Most of us dream of becoming full time authors, but the reality is that few people will make a living wage off writing alone. Especially, in the beginning.
This blog isn’t intended to be depressing or disheartening, quite the opposite.
Personally, I think it is empowering when people deliver a hard truth such as, it’s difficult to make money writing fiction, with a counter-truth, but there’s plenty of writing related job that can.
Figuring out what kind of career you want and how else you can make money in additional to writing can be a little tricky, but when you see what other people are doing, it opens up new possibilities and ideas that you can apply to your own life.
That’s why in this week’s blog, I’m unpacking the career models of eight successful writers so you can see what’s possible for your own career.
Ghost Writer: Kim Chance
Kim Chance is the author of the young adult contemporary fantasy duology, Keeper & Seeker. She is a former high school English teacher and currently works as a part-time ghost writer. She ghost writes full length novels for a publishing house and though the narrative concepts are not her own, she does have plenty of creative liberties. She aims to complete these projects (from draft to final version) in four to five months. She is able to meet these tight deadlines as the concepts and characters have already been fleshed out.
Writer on Retainer: Alexandra Franzen
Alexandra Franzen is a full time freelance writer with multiple streams of income, working as a ‘writer on retainer’ for regular clients. She is hired to write TED talks, marketing copy, blogs, and digital course content for clients. She also runs in-person writing retreats, maintains a personal blog, offers free classes, and paid digital workshops/courses. Her ‘day job’ as a writer allows her to complete one personal creative project a year (novel or non-fiction book). She refuses to use social media.
Interview: Fearless and Framed
Teacher: Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith is an award wining and highly acclaimed novelist, short story writer, and the author of two collections of essays. She is currently a tenured professor in fiction at New York University where she has taught since 2010. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and she has had *many* articles published have in The New Yorker.
Teacher: Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado is the award-wining author of the short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, and her experimental memoir, In The Dream House. Her short fiction, essays, and criticism have been published in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Granta, and Tin house, among others. She holds an MFA from Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and teaches creative writing at Penn Arts & Sciences. She has said in interviews that she doesn’t write during university semesters as she wants to devote her energy and attention to teaching. She completes the bulk of her writing during Summer break.
Interview: Design Matters Podcast
Self-Publishing: Joanna Penn
Joanna Penn is one of the biggest names in self-publishing. Her business is split between fiction (thrillers) and non-fiction works. The non-fiction side (books/podcasts/digital courses) make up the bulk of her income as she shares writing, publishing, and marketing advice for emerging and established independent (indie) authors. She also generates income through sponsorships, affiliations and her Patron page.
Interview: ChoseFI Podcast
Hybrid author: Rachael Herron
Rachel Herron is a hybrid author (traditionally published and self-published). A cross genre writer, her back catalogue includes thrillers, mainstream fiction, feminist romance, memoir, and nonfiction about writing. She has created several courses for writers including 90 Days to Done and How to Stop Stalling and Write Your Book. She teaches writing extension workshops at both UC Berkeley and Stanford. She was the co-host of The Writer’s Well with J. Thorn and host of the interview podcast series, How Do You Write. In conversation with her agent, Rachel often decides which writing projects would be best pitched to traditional publishing house and which should be self-published. Rachel publishes annual incomes video where she breaks down her multiple revenue streams and their earnings.
Interview: The Secret Library Podcast
Writing Coach: Caroline Donahue
Caroline Donahue is the host of the The Secret Library podcast where she interviews writers about their creative process. She has created multi-streams of income as a one-on-one book coach and digital course creator. She is currently completing her debut novel and lives in Berlin where she also teaches English part-time.
Interview: Watch her IGTV episodes
Editor: Sacha Black
Sacha Black is the author of a YA fantasy series and multiple non-fiction writing craft books. She is the host of the writing podcast The Rebel Author and co-host of Next Level Author with Daniel Willcocks. Sacha is also a developmental editor for indie authors and offers one-on-one hour long consultations with aspiring writers.
Interview: How to become a full-time author
Traditionally published author: VE Schwab
Victoria Schwab is a full-time fantasy author. At 32 years old, she has never had another job. She has 20 published novels under her belt, but only ‘recently’ achieved mainstream success. Schwab has expanded into comic books, movie, and TV writing (adaptations of her novels) as a way to diversify her writing portfolio and income.
Interview: 88 Cups of Tea
While I’ve singled one particular aspects of each authors career, you’ve probably noticed that few of these authors do one single thing.
Ultimately, most authors have portfolio careers.
A portfolio career is a way to work that incorporates multiple jobs from a field or across multiple fields.
This could look like:
- Freelance work.
- Short term contract jobs + freelancing.
- Create your own service or product business that you run alongside freelancing and/or paid employment.
- Use different skill sets that you apply to different jobs.
- Be willing to try new types of work, new projects and learn new skills.
Portfolio Career: Charlotte Wood
A brief CV:
- Former journalist
- Taught writing at multiple levels (retreats, community classes, postgraduate)
- Freelance writer & sub-editor for various magazines
- Judge for literary prizes
- Recipient of writer residence program at the Charles Perkin Centre (supported her during the writing of The Weekend.
- Podcast Host (A Mind of One’s Own)
- Publisher of The Writer’s Room (collection of her former digital magazine)
- Author of six novels and two works of non-fiction.
Podcast: A Mind of One’s Own
Interview: The Garret Podcast
At this point, I think we’ve all read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, and one of the key messages in this creative manifesto is that we shouldn’t demand that our art pay our bills, it’s totally okay to have a day job, preferable in fact, and that we should support our creative practice instead of expecting it to support us.
What do you think? Did you find reading about these career models supportive? Did it give you any ideas on ways that you could add additional income streams to your life? Let me know in the comments below.
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