I recently finished Stephen King’s book On Writing, which was part memoir and part writing advice book. It had some good insights on getting started as a writer.
Starting as a Writer in the Past
In On Writing Stephen King details how he started as a writer in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He also talked about how new writers started in the 1990s. There wasn’t much change from the 1970s to 1990s.
Writers started by submitting stories to magazines. There were many small magazines that published fiction. They kept submitting until they were accepted and published. Normally the writers got paid very little for their work, 10–25 US dollars.
After having a few stories published, a young writer could get an agent. Having an agent helped the writer get their first novel published. It took years for an author to go from nothing to publishing their first novel.
Getting Started Now
On Writing was published in 2000. What has changed today for new writers?
There are way fewer magazines that publish fiction. But self-publishing is now an option. Instead of getting paid 10 dollars for a short story, you can publish short stories on a blog. Instead of hoping that a publisher will publish your book, you can publish and sell a book yourself.
Being able to publish your own writing sounds liberating but comes with its own set of challenges. Instead of convincing a magazine or publisher to accept a story, you have to reach out to readers and convince them to read your stuff. Reaching out to readers can be more work than getting accepted by a publisher. Once you get a publisher on board, you have access to readers. But reaching one person nets you one reader. You have to reach hundreds of readers. You have to do a lot more marketing to publish your own work.
What Hasn’t Changed
It’s going to take years of writing and hard work to go from nothing to being a successful writer. Instead of getting several short stories accepted in magazines, getting an agent, and submitting a novel, today you end up writing and publishing several books before getting noticed and generating sales.