Writing Business

Will my writing sustain me financially?

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”

As professional writers, we realize we have a skill that we’ve honed. Our dream might be to write the world’s greatest novel. Perhaps we see ourselves lounging on the beach writing to our heart’s content as the royalties roll in. But as professionals, we also realize that while there is nothing wrong with dreaming about these lofty goals, the reality is that it could take a long time before we reach them.

But we enjoy writing, we’re good at it, and we’d like to make a living with our craft.

Having a reasonable balance in what is considered livable income, what writing avenues contribute to financial stability, and what you really want to write about, doesn’t necessarily fit together. Sometimes we have to take on work that isn’t on our radar but will get us to where we need to be.

What are practical ways we can look at how our writing fits into the financial picture? And what options and sources are available to make money as a writer?

Writing for money

You will hear a lot of people say (and sadly it is true) that certain avenues of writing will not add much to your bank account. Some even say we don’t write for money; we write because we have to because we love writing.

I disagree with that to an extent. We write because we must, but we should be paid.

Over time, periodicals, such as literary magazines, newspapers, and magazines, which used to pay their writers well, have been able to slide in their compensation over the years. Whether that has to do with many writers who write for free just to get a byline, therefore contributing to the problem, I don’t know. But trying to maintain a livelihood in this way is difficult. You would have to write a lot of articles to pay the bills.

Depending on the source you check, John Steinback received $2,500 for one of his stories in the 1930s which, with today’s inflation, is valued at $57,228. His “Grapes of Wrath” received a $100,000 advance in 1940 and today that advance would be $2.19 million.

We write because we must, but we should be paid.

Currently, fiction, short stories, essays, and poetry are at the lower end of the payment spectrum. With that said, there are writers today who make a good living in these areas, but they had to work hard for years to get there. Outlets that pay good money for these, such as “The New Yorker,” are difficult to break into.

Many writers you’ll notice also have other jobs, such as a professor at a university. Money for books comes in the form of awards that can be sizeable, such as the Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes. And still other authors are paid for speaking engagements, teaching workshops, and coaching.

It is a hard road to sustain a living through writing.

Options to make money writing

Plenty of writing sites will tell you you can make a living as a writer and will often offer a workshop or online training to help you write better.

I’m not saying this to get you to sign up for these workshops. What I’m pointing out is that is another way to make a living — design your own workshop and training on something you do well, put it on your website as a source of income.

Still others will create digital downloads for small amounts of money as another income source.

Yet, another overlooked area where many writers receive a decent to extensive living is copywriting for businesses. The most sustainable income in my experience is what you earn writing for corporations and businesses in their marketing and communications. Whether that is white papers, content marketing, other marketing materials, or ghostwriting for executives, there is a good amount of work you can do for them to make a real living writing.

None of the options will work without a lot of marketing and time behind each. And that is what makes it difficult for us as writers because while we would rather focus on our writing, a lot of our time and energy is spent trying to find work and running our freelance business.

The most sustainable income in my experience is what you earn writing for corporations and businesses in their marketing and communications.

Quick tips

You might also consider writing for a company as an employee, at least until your freelance work or your writing goals start falling into place. Even as an employee, you get a lot of writing experience working with a team and writing pieces you didn’t realize you were pretty good at doing. You might be in marketing and have to write a number of materials, which will help you expand your writing skill. To do this, add job alerts to various job sites, LinkedIn, and companies you wouldn’t mind being a part of.

Check out sites like Author’s Publish, Poets & Writers, and Publisher’s Marketplace, and sign up for their newsletters to get updates on places that are accepting pitches or post positions in the industry. Another site is Who Pays Writers? that reports publications that pay for articles.

If you are an established writer and you have a project or publication in the works, or have had something published to add to your credentials, you might consider grants for writers and artists. Do a Google search on “grants for writers” and a list of arts organizations, periodicals with listings, and websites with lists will appear. And make sure you check out your local and regional arts councils for available grants in your state. Grants are competitive and they receive multiple applications, so read the guidelines carefully. But it is worth a shot.

Whatever you choose, everything is competitive and none of it is easy. Which is why you must be determined not to give up.

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