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Nuts & Bolts: Career Planning for Writers – Interview with Author and Editor Jennifer Brozek




By Tom Joyce

Congratulations, you’ve achieved your dream of becoming a professional writer. Now what?

According to author and editor Jennifer Brozek, that’s a question many beginning writers neglect to ask, let alone formulate an answer to. In this month’s edition of Nuts & Bolts, Jennifer talks about how proper career planning can go a long way toward ensuring your long-term success as a publishing professional.

Q: What factors should you consider when you’re thinking of writing as a career?

A: Most writers don’t start off thinking about a career in writing. If they do, they think of it in academic terms — as in that is what they have gone to school for. Once a writer has been writing and submitting their work for a while, they should have an honest conversation with themselves on what they want out of their career. What is their mountain? What are they striving for?

The first question they should answer is: What kind of career as a writer do I want: casual/hobby, part-time, full-time? Each one of these comes with different goals and needs. The casual career writer may just like to write a couple of short stories a year and want to hang out with other writers. The part-time writer often wants to be a full-time writer, but still needs to pay the bills, thus, they will want to schedule in specific writing times and goals. The full-time writer treats writing as a day job and works diligently to pursue their specific writing ambitions (and they often have a supportive spouse who allows them that freedom).

The second question they should ask is, what kind of writing: short fiction, long fiction, media tie-in fiction, novels, screenplays, podcasts, non-fiction, or a mixture of some or all of these? A writer needs to understand their strengths as a writer as well as what they prefer to do versus what they are good at. For example: I don’t like to write zombie fiction but I am very good at it and for a while it was what was paying the bills.

The third question they should ask is: Do I have the temperament to be the kind of writer I want to be? Writing is a solitary event. Writers spend most of their time in their heads. It is a career built on the necessity of being thick-skinned as rejection is part of the job. Also, if they want to be a full-time writer, are they a good self-starter? Or do they need a part-time job to manage their schedule so they know when they have time to write versus being their own boss. (Some writers are very good at figuring this out. Some writers desperately need an enforced schedule.)

The fourth question they should ask is: What kind of publishing career do I want: self-published, small press, traditionally published, or hybrid? Each one of these has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. The more you are willing to do, the more control you have over the creative work produced … and the more money you need to invest in that work upfront.

Finally, writers should understand that the answers to the above questions can, and usually will, change over time.

Q: How is it different for a writer, vs. an editor or a publisher?

A: The higher you go up the publishing ladder, the greater the understanding of publishing as a business is. A writer may need to get the editor a story in June. They may not understand that the editor must produce a polished manuscript to turn in to the publisher by August for that publisher to release that creative work in digital and physical form by November, in time to make the holiday buying season.

The publisher is responsible for all of the business around that publication. They have the most to lose monetarily if a schedule is not met or a product does not do as well as it can. So much PR can be lost if the schedule is not met. That can sink a publisher and their set publishing schedule.

Personally, I think being a hybrid writer is ideal to learn all parts of the publishing industry. The more you do, the more you understand why certain goals and schedules are put in place. You also get a much better understanding of how much things cost upfront versus how much money can be made on the back-end — especially in the immediate versus the long tail.

Q: Are there different considerations for different forms of storytelling (written, visual, audio)?

A: Yes. If your storytelling is only written, the format on the paper can be part of the storytelling (traditional short/long stories, poetry). A talented author can use the visual media of reading to enhance their story. If your story is only auditory (podcasts, audio narration, live storytelling), you need to know upfront if your work will be read versus being performed by different voice actors. That will change how you write and specific technical aspects of your manuscript. If your work is meant to be consumed visually (comics, movies, plays), the writer needs to understand what part of the story they are responsible for and what part they must hand over to the director or artist.

Honestly, just discussing the different considerations for the different forms of storytelling could take days to discuss. There are nuances that an inexperienced writer will not understand until they attempt to write for a different form than they are used to. They will need to fail forward to understand what is needed in a technical and a pacing sense. How one expresses themselves on the page is different than one does for the ear which is different than one does for the eye and the ear.

Q: Can you talk about goal-setting?

A: Every writer out there should have immediate, short-term, and long-term goals. They should always know what they are shooting for.

For example, in generalized terms:

If I wanted to have a finished novel manuscript by August 1 to show potential agents at a convention on August 15, that is my long-term goal.

That means I need to have finished the novel by July 1 — fully polished, which means my rough draft needs to have been completed by June 1. As I know I take about three months for me to write a novel that means I need to have started the novel by March 1 … which means I should have outlines and completed my research by March 1. All this means I need to have started my outlining/research by February 1. Each one of these dates is a short-term goal.

