do most of your picking?

5. Keep Adding New Arrows to Your Quiver

As a professional, part of your job is to keep improving, delivering better and better work in a wide variety of genres, styles, and formats. You’ll find that trying to sell to new outlets is far easier if you have more skills, abilities, and offerings to show them.

6. Sell the Same Prep-Work Over and Over

You may or may not have noticed, but successful professional writers often touch on the same topics, revisit the same information, and appeal to the same audiences over and over again. Of course you want to grow as a professional, but if you spend a lot of time and effort digging into and mastering a certain topic, why not get the most from your investment? You’ll find it’s easier to sell the second and third items resulting from that work than it was to sell the first.

7. Piggyback On Your Best Ideas

One of the techniques of brainstorming is to piggyback on others’ ideas. For example, I might suggest “let’s paint it red,” and then you might piggyback on that by suggesting “let’s offer it in seven different colors.”

But you don’t need others’ ideas for piggybacking to work. Whatever idea you’re working on, you can probably use that idea as a jumping off point and find some other idea(s) that will also yield good material you can sell.

I have consistently used these techniques to maximize the results of pitching my work to publishers, editors, writing partners, and clients. They may have little to do with the craft of writing, but they have a great deal to do with keeping me in the writing game when other “writers” have dropped out of the creative world in order to keep food on the table.

Of course, it’s important you maintain your primary focus on writing rather than on getting your next assignment. But if you lose sight of selling, there’s a chance you’ll fairly soon be writing for an audience of one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Setting Up the Effective Writer’s Office

Whenever I have moved to a new home, I run into the same kind of organizational difficulties.

For example, say I want to write a story, but I can’t because my chair and desk are cluttered with moving boxes. Well, I’d like to move the boxes, but I can’t put the boxes in the closet because the door to the closet is blocked by a large piece of furniture. I’d like to put the furniture where I want it, but I can’t move the furniture because the floor in the room where I want it needs painting. I’d like to paint the floor, but I can’t paint the floor because I don’t have the right color paint. I’d like to go get the paint, but I can’t get the right paint because my car is in the shop.

And so forth.

As a result, I’m not only frustrated, I can’t tap that particular swirl of inspiration and use it to write my story.

Later, when everything in my new home is squared away and I am settled in, whenever I want to write a story, I’m in a great position to do so. I can immediately sit at my desk, grab whatever tools I need for writing, and get to work.

Over the years I’ve learned that one of the ways a writer becomes more professional is by surrounding herself with the proper tools and the most comfortable systems she needs to work more effectively.

In short, she creates an effective writer’s office.

In general, this entails:

1. A comfortable space in which to work, whether that’s a garret or a patio, a soft bed or a hard chair, a high tech hardscape or a Victorian drawing room, or whatever.
2. The right tools, whether that’s a good pen and plenty of paper or a touch-screen laptop, or a lightweight laptop with Scrivener or Pages software, or a heavyweight desktop computer with Dragon or Speech Recogniser, or whatever.
3. The right aural and visual environment, whether that’s dead quiet or heavy metal guitar shredding, a breathtaking view of a mountain lake or a bust of Hemingway at your elbow, or whatever.
4. The right reference materials, whether that’s your own notes on preparatory thoughts or props that help you get in your characters’ frame of mind, an encyclopedia or an internet connection, or whatever.
5. The right feeling, whether that’s a creative mood, a historic sense of writing well in that place, the takeaway after proven warmup exercises, or whatever.

An effective office is as important a support of your best writing as an effective wardrobe is in helping you look and feel your best.

Every hour you spend setting up and maintaining your effective office will pay regularly repeated dividends over the years as you gain career momentum and add emotional power to your most important writing efforts.

I can recall many times that helping aspiring writers create a solid platform on which to work has led to the launch of a far more satisfied and successful wordsmith.

Setting up an effective writer’s office is different from, but akin to learning the proper footwork or other fundamentals of a sport. Not only my own experiences, but those of others I have helped, make clear that it’s so much easier to concentrate and produce compelling material that accurately reflects your thoughts and feelings when you don’t keep butting up against practical impediments and obstacles.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.