Monday, May 05, 2014

Go pro, or go home

Guest post by Kevin Johns, author and creative writing coach

You may be surprised to learn that, as a writer, the best thing I have ever done didn’t involve plotting a story, crafting a poem, or composing the lyrics to a song. Rather, it was a simple email that I wrote and sent to four friends, and it changed my life forever. 

But before we get into that email, I want to discuss my biggest mistake as a writer.

For several years, I edited an online arts and culture magazine. I wrote almost a hundred articles for the magazine, and edited hundreds more. The website got thousands of hits every month, and by the time I left the magazine, dozens of young writers, photographers, and illustrators had contributed to the magazine. 

And no one made any money from it.

Sure, we received a few small grants that allowed us to pay our contributors a small fee per article, but as an editorial team, we never identified or implemented a real long-term plan for monetization of the magazine. 

This was largely because monetization had nothing to do with why we had started the magazine in the first place. 

We created the magazine because we were a group of young writers, journalists, and artists who were passionate about the topics we were writing about. 

I, like the other editors at the magazine, was in it for the art, not the commerce… and that was my big mistake.

Being in it for the art is just fine, if you want to treat your writing like a hobby. At the magazine, we called ourselves “journalists” and we were treated as such, but ultimately, we were really just hobbyists. 

It is only when you learn how to monetize your art that you make the transition from hobbyist to true profession.

At some point, the transition from amateur to pro becomes absolutely essential, primarily because monetization is a huge part of sustainability. 
You can romanticize the starving artist persona all you want, but the reality is that not much art gets created when you haven’t eaten all day because you are too broke for groceries. 

 If you plan to be a writer, or an artist of any kind, who is in it for the long haul, you need to make the conscious decision to turn profession. 

Which leads us to that fateful email I mentioned earlier… 

See, the entire time that I was working on the magazine, I was also drafting a novel. When my children were born and I chose to leave the magazine to ensure I had time for my growing family, I continued to work on the manuscript. 

After eight long years of fiddling away at the book, like the hobbyist that I was, I finally made the decision to go pro. That decision was made in the form of an email that I sent to four of my closest friends. It read something like this:
By way of this email, I am committing to completing and publishing my novel in the next six months. 
Kevin Johns
That was it. It was the best thing I ever did, because it was what forced me to make the leap from amateur hobbyist to profession novelist. 

After eight long years, I suddenly had a deadline, and it was only six months away! I had to hire a cover designer, interior layout designer, and an editor, and, ultimately, I needed to sell enough copies of the book to recoup those costs. 
After writing a hundred articles for a magazine that never made a dollar, after scribbling away at a manuscript for almost a decade, I had final taken real action to monetize my art and go pro. 

And from that moment on, there has been no looking back.

Kevin T. Johns is a creative writing coach, and author of the young adult horror novel, The Page Turners. His instruction book for aspiring authors, The Novel Writer’s Blueprint: Five Steps to Creating and Completing Your First Book, will be published in May 2014. Get his free ebook, 12 Common Mistakes Rookie Author Make, at

And read Scott Bury's simultaneous guest post, "Learning the hard way," at Your Novel Blueprint.


  1. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Making yourself accountable to someone for writing goals is excellent. I have that with a dear friend when I start a new book - each day I simply email him my word count and maybe a line or two. It might only be 200 words, or 2000, but I've moved ahead to be more than a hobbyist - congrats!

  2. Anonymous10:34 AM

    Some of us like idea of monetizing our blogs or writing but feel uncomfortable promoting our work. My thoughts are one must promote to be noticed.

  3. Good distinction, and may I add, do your work a favor and don't publish until you've made the commitment to go pro. I have sampled many works by indies that showed great potential, gems in the rough. Most readers, however, won't dig out the fabulous story buried beneath typos, grammatical errors, and bad sentence structure. So don't set up what you've poured your heart and soul into for failure. Invest in a reputable editor, proofreader, and cover designer, and if you don't have the funds to do things properly, get creative. Have a crowd fundraiser. I've done three, so far.

  4. Love this! I did that however, and because of medical issues missed my deadline by a couple of years. But I'm almost there! LOL!!!

  5. Ahhhh yes… the elusive Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood. It was supposed to be out in 2012, but we're keeping our fingers crossed for 2014. BAHAHAHA! Great post tho!

  6. Your story drives home the importance of making a commitment to your craft, whether you make it to others or to yourself. It's easy to let writing slip a day or two at a time if you don't have some fixed goals against which to measure your progress. Elise is right, too. The decision to publish should involve a commitment to deliver a professional quality product. I've seen several frustrated independents who tell a great story but won't get the help they need to make their books successful commercially. Successful writers have to be entrepreneurs, too, and that means seeking competent help when it's needed, even if the help costs money.