December 4th, 2013 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing | 1 Comment
by MacGregor Literary award-winning author Jill Williamson
When I started writing I was pretty much on my own. I searched long and hard for local writing groups, but couldn’t find one. I tried a few online groups and eventually started one with another YA author I’d met online. We sort of mentored each other as we went along, the blind leading the blind. It wasn’t the worst way to learn. And we did learn. We’re both traditionally published authors now.
I also attended writers conferences, read books on the craft of writing, and read writing blogs. But I never sought out a mentor. I didn’t know how. I was too shy. And I figured they’d all say no, anyway. But once I was published, I liked helping other writers. So I started blogging for teen writers. I figured that there were plenty of blogs out there for adults, so why not create one for teens?
Blogging for teens was a way to share what I’d learned. And I wasn’t the only one with this idea. At a marketing retreat, I got to know Stephanie Morrill who started www.GoTeenWriters.com. She and I talked and decided to combine forces. She had created an amazing blog for teen writers and graciously took me on as a co-blogger. Blogging for teens allows me to speak to hundreds of teen writers every week.
Later on we also put our various blog posts into a book we co-wrote called Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book. This book has enabled us to mentor in yet another form and had been read by teen writers all over the world. How cool is that?
I officially mentor two writers. I don’t think I could handle mentoring more than two as it can be very time consuming. But mentoring is also very rewarding. It allows me to give another writer the support that I would have liked to have had back when I started out.
If you’re thinking about mentoring a writer, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Define the communication plan.
It’s important to decide from the start how often you’ll talk and how, whether through email or phone or in-person visits at a local coffee shop. If you have some boundaries you want to keep, set those up in the beginning.
2. Be clear on what you will do and what you will not do.
There are authors out there who would send everything they’ve ever written to their mentor to read and send new material whenever they write it. But a mentor is not a personal slave, so be clear up front about what you will read and give feedback on and when you will do it. I tend to work on one project at a time with my mentees. I will also read query letters, pitches, and proposals too when they ask.
3. Help set goals and be sure and follow up.
Part of being a writer is meeting deadlines, so it’s important to help your mentees set goals and follow through. Be sure to put the deadlines on your own calendar so you can send reminders.
4. Give feedback but don’t try and make them into you.
Depending on the writing level of your mentee, it can be hard not to try and fix everything all at once. Some mentees need more work on their craft. Others don’t. It’s wise to work with authors who write things you like to read. That will help you remain impartial. Try not to over critique their stories, either. It’s a delicate balance. Remember that this is their story, not yours, and you are trying to help them grow as a writer.
5. Try to meet.
If you don’t know your writer personally, try to get together and meet. If not at a writer’s conference, than try Skype or Google Hangouts. You don’t have to meet on a regular basis, but there’s something wonderful about sitting and talking together face-to-face.
6. Be positive but honest.
Being honest can be a difficult dance at times. You are the voice of experience, and it can be tempting to be overly honest as we might with a peer. But new writers can be vulnerable, and it’s important to be positive even with criticism or the feasibility of selling a story idea so as not to discourage. Don’t be in a hurry to try and see that your mentee learns everything right away. Learning the craft of writing is a journey that each person must travel. We can help our mentees on that journey, but we can’t walk it for them and we should be wary of offering shortcuts. We mustn’t make our mentees dependent on us. We need to teach them how to go it alone so that someday they can reach out and find a mentee of their own.
Do you mentor a writer or share your expertise with other writers in some way? If so, how? Do you have any tips for mentoring? If you are a writer who would like a mentor, what help do you most seek?
This week the Go Teen Writers ebook is on sale for .99 in all ebook formats. If you mentor a teen writer, this might be a good gift idea for them. Also, feel free to visit www.GoTeenWriters.com and join in the discussions with teen writers.
Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms and the award-winning author of several young adult books including By Darkness Hid, Replication, The New Recruit, and Captives. She’s a Whovian, a Photoshop addict, and a recovering fashion design assistant, who was raised in Alaska. She blogs for teen writers at www.goteenwriters.com. You can also visit her online at www.jillwilliamson.com, where adventure comes to life.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about “making a living at writing.” In addition to the advice I’ve doled out, I’ve heard from several people with wisdom to add to the discussion, and I have a few other tips to share, so I thought for the Thanksgiving weekend, we could share the best advice we all have for those looking to make a living at writing. Some of my thoughts:
–Keep your mornings protected for writing. Move the other work to the afternoon, but write every morning.
