Things I Wish I’d Known Before Turning Pro
Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Turning Pro” had me shaking my head in agreement last week. A few from the publishing side:
It’s Show Business, Not Show Art.
A freelance producer offered me this advice while I was a summer college intern at Mattel’s headquarters in El Segundo, CA.
I thought he was another bitter USC film grad who couldn’t hack it in Hollywood . . . so he sold out to “the man” and made toy commercials for a living.
Looking back, he was right and I was judgmental and naïve.
A junior editor/publicist position met me out of college, for a small indy publishing house. Within three months, the senior editor was fired and I was promoted . I edited, answered the phones, managed the design and printing outsourcing and production, prepared contracts, launched publicity campaigns, tracked sales and distribution, and pretty much everything else outside of signing the checks.
I learned a lot in a short period of time, but thought the art missing within the work was an abnormality—related to that boss and that publishing house. I was in the first stage of grieving for art. Behind the curtain of post-college job #2 were the remaining four stages: Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
Publishing is a business. If you want to make a living as a writer, first step is accept that the industry built up around it is about making money. Yes, there are those publishers and editors and indy bookstores that are all about the craft, but end of day, the bills have to be paid and if there’s no money, there’s no publishing house or bookstore. Same rule if you are doing it on your own, via self publishing. Your writing might be your craft, your art, but when you turn it into a book, treat it as a business.
Business Law and Accounting Are As Important As Shakespeare
First piece of advice for young writers headed to college: Take a few business law and accounting classes.
Expecting someone else to read every contract and go through every royalty statements is like asking someone to be available to tie your shoes for you the rest of your life. Get a lawyer and an accountant to run by questions when you move up to big boy shoes, but at least know the basics—know enough to know what questions should be asked.
Learn what’s in a standard contract, how you can negotiate, what you can negotiate, what belongs to you, what you are giving away, how you are being paid, the difference between “net” and “gross.”
Educate yourself on the laws and accounting just as you would on Shakespeare. They’re all valuable and will be of great help in different ways.
If You Can’t Do Every Job—Understand the Talk of Every Job
For every premature grey hair that first post-college job gave me, I learned a valuable skill.
Each skill has a language attached to it. There are the “pixels” and “gutters” in design, “smyth” and “saddle” in production, the hieroglyphic-like editor’s marks, “end-caps” and “co-op” in bookstores . . . The list goes on . . .
The language of publishing is valuable. If you don’t have the experience, start with the language. Understanding the talk is more than half the battle.
I think – and speaking as a writer who’s just started getting franchise contracts – that there’s another healthier way to look at this.
Being a writer is like being a bar pianist:
1. Professionalism is part of the gig so you might as well invest some of your identity in that
I used to turn up on time on sober and negotiate my pay. Now, as a writer I negotiate with editors and deliver material of the right quality within deadline, and that’s part of the fun.
2. It’s an interactive art – that’s the point
Once – actually it was a gig with my band but the same thing applies – a very young pair of drinkers staggered up to the stage and asked for “More Jeans Adverts”, so we played another Muddy Waters number and they danced and everybody was happy… and that was the point of the gig.
Similarly, it takes two to make a story; the writer and the reader. For it to be a story it has to be something that the reader wants to read, and will enjoy. Anything else is just therapy.
Thanks, Callie. And !Wow! on your comment, M. Harold Page. I love phrase about investing in our professional identity.
Yes. Investing emotionally in – feeling proud of – our professional identities.
No doubt, another useful part of Callie’s thoughts and experiences.
Could you guys add “Author” to your email broadcasts? I often read from my inbox and I’d like to know whose voice I’m reading. This blog continues to be a source of comfort and butt-kicking for me. Thank you.
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I just came back to find this article again after reading it several weeks ago. I feel like I have gotten too “hands on” and that I am losing valuable time that I could be spending creating my work. In the beginning, I had not choice. I simply did not have the money. Now, perhaps, I simply need to hire an assistant and focus more on the core of my work.
Thanks for the article.