Episode 78: How to Make Money as a Writer

On January 18, 2020, Kasie and Rex welcomed Mary Sturgill, good friend and SCWA board member, into the studio to contribute to this topic. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day:

How to Make Money as a Writer

Agenda

  • Publishing today – why is it so crazy out there?
  • What are your publishing options?
  • What are some alternative ways to make money as a writer?
  • News in the S.C. Writerverse
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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

It occurred to me in prepping for today’s show that we haven’t talked about paths to publishing in a long, long time. Like a while year ago when Cheryl Nugent was on the show.

I couldn’t believe it, ya know, because I feel like we talk about ti all the time. But we haven’t  dedicated a show to it in a while.

Mary Sturgill is with us because the SCWA Board is meeting today and she’s in town so I love having her around and asked her to come into town early to be on the show. I think, now you’ve been at Furman University for a year, right? And so you probably have some input on how to make money as writer.

So let’s riff.

I think a lot of people have what we would probably all agree is an antiquated view of the writer as a professional. We might think of it like those dreamy images of Pat Conroy hanging out on the coast and penning a Great American Novel funding his lifestyle with big publishing advances. The majority of writers aren’t living that life. Not as a career anyway.

Big publishers don’t invest in writers like they used to. The old Hollywood studio model of contracting a certain number of actors, writers, musicians, and directors and producing, collaboratively, the product (or film) is not longer viable. And publishing is the same way. Writers, like editors, layout designers, cover artists, and marketing professionals are all freelancing these days. While a very big publisher might maintain some of those operational roles — editor, designer, marketer — the artist roles (writer, cover art) are more often contract-based for a single project at a time.

So what does that mean for the ambitious novelist among us?

You might publish multiple books with multiple publishers or your publisher might accept your first book and ask for first-right-of-refusal on the next one.

You might not need an agent to win a publisher or you might have an agent that works to sell you and your book to a big-deal-publisher.

Basically, it means relationships matter as much is not more than ever. Who you can get in front of, who you can built rapport with, who you can demonstrate value to. Because these days, getting published is like getting a job. The “Yes,” is just the beginning.

Segment 2

Something that hasn’t changed, and let’s be grateful for this, you still have to write. I’d even say you have to write something worth reading. Because although you can publish any old nonsense you think up and type up, selling it is harder when it sucks.

I want to work this “how to get published” question with a progression. Let’s start with the easiest ways and work our way up to the hardest, most ambitious ways.

Blog

The easiest way to get your work out there for readers is to start a blog. Anyone can do it. Literally anyone. You only need internet access which can be obtained through the public library. You don’t need to pay for a domain or hosting or anything. You can get a free blog at wordpress.com or blogger.com

Both of those free services also have free mobile apps so you can blog from your cell phone. Not making that up. It’s never been easier to start a blog. You only need to know 1) how to use the platform — and there’s a ton of great tutorials for both services online, and 2) what you plan to write about.

You can serialize your work — a story, a memoir, or a non-fiction effort like a business book — using a blog to gain an audience. The Martian was serialized and ultimately became a novel. So it’s been done successfully.

Anthologize

You can be part of a bigger work by submitting your work to an anthology. These can be like Catfish Stew, the SCWA’s organizational publication showcasing the best work of its members, or they can be quarterly or annual journals.

Many online or digital journals take poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and even novel segments. Finding those opportunities is as easy as going to Submittable.com, registering, and searching for opportunities to submit. Some require reading fees and some are more selective than others. But adding your work to a collection of work is one way to “get published” in some capacity. That acceptance can represent a milestone in your writing career.

Keep in mind a lot of journals get A LOT of submissions so it can be discouraging to submit over and over and not get accepted. There’s a real rigor to identifying opportunities and then putting yourself forward for them. But it’s part of the writer’s life to submit. Get rejected. Submit again. Get rejected again. Submit somewhere else. Get accepted. Be published and freak out cuz of how awesome it makes you feel to be published.

Self Publish

You can upload a manuscript to Amazon and self publish. It’s not that hard. But don’t be fooled. Using the CreateSpace function on Amazon isn’t how to sell books. It’s just how to create one. And we recommend all the tutorials and best practices and really being serious about it before you commit because removing a book is harder than putting one up there.

Hybrid Publisher

Hybrids are selective in who they choose to work with. You will bear some costs (though maybe not all) but they should have professionals available for things like cover design, editing, and layout. A hybrid publisher should also know how to get your book on NetGalley which is where bookstores and librarians preview books before purchasing them. A hybrid publisher should know how to get your book distributed through Ingram Spark or another well-known distributor, something you wouldn’t be able to do as a self-published author. You will pay a hybrid publisher, which is fine, but make sure they provide value beyond what you could do on your own.

