Think writers only need to know how to write to make a living? Think again.
Launching and maintaining a successful writing career these days means you have to know at least a little bit about a lot of different things. Whether you aspire to be a journalist, novelist or any other kind of writer out there, there are specific skills, besides writing, you’ll need to develop and consistently refine.
Here are five areas you should start studying, and how to learn enough of the basics to make it in this competitive industry.
1. Photography and graphic design
You will be much more marketable as a journalist if you can provide your own original photos to supplement your articles. You will be much more marketable as a blogger if you can show off some basic design skills both in your website’s layout and in the photos and graphics you use to add visual effects to your posts and other content.
Stock photos are easy to find and very commonly used across publishing platforms. The featured image for this post came from Flickr’s creative commons filter. But when you can, authenticity is always the better option. Original work will always trump borrowed content, even if you cite it appropriately.
How to learn it: This is one of those skills you will learn best by doing. You don’t have to be an expert. But the more you do it, the more confident you will be in your ability to improve and do it successfully. We all get better the more we practice.
2. Marketing and PR
To make it in this industry, you need to know the proper way to market your work and promote your accomplishments (professionally). You don’t have to go to school for it or even take a class, but knowing how to appeal to audiences without getting on their nerves or sounding self-absorbed (which many writers have yet to learn, and understandably so).
How to learn it: Trial and error. Experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Do not tweet five hundred times in one day. Do not send unsolicited emails only about yourself and your work and, please, be proud of what you do and unapologetic about your self-promotion, but don’t be a jerk.
3. Social media
You probably think you already know everything you need to know about social media, but strategic social media use – something you might use to promote your blog, published articles or a brand-new book you wrote all by yourself – is about much more than hitting social share buttons on a web page and coming up with a catchy tagline.
How to learn it: Watch what companies in your industry are doing. Observe how they interact with their followers and promote their content. If you’re in college or a recent graduate, see if you can snag a social media internship to get some hands-on experience. It’s a little marketing and PR, a little Hootsuite and a whole lot of paying attention to what other people are saying and doing on the internet.
4. Basic HTML and CSS
Most editing and content producing jobs want you to have at least a basic knowledge of this skill. The basics are not as scary or complicated as they might first appear. If you’re going to be spending a lot of your time in any portion of the publishing field, it’s a good idea to know how all this web nonsense works. At least somewhat.
How to learn it: Honestly, Googling basic HTML and CSS how-tos or enrolling in a basic online course in your free time is the best first step you can take here. Even looking up simple things one at a time, like how to add a hyperlinked picture onto your blog’s sidebar, will help you start to master some of the basics.
5. Multiple online publishing platforms
Learning how to use WordPress is an absolute must. It’s simple to learn and built so that anyone can master its basic functions. All the websites and magazines I currently work with, to my knowledge, use WordPress as their internal publishing platform (to actually publish articles). But not every publication will. Some might use an Adobe product like Dreamweaver.
How to learn it: It’s not enough to be an “expert” at navigating one platform. Practice using different ones for different writing projects, almost like your own personal experiment. If it’s not free, see if you can download a free trial.
Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking there will always be someone else assigned to do these things for you. Chances are, there won’t be. By taking charge of your basic knowledge of these skills, you are making yourself more marketable not only as a writer, but as a valuable asset to organizations who might not consider hiring you otherwise.
Image courtesy of Mike Goren/flickr.com.