Happy Valentine’s Day!
How to Make a Living as a WriterBy C. Hope Clark
A common question. A long answer. One can be a writer with talent, much as one can paint, repair cars or mow lawns. Making a living in this industry, however, means being an entrepreneur.
Imagine opening a business with storefront, inventory and an advertising budget. You spend weeks planning, designing, ordering, stocking, soliciting and spreading the word. In the meantime, you’re spending money and earning nothing, because you’re banking on the fact that you will be successful. You won’t know until the end of next quarter, even the year, whether or not the effort proved worthwhile.
Earning a living as a writer takes the same mindset. You don’t start bringing in revenues until you’ve invested sufficiently enough to perfect your trade, making it worthy of purchase.
As editor of FundsforWriters.com, I’m asked daily how a writer can earn a living. The questions come in many formats, but they all hit the same chord. How do I write, and bring in enough money to live on?
First, define what’s enough money to live on. What does that mean per hour? Per month?Per year? Let’s say it’s $26,000 per year. Working full-time, that’s 2080 hours per year, and $12.50 per hour. That means if you spend four hours researching a piece, three hours writing it, and one hour editing it, you should receive a minimum of $100 for the story. Great.
But what about the hours you spent finding that job? What about the jobs you pitched and didn’t get? What about when you read newsletters and emails, update your blog, manage your finances, and attend conferences? All of that needs to be incorporated into your hourly wage. Suddenly you need $200 for that article to compensate for an additional eight hours of administrative and background time. That $200 article covers two days of your week at $12.50/hour. Now . . .what do you plan to do with your other three days to maintain that level of income?
While $26,000 isn’t much income, it does put earning an income as a writer into perspective. You must continually put yourself out there to land work, win contests, achieve grants or acquire contracts. Slow and steady wins this race, steady being the key word. Sometimes it interferes with your creative muse.
Decide your primary goal as a writer. Then define your secondary goal. In most cases, the first goal isn’t an instant money maker. Which means your secondary goal should be.
For instance, you might want to write a novel, but since novels are extremely risky entrepreneurial ventures in that you invest way in advance of any chance of revenue, you need other income to support your needs.
That means work such as:
- Writing articles for magazines,
- Writing articles for online publications,
- Winning freelance contracts for businesses,
- Accepting part-time or full-time work as a writer, media developer, journalist, communications specialist, proofreader, editor, copywriter, tutor, teacher, public affairs specialist or other writing-related job.
When writing is all fun, my guess is it’s a hobby. When writing becomes a career, you have to write items you don’t particularly want to write, as well as perform tasks like blogging, pitching, bookkeeping and promotion that cramp your style.
My recent book release is a contemporary mystery set in rural South Carolina. My degree and work history involved agriculture, personnel management, government, and the grant/loan world. Lowcountry Bribe took years to write and two years to publish.
In the meantime, however, I’ve done the following:
- Won $750 from first chapter and novel contests.
- Written articles for magazines about writing fiction, earning a living as a writer, how to write a mystery, rural living, turf and landscape management, acquiring jobs.
- Spoken to groups about the same topics.
- Written guest blogs about same topics.
But let’s say your expertise is not in the subject of your book, like many of my skills were. Then it behooves you to write articles, speak and blog about your expertise, capitalizing upon your strengths.
I did not proactively start FundsforWriters.com, my current business. I went into it kicking and screaming, not wanting to get so left-brain with research, grants and financial resources, since that was what I did for a federal agency. I wanted to write fiction, darn it. Be artsy and free to create! But a journalist friend once told me years ago to use my strengths in order to remain a writer. I could help others with what I knew, so why not combine my expertise with writing and make a living at it, until such time I could complete the novel?
Most writers think linearly about making a buck in this business. Instead, step back. Look at all your options and all your abilities. Incorporate all into your desire to establish a career at this craft. Grants, contests, freelancing, contract assignments, speaking, teaching, you name it. If you can do it in the name of writing to support yourself, be willing to do so. Just keep your primary project in front of you, like a picture on your refrigerator, reminding you that you do all of this so you can achieve your ultimate goal.
BIOC. Hope Clark is editor of FundsforWriters.com, an online resource selected by Writer’s Digest Magazine in its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past eleven years. Hope is published in several magazines, trade magazines and anthologies and on innumerable online sites. She just released Lowcountry Bribe, A Carolina Slade Mystery through Bell Bridge Books, available at all online and local bookstores. www.fundsforwriters.com/ www.chopeclark.com / www.bellbridgebooks.com