Every Monday for the next year, I’m going to write a post about the business of writing. While I am going to explore how to get published and get paid for writing short stories, novels, screenplays, essays, and poetry...
I’m also going to talk about professional writing opportunities you may not have heard of, which can be very lucrative for a talented creative writer who doesn’t mind selling their services. If you’re already confident in your writing skills, making the jump to copywriting, blogging, ghostwriting, content writing, press release writing, or technical writing isn’t hard at all. It's all a matter of knowing where to look for professional writing opportunities.
But first, I wanted to lay some important groundwork to get you in the right mindset to make your writing profitable. You see, in working with other writers, I’ve noticed three main problems that keep many people from actually making a living off of their talents.
#1: Here’s the harsh truth about creative
writing as a calling...
The first major problem is that most of us have been taught that there’s only two ways to make a living as a writer: somehow manage to publish a bestselling hit and live off royalties, merchandise, and movie sales for the rest of your life... or become a journalist.
And with experts declaring the death of paper books and newspapers every couple of weeks, even those two options seem impossible to many. It’s enough to make aspiring writers everywhere resign themselves to substitute teaching high school English for the next 50 years.
(If you want to make your living as a journalist, you have my utmost respect -- but I can’t help you much. I love listening to and talking about the news, but I don’t really like tracking people down for interviews. I was relieved when I realized it wasn’t my only career option. Here's some advice from the BBC that will be much more helpful than anything I'm going to cover in this blog.)
Now, if you’re hoping to become a full-time creative writer, the unfortunate truth is this: you’re probably not going to be able to support yourself on your fiction alone. Can you make money off your creative writing? Yes, you definitely can! There are tons of magazines, anthologies, and journals out there who will pay you for your work. Self-publishing is a viable option, too.
But will it be enough to live on? Maybe. The problem is that it usually takes years of effort before you reach that point -- and, let’s be honest, a lot of luck. Even writers I know who've published dozens of novels usually still have day jobs in between publishing advances.
This isn’t just a matter of modern society undervaluing creative writing -- that’s a topic for another blog post -- but, in large part, a matter of time and effort. Writing a really good short story takes months from concept to completed product. If you’re a decent writer, you can probably sell it to a professional market for a few hundred dollars. But for most people, that doesn’t work out to a reasonable hourly rate.
Good creative writing takes time. And that’s okay.
#2: That doesn’t mean that you can’t make
writing your day job!
Here's another major problem that keeps writers from making a decent living. Basically, the majority of aspiring writers fall into the trap of thinking that commercial writing is somehow "illegitimate" or "dirty." It’s true that writing ad copy or web content isn’t as interesting or personal as writing fiction.
That being said, it’s a lot easier to artfully convey factual information than it is to painstakingly craft a creative masterpiece. And while lit journals are struggling to pay the bills, businesses will always need well-written material of all kinds to stay afloat.
Unlike a small literary journal, businesses can actually afford to pay you a decent hourly rate. This doesn’t mean “selling out” to a big, soulless corporation. There are probably small businesses and nonprofits in your local area that could desperately use your skills. The business you might be writing for might even be your own.
It’s not that you can’t do both -- I write fiction outside of my day job pretty much every day. To be totally honest, I think all creative writers should write nonfiction sometimes. I know my fiction writing has improved by leaps and bounds as I’ve increasingly dedicated myself to my freelance career.
A good article, blog post, or advertisement is all about telling a story -- but if you don’t tell it in a way that deeply connects with the reader, the stakes are much higher than with a work of fiction. You have to get good when you’re a commercial writer, because there’s always the bottom line to consider.
What I'm trying to say is that commercial writing is actually a lot more creative than you'd think. Don't write it off just because you're not delving into your own inner world.
#3: What do you really want to be when
you grow up?
What I’m emphatically not trying to say is that everyone who aspires to be a creative writer should give up on their hopes and dreams. I'm just saying that if you’re interested in turning writing into a career, you need to be realistic about what’s possible.
If you’re okay with working a day job and writing fiction on the side, I want to help you sell your work and get paid what you deserve. A few hundred extra dollars every now and then is nothing to scoff at, especially in today’s economy. And if you take your creative writing career slow, there’s the possibility, however remote, that your work might hit it big.
If you hate your job and want to get paid to write all day about topics that interest you -- or just don’t care what you’re writing about, as long as there’s a paycheck involved -- commercial writing or article writing might be for you. And I want to help you make the transition as easily as possible. I want to help you make more money freelancing than you’re making right now.
That leads me to the third major problem that holds aspiring writers back... And that’s the self-doubt and insecurity that leads us to believe we don’t "deserve" to make a decent wage off of our work. What makes writing so wonderful is that it truly is a calling. We feel compelled to write. We can’t help ourselves. It doesn’t always matter if anyone is even reading our words -- it’s just an awesome bonus if they do.
The flip side is it’s easy to be taken advantage of as an aspiring writer. To fall into the trap of writing for free for years, or for such low wages that you’re actually losing money. Because just being recognized for our hard work feels like a privilege. Some writers will do anything for “publication” -- even signing away all their rights to their work, or paying for the privilege of appearing in a vanity publication.
Really, that’s what I want to help you with in this series. I want to teach you how to value your work and demand what it’s really worth. I firmly believe that writers who are fairly compensated are better writers -- less likely to become burned out, less likely to give up, and vastly more likely to make a real difference in the world.
So, here’s your homework for this week...
Start thinking about your major writing goals. Do you want to make your living off of writing? Would you just like it to be a side job that gives you a creative outlet and supplements your income?
Share your goals or questions in the comments below, and I’ll see how I can help you in a future article. Keep an eye out for next week, when I’ll talk a little about the different types of jobs you can get as a writer. I guarantee there’s a few ways to make money writing that you’ve never heard of!