–Group similar activities. If you do all your phone calls back to back, you’ll get through them faster. Ditto emails, snail mail, project planning, looking over proposals, etc.
–Organize your day first thing every morning. If you have a plan, you’re much more apt to stay focused. Having a “to do” list helps most writers immensely.
–Take a day off one each week. Getting away from writing one day each week allows you to recharge your batteries and get your mind refreshed. Hey — even God rested.
–Kill the muse. That is, forget the concept that you have to be in a certain mood to write, or find exactly the right space to create words. Just sit and write. I’ve long appreciated Ernest Hemingway’s writing idea that you end each day in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down the next morning, you don’t have to figure where you are, or get yourself into a certain moody, or work up to it. All you have to do is to finish the incomplete sentence you’d left yourself, and you’re off and writing.
–See the value of shitty first drafts. Too many writers tie themselves in knots because they think they need to make their manuscript perfect. But for most novelists, what they really need is to get a first draft done. Then they can go back and fix it. (Because it’s always easier to FIX something than to CREATE something.) So think “progress,” not “perfection.” See the value of creating a shitty first draft. (And my thanks to Anne Lamott for first offering this bit of wisdom in her wonderful book Bird by Bird.)
–If you’re running a writing and editing business, learn to farm out certain tasks. Let’s face it: if somebody else can do something 80% as well as you, then you need to consider farming it out to them in order to allow you to grow your business.
–Protect your hands. One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young writer was using a cramped keyboard, then not taking adequate breaks or stretching my hands. Now I have a lot of hand problems. There’s a ton of research on things you can do to protect one of a writer’s most valuable assets — ergonomic keyboards, stretching exercises, the proper chair, being careful to not over-tax your fingers, etc.
So… what wisdom to you have to share? As you move toward making more of your living at writing, what is the best advice you can give to other writers?
- See more at: http://www.chipmacgregor.com/#sthash.vHETWVjq.dpuf
We’ve been talking about making a living at writing, and I’ve talked about the importance of having a place, a time, a project, a writing goal, and a calendar (among other things). Let me suggest there’s one other thing you’re going to have to learn to do if you are to take the next step in your writing career: think quarterly.
It can be daunting to think you need to earn $1000 this month. It’s much less daunting to think you need to earn $3000 in a quarter. The fact that you have the extra time allows you to shift your priorities around, and give yourself enough breathing room that you can earn the money. So don’t think the pressure is on you to make all the money NOW — assume you’ve got a three-month goal.
The federal government already thinks that way — it’s why they ask self-employed writers and editors to pay quarterly taxes instead of monthly. Writing income never arrives on a monthly basis anyway, though it’s fair for a writer to plan for a decent paycheck four times per year. So you move your income into quarterly groupings, lowering the pressure and giving yourself a better big-picture view of your budget.
In essence, I’m suggesting the conversation with yourself becomes something like this: “I’m going to make $3000 this quarter. It’s going to come from three sources — my completion money, my royalty check, and those magazine articles I’m completing. And the money is going to go toward these things…” (because part of having a budget is determining where the money goes, not just where it will come from).
When I was given this idea from an experienced freelance writer, I found it took a bunch of pressure of my shoulders. LOTS of writers and other self-employed people have based their budgets on this model over the years. Thinking quarterly will help you survive as a writer.
What are the other tips for making a living at writing you’ve learned along the way?
If you’re going to make a living at writing, you’re going to need to consider creating a writing calendar. This is, you need to have a document that details what you’re going to write each day. Think about buying a big paper calendar, and jotting down a writing goal for each day of the month. For example, perhaps on Monday you’re working on chapter five of your book, Tuesday you’re completing the chapter, Wednesday you are creating that article you’ve wanted to do for the writing magazine, Thursday and Friday you are doing a paid edit. In each day on your calendar you’ve got something that focuses you on the task at hand.
