Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Interview with Priscilla Y. Huff
by Jodi Webb
Priscilla Y. Huff has been a freelance business and nonfiction writer/author for over twenty-nine years. She has written numerous articles and columns on the topics of home-small businesses, women’s entrepreneurship, and other subjects for Home Business Journal, Income Opportunities, Small Business Opportunities, Pennsylvania Magazine, as well as for many online web sites. She is currently a feature writer for the print publication, Home Business Magazine (www.HomeBusinessMag.com). Huff is currently working on a children’s adventure series. Her business, LITTLE HOUSE Writing & Publishing, offers business information, consulting and research services, as well as e-books and other publications.
JODI: So many people treat their writing as a hobby, not a business. Can you help us draw a line in the sand? When should we consider writing a career?
PRISCILLA: Writing is the ideal home-based profession. Most writers start writing professionally on a part-time basis, just like seventy-five percent of all home-based business owners start their ventures on the side. Why? First, of all, most writers are not independently wealthy and have to work a day job (or two). They write in the morning, in the evening, or during any free time they have available, and that is not occupied by family, work, or other activities.
Secondly, it takes time to find your ideal writing “niche” or genre. Entrepreneurs fail an average of three times at business start-ups before they succeed with a venture. Most writers will write poetry, fiction, non-fiction or for other sources, until they discover what type of writing market(s) is best for them and have publishing success. Entrepreneurs persevere and learn the ins and outs of their industry, along with perfecting their business skills. So do professional writers who attend workshops, conferences; and enroll in courses to improve the quality of their work, investing in themselves and their writing skills. Entrepreneurs work and/or study in their industry to stay current as what potential customers need and desire. Professional writers must also study the writing and publishing industry to know what markets are open and how to approach agents, editors, and publishers.
Thirdly, home-based business owners have a passion for their work. That passion drives them and sustains them through the ups and downs and long hours to do what is necessary to succeed. Professional writers, when not sitting down and writing, are usually thinking about their writing: developing plots and characters in their mind; or the next article or book idea they want to research for publishing potential. If you do ALL of this, you WILL be published. When that happens, I can assure you that you will be “hooked” into the writing business and consider it your lifelong career.
JODI: How can we work toward that goal of full-time writer? Should we dedicate a certain amount of time to writing?
PRISCILLA: Dedicate time to write each day. In order to fit in this writing, look at your daily schedule to see where and when is the best time to write. Managing your time and keeping organized with your writing is essential to help you “juggle” your writing career and your personal-work life. You may have to give up something to do this: getting less sleep (writing earlier or later in the day); cutting back on social activities (instead of heading a fund-raiser or being the president of an organization, be an active participant for those you can manage); and giving up mindless TV shows or “wandering” on the Internet. Set goals. Stephen King in his book, On Writing, recommends a writer produce 1,000 words a day for your book. If you are a freelancer, set goals to contact or query so many potential markets a day or week.
JODI: As professional writers, how much should we be earning? Should newbies write for free?
PRISCILLA: To acquire published clips, beginner writers will often write for free for some projects to acquire published clips and build their writing credentials. To offer one’s[work] for free, however, just to see one’s writing in print (or online), “cheapens” the writing profession in general. Professional writers are equal to any other professionals and should charge what the value of their writing is suggested by the industry; and what their markets will bear.
Legitimate writing markets will state in their writer’s guidelines how and what they pay. The annual Writer’s Market, found in the reference section of most public libraries, provides a section, “The Business of Writing,” with suggested pricing guidelines for various writing projectes; along with a listing of organizations that also recommend the professional prices members can charge. But as one editor informed me when I was deliberating on one of my book’s contracts, “Everything is negotiable.” You can always ask for more. Networking with other professional writers will also help you know what is a fair payment for your writing.
If you intend to make writing an on-going part-time business or hopefully, a full-time career, explore different writing venues to see which ones are the most profitable for you. I, like many writers, write for the markets that make me money; while at the same time, I am presently doing creative writing in another genre with the intent to find a publisher for these manuscripts.
Seeking residual income in the form of royalties from printed books or e-books will help to bring in a steady income while you are working on other writing projects. You do the work once and get paid over and over again (with revisions as needed). The ideal is to have your name recognized in your writing field or genre so that you build a loyal readers’ following. Think of your favorite authors and how you look forward to their next book or articles or blog entry.
JODI: So when does writing as a hobby become a career?
PRISCILLA: Your hobby becomes a career when you begin earning money that you will have to declare taxes and is becoming part of your regular income. The IRS has a page on its site stating the criteria of a hobby versus a business: www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=172833,00.html. Basically, if you intend to earn money with your writing, then it is a career-business, whether you make a profit or not. Entrepreneurs consult regularly with accountants, lawyers, insurance agents, and other professionals to ensure they and their business are following income laws and have liability business protection. Professional writers should also have these experts on hand in the event they need them. Get referrals for these experts from other writers or professional writing associations such as The Author’s Guild and The National Writers Union .
JODI: Are there any advantages, financially, to declaring your writing a career?
PRISCILLA: Yes, you can deduct many business-related expenses incurred while writing and traveling. Intrinsically, you will also treat your writing as a profession, knowing you must work on a regular basis to produce quality material for your readers, clients, editors and publishers.
PRISCILLA: Here are just a few suggested resources:
--Writers’ market books such as the annual Writer’s Market and Writer’s Digest Magazine and others that often present writing business tips.
Additional Suggested Books:
--Getting Started as a Freelance Writer, Expanded Edition by Robert Bly
--The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman
--Be a Writer: Your Guide to the Writing Life by Steve Peha; Margot Carmichael Lester
Two helpful links:
JODI: Can you give us advice on how to get clients to take us seriously. How can writers project a professional appearance? Do we need a website, advertising, client referrals?
PRISCILLA: Professionalism is an important goal that anyone serious about his or her career should practice. As I mentioned previously, that includes educating oneself as to the conduct, ethics, protocol, and qualifications that a business person, writer, or any other professional is expected follow and develop to become recognized by their peers and their target markets.
How you approach editors; market yourself and your writing; promote your image as a writer; and most importantly, meet the expectations of your readers, are all part of your overall image and how you will be perceived. Develop your editor and writer referral networks through genuine support and sharing of information. It is rewarding to help others and it will come back to you in many good ways. Study those successful in your writing genre in what they write, how they market their writing, and the steps they took to become recognized, and follow their examples.
JODI: What's the biggest mistake/most common mistake new writers make with their business?
PRISCILLA: In my opinion, the biggest mistake is not being a professional writer. Most of us can write but have we learned to write with above-average skills and to supply what publishers and readers really want? Certainly, you hear of first-time writers who receive large advances, but if you look more closely, even those writers, spent years in developing their styles, their voices, and how to approach agents, editors, and publishers.