In 1984 as I read The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach, I was astonished by one passage. The author recounted how he took a creative writing class in high school; the teacher declared he would only award a grade of A if a student published a piece they had written during the semester. Bach was elated when he presented the teacher a copy of the Sunday supplement to the newspaper which included an article he had written.
I’ve carried that concept in mind for years, and it seems to be a valid benchmark. The acid test for a writer is publication – if I have writing talent, it is to be shared. There is a declarative quality about having your writing appear in print. However, for a long work such as a novel or memoir, there is a much longer process involved in reaching publication. But shorter pieces can be published much more quickly, there are significant advantages to doing so – and several ways to get there.
Blogs have become a common form of publication, and allow the writer to put a piece in the public eye easily. There is a limitation – with so many blogs out there competing for public attention, and admittedly some of them of varying quality, just how much readership a blog receives is very uneven. But – it’s a way to start, no doubt. And I’ve heard recently that publishers are looking more toward blogs as a necessity for a writer, so having a blog carries that advantage as well. But with no editorial oversight unless the author chooses to seek it, there isn’t input to help craft the work. Another blog outlet is to write guest posts, as I did with “Why Is This Story Best Told As A Memoir?” But once again, the host just posted the entry without editorial oversight.
I have also used with several outlets like Authors Den and Self Growth.com, which allow authors to publish their works. While it does give a smidge greater credibility, I just re-published pieces from my blog, as did the other authors. I’ve heard these sites called content aggregators – they gather information without much effort to evaluate it.
Then last summer I had a writer friend from Twitter ask if I would read a series of posts she was writing for an online magazine. She was exploring her next book, and wanted to see if the story was evolving in the right direction. I began reading her articles, which were very well written. Then I started looking more closely at the magazine, which was high quality and very professionally designed. My friend was very complimentary of the magazine and the staff and suggested I might write for them as well.
I contacted the magazine and realized something was different when the editor said she would have the President send me the contract for review. Contract? I thought I was just going to post some blog articles.
The contract stated that the magazine wanted original content, and would have exclusive rights to the material for 90 days from publication. I asked about using pieces from my blog. The editor said that would be alright occasionally, but they really wanted original content. Suddenly the dots connected, and I realized I had wonderful new content to explore: I could publish chapters of my next memoir as individual articles, which would help me clarify the direction of a sprawling and difficult topic.
I started to write for the magazine, and it has been a wonderful experience. I got depth perception for my next book and received editorial feedback which has proved invaluable. I also got reader feedback beginning with the very first article, entitled “Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?” I didn’t have to wait until the book was published to see how early parts would affect readers.
I’m not advocating trying to earn a living by publishing short works. I heard a writer comment about making a living as a freelance writer: “If you’re going to do that, you might want to have a spouse with a regular income.” As I have investigated freelance, it sure seems like that’s a valid comment. But the legitimacy and credibility of having works in print is well served by seeking some type of publication of short works – either in a blog, author publication sites, or with an online magazine. As long as you don’t try to pay the mortgage that way, it can be a rewarding experience.
Originally published in Write By Night.