To figure out what you put into each day, you look at your “to do” list and do some prioritizing. If you’re one of those writers who has been stuck at “writing 1000 words each day,” but not ever feeling like you’re actually moving forward in your career, you should try this. There’s nothing wrong with having a word count goal, of course, but sometimes it’s better to know which project you’re working on, and how long it’s going to take you. You’re going to have plenty of other things to do, of course — there will be phone calls related to your work, and seemingly endless emails, and forms to fill out, a friend’s piece to critique, some social media to participate in… but at some point you just want your writing life to have a focus — getting these pieces written so I can make some money.
And that’s why you don’t just write down the goal for each day and stop. You then go back and add in a dollar figure, so each project is seen as contributing to your budget. For example, that article you’re writing for the writing magazine? How much is that paying you? Let’s say it’s $150 — you write down “writing magazine article – $150″ into the square on your calendar for that day. The editing project you’re doing? It pays $300, so write that over the Thursday and Friday squares. Oh, and that chapter you’re creating? You’re expecting to sell that book for about $5000, so each chapter has a monetary value of roughly $250. I know that might seem a bit dreamy at first, but trust me — in time, you’ll appreciate knowing what sort of value to put onto your writing efforts.
Figuring out your writing value isn’t hard — if your goal is to make $36,000 per year at writing, you’re trying to make $3000 per month, or $750 per week, or an average of $150 pr day. You won’t find writing jobs that are quite that precise, of course, so you’ll need to think more broadly as you create your calendar. But knowing the overall amount of money you’re trying to generate, and breaking it down into smaller goals, makes the entire process much more doable.
Nothing makes you look at reality more clearly than a number, so figure out the projects you’re going to work on this month, break them into workable units, get them onto a calendar, and attach a dollar figure to each one, so that you have some sense of what you should be making. That’s how you get started at the business of making a living writing.
When I mentioned to Chip that I recently had my website redesigned and sent him the link to check it out, he asked me to write a blog post and share my experience with you.
To give you an idea of where my site was when I began my redesign process with Aaron Robbins, I need to share a little about my website history. I began blogging in 2008, on a free Blogger blog at the URL mycup2yours.com. The platform served my purposes well (writing parenting posts geared toward moms) and I was happy with the functionality and design.
Over the next few years, as my blog began to grow and my passion for writing in the parenting genre became more serious, I changed the appearance of my site, added more selections to my navigation bar and more widgets to my sidebar. I admit, at the time, I didn’t really have a long-term vision for my site. (I was just tweaking it here and there.) I also bought the domain for my name and created my own website through WebSiteTonight for gennyheikka.com. While I wrote about parenting regularly on mycup2yours.com, this second URL was where I had my writing bio and information about the children’s books I had written.
Managing two sites turned out to be time consuming, so a little while later, I made a major change, switching from mycup2yours.com on Blogger to gennyheikka.com on WordPress, combining the two. So not only did I switch blogging platforms, I changed URLS and years of blog posts at mycup2yours transitioned to gennyheikka.com.
It was a hard decision and one that came with complications in terms of SEO, redirects, and lost subscribers, but it was the right thing to do from a branding perspective. I wanted one place that readers could find me and all my work, rather than going to one site for my blog and another to find out about my books, speaking, and other writing.
All of that to say, when I looked at redesigning my website recently, the site I had was a combination of what had compiled over the years and what was pulled together as a result of that transition. I wasn’t sure what to keep, what to toss, or what functionality I even wanted. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted my new design to be clean, simple and welcoming.
I love how it turned out.
Honestly, I have Aaron to thank for how it looks and functions. I love the forms he put on my Speaking Page, and the video, audio, and photos he suggested for my Media Page, as well as the different ways people can connect on my site.
While I went into the website redesign process mostly focused on what my site would look like, Aaron asked questions that helped me dig deeper into things like why I write, how I’m impacting those who read my work, and how to best tell that story (all things that would impact my design, though I didn’t realize it.)
Some of the questions he asked me–that I’d encourage you to think about if you’re considering a new website–were:
Why do you write?
How would the world change if your point of view wasn’t available?
Who are the people already reading you?
Why are they reading you?
What needs does your writing fulfill in others?
What do you have of value that you can give away regularly?
I never knew there was so much behind website design, but I learned that going through a detailed process of answering these types of questions and making sure your website aligns with your answers makes your digital content much more clear, compelling and useful.