My immediate goal would be to know what I’m writing on for 1-2 weeks out. Specific immediate goals like, “finish Act 1 this week.” Or “write chapters 3, 4, and 5 this week.”

Note: The shorter the time, the more detailed the goal will be.

Mostly, when goal setting, I figure out what my endpoint is and work backwards on what it will take for me to get there. Writers who are not familiar with scheduling techniques will often either give themselves way too much time to get something done … or way too little. Goal setting and scheduling is a skill that gets better with practice and experience.

Q: How do you know when to pivot?

A: Generally speaking, if you find yourself miserable and you do not enjoy what you are working on, you should pivot to a different project. If you are not inspired by writing short stories, work on long ones. If you discover that you would rather paint than write, paint. If you sit down to write and you are uninspired or get no joy out of it … or anything you’ve written, you might need to pivot to something creatively different altogether.

Writing is a creative endeavor that can be browbeaten into submission, but I believe it would show in your work. This is different from the “don’t wannas.” Every writer gets that. Same with the “second sock syndrome.” Plotbunnies are legion. If you keep getting new ideas and you don’t want to finish the old one, that’s just being a writer. But, if you need to pull an idea out of your head with wild horses and you have nothing else you’d rather write, then maybe you aren’t suited to writing. There’s no crime in that.

Pivoting comes when you need a break, you are burned out, or writing just wasn’t for you. Work with your hands and give your creative well a break. Let your mind rest and see what urges come forth. Maybe you’d rather garden or bake. Or play video games on Twitch. Maybe you want to sculpt things in clay. Maybe you just need to step back from the written word for a while. When you start daydreaming about writing again, that’s the time to get back into it.

Of course, if your “day job” is writing … you may not have the opportunity to take a break from it. That, my friends, is a whole different kettle of fish not in the scope of this article.

Q: Can you talk about going on hiatus, and coming back?

A: Life happens. Loved ones need help or die. Little ones are born. Sometimes you need to step away from writing completely for months … or years. Sometimes life forces this decision. Sometimes, it is the writer who decides they are done for the time being and need to turn away from the mountain. This is not a crime. It is not taboo. Writers need to take breaks. They are allowed to choose to do so.

What happens when you want to come back to the writing life? Well, that depends on the writer in question. Have they thought about the questions of what they want out of their writing life? If yes, do they still remember the techniques they used to use to get into the writing game?

More often than not, while a writer has some of the writing career information, they really need to start over. Pretend they’ve never written before and start again. Old muscles need to be retrained. New techniques tried out. Old ones examined with an eye of experience and the distance of time. The publishing world is small but fast-changing in this day and age. Original writing goals (traditionally published novels) may no longer be the thing that gets the inspiration flowing. Instead, the writer may need new goals that suit their life now (self-published linked serialized novellas). It is a thing that must be considered.

The one benefit a returning author has is the experience of what it was like for them when they were writing before their hiatus. Life is not the same but experience can be built upon. Finally, no one can tell a writer they cannot come back from a hiatus. No one can take away your writer card. If you write, you are a writer.

Q: Do you have any projects you’d like HWA members to know about?

A: I do! I will be kickstarting a passion project of mine from March 26 to April 26 called Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980. It is a unique, middle grade-appropriate ghost story told through 24 physical letters. I will send out 2 letters a month for a year. Also, there will be coloring pages, stickers, and more! I’m really proud of this project. It is perfect for fans of my previous works, those who miss receiving physical mail, parents of middle-grade children or educators, fellow military brats, seekers of cozy ghost stories, and anyone who has ever felt like a stranger in a foreign land. Sign up now for notification when the project goes live. Won’t you be my penpal?

Jennifer Brozek is a wordslinger and optimist, an author, media tie-in writer, an editor, and a collector of antique occult literature. She believes the best thing about being a full-time freelance publishing industry professional, is the fact that she gets to choose which 60 hours of the week she works. In-between cuddling her cats, writing, and editing, Jennifer is an active member of SFWA, HWA, and IAMTW. She keeps a tight writing and editing schedule and credits her husband with being the best sounding board ever. Visit Jennifer’s worlds at jenniferbrozek.com or on Twitter: @JenniferBrozek. 

Tom Joyce writes a monthly series called Nuts & Bolts for the Horror Writers Association’s blog, and creates videos for the HWA’s Tik Tok channel featuring interviews about the craft and business of writing. Please contact Tom at TomJHWA@gmail.com if you have suggestions for future interviews. For more about what he’s looking for, see here

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