Your Writing Career May Depend on Someone You Never Meet

Publish date:
Image placeholder title

Yesterday I read and Tweeted about an article at Publishing Perspectives, "Career Reinvention for Publishing Professionals" by Andrew Malkin.

To me it was both useful and sadly prescient; it made me recall the Richard Bolles' book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, originally self-published for a large number of the clergy who suddenly found themselves out of work.

But Malkin's article isn't so much a how-to as a mini-memoir of how he's developed
skills that make him attractive to a number of industries—even though he's still closely associated with traditional media by working at Zinio.

The article particularly struck home with me because a close colleague of mine, Kelly Nickell, who has served at Writer's Digest since 2000, is moving onto a digital marketing agency as a copywriter.

She is interested in growing her skill set and exploring new opportunities, and I know why. I look at my own narrow experience and think that if I lost my job tomorrow, my contacts and very specific publishing experience make it difficult to land anywhere but … another media company (which aren't exactly in hiring mode).

So, when I Tweeted Malkin's piece, it was with these issues in mind, rather than its insight for writers.

But an insightful novelist and screenwriter, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, clicked
through and found a lesson in Malkin's story, which she wrote about on
her blog. I'm re-posting the most relevant bits here. You can read her full post here, and be sure to follow her on Twitter.

This is the story of a man who can talk PUBLISHING without ever referencing a compelling
story, plot, worldbuilding, background, character arc, or any of the things that matter to us readers and writers.

From Andrew R. Malkin's perspective, publishing isn't about "compelling stories" at all.

At most, he mentions one author's name—and without a word about what delicious, beloved characters this author has made famous! He never talks about the fascinating relationships among characters, the drama, the penetrating themes or pithy language as sources of the success of his own efforts to market them.

This is a description of a "characters welcome" character, a career marketer, a kind of person
that a writer never, ever, encounters, but upon whom a writer's career depends!

The writer deals with the Agent, the Agent deals with the Editor, the Editor deals with her Managing Editor or Committee—the book is contracted, edited, copy edited, designed, assigned a cover—turned over to publicity (some writers get to know their publicist; most don't)—and then some layers beyond that publicist, the property reaches this man's hands where it lives or dies without having been read by most of the people who packaged the product.

It doesn't matter how COMPELLING your story is or how marvelously smooth the craftsmanship when this man causes success or failure of the book.

The same multi-layered business model structure is used by TV and film industries, eventually causing films to live or die at the box office on the expertise of a man just like this one.

This is the structure of the "Fiction Delivery System" the very existence of which is hidden from the writer. The writer is never trained in how to leverage the existence of these decision makers upon whom his/her destiny depends. The reader/viewer never hears about these people.

Read this man's career carefully.

Read that blog entry describing his history and his shift into the electronic book publishing industry and you may come to understand better "what" is happening to ebook publishing as the big guys take over, and why they do what they do despite anything we can do or be or

What do you think? Is Jacqueline right? Does your success depend on these people working behind the curtain?


20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.


Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.


Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.


Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.


Capital vs. Capitol (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use capital vs. capitol with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.


On Writing to Give Grief Meaning and Write Out of Challenging Situations

Author Lily Dulan explains why writers have to be willing to go to difficult places inside themselves for their writing to make a positive impact on ourselves, others, and the world.


Gerald Brandt: Toeing the Line Between Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Science fiction author Gerald Brandt explains how this new series explores the genre boundary and how he came to find his newest book's focus.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Moment of Doubt

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character experience a moment of doubt.