Seems logical while I'm in the Great Voting Race for The Top Writing Blog contest I should post a bit of what I know about writing. You learn a few things when you've been reviewing as long as I have, more than a decade all told, things I wish someone had told me when I first started. Imagining myself in your shoes, starting all over again, there's a lot of knowledge I can pass along, things I've picked up along the way about how the writing market works and what you can expect once you're out there. As long as I have people swinging past to check me out, err..., check out my BLOG I may as well help you a bit if I can.
First depressing truth: your odds of making a living as a writer are roughly the same as winning the lottery. Before you decide this is what your gut tells you your heart wants, prepare yourself. Have another job in mind. You're going to need it. Writing isn't what it used to be. Competition is fierce, sometimes downright ugly. Never has it been so rough. Behind you are thousands just like you, some equally talented, some less and some more so. Writers are completely replaceable. If you give up your place in line, let up on relentless marketing and networking, you may as well hang it up. It is that cut-throat. You need to market yourself every, single day. Make connections, pop up on writing forums and blogs, Tweet writers (but not in a needy, "look at me!" way).
And when I say networking, I mean schmoozing: getting out there, shamelessly self-marketing yourself, using every avenue open to you. Keep cool, don't press or be obnoxious. Be CONFIDENT. You're a writer and you're good, goshdarnit!
You'll need a blog to act as your portfolio and it's crucial to be as active as possible in social networking. When you're blogging and networking develop a persona, an identifiable and consistent writing style. That's easy to say, and takes the longest time, but it's necessary if you're going to stand out from the herd.
Approach literary journals first, and local papers/publications, the ones that pay nothing or very little. They're everywhere online. Be open to cranking out quality work you'll need to give away. But always be on time and don't miss deadlines. Treat every writing assignment as if you're getting paid and get to know your editors. They are connected and invaluable.
The goal here is to build a portfolio you can present to the next rung up the ladder, an easily accessed electronic source a busy editor can skim over when she has time. Editors are going to ask for proof you can write well, wide-ranging styles showing your versatility. Have that ready and organized, with a URL you can give for a busy editor's convenience. And if you contact an editor who doesn't respond don't take it personally. They are barraged by requests. Give them a few days, then write them back to let them know you're still interested, still available. But don't be obnoxious about it. Wait a bit longer, try again but then move on to the next editor. You can always come back to the first editor later and if you come back with a published piece you're more likely to be heard.
And, speaking of connections, join LinkedIn! It's beyond invaluable. Friend request me; I know loads of editors, publishing house editors and marketers, magazine editors and established writers. Get to know how you can use it. I'd recommend checking a book out of the library or buying a manual on how to use it. It's amazingly helpful in building that all-important network.
When you're out and about, have business cards. Writing is a profession and should be treated seriously. If you have a niche, journalism or what not, reflect that clearly on the cards and carry over a consistent brand in everything you present. For instance, use the same typeface, colors, tagline or whatever. Get connected with a specific look that's solely yours.
That's a bit about the business end of it. Not thorough by any means but that's why there are so many books out there on writing. But, speaking of those, don't get caught up spending more time reading them than writing. Such an easy trap to fall into! Writing itself should be primary on your schedule. Read the books as an extra.
More advice from a veteran reviewer/columnist tomorrow! Hope it helps/gives you food for thought. Any specific questions, just ask.