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Writers vs. Snow Tires

In today’s blog-happy world, is there a difference?

If you’re looking for a Valentine-themed “First Love” or “How I Caught VD on Valentine’s Day” column, you’ll have to find one in the February issues of Glamour magazine or Mademoiselle or Car and Driver.

I’m too busy trying to improve my own brand.

Until I took a LinkedIn class at JVS last year, my only previous thoughts of branding were in 1996, when I considered pledging Michael Jordan’s frat — as a 41-year-old white Jew. 

The definition has changed since then, and now I’ve learned that I should consider myself not as a living, breathing writer in search of work, but a useful commodity and a brand to be sold — a pair of snow tires looking for a couple of axles.

And LinkedIn — the businessperson’s answer to Facebook — has the resources to get my snow tires out there.

So, getting in front of this new New Year’s resolution, I added contacts to my LinkedIn accounts and joined several LinkedIn writing groups in November and December.

But recently, I’ve been troubled by a few of the questions members asked in one of the writing groups.

One member wondered if she could call herself a writer if she had never been published. Another member had been asked to write several 500-word stories for a website for $5 each — and wondered if they were lowballing her.

These two questions perfectly encapsulate the downhill direction that writing is taking because 20 years ago, neither one of these questions would even have been asked.

Twenty years ago, when AOL was battling it out with Compuserve over dial-up modems, it cost money to stay online indefinitely.

As the world became more wired and technology made easy access to almost everything ever written or seen on video, a 13-year-old bat mitzvah, college coed or a lumberjack could start a webpage and blog to tell anyone and everyone how he/she was feeling. They could also start a Facebook page, or post tweets on Twitter and share thoughts 140 characters at a time in a cloud of data.

If they journaled the same thoughts 20 years ago, or posted them on Facebook yesterday, besides the increased number of readers, would they be any more or less of a writer?

Personally, I don’t think you can call yourself a writer until you’ve had your first fight with an editor.

To the lowballing question, 20 years ago people bought books, magazines and newspapers or checked them out of a library.

It took time and money for publishers to produce the reading material, and although most professional writers or reporters didn’t make the big bucks, they would never, ever write a 500-word story for $5. In the “you get what you pay for” realm, the publication never would have offered that price to a real writer.

So, the answer to the second question is quite easy.

Ask the content mill, “If I write ‘#*@^ you,’ 250 times, how long will it take to get paid?”

When I started my writing career, I thought that I would always be at a newspaper and that I would always see my words in print and on paper. I never thought that technology would make my career almost obsolete. I never thought I would be comparing my career to selling snow tires. I guess I’m old school that way.

Let’s just remember that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written on parchment, not burned onto a CD. Unless we make hard copies of everything we write, if a latter-day Indiana Jones unearths a floppy disk in 4012, or even 2312, will someone he knows have an IBM-compatible PC to download the information? And what if the floppy contains porn? Will he get any work done for the rest of that day?



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