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Making a Living as a Writer

April 22, 2011
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David Farland is the most positive teacher of writing I have had the pleasure to encounter.

At his Write That Novel! Seminar, Dave taught me about the writing business and about craft but what stood out to me was his conviction that you can make money as a writer. He was the first person to look me in the eye and say “You can make a living as a writer. A good living.” No one has ever told me that before and it was refreshing to hear.

Almost without exception, every writing teacher I have encountered has been encouraging as far as the quality of my writing but has been very dismal if not downright negative as far as making a living from my writing. They told me that the average writer makes only $5-7K a year, which is not enough to live on. And I believed them. This is why I work as a pharmacy technician.

Dave explained that that statistic is from the 1960’s. That’s 50 years ago! $5K in 1960 is a lot different than it is today. Most of my writing teachers were from universities and they write literary fiction or poetry, which doesn’t make very much. So for them that statistic probably feels accurate for what they make from their writing.

And of course, most of those teachers also disliked the content of my writing because it was commercial, the dirty word of the English Department. What I wrote was well written but they always encouraged me to write something more literary. They looked down on anything that was genre fiction.

Luckily for me, genre fiction makes a bit more money. And it happens to be what I love to read and what I love to write. David Farland told us that he has never made less than $100K a year, usually significantly more. (!) When he was part of a writing group in the 1990’s with twenty-five members, the average member made $80K a year. And that was more than a decade ago.

The reason you can make a living by writing is that usually you are getting paid multiple times for the same book. Which only makes sense. You get paid once by the US publisher, then by the UK publisher, then by any other European countries that decide to translate and publish your book. You get paid for the audio book. You get paid to option out the movie rights. You can get paid to write the screenplay. So even if you aren’t a NY Times bestseller, you can still make a living.

Dave’s other way to increase your income it to increase your audience pool, the more books you have the potential to sell. For example, if you write a book that will only appeal to girls, you’ve lost half of the readers out there. If you write a book that only appeals to girls under 10, you’ve lost even more. Only girl from America and you’ve lost even more. J.K. Rowling was amazing at capturing a vast audience and that is part of the reason her books sold so well. Everyone can read and enjoy them.

I won’t share any of the specific examples from the seminar. You’ll have to go to the seminar if you want to hear those. :) But it encourages you to write your novel a little faster and work a little harder when you know that you could quit your day job and just write.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 5, 2011 10:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. It is always very encouraging to hear positive stories about the business of writing.

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