Off the Beaten Path
A World of Opportunity Awaits
September 13, 2018
You might notice that the markets this week are off the beaten path, outside of what we normally think of when we're considering markets for our work. Today, publishing is a massive world of opportunity with options far beyond what we tend to consider. Some writers maintain a narrow view of publishing throughout their career. For instance, I know a few self-published fantasy writers who wouldn't consider any other genre or any other mode of being published. They've found their place, and they love it. So living within a small slice of the vastness of publishing might be perfect for you. On the other hand, if you feel like you've been running your head against the wall as you look for success, it could be that your view has been too narrow. You might be trying to fit into a niche that doesn't work well for you simply because you haven't considered the other options.
There I was...
When I started, I wasn't completely sure of the sort of writing that would work for me. I had a vision of the book I wanted to have written and published. I could see the kind of life I wanted from writing, but I wasn't really willing to wait and try and fail and try and fail. I wanted to start writing and getting my words in front of people immediately. I wanted to get published and paid. So I wrote for a local shopping guide, doing business pieces where I interviewed shop owners and wrote about it. I also wrote short stories and poetry and sent it to magazines. Sometimes they sold, sometimes not.
I looked at what I was doing for fun outside of writing. A lot of my spare time was being spent in the creation of soft toys (which I designed and made) and I was working in children's church and often making up inexpensive crafts to go with lessons. So I started writing up “how-to” articles for crafts, both high-end (I sold several patterns to Teddy Bear & Friends) and kids (I sold crafts to children's church companies, teaching magazines, and Highlights). After building some credits in crafts for children, I ended up with a job updating a full children's church curriculum for one publisher. All of those projects were enjoyable, and they were all fairly far outside the box, but I got those jobs because I looked at what I was doing for fun (or for church) and found ways to wrap writing around that.
And every time I took one of these off-the-beaten-path jobs, I was improving my writing. I was improving my understanding of publishing. I was getting better at handling the editorial process. I was preparing myself for future success. When you do something in writing that isn't your ideal, it may help if you see it as an important step forward. You aren't taking "second best" or "giving up" by writing that which isn't your ideal. In fact, you're getting yourself ready to be able to succeed in the space you're hoping to fill.
How About You?
If you're enrolled in the Institute program and your instructor is suggesting you try something you haven't considered, you probably feel a moment of hesitation. Maybe even grumpiness. "What is she telling me? I told her what I want to write. Is she trying to tell me I'm not good enough?" Honestly, I know those feelings. Every time I took a step outside of the limited slice of publishing where I thought I wanted to be, a part of me kicked up a fit. It wanted something different. And if I gave into that, I would probably have (1) done a horrible job at the new thing I was trying because that grumpy part of you loves to self-sabotage and (2) I would have refused to learn anything from it. Neither of those are good things. But instead I threw myself whole-heartedly into each project, intending to do the best dang job anyone had ever seen. I discovered I could actually enjoy the process, even when it wasn't the project I most wanted. And I grew.
One thing that can help you ease yourself away from a rigid feeling that your publishing journey should be a straight line to what you want is to really look closely at what you actually want. Ask yourself, in a perfect publishing world, what do you want?
For me, that was simple. I wanted to be the author of a science-fiction novel with horror elements that became a bestseller and was ultimately made into a movie. (Because there is no point in dreaming small, right?) But you might notice that none of the things I've talked about in this piece include science-fiction novels or horror or movies or even bestsellers. So obviously I am not walking a straight line, am I? But take a moment to dig a little deeper at that thing you want. Why do you want it?
Well, for me, I wanted to make enough money to take care of my family. And I kind of wanted my kid to think I was cool. And I wanted to be someone who got to do public speaking gigs about writing, because I love being the center of attention. And I wanted to work on a project that I would have loved to read. And my imaginary novel fit all of those.
And today, I am not the author of a science fiction novel with horror elements (though I am working on one.) I've not written a bestseller or done anything that was made into a movie. But I do make enough money from writing to take care of my family. And my kid thinks I'm cool (in an embarrassing, geeky sort of way). And I do get invited to speak about writing regularly and write about writing. And, more than once, I've written exactly the sorts of things I would have loved to read. So my journey wasn't straight, but it brought me to exactly where I love being. All because I worked hard to accept the kinks in the road and take advantage of off-the-beaten path options. How about you? What lies behind your idea writing success? And how might some flexibility get you there as part of an interesting and enjoyable journey? Be open; you'll be glad you were.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.