Monday, March 4, 2013

If you write what you love will the money follow?

This article discusses general strategies for making money as a creative writer, offers inspiration to keep going, and includes one writer's personal plan for the next 12 months. I've also included an unpleasant dose of old-school reality.

The genesis of this article came from two free consultations I had with a small business development expert who specialized in helping creative types make a living. (Make no mistake: If you're a freelance writer or book author, you are a small business person.)

His very blunt advice to me:
- You need to determine if the writing you love is going to be a nice hobby or a real job.
- To do that, you need objective third-party confirmation -- from people other than friends or relatives -- that you've got talent. 
- For most creative types, if you do what you love, the money will NOT follow.

Note: The photo above is my car, which is now old enough to buy its own beer and cigarettes. Keeping this babe-magnet for 20 years has allowed me to save a lot of money on transportation.

I) Got Talent?

Third Party Confirmation

Writers can get third-party confirmation numerous ways, including:
- Getting published in significant magazines and top-ranked literary journals.
- Finding an agent and mainstream publisher.
- Self-publishing and selling lots of books.

My Results

I have tried -- or plan to try -- all of the above. To date, I've had enough success to delude myself, but not enough to pay for a bag of groceries.


- I've applied to a bunch of contests and grants and had no luck with any of the majors. Many of the contests cost money, money that adds up. From now on, I'm sticking with free contests and grants, such as this grant offered to residents of Massachusetts. (Two friends won the Mass grant's top prize of $7,500.)

- I've also sent stories to literary magazines. Though none of the major ones took my stuff, several smaller ones did. Also, I was a finalist in a small, local fiction contest that had "dozens of entrants." I received no money, but my piece appeared in two very small literary journals.  Upshot: Theoretically, I can say I'm a published fiction writer. However, the small business expert told me to quit noodling around with publications no one has heard of. Agreed.

- I've also applied for a fellowship at the prestigious MacDowell Colony. The application ($30), was pretty painless. I'm supposed to hear back in the next few weeks. (I know one unpublished writer who got accepted.)

- Recently, I pitched a one-hour, one-man show based on my novel to two fringe theater festivals. I was accepted to both festivals, but I'm unclear how selective they are. One festival chose entrants using a lottery system. The other will cost me $700, but I'll get to perform five shows over a two-week period. Fringe theater festivals look for new and/or experimental performance pieces. They also give out awards and you have the opportunity to earn money from box office receipts. A list of fringe theater festivals.

II) Chasing the Dream, Paying the Bills

There are a number of strategies for funding your writing. None are easy.

1) Work, Save, Quit Job, Write for love, Repeat as Needed

I believe this is what writer Richard Bach did. I remember reading something in one of his books about him working odds jobs, saving money, quitting the jobs, writing until the money ran out, and repeating until his first book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, took off (pun intended).

But according to What Should I Do with My Life by Po Bronson, once people start making decent money, it becomes tough to quit a job. That was my experience. I had always wanted to write a novel, be a stand-up comedian, and do a bunch of other impractical things with slim odds of making money. But I had a nice editing job at PC World magazine with a nice title, a nice salary, working with nice people. I'd probably still be there, if I hadn't gotten laid off after 15 years in 2007.

I also lucked out when it came to saving money: I've always been cheap; I lived in a rent-control apartment that I shouldn't had; I put money in the stock market during the roaring 90's, Did I mention I'm cheap? For inspiration on saving money, check out The Millionaire Next Door:

Note: Quitting a full-time job is particularly difficult if you're single. One bit of advice from Bronson's book: Get used to being alone. Since I started working on my novel five years ago, my dating life has gone down the tubes. It seems many women my age are not impressed by 50-year-old dreamers. Other don't seem to be impressed by my car. (I have plenty of other issues. For a full accounting, see "Why I'm Over 40 and Still Single.") These days, I frequently go 24 hours without talking to anyone except the check-in clerk at my gym.

2) Find Someone to Support You

I have several writer friends with generous spouses. I'm still looking. Other friends are living on family money. Several others are veterans who receive free healthcare. All of us are on tight budgets, rarely eat out, and most drive cars like the one in the photo at the top of the page.

3) Work part time, write the rest of the time.

This is also tough to do in the current economy. Making a living as a freelancer often means you have little control over your schedule and can't turn down jobs that come your way. In 2009, I lucked out and found a two-day a week Web marketing gig. The job was every Monday and Tuesday -- which left me three to four days to do what I wanted. It paid $35/hour and the guy I worked for was a pleasure. To finish my novel, I needed extra time, so last April I quit this job.

4) Work full time, write in spare time.

I don't know how people do this, but they do. And they finish books. I don't have the discipline to pull this off.

5) Develop more outlets and revenue streams for the work you love.

 I have set aside enough money to squeak by for a year without working -- provided I can make some money. Here's what I plan to try:

III) Revenue Streams for Writers: My Approach

As a writer/small business person I have two product lines:
1) Self-promotion advice for writers.
2) Humor and naughty fiction.

Here are ways I could make money with each product line.

1) Self-Promotion for Writers



- Google Ads on this blog. I'm currently earning $10 a month. (If you click and ad, I get some dough. ) If I can increase my page views from the 3,000 a month I get now to 30,000, I'll make some money. Odds of making real money: slim.

- Ebooks: Self-publish excerpts of this blog as Kindle Singles, write an ebook on self-promotion for writers. Odds of marking real money: no idea, but probably slim.

Offline/Old School:

- Teach/Lecture at local adult education centers, colleges, any place that will take me. So far, this looks promising. I approached several instutions in Boston and am scheduled to teach seminars or be on panels. The pay rate is low: $20 per hour of teaching. One of the panels will pay around $200. This is also a good way to promote my blog and ebooks. Odds of making real money: best option, depending on your definition of real.

2) Humor and Naughty Fiction


- Ebooks: I'll repackage and self-publish my writing into three ebooks: humorous erotica, weird travel tales, excerpts from my novel. I've been selling the novel excerpts off my site using Paypal. Odds of making money: longshot.

- Video: I've recording myself performing around Boston and then allowed Youtube to post ads at the beginning of my videos. (I've earned $5 over the last year.)

- Audio: Recording MP3 files for sale is relatively easy. Using a mic, you can dictate directly into your computer or record to an audio recorder that records to MP3 format, and then upload to your computer. (Last year, I spent $80 for a Philips recorder that works pretty well. ) Decent recording and editing software called Audacity is free but can be a pain to use. Once the files are on my computer, I upload them to a site called, like Youtube but for audio. (sales to date: Zip, nadda, bupkis) You can also upload audio to a site called that allows public radio stations to purchase your clips. (sales to date: zilch, nil, non-existent.) And finally, you can upload your recordings to iTunes for sale as podcasts. (I haven't done this yet)

Offline/Old School:

- Readings and Performances: I'll pitch more fringe festivals, colleges, and any venue that will have me. Also, a good opportunity to sell ebooks and printed booklets of my writing. Odds of making real money: best option.

- Getting a book deal with an advance. Odds of this happening or me making real money: Ha!

The Holstee Manifesto


For More Inspiration

- Books, Blogs, and More

- The Holstee Manifesto


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