As a writer, you are torn between two selves. The first is simply you as the writer. You write because you love it, because it is a compulsion, because you have words to share. You might be interested in sharing your work, but it’s more secondary. At a minimum, you’d love to have other people at least read your work. You write for yourself. There is no other reason to write. Well, okay, no other primary reason to write. There are plenty of reasons, but the main one is always that you write for yourself. An audience of one.
But this is where things start to get tricky. Your second self is the one that wants to make money. Or needs to rather. Your two selves overlap as you can write to make money. You can work as a freelancer, copywriter, editor, etc. Or, you can publish your original writing in journals, magazines, or through a book deal. Traditional publishing. However, most traditional publishers only pay you because they are after the first rights to your piece. What you submit can’t be previously published. Do you post your short story or poem on your personal website? If you answered yes, then I have bad news: your piece has been previously published.
The Age of the Internet.
Sharing your writing has never been easier than these past few years. Today, with social media and the ability to create your own website, it’s even easier. The desire to appease our first self, the writer, is hard to ignore. With free websites, Twitter, Facebook, and more, it’s a simple matter to share your writing with potentially thousands of people. Of course, now your piece is previously published. The majority of journals and magazines won’t touch your piece. If they do, they won’t pay you as much, if at all.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you are trying to make a living as a writer, it hurts. You are not free to share your work for the sake of letting people read what you write. You have to be selective. You can share excerpts and not have something considered previously published. But that feels cheap. You are withholding your words to earn money. You aren’t really being cheap though. If you want to make money as a writer, you have to be willing to sell your first rights. After you’ve been published, most journals will grant your rights back to you, and you may share your work in its entirety. So long as you give credit to the journal where it was published.
So can you ever really own your own work and make money? It seems to be challenging, if not impossible. You have a decision to make. Which self do you put first?
Love or Money.
This is precisely what I have been struggling with. If you’ve been following me here, you’ll notice that I have started over. I’ve removed everything: poems, short stories, novels, and previous posts. I’ve been thinking about pursuing publishing. There’s still a problem. If you search for stories that I had posted before, they still show up in Google. Deleting something from the internet is impossible. Everything gets cached and saved.
So, while I technically unpublished my work, it still exists. It’s still previously published. If I send a manuscript, and the journal searches for it, they will find out that I had published it on my website before. It’s likely they will reject it solely for that. In that regard, I’ve already hurt some of my chances at getting pieces published. Of course, it’s still possible that I could get a piece published. You never know.
I’ll admit, I have not pursued publication as seriously as I would like. I’ve been afraid. Not of rejection. That happens to everyone, even famous authors and writers. I’m afraid because I want to share my work. I want to let people actually read what I’m working on. I want to let everyone see how a story starts and how it ends up in revision. But my desire to do so limits my publication options. I can always self publish, and I have strongly considered that path.
There’s a saying I’m sure you are all familiar with. Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life. Pardon me, but I have come to realize that is absolute crap. Work will always be work. As soon as you take something you love and turn it into a job, it becomes necessary. It no longer feels like art. I don’t write according to a schedule because there are plenty of times where I can’t force myself to write. I have creative bursts. I will write a story, or a handful of poems in day, and then months can pass before I write again. I know I’m not the only one like that.
But if my writing is my job, I have to treat it like a job. I have to force myself to write even when I have nothing to write. I stop loving it because I have to do it. And that’s why I plan to keep writing as something that I love. As a passion, not a job. Of course, you can enjoy your work. You can even love it. But it’s hard turning your passion into a source of income. It’s easy to lose the passion. Which is why the writing that I do to earn a paycheck tends to be content creation and not original, creative pieces.
In all likelihood, I will start sharing original pieces again. My write self will win. And, before you ask, books can be different. You can share a book. You can post it as a serial novel, where you write and share individual chapters. Strangely enough that doesn’t seem to impact a publisher from picking it up.
So make your choice. You don’t have to do it now. You can change your mind. Just remember, above all, you are a writer first.