While I give the credit for my site design to Aaron, I do have a few nuggets of advice that I learned from my experience. If you are looking at redesign your existing site, here are some tips:
1. Ask questions before thinking about appearance (what do you do, and why do you do it?). Your answers will impact your site’s look, feel, and functionality.
2. Take time. A well-thought out website doesn’t happen overnight. My website redesign took about four months and it was definitely worth the process.
3. Look at other people’s websites and become familiar with what you like and don’t like about them, but then focus on your own unique site and what you want people to do or feel when they arrive there.
4. Choose a good designer that you enjoy working with. (Read more about Aaron at the end of this post if you are looking for someone. He specializes in authors, and I highly recommend him.)
5. Be open minded. Several times in my design process, Aaron introduced ideas for things I never considered for myself, but that I love, like forms for people to contact me for speaking engagements, a beautiful gallery for my book thumbnails, a media page with video, audio, and photos, and more. Looking to the expert is definitely a good thing!
If you want to learn more about designing your author website or building your online presence, you can also listen to Episode 16 and 18 of my podcast (Part-Time Author Podcast, free on iTunes), which are dedicated to these topics, and in which Aaron goes into a lot more detail.
And if you want to learn more about Aaron, watch his fun video below, or visit aaronrobbins.com. He has a heart for writers and loves working with them to tell the story of their stories.
Genny lives in Northern California with her husband and two kids, where she balances writing with motherhood and loves both. She’s an author, speaker, blogger and coffee lover. Her book for moms, Finding Mommy Bliss, is being released by Hallway Publishing in April, 2014.
We’ve been talking about “making a living at writing,” and I had several people ask what essential tools are needed if someone is going to do more than just type up a manuscript at home. A fair question…
I suggest there are nine essential things every writer needs:
–A time to write. That is, a set time when you’re going to sit down and write every day. When I decided I was going to make my living at writing, I had a regular job, so I got up early and sat down at my computer every day from 6 to 8 in the morning. I’m not a morning person at all, so this was a sacrifice… but I had three small children, and it was the only time when I thought I could get uninterrupted writing time.
–A place to write. You may need peace and quiet, or you may do best with the buzz of a lot of people around. You may like music playing, or you may insist on silence. Some writers use a spare room in their house, others want to take in the atmosphere at Starbucks. But whatever the exterior trappings, most writers do best if they have one place and one time, when they KNOW they are going to write.
–A project to write. When you sit down to write, you’re not journaling or searching for your muse — you’re working on a project. It might be a blog post, or an article for a website, or the next chapter in your book. But when you start, you know exactly what project you’re going to work on.
–A writing goal. Many writers set a goal of creating 1000 words per day. Others set it much higher. When I was writing full time, I had a goal of a chapter per day. The trick is to set some sort of goal, so that you can gauge your success. Novelist P.G. Wodehouse set a goal of writing 1100 salable words per day — something he kept up for more than 60 years, and the reason he published 90 novels and hundreds of short stories.
–A bank account. If you’re going to start looking at your writing as a business, you’ll have money coming in and going out, so you’ll need a way to track income and expenses. This will help at tax time, since none of the money you earn writing will have taxes withheld. Start the business account in your company name, even if it is something simple such as “Janet Smith Writing and Editing.” In time, you’ll find you want to tie a credit card (to track purchases) and a savings account (to retain a portion for quarterly taxes) to this account.
–A website. If you’re going to get the word out on your writing business, you’re going to need to invest in a decent website — something that tells potential customers who you are, what you do, who you’ve worked with, and how to get in touch with you. You’re probably also going to want some business cards, but you probably don’t need a huge stash of them any more, and you can get them cheaply online.
–A filing system. Whatever system you use, you need to have a way to keep track of people, projects, and information without digging aimlessly through old emails or file folders. So learn to track your work and file it in some sort of system that makes sense to you. My grandfather used to say, “Some people have twenty years of experience; others have one year of experience twenty times.” The people who track their work are the ones who don’t have to keep re-inventing things.
–A network. With time, you’ll want to know other writers, connect with editors, meet with publishers, bounce ideas off of others in the industry. So go to conferences, make friends, and get to know other people who are doing this. Much of your work will come from your growing network.
