Write Place, Right Time

27 04 2012

The end of another semester is drawing nigh. Once again, my students have had to embrace (abhor, ignore…pick your own negative word here) my missives otherwise known as The Daily Blog. People often ask me why I write. I tell them I do it because my alter ego is a journalist (sometimes it’s a rock star, but only when Nickelback is playing). I get paid to write. Why not?

Of course, it really isn’t all that simple.

I love to tell the story of my Dad the Accountant pulling me aside after my junior year of high school (um…that would be about the time disco was hot and leisure suits were in…or is it the other way around?). I had been a staff writer on the Rebel Rouser, the newspaper at my high school. I loved journalism. I loved writing. I wanted to be the next Pulitzer Prize winner.

But Dad the Accountant intervened. “Son, there’s no money in Journalism. You need to be in Business.”

Turns out Dad was much smarter than I had given credit. In fact, he was down right prescient, given the recent posts we saw all over Facebook this week that Journalism is one of the 13 most useless college majors. Score one for parents.

I love you, Dad. You saved my life. I guess.

Thus began my evolution into a Marketing kind of guy, for in this field I can still be creative (and rewarded for it), but also have a fighting chance for meeting my Dad’s expectations of me.

I took a Marketing class in high school. Majored in it at undergrad. Got an MBA emphasis in it. And then decided I loved it so much, hung around for a doctorate. I was 30 years old, and still never had a real job until I landed at WTAMU in 1989.

But the frustrated writer within was bound to break free, and in 2004 I started writing for my students. A lot. Every. Single. Day. No doubt there are graduates walking around who have now taken vows of illiteracy to make up for all the reading they had to do for me. Sixteen hundred blogs later, the well has not run dry. It’s fun, and is the highlight of my day…far more so than the dry academic articles I write to fulfill my research requirements.

Which explains how and why I found myself last night at The Palace Coffee Company in Canyon at a Texas Panhandle Writers gathering, hosted by Jason Boyett and Shawn Smucker. Jason is a former WT grad and friend; Shawn is a friend of Jason’s, and touring the country with his family. Both are full-time professional writers. Books. Ghostwriting. Ghost-tweeting and -FBing. Whatever. Anything that requires words.

And the ten of us who came out got to hear how it is possible to carve out a living via the written word. Shawn’s latest e-book, Building A Life Out Of Words, chronicles how he came to leave “traditional” employment, and instead take a giant leap of faith (literally and figuratively) that required him to follow a still, small voice.

Interestingly, as Shawn and Jason pointed out, it is actually easier now than ever to make a living as a writer (13 Useless Majors aside), thanks to social media, blogs and e-books. Both spend enormous amounts of time each day online and hunkered over a keyboard, pecking away words that people will buy.

Hopefully.

Case in point: Shawn used Amazon’s CreateSpace to format his latest book, and then post to Amazon’s marketplace. I downloaded it last night, and read half of it during my nightly fit of insomnia.

While both also have printed books in their repertoire, I think they both understand that e-books (and especially via the self-publishing model) allow the greatest opportunity for authors to pay the bills. Whereas a printed book might net a 5-10% payment, self-publishing at Amazon can yield up to a 70% royalty.

Sell enough $4 e-books at 70%, and it will indeed pay the mortgage.

My two hours with Jason, Shawn and the other writers in the room left me with nothing but encouragement, as well as admiration. I do not regret for a moment having changed direction at my Dad’s admonition, but another part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, I need to toss my manuscripts in the ring and see what happens. Jason and Shawn know how to work the social graph to their advantage. Oh, and one other important thing: they know how to write. I have read all of Jason’s books, and now look forward to plowing through Shawn’s. With a little luck and courage, maybe I will one day find my own words available at Amazon.

In the mean time, I hope that Dad won’t be offended if I deviate a little from my career path and do the thing I always wanted to do. It’s not like I’m leaving here anyway. My life has been long enough (and the career successful enough) that I can afford to have fun with other outlets. Nope, it’s nowhere near as gutsy as what Jason and Shawn are doing. They are the heroes in this saga; I’m just happy to be able to live in two worlds.

And that is probably something worth blogging home about. Dad, are you reading?

Dr “Word Up” Gerlich


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