How can writers make $$$$?
Talking about money is essential
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Hannah Selinger and I had so much fun teaching about pitching the last few weeks. When we asked people what else they wanted to dig into, money money money kept coming up.
One of the reasons that I didn’t immediately set out to be a writer is that it DID NOT SOUND PRACTICAL. But do you know what? I have made a living - a good living! - as a freelance writer for many years.
So Hannah and I are teaching a class - The One About Money - on June 14. Join us! We’ll share everything we know, from negotiating to setting rates to late fees. We’ll talk about the nitty gritty and the big picture of building a sustainable, successful career as a writer.
And in honor of money, here’s a newsletter I wrote almost exactly two years ago.
For love and for money:
I was chatting with my BFF Ursula about a topic that we've discussed A LOT over the more than decade of our friendship. How do you juggle creative work and work that pays the bills? Can these two really be the same, or is that just a pipedream?
Ursula is a composer, not a writer (she's also a scientist, multimedia artist, political activist and just a shockingly brilliant person), and so her reality is different from mine in a lot of ways. One of those ways is that it's astonishingly hard for her to make money from her music. She does earn commissions, they're just nowhere close to enough to actually live off of. That’s just the frustrating and disappointing reality for the vast majority of people in the world of classical music.
This is true, too, of my poet friends. The number of people who make a living via poetry—well, you can probably count those on one hand. Maybe this will somehow change with the gigantic splash that Amanda Gorman is making, but I’m not holding my breath.
As for me, these are some of the things I do for work these days:
· Write books
· Write articles, essays, interviews and journalism
· Teach writing
· Edit other people's books
· Copywrite (I am the voice of brands that sell cheese, Belgian waffles, olive oil, and even a (lovely!) lawyer.)
· Curate events for Eventbrite (this is a fun one!)
· Edit websites for brands
I’ve done everything from hand out samples of little jars of dips at fancy grocery stores to give food tours to grocery execs visiting from Japan (highly recommend) to build websites to host cheese tastings in swanky apartments (also a favorite.)
I’ve felt at times that if I could somehow make a living from doing only the first two things on this list—writing books and articles—I’d be both a more legit writer and more creatively fulfilled, but I’m not actually sure if that’s true. I genuinely enjoy getting to use different parts of my brain, work on different projects with new clients, and learn new things. It’s a lot of pressure to always be working on something super close to my life and my heart, which writing memoir certainly is, so writing a blog about how to bill insurance as a health coach, for example, is a nice change of pace. Like cross-training for my writing brain.
Figuring out how to make money as a freelancer can be a sort of creative challenge in itself, but I don’t want to underplay how stressful it can be. My husband Tony having a “traditional” grownup job that has health insurance and other benefits makes life about a million times easier for our family. I supported myself as a freelancer for a number of years, but I had many enormous privileges that many do not, like no student loans. I think we should be honest about our situations and advantages.
If I step back and look at the big picture, I feel deeply lucky that I get paid to do what I love, which is to write.
Anyway. This past week I had a full-fledged nervous breakdown about feeling overwhelmed and Tony had to talk me down. Part of it is the pandemic going on and on (and on and on) and another part is still figuring out how to juggle my time as a still relatively new mom with work and try to have some semblance of a life.
But I also think that having such a hodgepodge career can get messy. If I don’t take some time for big-picture planning and visioning, I can sort of lose the plot. What am I doing again? Why am I scrambling to finish the press release about everything bagel pretzels and fill out the press questionnaire for my book and start the article about virtual bra fittings and and and…?
What is it that I’m working towards?
What are my actual goals?
What is moving the needle forward and what is just making me feel busy and overwhelmed?
I remember how terrifying it was to say “no thank you” to my first potential client. All these years later, it still doesn’t necessarily come easily to turn down work. I have a new strategy these days, which is to ask if it’s really moving me towards the Big Vision I have for myself.
Which also means making time to dream, which I’m still working on. Many days, just making it to the end of the day feels like a major accomplishment.
If I’m on the fence, I just ask for A LOT of money. (Which still gives me agita and honesty, I should probably be asking for more.)
If you’re interested in writing and money, I highly recommend the essay collection Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. My writing friends are executives with specialties in communications and editors at magazines. They have businesses editing college admissions essays. They are ghostwriters and writing coaches. I’m always interested in how they’re making it work. And how you’re making it work!
And come TAKE OUR CLASS!