How Do I Get Published/Make Living As A Writer?

[A NOTE FROM ALMOST 2019: This post got a boost recently. All in all it holds up well, but take into account it was written nearly a decade ago. Two bits of good news: Indie bookstores are doing better than it seemed they might, and paper is holding up against eBooks better than I predicted.The “how to get published” question is tough, because it has always been difficult, and in many  ways it is only getting more so.  The book publishing industry is splintering and going through almost daily change.  The magazine industry is trying to navigate in the online world.  Independent bookstores struggle to survive; many are shutting down.  Electronic literature is gaining ground and will likely bring with it even more change.

On the upside, there have never been more places or opportunities for your work to be seen.  You can post it on the Web.  You can self-publish.  You don’t need a big gatekeeper to do this anymore.

Of course, if you’re talking about making a living – and that’s what most of us are shooting for – you’re interested in more than just having your work “seen.”  And in that case, the only thing that has ever worked for me is to just keep creating material.  The formats and their delivery will change over time, but the material will still have to come out of someone’s noggin.  I self-published and arranged my own speaking events for years before I ever wound up with a “real” book deal.  I still create all kinds of stuff that will never wind up on the page of a book, just so I have things in reserve.  Of all the speaking engagements I do every year, the vast majority are set up by me, not by my publisher.  My publisher has been terrific in this respect, but I know that if I just rely on the occasional book tour promotion, I’ll likely sink right on out of sight.  I also set up my own events to supplement my income until such time as I write the book that makes Oprah jump up and down on her couch.

Kind of nebulous advice, I know.  I mean, you still have to pound away old-style…send out your query letters, your manuscripts…but keep an eye out for other venues…blogging, readings, recordings, etc.

There is no easy way.  I came to all of this backward.  Just kept writing and flogging my own stuff.  The names and places are different, but this guy’s story is essentially my story

Here’s how I answered the writing question in an email a while back:

I wish I had a quick easy answer for you, but I don’t. I wrote for years and years, pretty much anything from little pieces for the local newspaper to radio commercial scripts for the local used car dealer. A lot of bad poetry. Anything. I went to the library and studied the Writer’s Market to learn about markets and submission guidelines and I started submitting my things and going to open mic readings and reading my poems and essays. I got piles and piles of rejections. Still do. I make a living writing and still get rejections all the time. Just had an editor turn down a piece of mine this morning, and this is an editor who has published me before. I guess the thing that helps me is I’ve always understood that rejection (even nasty rejection) of your work is just part of the deal. You can’t let it deter you. So you write it up and get it out there. As far as how I keep it fun, that one I can’t explain. I get up every day and I want to write. It’s an obsession, nothing less. Some days are good, some aren’t, but I always do some typing. It’s a tough glorious disappointing uplifting thing, this writing. I hope you keep at it.

My friend Frank Bures is often asked how to become a writer, and he provides the following useful links:

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