–And, course, an up-to-date computer and software. I hate talking about this, since I’m not a tech guy, and used my first Macbook for six years before I decided to replace it. But if you’re going to work in the world of publishing, you’re going to have to know and use Microsoft Word, and you’re going to have to own a relatively recent version of it. Sure, you can create documents in other programs, but eventually you’re going to have to use Word to work effectively with everybody else. So, yes, Bill Gates owns your soul.
I suppose there are other things you could put on this list (an understanding partner, good internet access, a decent coffee maker), but these are things I’ve found essential to making a living with words. Would love to have you leave a comment with what other tools are essential.
I’ve been exploring the notion of making a living in the new publishing economy, and I want to make sure writers understand the big picture… You’ve got to treat your writing as a business.
Oh, sure, some writers will insist on treating their writing as an art, which is fine, and for some writers no doubt more appropriate. I represent some authors who don’t really see themselves as business people, but as artists, creating words that share their stories. I totally understand and respect that perspective, since some writers are, in fact, artists with words. But if it’s important to you that you generate a full-time income through your writing, and you’re pondering how to create a number of writing projects that will improve your bottom line, then you need to begin to see your writing as a business. In essence, your words are a service or product — they have value, and others need to pay you in exchange for them.
Determining the value of your words is tough at first, which is why I’ve encouraged authors to begin by setting a small monthly financial goal, then building up the number as you find success. If you know you need to earn, say, $2500 per month, then it’s clear the goal is about $500 per week (which sounds small when you put it that way, doesn’t it?). Thinking in that manner moves writing into more of a business model, since it reduces your work to numbers: “I need to make $500 from my writing this week.” You then begin to map out which projects you can do that will generate the cash flow you need.
As I’ve said a number of times on this blog, today is a great time to be a writer. There are more readers and more opportunities than ever before, so there’s a market for people who can create good content. You’ll still hear people complain that it’s not easy… but when has making a living with art ever been easy? For that matter, when has starting a business ever been easy? I started a writing and editorial service, built it into a success, and it was a lot of hours and work. I then went to work for publishers and traded my time for a salary, which was also hard work. When I started my own literary agency several years ago, I knew it would be a ton of work — locating good projects, finding authors with whom I was comfortable, building relationships with publishers, spending hours looking at proposals, reading contracts, keeping the books and cutting checks, getting involved in marketing discussions, having career conversations with authors, training staff, keeping in touch with people in the industry through this blog and other sources…. I’m not complaining — I love my job. Love being an agent. Don’t want to do anything else. But it’s hard work; just as setting up and running a writing business will be hard work.
On the other hand, there are numerous pluses to starting a writing business. There’s no big overhead — you need a computer and internet access. Business cards and a website are helpful, as is a professional wardrobe and some people skills. You’ll discover that, like marketing your novel, running a writing business is basically a sales job. You’ll need to get the word out and increase your visibility, but that will help you when your book releases. You’ll need to know how to tell your story, in order to sell people on your skills. You’ll need to have a dedicated time to write, so that you balance the marketing with the actual writing. And that keeps you writing regularly, so that you begin to see writing as the task you’re doing every day, rather than a hobby to try when the mood strikes, or you’ve found your muse. (As I learned to say when I was working for a newspaper: “Screw the muse — write the words.” Though the editor who taught me that phrase might have used more colorful language.)
One last thought on treating your writing as a business: Learn the value of a three-legged stool. The metaphor of a three-legged stool has long been used with small businesses. If you only have one product, you have one leg to your stool. That works fine so long as your product is popular, but when popularity fades, you’re left with one product that isn’t making you any money. That’s why bookstores don’t just sell books — they sell cards, puzzles, games, journals, bookends, fancy pens, stuffed toys, t-shirts, jewelry, and anything else that might appeal to book lovers. If you’re running a writing business, you may want to think about adding other legs to your stool. If you write books, perhaps you can collaborate and help others write books. Maybe you can edit other people’s manuscripts, or copy-edit, or do the developmental book connecting that’s so important with fiction. You might be able to teach writing, or speak at writing conferences, or help with some free-lance book marketing. You can’t do all of these things, of course, but figuring tout the tasks you CAN do, and creating a business that involves several of them, will give you a more stable financial base.
