THE BENEFITS of the BYLINE;
BUILDING a REPUTATION as A WRITER
A good reputation is more valuable than money.
I recall the first check I received for writing a published freelance piece. I was so jazzed I photocopied it. I earned roughly $60 and felt I had conquered the world. Payment was for an article commissioned by the Carolina Peacemaker. Not only did I get the money, I was also given my byline. This achievement empowered and liberated me – compensation meant validation. It also relieved the incredible stress I felt from worry and anxiety. Ah, how sweet the sensation and what a delicious recollection!
My journey to remuneration took approximately twenty-eight years. I wrote my first published article, under my byline, for the Bennett Banner, the newspaper of my Alma Mater, Bennett College. I was asked to write about my year as an exchange student at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH. At the time the administration was experimenting with the possibility of going coed. Compensation wasn’t part of the request, nor did I seek it. I simply complied. I felt no nascent stirrings, nor did I glimpse my future as a scribe and belletrist. By the time I received this check, I had nearly twenty-five articles I could list on my writer’s resume. I was enamored of freelance writing and a love affair had begun in earnest.
I began writing freelance articles nearly a decade after graduation for a paper owned by friends. Although I was given my byline, once again, I didn’t entertain any thoughts of becoming a journalist. I didn’t think of myself as one and had no appreciation of what it meant to have my name appear as the author. Payment by the Peacemaker gave me a tremendous boost. S-l-o-w-l-y I began to comprehend something critical to my personal and professional development: I could write and get paid! OMG!!!
Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.
[Spoken by Rhett Butler]
Gone with the Wind , pt. II, Ch. 9
Reputations are made, and lost, by choices. Writers’ reps hinge directly on the quality and tone of their output, and where the work is published. I read, on a daily basis, increasingly more media in desperate need of editing and imagination. This, too, spurs me to focus on the substance of my own musings. Occasionally I consider writing pieces which don’t see the light of day. I remember the second time I was asked to write an article from a perspective which went against my principles. My interaction with the publisher was eye-opening, shocking, and sad. Although I would have received my byline and been paid, I declined. The first offer wasn’t difficult to turn down. A bit of research revealed the publication was considered soft porn. Not all commissions are worthy of serious consideration. Building a reputation does involve forethought, planning, and discernment. There’s literature, and there’s garbage. If, or when an offer – and not an opportunity – comes along and you find yourself in a quandary, ask yourself why you’re beset with qualms? What is the nature of the request? Does it pose a moral dilemma? Who does the publication target? Tastefulness and thrust speak for themselves. The question is whether your name belongs in the stable of writers affiliated with it.
I originally wrote this piece as a guest blogger, and social media hadn’t quite taken over the world. Now it’s a force to be reckoned with. I started freelance writing when magazines and newspapers weren’t routinely digitized. Today, material written for public dissemination invariably finds its way onto the Internet. Poorly written articles and blog posts abound, often uploaded hurriedly with minimal editing. Protect your byline: edit and proofread your work! Organize the time you’ve been allotted to ensure you can meet deadlines comfortably. Be mindful of the tone of your articles. Decide what kind of reputation you’d like to have. Be cognizant of the meaning and value of your name and the media with which you are associated.
When given the choice between payment and the byline – take the latter: it will look good on your writer’s resume. Getting paid to write is definitely a plus, however, having a portfolio published in a variety of formats, including digital and print and under one’s byline – demonstrates the writer’s appeal, skill, and versatility. Every article or document an inditer can legally take credit for enhances her, or his, marketability. Seeing one’s name in print is an awesome, unforgettable experience. It serves as an impetus to do more. Each time you’re offered an opportunity to create content, clarify ownership of the work product. Do not hesitate to inquire about your byline, obtain confirmation on the front end.
Blogging was a relatively obscure past time when I started out, and I barely acknowledged it. Writing and posting entries is a great way to compile a list of published works for which one can claim ownership. I have written, and published, more than 130 articles under my byline. This number includes entries I wrote as a guest blogger. I have my own site now and have produced additional material for which I receive credit as the author. Creating a presence in the blogosphere makes sense for the ambitious chronicler. It’s a huge help in the credentials department. Unless a piece is posted anonymously, the authors’ names are always prominently displayed.
The byline is a practical approach to establishing, burnishing, and maintaining a reputation. It’s a roadmap for boosting visibility and generating income. What you write and the imaginative way in which you express yourself enhances the value of your byline. I’ve written reports, media releases, correspondence, and various other documents for which I’ve been monetarily compensated. I can list them as completed work products, but I cannot include them on my writer’s resume. My contribution, in some instances, made a significant difference. My role, however, was to fulfill a contractual agreement in exchange for an agreed upon fee. My clients take the credit and they assert ownership. When given the choice between payment and the byline – take the byline: your reputation is all about you!