From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age—Part 1

 The blog and my books have discussed why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But writers need a new model for building a career. They have to reinvent themselves, first as content providers, then as contentpreneurs.

I’ve discussed parts of the model in previous posts, but have added to them and created a framework for them with six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a separate post, because each includes several elements.  All are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

There are a dozen reasons why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But at a time of technology-driven transformation, writers need a new model for build a writing career.

I’ve discussed parts of it in previous posts, but have added to them unified them in six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a post, because each has several elements. All of them are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

When the brilliant Little, Brown editor Michael Pietsch first read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, he said: “I want to publish this book more than I want to breathe.” How much do you want to write and promote your book? Your passion for doing both will help you triumph over obstacles.

Reading

After passion comes reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read. An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked, “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, read as many novels as you can. Become an expert on the kind of book you want to write, and analyze what makes them work. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, subject, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.

Creativity

How can you make you and your book stand out in the explosion of books, authors, and media? Creativity: the secret sauce that only you can bring to every aspect of your work. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, you have to think outside the room the box is in.

Craft

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in. Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

* Coming up with ideas: The French premier Georges Pompidou once said: “Conception is much more fun than delivery.“ Life and the media are inexhaustible sources of ideas.

A New Yorker cartoon shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever. If you practice niche craft by creating an idea that lends itself to a series of books you are passionate about writing and promoting, you may be able to build a career with it.

A publisher will buy your idea in one of two forms: For a memoir or a first novel, you usually need a complete manuscript. But most nonfiction is easier to write, sell and promote. And publishers buy most nonfiction from proposals with an introduction about the book and the author, an outline, and usually one sample chapter.

* Research: finding the information you need to write your book. Hemingway believed that you should know ten times as much about your subject as you put into your book. The more you learn, the more you can earn, and technology helps you do research faster and more easily than ever.

* A workstyle: the time, place, and writing tools that work best for you. Kahlil Gibran once wrote: “Your daily life is your temple and your religion.” If you want to be a successful writer, you have to pay your dues to the muse by making writing a daily ritual. Push yourself with an attainable goal for the number of pages you crank out a day and a deadline for finishing your projects. Even a page a day is a book a year.

Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing succinctly: throw up and clean up.  Decide whether it’s better to outline your book or write your manuscript, then massage it until it’s ready to submit. The Indian statesman Nehru once noted that “All my major works have been written in prison. I would recommend prison not only to aspiring writers but aspiring politicians, too.” There’s only one right way for you to write, and that’s in whatever way enables you to produce your best work.

* Writing: which is a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Don’t be guilty of premature submission. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.”

There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” No amount of marketing can make a book that doesn’t deliver sell. If you don’t want rodents and readers criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it.

Craft leaps off the page instantly.  Agents and editors weed through thousands of submissions a year, so they only read far enough to make a decision. Every word you write, starting with the first word of your query letter, must motivate them to read the next word.

There’s a cartoon showing an editor sitting across a desk from a writer and saying: “I’m afraid chapter five moves a bit too slowly, although the pop-up gorilla does help a little.” You can’t rely on a pop-up gorilla to keep agents and editors reading your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you. But writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last revision counts, that final reckoning when you must resolve the tension between thought and feeling and make every word count.

The quintessential virtue of salable prose is that it keeps readers turning the pages. If you can keep your readers turning the pages, it doesn’t make any difference what you write about. The fate of your book hinges on the response of its first group of readers. Word of mouse that goes viral is the best promotion your book can have. But it starts with your words. So write as if your future depends on it; your future as a writer does.

* Sharing. The great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leap, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback. Consider hiring a freelance editor. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure your work is 100% before submitting it.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen share every cup of chicken soup with 40 readers who grade the stories on a scale of one to ten. They only use the 9 and a 1/2s and 10s. So join or start a writing group that meets online or off to critique each other’s work.

Next: the second C word–clarity.

I write the blog to help you understand what you need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. Rants, comments, questions, and corrections welcome. The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com / http://sfwriters.org/blog / @SFWC / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 /  www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / sfwritersu@gmail.com / @SFWritersU