Jessica Everingham grew up as a bookworm and started working life as a small-town journalist. At the ripe old age of 22 she is now helping raise 65 teenage girls as a boarding school mistress, while she writes novels and blog posts at home.
Enjoy this guest post.
Is a background in journalism a disadvantage for aspiring authors?
I can feel your shock from here. You were expecting advantage, weren’t you? You might have been pinning your publication hopes on it.
Well, I have news for you. Being a journalist can give you an edge in the competitive publishing industry if you use your experience wisely. But it’s also easy for journo’s like me to tumble into some serious pitfalls.
Here’s some tips on what to avoid and how to use your existing skill set to your advantage:
- Realize you are a beginner.
I know, that burns. You write for a living – how could you possibly be considered a newbie?
Sorry, but writing a book is a whole different kettle of fish. You need to learn about character arcs, tension, gripping dialogue, hooks, information dumps and much more. So swallow your professional pride and start learning. Read books on how to write, read well-written novels, listen to quality authors, take advice and ask questions.
- Get used to delayed feedback.
As a journalist, I didn’t have to wait long before my editor or readers told me exactly what they thought of my work. I always knew where I stood. But you don’t have that luxury as a novelist.
It can be months before you show your work to a friend or critique group. Years before you get feedback from an agent or publisher. And during that time, self-doubt and discouragement will come knocking. Recognize these as some of the biggest threats to your chances of publication. Writing craft can usually be improved—unless you give up. Wean yourself from an addiction to affirmation, dig in and keep writing.
- Don’t expect readers to come easily.
When you started working at your newspaper/television studio/radio station, you had an instant readership. Thousands of people knew that to get news, they should come to you. This is not the case with an author platform.
When you start your blog, website or podcast, you will need to work hard to attract every individual visitor—and work harder for dedicated followers. Getting published doesn’t fix the problem either; these days you are responsible for much of your own marketing.
Sometimes progress will feel agonizingly slow. You may think the internet has forgotten you. But again, don’t give up. Research how to optimize your webpage. Get your name out there with comments and guest blog posts. Connect with both readers’ and writers’ groups. The pyramids weren’t built in a day.
And thankfully, you have some heavy machinery on your side…
- You have determination.
No one succeeds in journalism without perseverance, grit, and a dash of plain stubbornness. It’s a competitive, high-pressure industry that keeps you on your toes. Which is good, because publishing’s the same. You’re going to need all of your ‘stick-ability’ to keep typing on the days you feel uninspired, unsure and impatient. But you didn’t succeed in journalism because you were a pansy; you grew a thick skin and found a solution to every problem. Do that again now.
- You know how to research.
My first editor told me there are three laws in journalism: accuracy, accuracy and accuracy. Nothing annoys readers more than misinformation about their hometown, industry or sporting club. But your advantage is, you already know how to investigate. Use your contacts, make phone calls, visit if possible and take plenty of notes. The information is out there; you just have to find it.
- You can create opportunities.
Some people wait for their work to be ‘discovered’. But you didn’t fill a news bulletin by waiting for stories to fall in your lap; you went out and looked for them. It’s the same with writing fiction. Get networking, meet new contacts, promote yourself and be bold in seizing chances when they come. It’s nothing you haven’t done before.
- You are a writer.
Writing novels doesn’t just involve writing novels. You need to build a platform of followers so that you can show agents and publishers a viable marketing plan. That means writing blog posts and articles, doing interviews and getting out there on social media. Yet you also can’t neglect your novel-writing; I’ve heard that beginning novelists should have a 90/10 split.
Since you can already churn out articles at the speed of light, you have a big advantage here. Your 10% of time will be far more productive than an Average Joe’s. You also know the importance of an attention-grabbing headline and aesthetically pleasing layout. Use these skills to the max!
- Edit, edit, edit.
Honestly, I don’t like this part. But if I’m being really honest, I should also say that my first draft is crap. So editing is pretty important. And this is where you should really shine.
You know that good writing goes beyond grammar and punctuation (which you excel at, by the way). It requires good sentence construction, smooth transitions and a certain ‘flow’. The flow of a novel is different to an article, but you’ll pick it up quickly.
- You love stories and writing.
This is the trump card. As a journalist, you are already driven to share people’s stories with the world. You love revealing hidden information, exposing the truth and getting your message out there. This is the kind of passion that takes stories from in your head, to on the shelf. Keep it. Feed it. Share it.
Jessica Everingham is passionate about producing writing that peels back our subconscious attitudes and reveals God’s truth. You can visit her blog, Consumed By Him, at www.consumedbyhimblog.wordpress.com. Or you connect with her via Facebook (www.facebook.com/jessicaeveringhamwriting), Twitter (@JessEveringham) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).