My writing partner once told me I was the most business-y writer she knew.
To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that there was any other way to be.
That was why, when I sent out an LOI last month in response to a call for book reviewers and learned that the position was unpaid, I told the editor I’d have to regretfully withdraw my hat from the ring. After all, as a professional writer, I use assignments like these to pay my bills. I couldn’t devalue my work by spinning that word glitter for free.
Only a month later, I’m rethinking my response.
I studied journalism at TCNJ. After going through a rough patch and dropping out of school, I eventually decided to continue my education at Emerson College, where I studied Writing, Literature, and Publishing. After college, I followed a traditional, corporate path. I took on various editing jobs at engineering firms and travel agencies before breaking into the publishing industry, where I made my way smoothly up the ladder in the marketing department of an academic book publisher. I freelanced on the side, taking continuing education courses on QuarkXPress (isn’t that a blast from the past?) and magazine writing through mediabistro and New School.
When I finally decided to go full-time freelance, I secured a regular client first, and also convinced my former employer to use me on a freelance basis. I followed tips in Michelle Goodman’s Anti 9-to-5 Guide and Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears’s The Boss of You. I also took on another post-college internship, as a means of building up my portfolio and gaining more contacts. Soon enough, I reached the point where the work was coming to me.
I continued strengthening my freelance business as time went on. When the economy went to hell, I diversified, earning my career coaching certification and launching Career Coaching for Word Nerds. I aligned myself with groups like Brazen Careerist and the Young Entrepreneur Council and, eventually, the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I built a solid social media platform. As markets shifted, I rolled with the punches.
Using the skills I’d learned from books and workshops, and from my time in the book publishing industry, I even landed a literary agent.
But lately, some of the work I’ve been doing has left me feeling empty. I want to step back from service pieces. I want to step back from listicles. I want to be a part of this completely different literary world I’ve suddenly discovered on Tumblr and in literary magazines and in independent bookstores…
But I’m left with a conundrum that has me feeling conflicted.
Some lit mags charge reading fees. Most lit mags have minuscule budgets. Some don’t even pay their writers a nominal fee.
By aiming to break into these new markets, am I devaluing myself as a writer? Or is this a different kind of writing? (After all, as my writing partner said, it’s hard enough getting advertisers for consumer magazines… how are you supposed to monetize more literary content?)
I’ve probably stumbled onto a long-existing conversation I was previously unaware of. But this is a huge, important question for me. Will I be compromising myself as a writer — and setting a dangerous precedent for professional writers as a whole — if I go down this path?
Or is literary writing just not a very business-y thing to do? Is it something else entirely?