When I first decided I wanted to write, I knew for sure I did NOT want to be a journalist. The rigors, rules and fact-checking involved with journalism did not appeal to me. The closet thing to out right journalism I ever did was to write theater reviews for a community-based newspaper called The Urban Spectrum, in Denver, CO. During the two years I worked for them, I grew quite adept at writing the short feature review. Usually less than two full columns once it was printed, I was able to give the reader a quality review of whichever play I had seen.
I was struck on a couple of occasions to write and submit what I considered to be freelance style articles; these were articles that hadn’t been requested which I submitted along with a pitch that was nothing more than a quick, “Hey, I wrote this. You can publish it if you like.” I only did two of them and both found their way into the newspaper. One was urging minorities to support and attend local theater, the other was a piece about how summers had changed in the MileHi City. That one appeared in the June issue, in 1996. Thanks to some campaigning on my sister’s part, the summertime article captured the attention of a local NPR (National Public Radio) staffer and I was invited to read it on the air for a show called Leading Voices. The program aired on Denver station KUVO and was a feather in my non-fiction writing cap for several years.
Outside of that, most non-fiction genres of writing have never really moved me. But, fortunately, my graduate studies and the earnest pursuit of a writing career have opened my eyes to the discovery that, even though fiction is where my passion lies, there is quite a bit of non-fiction writing I need to know how to do in order to promote myself as a writer. Writing great works of fiction is nothing if I don’t know how to write a captivating query letter to a publisher, or provide my local newspapers with well scripted press releases.
And while I’m waiting for my “big break” into the fiction market, I can build a reputation for myself as a writer (and generate a pretty decent income) by doing freelance work for magazines, online journals, and other writing venues. These outlets don’t always have room for short stories, but a well written article relating to my chosen genre can go a long way toward establishing me as a worthy read, while gaining readers’ attention. I’ve come to think of freelancing as a viable way to get my foot in the door, so to speak, of any literary agency or publishing house in the country – I won’t be presenting my novel as a first time writer, but as a widely read, already established writer who just happens to have a manuscript for sale.
Being able to write well in the non-fiction world fits in with the fact that until I get my first publishing or big distribution deal, I’m doing everything for myself. That means I am the public relations, marketing, and promotions departments all rolled into one, for anything I write. Consequently, my pitches need to be first rate, my press releases – impeccable , and any of my promotional materials – captivating, if I ever hope to set myself apart from the well-known, established authors.
The same goes for you too, my closet writer. Not only will you need to finish that manuscript, but it would behoove you to take a course in other forms of writing. I’m not saying you have to go for a full on graduate degree as I am doing, but be sure to take advantage of any writing class or group that can help you hone those other writing skills you’ll need once you come out as a writer.