I’d love to know what you’re found helps you make a living at writing. Share your thoughts with me in the “comments” section.
I’ve been talking about authors trying to make a living at writing recently, and a couple people have written to ask me, “When can I know I’m actually making a living with my words?”
To me, the answer is personal. One author may feel she is making a living when she’s earning $1500 per month; another may feel she isn’t really making a living until she’s making $3000 per month. I think you have to pick an amount based on your own situation. What are your household income needs? What’s reasonable for you to earn over the course of a year? How much time do you have to devote to writing?
When I started free-lancing, I was working other jobs (I hosted a radio show called “On the Record with Dr Chip MacGregor,” and taught some classes). At first my writing income was slim, but over time I had more writing and editing projects coming in, and I saw my monthly income from writing move from $100 to $300 to $500 to $1000 per month. I had a big jump from $1000 to $1500, then to $1800 per month. When I began making an average of $2000 per month, I realized I could make more money if I gave up my part-time jobs and just focused on the writing and editorial work. Granted, this was a number of years ago, but I had three kids and a mortgage payment, and making more than $2000 each month was enough to live on.
So, as you look at your situation, how much do you need to make? You may choose to set a small goal from your writing at first, then grow it over time as your writing career moves forward. You have to begin to see “words” as “money” — that is, your writing having value. One of the things you’ll discover is that when you look at words that way, there are an enormous number of avenues for you to make money with words. Maybe you can teach writing classes, or start a collaborative writing business. Perhaps you can do freelance editing (every publisher is looking for good copyeditors, in my experience). You might be able to do some work for your local organizations, who will pay a writer and editor to help with newsletters and online information. Or you can write for your local newspaper, or check into local or regional magazines — even mid-sized cities often have monthly or quarterly magazines that feature tourism and business news about the local area, and what every magazine publisher will tell you is that each edition is a monster that has to be fed. They need content to fill up pages, and nobody is going to feel sorry for them if they don’t have enough words with interesting stories to fill those pages. The days of e-zines have pushed many of the print magazines to the background, so while you may find at first that e-zines aren’t paying much, the real money on the web is in business…
Every business and organization in America has a website, and they all need content for those sites. (Quiz: Who writes content for most websites? Marketing companies. Which is to say, “a lot of high school grads.”) When the web first started (or, “when Al Gore first invented the internet”), websites were similar to billboards along the freeway –”Don’s Plumbing: Great Service, Low Rates – Call 555-1234.” But businesses quickly learned there was no reason for readers to ever visit again. So if you go to the website for Don’s Plumbing today, you’ll find the company history, a profile of each plumber who works there, a section where you can make an appointment, another page where you can order parts, a fix-it-yourself guide, and a history of indoor plumbing. Um… SOMEBODY has to write all that text. And then somebody ELSE has to go back and edit it, because the first version of it was probably terrible. So writing and editing online content for businesses and organizations is a huge market right now, as is any sort of marketing writing. (And the concept of marketing writing requires its own blog posts, but probably for somebody else’s site.)
As I noted the other day, there are more people reading than ever before, and more opportunities to read than ever in the history of the world. So… don’t get stuck into the mindset that all your writing income must come from books. Set a financial goal, start to work toward it, and look for opportunities to generate some income from your writing skill.
By the way, Michael Hyatt posted a great interview with author Max Lucado on the subject of writing today — have a look at http://michaelhyatt.com/max-lucado-on-writing.html
As always, would love to hear what writing is working for you, and where you’re finding avenues for making money with your words. Jump into the conversation by posting some thoughts in the “comments” section.
A few years ago, I created a talk about how an author can make a living with his or her writing. I called it “The MacGregor Theory” (with apologies to the MacGregor who came up with all the Theory X and Theory Y stuff), and over the years it’s been picked up and discussed by all sorts of writers and editors in the blogosphere. But now, with the changes we’ve seen in the world of publishing, it’s time I go back and revise my theory of making a living. So if you’ll indulge me…
I have five rules for authors who want to make a full time living at writing:
1. You need to have four-to-six books earning you a royalty. In other words, you’ve done books in the past, you’ve had some earn out, and you currently have some books that are making you a passive income.
