Build Your Writing Inventory

    August 29, 2003

Want a professional writing secret? Build your writing inventory. Unless you have an inventory, you have nothing to sell.

Artists and photographers happily build up their inventory of works. Artists paint and draw, creating works which may sell next month, next year, or in 20 years. Photographers, even when they’re working on commission, shoot images for stock.

Writers want to get paid. Right now, if not sooner. This is fine, but if a writer is not working to build her inventory, selling takes longer, is more fraught with problems, and the writer loses confidence. You avoid problems if you remember to build your writing inventory.

Your inventory is your cash in the bank.

The only writers who don’t need an inventory per se are copywriters. Copywriters need to write samples for their portfolio. This is also inventory: it’s an inventory of experience, which leads to you being able to charge higher rates.

If you’re writing nonfiction, or fiction, much of your writing is concerned solely with building an inventory of work to sell. While you’re doing this, don’t get frustrated because you’re not making a huge amount — or anything at all, for a few months — from your writing.

You need to create product, and get it out into the marketplace, before you can expect to sell it.

Let’s see how this works.

Here’s the scenario. You’re a new magazine writer. Your aim is to sell an article a week by the end of six months. This is eminently doable. It’s also a nice living, if you can sell to dollar-a-word markets. However, you won’t start out writing for top-line markets. You’ll need to aim lower, at markets which pay from 30 to 50 cents a word.

For your first few weeks, you’ll focus on getting a lot of article proposals written, and sending them to the first markets on your lists. You’ll also write shorter pieces, of under 500 words. You’ll simply send these short pieces to markets: you don’t need to query or write a proposal for anything under 500 words.

These works are your inventory. Calculate that if you’re writing for newspapers and magazines, it will take you at least three months to build a basic inventory of work. Once you start selling, you nevertheless continue to build your inventory. Always look on your inventory as money in the bank.

Let’s look at a scenario for a genre novelist. Let’s say your aim is to write romances for a living. Once again, you need to build your inventory. You sell a genre novel by selling a partial, which is three chapters and a synopsis (summary) of your book. Knowing this, you aim to get six partials written in the next six months.

Is this doable for you? This depends on how fast you write, and how much time you have to devote to writing. Aim for getting more, rather than fewer pieces of work out into the marketplace. Look on all these partials you’re writing as auditions for your career.

Should you finish any of these novels for which you’ve written three chapters and an outline? Yes, if an editor tells you she’d like to see the completed book. It’s unlikely that an editor would offer a new writer a contract on the basis of a partial, but if the story’s good and the writing’s competent, many editors will happily look at the completed book after they’ve seen the partial. Asking you to complete the book doesn’t mean that the publishing house will buy your book, however it does indicate that you’re moving in the right direction, and that your work is becoming saleable.

Until someone asks to see the completed book (known as a “complete” in the genre-writing trade), keep building your inventory by writing partials.

=> The advantages of building your writing inventory

* Lack of pressure. There’s no pressure when you’re writing for inventory. This means you can be creative, and can take risks.

* You’ve got lots of work extant, so you can court a new market immediately, as soon as you find it. This increases the likelihood that you will get your foot in the door with a new magazine, or a new publishing house, and have your work purchased simply because you showed up when your work was needed.

When a new market appears, it takes several months for it to register on the radar screen of writers. Once the market has been listed in a writers’ marketing guide, they’ll be flooded with work. If you can get in early, the chances of your work being purchased goes up, simply because it will be read with more care.

* You’ve always got something to sell. “Rejection” has no meaning for you. Rejection simply means that you haven’t yet found a home for a piece of work.

If you’re a writer, and you’re not writing for inventory, start doing so now, and watch your career take off.

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