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Writing for Money – Celeste White

Writing for MoneyWriting for Money

by Celeste White

The market for making money with writing skills has changed considerably in the last decade.  Shrinking markets include traditional ones such as newspapers, magazines, and book publishing, especially for fiction, but for all kinds of writing.  Within book publishing, Young Adult is still one of the strongest markets, and if you’re hoping to publish a novel, thrillers and murder mysteries are still your best bets.  But even those markets are tightening.

Screenplays are not, generally speaking, a good alternative to pursue these days, unless you live in Los Angeles and have relationships with potential investors or well-known actors to bring to the table, or you have a well-received novel in print.  TV writing is quite profitable, but again, that market is contracting, with reality TV shows and programs like “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” supplanting sitcoms and dramas.  And a good agent is essential for getting a job, not an easy task in and of itself.

Some authors have done quite well with self-published nonfiction titles; these authors are almost always experts in their field and they spend quite a bit of time, effort, and money promoting their titles.  Still, these days, you’re as likely to make money from a self-published title backed up by marketing know-how as you would as a mid-list author published by a mainstream house.

Technical writing has taken a hit, just like every other employment sector, but it is a skill that will continue to be in some demand indefinitely.  It helps to have an area of expertise, such as computers or science.  Grant-writing is a possibility, although, my experience in the field has led me to think the term is misleading; “writing” represents only a small fraction of the discipline.  It’s important to have a thorough familiarity with the fields, organizations, and programs you’re writing for, and connections with funding agencies help there as well.  Writers who have photography, graphic design, and web design skills (and proficiency with the requisite software) are probably in the best position these days to be able to make a living from their craft, which might involve building websites, for example, or contributing to the production of an industry e-zine.

Blogging has made money for a few Web- and business-savvy bloggers, but success along those lines is similar to the rates of success for novelists: a few superstars (for example, Nikki Finke’s blog “Deadline Hollywood,” recently sold for $10 million) while most are unable to make a living.  The Internet remains a tantalizing market for content and intellectual property that no one has yet to figure out on any sort of steady, predictable basis.  Readers are used to having access to content for free (which means, usually, that it’s paid for by advertising) and are reluctant to pay for it.  But with the economy the way it’s been going, advertising revenue has become less reliable, and I wonder how long that model is going to work.

I think we’re going to have to figure out new ways to pay writers to write, or we’re going to start losing access to high quality content.  Perhaps some kind of cyber tip jar could be instituted, so that readers can help support bloggers and other writers online whose work they enjoy.  If there was an economically feasible system for small amounts of money to be given directly to the author, a large and devoted readership could make a real difference.

But in the meantime, I honestly think that, for most people, it’s better to uncouple the way you make money from your love of writing.  Hoping to make a living from your art is a sweet and beguiling dream, but that rarely happens for most of us and we shouldn’t feel that our work is less worthy if it doesn’t translate into cash. Writing anything—novel, poem, screenplay, blog—is worth doing for its own sake.  One of my nephews, a successful musician, recently sent me this quote from Somerset Maugham’s novel, Of Human Bondage:  "There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one's means of livelihood … You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank, and independent. I pity with all my heart the artist, whether he writes or paints, who is entirely dependent for subsistence upon his art."

CelesteCeleste White is the author of The Legend of the Flying Hotdog and The Last Good Fairy, founder of Keswick House Publishers and co-founder of The Hot Air Quarterly.

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