There are Three Types of Writers, Which One are You?
Recently I was asked to speak on how to prepare to become a writer, and I had to step back and wonder about that.
Do you go to college? Do you study English literature? Most of us writers do, but I know writers who are software programmers or engineers, and they do just fine, too?
Or in today’s world, where so many indie authors are coming up, should you study graphic design or online marketing techniques? Those skills would be terribly helpful, and I know successful writers who have done that.
Or maybe you should recognize that writing is a global business and that you need to know a bit about business management, accounting, and traditional marketing skills. My early schooling in business administration has helped out there much more than I’d like to admit.
The truth is that writers can take very different paths and aim for different kinds of writing careers. Maybe it would be wise to determine what kind of writer you want to be, then put your focus in specific areas.
1. The Solitary Genius
Many writers that I know are loners. Some of them score high on the autism scale and really struggle to avoid others.
Most of us find that in order to write, we need quiet time to focus and really don’t want to deal with distractions. Writers that I’ve known who were like this included Zenna Henderson, and Roger Zelazny, and, well—just about everyone.
For these writers, it seems that traditional publishing worked well. They could turn in a book once or twice a year, have a publisher publish it well, and make a decent living.
Now, I want to warn you against being too casual in your career. I know a lot of writers who are doing “pretty well” using what I consider to be bad publishing plans, and most of them are writers who want to be the solitary genius type. They avoid hiring employees to their own detriment.
For these writers, focusing on how to construct stories and how to write well seems like a wise choice. Study English literature, the writing of poetry, but make sure to take some classes on screenwriting so you can learn how to handle plots.
I should mention, though, that for a writing career, you don’t need a college education. There are several professional writers who teach online or in small workshops, and you can learn the craft from them (and from your writing groups) just as well as if you were going to a university.
2. The Media Darling
For some writers, perhaps the biggest thrill is to be in the limelight. They travel to fan conventions every week, like to run huge newsletters, attend parties, and see themselves as the center of attention in news and magazine articles. They’re often trying to win awards or vying for the top spot on bestseller lists.
Personally, I hate all of that drivel and would rather be anonymous, but if you want to make a living as a writer, learning how to deal with the media is pretty much a necessity.
In fact, many writers go to Toastmaster Club meetings to practice their public-speaking skills. Some hit the gym and worry about their figures or hire image consultants to help them pick out just the right colors for their next news shoot, or hire publicists to help garner attention.
If you want to be a media darling, I think you still need to write, but you should also add to that an expertise in blogging and working on social media, and it might well be your focus in school.
Alternatively, you may find that you need help—one or two people who handle the marketing side of your work, particularly if you’re heavily into self-publishing. In our Apex writing group, we’ve been interviewing successful authors for the past two years, and I keep getting surprised at finding husband-and-wife teams where one person writes, while the other is the social media expert who publicizes their work and advances their career.
The truth is, though, that just about any author who starts experiencing success needs to develop a small team of usually three or four people to help promote their work. So you become a small-business manager out of necessity. Otherwise, you become the bottleneck for your own company’s growth. If you handle your business wisely, you can have someone else manage your team so that you can focus on creating products.
This particular approach seems to be working well for several Indie authors I know who are making it big.
3. The Business Mogul
Most people don’t see writing as a big business opportunity, but it can be. If you look at writers like Rowling, she’s made a couple billion as a writer. One of my writing students, Stephenie Meyer, is probably closing in on a billion in earnings from her series. Other students like Brandon Sanderson or Brandon Mull or James Dashner have each made millions.
With each of these writers, they’ve had to learn to manage teams of artists, editors, legal counsel, social media experts, and so on, so that some of them hire dozens of people, and there are some examples of authors who started out with an empire-building mindset. I quite like James Patterson, for example, who makes hundreds of millions per year but hires a nice-sized army of people to help.
For an author like this, you need to know how to write well, but you’re also deep into business strategies. You might even find yourself creating a “Human Resources Department,” and you’ll be studying how to best liquidate your global story rights to foreign markets. You might work closely with Hollywood agents or managers to turn your stories into films, and you may find yourself working more as a “story designer” than a solitary novelist, where you supervise other writers who do the actual writing. You can either have your writers creating stories under your name, or you can publish under a fictitious name.
What do you study if you want to develop that kind of career? That’s an interesting one. Learning to run a business is crucial. Understanding how to promote is just as important as actually writing. Learning to be a filmmaker and how to fund large movie and gaming projects could be important, too. But at the core of it, you still need to understand how to create stories for a target audience.
It seems to me that there are a lot of ways that a writer can go. Learning how to tell great stories is the core kernel of knowledge that you have to have, but you’re also going to have to become familiar with things like how to build web pages, market yourself widely, make wise business decisions, and so on.
So what kind of career do you want to have? You choose.