2. You need to have 18 months to 2 years of contracts. This is much harder to do in today’s publishing economy, but if you’re going to do this full time, you probably need to know clearly what you’re going to be writing for the next year or two. If you have your calendar filled up for the next 18 months with projects that are contracted, you’re at least afforded the clarity that comes from knowing what you’ll be working on.
3. You need to be self-publishing. These days, most successful authors have generated some sort of income by self-publishing books, novels, novellas, articles, and/or short stories. This is a new piece of the plan (well… not to those of us who started out in this business writing magazine articles, but new to everyone else), and fairly essential to make enough money to live on. The days of surviving on book advances are over, for all but the A-list authors who are getting the mega deals. In today’s market you need to discover the various pieces that will add to your income, and that means seeking an online audience for your out-print-books and your short-form writing.
4. You need to be actively involved in the marketing of yourself and your work. The days of allowing the publisher to be your primary source of publicity are over. The web allows authors access to readers worldwide, and the writers who are making a living are investing a portion of their work week marketing themselves and their work.
5. You need to have a plan in place. That plan will include a budget, a writing calendar, an accountability partner or writing support group, a writing space, adequate equipment, a clear list of project goals, and most likely a therapist, since you’re probably delusional to consider the idea anyway.
Let’s look at reality for a minute — let’s say you just got a decent two-book deal. The publisher is paying you, say, $15,000 per book on an advance, so the total deal is for $30,000, payable in thirds on each book. You get a third of the whole deal on signing — $10,000. You need to be able to live on that for the next few months while you write your book. If you can write it in three months (relatively fast for most novelists), you’ve had to live on $3333 per month. Thin, but doable. If it takes you six months to do a novel, you’re having to make do on about sixteen hundred bucks a month. You see where I’m going with this? That’s below the poverty line.
Once the publisher approves your manuscript (which can sometimes take a few months), they’ll send you your completion check for that book — another $5000, payable thirty days after they request the check. You’ve now made a whopping $15k, you’re months into the process, and you just used up all your good ideas on your first book. The next $5000 check will come when that book is published. So it’s on to book two!
Many novelists take eight or nine months to write a book. But at that rate, even a healthy advance (say $30k, which is pretty good for any novelist) means you’re getting by on a couple thousand per month. AND if you take that part-time job teaching writing at the community college or doing freelance editing for someone to make ends meet, you now find you have LESS time to work on your novel, so it takes you a year to complete. You don’t want to hurry it up, since you want to be sure and create a great novel, and writing a lousy book is sure to kill your career.
This is why I’m always reminding authors how tough it is to make a living at writing. You need to have books that are already out there earning you money, so that you know you’ve got some income from projects you are no longer working on. (Without this, you’re simply trading your time for income.) You also need to have contracts in hand that will earn you MORE money — and that money is easy to track, since you know when and how much you’ll be paid. You need to be working to self-publish some of your own works to be increasing your cash-flow.
That means you need to be spending some time marketing, so that readers know you’re out there, writing and selling books. AND you need a plan for how you’re going to move forward.
Let’s be honest: the first rule of writing is probably “don’t quit your day job.” Some writers need to stop acting like writing full time is some sort of God-given right. If you had chosen painting or sculpture or singing or dancing or any other art, you’d probably be facing even longer odds at making a living at your craft. The fact is, MOST artists struggle financially. That’s why most writers have some other source of income — either they work full time, or they work part time, or they have a job related to the industry (freelance editor, reporter, book salesperson, counterfeiter), or they are married to somebody who has a real job that pays the bills. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it takes most people years to get to the place where they are writing full time… IF they ever get there.
On the other hand, this is the best time ever to be a writer. I sincerely believe that. We’re publishing and selling more books than ever before in the history of the world. There are more people who can read then ever before. And the web has given writers a huge potential platform to reach those readers. This is the Golden Age of Writing. So thank God you’re alive and working at your craft in today’s market.
It’s easy to hang out at a writing conference and assume that “everbody else in writing is making a living at this except me.” That’s just not true. Many of these folks are doing something to pay the bills. (For example, I’m a model for Speedo.) I’m really not trying to dissuade you from making a living at writing — I’m just trying to help you gain a realistic picture of what it takes to make a living in this business.
Five things. That’s the new MacGregor Theory.