So-Called “Traditional” Publisher

In the past, a publisher took on the risk of investing in editing, proofreading, layout, cover design, distributors, and copies of the text itself. The writer would not pay for anything. Those days are slim to none now. At the very least it’s expected you will have hired a professional editor to review your work for plot errors, glaring mistakes, or conventions. Even traditional publishers have limits to how much they’ll pay you. Most of what they front is against sales. So it’s an advance. They expect you to sell a certain number of copies and pay you in advance of those sales; you won’t be paid anything more until you surpass that number of copies.

Segment 3

There are a lot of benefits and a lot of drawbacks to all of these. Being a writer can suck, frankly. But it’s no different from being a musician or a painter or a sculptor. Artists should know the industry in which their art makes money. If you aren’t aware of how your industry works, go to Google and find out.

Writers love to write about how to get published. There are literally hundreds of blogs on the subject and every single conference you attend will give you the best and worst ways to go about securing an agent, a publisher, or the skills necessary to go it alone. But you’re not really alone. Not ever. We’re here for you. The Writing Community is nothing if not giving of its time and skills. Just about every writer I know will gladly spend time talking to you about that thing you think you want to publish. Their next question, of course, will be, “What are your goals?”

Why do we need to know that? Because what you want to do with your book will determine how you should go about publishing it.

You may not make a living on book sales. In fact, you probably won’t. But having a book can make you more valuable for one of these lucrative ways a writer can make money:

Teach

If you have a Masters degree with at least 30 hours in a writing-related discipline (like communications, journalism, or English) you can find a pretty good gig at a community college as an English instructor. You may be teaching English 101 which is about writing college essays or 102 which is about doing research for college essays, but having “faculty” on your resume is still awesome.

You can also teach workshops in a variety of capacities including but not limited to:

  • Conferences
  • Retreats
  • Festivals
  • One-day events
  • Digital or online events
  • Standalone & recorded webinars
  • Libraries
  • Schools

While the last two are unlikely to pay you, they will be grateful for your expertise and will do most of the marketing for you. So there’s that. Also, building that resume of having done workshops in a variety of places (and getting a reputation for doing a good job with them!) can help secure more lucrative gigs like retreats and conferences where organizers pony up stipends or honorariums for the really sought-after faculty.

Organize

You can also organize writing-related events and groups. We have the SCWA here but maybe you’d like to start your own chapter. Or maybe you think Columbia needs a poetry festival. It does. Taking the lead on a project like that can help you build a network of other creatives and artists. There are also some national groups that would love to have a chapter here in South Carolina. You could be the one that organizes that.

We started this radio show and there are dozens of writers with podcasts — they interview other authors, they review books they’ve read, they give hints tips and tricks for writers (like us) and they try to build in their own small way their literary community. You can totally do that. Not sure how much money will find you. We haven’t yet made a fortune over here. But there are Artists Venture Grants like the one we received from the South Carolina Arts Commission. We’re grateful for their support of this enterprise.

We’re also launching our first online class. It’s available for our Patrons now. Go to Patreon.com/WriteOnSC to become a patron and get access. In February it will be live and available for purchase. So that’s cool.

Segment 4

Happening today — For the children’s book authors: January 15-20, 2020 — Children’s Book Mastery is a free online event. Link here.

Women’s March is beginning at 11 a.m. on the grounds of the State House today. Go out there and hear from a number of entertainers, speakers, and political activists. It’s about reproductive rights and equal pay and all the other issues facing women in an election year. Good chance for some activism.

Words and Wine happens this week, Tuesday, January 21, 2020 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm at the Lourie Center, 1650 Park Circle, Columbia, SC The featured author this month is author Tom Poland whose works include Carolina Bays: Wild, Mysterious, and Majestic Landforms (Tom Poland and Robert C. Clark) and The Last Sunday Drive (Tom Poland).

A study found that people who read are nicer than people who don’t. Link here. So you should join our book club. The Local Authors Book Club is a joint project between us and Tzima who has the 8 p.m. Saturday show here on 100.7 The Point. I’ll be on the show tonight to talk about my book, After December, which is the first book of the year for the club and also my first novel. 

On Thursday, January 16th, members of the Newberry chapter of SCWA will be guests on The Coffee Hour beginning at 9:30. This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our talented authors, so tune in to WKDK Newberry! Thanks to Cathy Fitzgerald for the head’s up via the SCWA Facebook page.

Our friend and SCWA Board Member Dana Ridenour, crime novelist and former FBI agent, was on the podcast Authors on the Air with Pam Stack. Here’s a link to the great recording of it. Congrats, Dana!

Ready to support Write On SC? Go to Patreon.com/WriteOnSC to become a patron!

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