Careers in Writing at KSU I was lucky this week, in that one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Margaret Walters of Kennesaw State University asked me to come and talk to her careers in writing class.

The pic here, shows just how intense I was…we were solving most of the world’s problems. 🙂

They were very nice folks, and I was happy to be able to get out of the cave for a while, and talk.

One thing I loved, was being able to sit in the class and hear Dr. Walters tell the folks what to do, in prepping themselves for a career. I agreed with everything she said- except one thing, regarding samples…

See, when you are young, and/or just starting out you need to collect samples of your work to share. That, with testimonials is how you find new clients and keep going. The problem is, as a student, you aren’t around a ton of “professional” types of writing- so they encourage you to use academic papers until you can swap them out. That is the thing I don’t exactly agree with, but let me explain why.

In my personal experience, I did just what they suggested – I did not have many professional samples after graduation, so I made up some. I did a couple mock articles (this was long before blogging was around), had a story or two, mocked up a couple ads and thought I had a decent little pile to share. I was pretty aggressive, so I was trying to get interviews with the agencies in Atlanta that hired freelancers. I was good at it too, and got in there…landing an interview with a leading agency here.

The agent was warm, and happy to meet me- we hit it off right away. We talked for a little bit, and things were clicking well…then he asked to see my samples. I had them all in a branded folder (I had all my stationary and folders branded, to look the part), so I handed it over to him.

I will never forget it- he opened the folder, looked at my top sample, and looked right up at me with a totally new, not pleasant look on his face. He thumbed thru my samples, and looked at me again, with the same expression (tired, bored) and said: “You’ve never really done any professional work, have you.”

I think I crawled under the table- maybe the rug…he definitely was not interested in me anymore – handing back the folder and standing up…our interview was immediately over. I was saying all the things I thought would help but it did not matter at all to him. I was under qualified, and now I was creating a bad impression in the agency I wanted to get work from. The agent simply eased me out of the office, clutching my folder that would never again see the light of day. It was embarassing, and pretty awful.

Learn from My Mistake(s)

So as you young ‘uns get out there to start hammering the keys for cash, know that people want to see PROFESSIONAL work. It is a lot easier today, than it was  when I got into this simply because of the online options.

If I were doing the same kind of thing today, I would go after professional writing gigs while still in school – not for pay mind you, but to get the clip published. I would do a newsletter article, a feature piece, blog posts – I would be getting posts/pages online, where a link could be shared with a prospective employer. I would donate my time and writing to organizations (on and off campus)I liked, for free, in exchange for the publishing and a testimonial.

I promise you, there are many easy places for you to offer work for free- free, sells. I always suggest to stay with something you love- I went to the Humane Society because I love dogs, so wrote some holiday newsletters for them and that started it all for me. I used the articles and testimonial to get more clients…each time, able to charge a little more, each time ensuring I could get work samples and testimonials.

The good news is, I did eventually work for that agency, too…though the agent who I interviewed with the first time was no longer there. I did a couple gigs for them, and then went my own way because I earned more without them. But I needed to work there a bit, or I would have had that albatross following me around more than I like.

So thanks again to Margaret Walters, and the class that let me come in and babble for a bit. That was a wonderfully influential class to me – so being on the other side of the desk when I can be is very special to me. If any of you guys need anything at all along the way, you have a friend in me. 🙂

P.S. I did ping one of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers, to see if he’d chime in for us- got an email from his assistant today, saying he is sequestered off writing…so we’ll get him next time! But I did an interview with another great writer I know, who self publishes young adult fiction…see my interview with SR Johannes here.