Friday, June 22, 2012

Weighing the Worth of Bios and Bylines

by Cat Woods

During an online discussion the other day, a fellow scribe stated he didn't usually submit to non-paying markets. I, on the other hand, have.

My first published gig was a short story. It earned me my biggest check in terms of time spent versus money earned and had the most circulation of any of my published works by ... oh ... a million or so readers. It did not, however, earn me a byline.

Over the years, I've written pro-bono for non-profits, hourly for businesses and per project for individuals. I've had poetry, short stories and articles published in newspapers, newsletters, magazines and online. Not everything I've written has earned me cash, nor have they earned me acclaim.

Yet, they are all satisfying in their own right.

To know if certain types of publications are worth your time and effort, you must first assess your writing goals. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here, only what works for you. Do you want money, recognition or an audience for your thoughts? What is your brand or envisioned brand?

Next, you must understand the different types of publications and what they have to offer you. Below is a simplified list of what that might look like.

  • Fee: I've seen rates as low as two cents per word, moving upward to $2 per page or $2,000 per project depending on the publisher and the type of submission. Fee publications may or may not offer bylines. Fee publications can include anything from a church anthology to a regional newspaper to reputable magazines and e-zines. They may also include contracted writing for publishing companies or businesses.
  • Byline Only: Non-profits or small presses often offer bylines and contributor copies in return for a well-written short story, article or poem.
  • E-Exposure: Newer to the playing field and harder to assess is the worth of publishing digitally. Blogs, e-newsletters and e-zines use a lot of material in a short time and are constantly searching for new voices to help promote themselves or satisfy reader appetites. In turn, writers usually garner a shout-out of some kind and a link back to their blog or website.

Obviously, the most attractive "sale" is the exchange of literary rights for money, a byline and exposure. But that doesn't mean we need to discount the other types as worthless or even worth less.

Sometimes simply sharing an idea is enough, even if we don't get credit for the way we state it. This type of publication cannot be used in a bio, per se. Unless we've garnered permission from the publisher who owns the works, we can't take credit for the words we've penned. We can, however, use the practice (and the cash) to further hone our writing skills or to buy a new pair of shoes to keep us inspired.

Building a platform? Writing nonfiction nearly always requires a solid platform and a stellar bio. You not only need credentials, but you also need exposure. Your platform must support you as THE ONE to write your topic. You must have a marketing plan that includes lots of name recognition and expertise in the area you wish to publish. In this respect, bylines can help tremendously, whether paid or unpaid.

To a certain degree, this name recognition is also important for fiction writers. Readers read via word of mouth. Get your name out often enough in connection with quality writing and a charming personality and sales of future projects are far easier to garner. You want your name at the top of the search engine page so potential readers can find you quickly and easily.

Cross-genre publishing? Some people will tell you to only focus on one genre or age group in all your publishing endeavors. I'm not completely sold on this, as I feel that all writing has worth in terms of sheer mechanics, and that learning to Cross-Train your Writing Brain can be beneficial across the board. I firmly believe that my start writing short stories has given me an edge when working on my shorter juvenile fiction. It's taught me to build robust characters in a teeny tiny word count. All valuable lessons for picture books and chapter books.

The flipside: it is difficult to cross-genre publish and doing so can take away from a writer's ultimate brand.

Which leads us to the question: To Bio or Not To Bio?

First, understand that unless you are writing nonfiction or building a freelance business to support the fam, you don't need a bio. Oh, they are nice to have and look impressive as that final paragraph on a query, but they are not essential to getting an agent or a publishing deal. In that respect, we need to be careful about the writing credits we slap into our bio sections.

When querying agents for my juvenile literature, I DID NOT list my hot-between-the-sheets short story on my asset side. I didn't mention my articles on mental health or the lack thereof. I simply stated my membership in the SCBWI (a highly respected organization for juvenile literature) and let potential agents know that I was the contributing editor for a monthly newsletter for kids in the age range I was querying. Period. They didn't have to know that I'm an online editor for a high-circulation swine newsletter in the midwest.

Yet, all these credits have earned me something: either money, a byline or a bit more clout in the writing world.

Do you have an intended focus audience for your work, or are you still feeling your way around the publishing arena? If you have a publishing goal, how are you working toward reaching it? In which ways have you been side-tracked with other projects? Do these side-projects have worth in your journey? How do you feel about writing for "free?"

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods is but one of the names this writer publishes under. A short story in SPRING FEVERS, is Cat's most recent fiction credit. She hopes to have another one in the upcoming anthology, THE FALL. In the meantime, she has an article on pigs to write and a post to polish for her blog Words from the Woods.


Jean Oram said...

Right now, I am spamming the world with my name. No, not really. But kind of. Every week I try something new to help get my name out there and build my nonfiction platform. big blogs are great for exposure. Guest posting on small blogs, not as much. But you work your way up. And as you said, knowing your goal is HUGE. It gives you focus and can help you zip off in the right direction or swing an opportunity in a way that it helps you achieve your goal.

And being paid? That's not important right now. The money will come. :)

Matt Sinclair said...

If I could get paid to write about pigs, I'd do it in a tail-twisting second. I have writing gigs that are all about the money, and others that are all about getting my name out to a specific audience. As you said, it's all about knowing your intentions and goals.

Jemi Fraser said...

I haven't dipped my toes in these waters yet. I really haven't considered writing shorts, articles etc, but I wonder if I should. My biggest problem is writing time is limited, so it's hard to tear myself away from my wips :)

Cat Woods said...

Exactly, Jean. You have a goal and at the moment, a wind-fall of money is not it. You've set your sights on getting recognized so when you're pubbed, the money should come easier.

Cat Woods said...

Matt~ I actually love writing a mix of fiction and nonfic in all the varieties that come my way. It really helps me always have a project I'm "in the mood" to work on, as they tap into different parts of my brain.

And, I don't think I'm wrong when I say cross-training your writing brain can make an all-around better writer.

Jemi~ You're a dedicated teacher, an incredible Mama and a hard-working aspiring writer. You've got your hands full. No point in spreading yourself too thin when what you're doing is working!


Trica Jus said...

Words sharing Motivation
Smile, leave sedihmu. Bahagialah, forget takutmu. Who you feel sick, no equivalent would you be happy.
Tears do not always show sadness, sometimes because we laughed happily with our best friend.
unacceptable and may be useful: D Greetings: D

petemorin said...

Never been hugged by a spambot. Kinda awkward.