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Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Make Money as an Unpublished Writer

By David

For the purpose of this blog post: by “unpublished writer,” I mean a writer of literary fiction who wants to one day have a novel published by a publishing house.  

There are plenty of ways to make money. Being an unpublished fiction writer is not one of them. 

To provide you with a few tips on how to make a little extra cash, I’ve decided to list a few things I’ve done to earn money while trying to get published.

Become a paid blogger. 

Fashion blogger Bryanboy (image from his website)

Becoming a “paid” blogger costs no money but could require a substantial amount of your time. From my observations, some of the more popular blogs tend to be fashion blogs (The Sartorialist, Bryanboy), celebrity blogs (Go Fug Yourself, Perez Hilton), tech-based blogs (TechCrunch, Engadget) and political blogs (no idea). My blog (a fictional blog about a wannabe writer kid) belonged to none of these categories and made shit all.

Some ways to make money from blogging: Google AdWords, Associate Programs, product selling, sponsored advertising. 

Money I made from being a blogger: 13 bucks and a number of awards within the community.

Volunteer work. 

Random picture of sad dog

A terrible way to make money, but a great way to “give back to society”. I volunteered for a jazz festival once. I did nothing and was able to watch free jazz performances. They even gave me a free t-shirt, which I wear up to this day. 

Some ways to make money from volunteering: networking (meet people who can give you worthwhile opportunities in the future), good karma (if you have the right intentions, of course), stealing.

To find good volunteer opportunities in your city: Google

Money I made from volunteer work: I lost about thirty bucks from buying CDs by the artists.

Start a business. 

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek (image from his website)

Though starting a business can require an intense amount of work, what you learn (and hopefully what you’ll eventually earn) can be worth it. 

The problem with starting a business is that the business will become your life. This could be great for a businessperson, but not so great for someone trying to get a literary novel published. You could be spending several late nights working on your business – nights that could have been spent developing your writing style and sending manuscripts to publishers. This being said, starting a business, sticking with it and actually enjoying what you’re doing with it could be a sign that you were destined to be a boss, and not a literary prodigy (unless you go on and write a book about your successes later on).  

Here’s where I’ll become a hypocrite: I started a nifty t-shirt design business with a friend a few years ago. Thanks to running the business, I am now lucky enough to have about a billion stories that have helped me develop my writing style. There are also people like Tim Ferriss who believe that not much work is actually required for running a business. His book, The 4-Hour Workweek, gives step-by-step advice on how to run a profitable business with little time so that you can enjoy what you’ve really always wanted to do. You can check it out and purchase it via Amazon here (I highly recommend it): 



There's also another book I'd like to recommend that a lot of my high brow artsy fartsy friends would want to kill me for. My designer colleague cringes and threatens to shoot my face whenever I mention it. It's Rich Dad Poor Dad, a book by Robert Kiyosaki.

Sleazy front cover aside, this book has sold millions worldwide because of the value of its content: it pretty much reminds normal folk that they too can become financially free. Although it lacks the step-by-step preciseness and humour of The 4-Hour Workweek, it's a great "starters" book for anyone looking for much needed inspiration and guidance when it comes to the art of moneymaking.   

Money I made from starting a business: a lot (though most of it was invested back in the business). 

Join literary contests.

A great way to get your name out there and to add some credibility to your manuscript pitch letters is to win literary contests. Some contests even offer book publishing deals. One warning: you may not win. If you haven’t figured this out already, art (and the judges who dictate what good art is) can seem unjustly subjective and cruel. But don’t let the horrendous pain of rejection fool you: there are plenty of brilliant published authors out there who have never won a literary contest in their lives. If you don’t win, fuck ‘em. You’re an artist, remember? You’re above all of that. 

Some great contests in Australia and around the world: Young Writers Award (Queensland), the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers (I've come third in this contest).

What I’ve made from various contests: a thousand bucks, a director wanting to make a film out of one of my stories (but eventually failing to gain enough funding), a digital camera, my stories published in various... publications.

Submit pieces to literary journals 

Like with literary contests, submitting your pieces to literary journals are a great way of nurturing your craft and building your rep. Strategise well and target your submissions: think about the editors of the journal and what type of work they publish. Once again, a rejection from them doesn’t necessarily mean your work is shit – it could possibly mean that their tastes lie elsewhere (or it could still mean your work is shit). Nonetheless, if they provide constructive feedback, analyse what they say objectively and ask yourself, “do their criticisms make sense or are they just too simple-minded to recognise the genius in my writing?” 

A couple of literary journals in Australia and Singapore: Meanjin, Going Down Swinging, Ceriph.

Get a bloody job! (What my ex-girlfriend told me)

Charles Bukowski (image from his Wikipedia)

The more unbearable your job is, the more drive you’ll have to become a paid novelist. Bukowski’s Post Office and Factotum were based on his experiences in dead-end jobs. Working in a butchery (terribly), delivering pizzas (miserably), selling mobile phones as a telemarketer (pathetically) and kissing a lot of arse (perfectly) are just but some of the jobs that have helped me fund my life. 

My most truly enjoyable experiences come from working as a copywriter. Being a copywriter has helped me do what I love most (which is to write) and be recognised for it. I’ve also been privileged enough to edit a lot of other people’s copy – a practice that has helped me be more critical and objective of my own work. Don DeLillo, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Heller and Salman Rushdie, amongst others, were once copywriters. 

The issue with being a copywriter is just that – you will be a copywriter. In my case, being a copywriter has involved me working late nights and weekends for a company that will not remember my name. When I’d reach home, all I’d want to do is drink my worries away and sleep. So I’d drink my worries away and sleep. I didn’t work on any novels or short stories and I didn’t end up reading more books or researching good publishing houses or literary agents. I was too tired. All that I’d ended up thinking about were pay days, winning advertising awards and being promoted. 

How to get a job: Google, classifieds, friends, apply for AWARD School

Money I’ve made from working: thousands of dollars. 
Money I’ve lost from drinking to forget about work: thousands of dollars.
Time I’ve lost complaining about work: thousands of hours. 

Invest in stuff.

Invest in things that will get you further in life. Invest in writing courses, master classes and in Matthew Reilly’s case, invest in publishing you own novel. 

Investments I’ve made in my own life: AdSchool, masterclasses, writers’ festivals, contests, music CDs, stocks, high interest bank accounts, books, time. 

How these investments have helped: AdSchool has helped me become a better copywriter. Masterclasses have helped me gain advice and support (as well as recommendations) from established authors and publishers. Writers’ festivals have given me a clearer insight into how the industry works. Contests have made me realise that I have a chance at all of this. Music has helped me enhance my writing ability in more ways than I could fit into this blog post. The study of equity investing has helped me understand the core of capitalism a little more. Books... well, I don’t need to explain how books have helped me. 

Time is something I’ve either wasted or spent well, depending on how you look at it. I’ve sacrificed a lot of nights out with friends and partners to stay home to work on projects instead. Because of all this work I’ve done, I’ve received scholarships to China and Japan, my short stories have been published in journals and magazines, I’ve heard commercials I’ve written play on the radio both in English and Chinese, I’ve met business tycoons, I’ve written three novels, I’ve given lectures and I’ve performed some of my written work in front of hundreds of people.  Because of all my work I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost loved ones, I’ve lost sleep, I’ve lost meals and most importantly, I’ve lost time. What is time? Is there a set rule to how it should be spent? Calculate how many hours you’ll have to live until you turn ninety – you’ll realise that the number isn’t that impressive. 

I still do not have a novel published.


And now a word from the bros:

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  1. dude, this was an amazing long post, which had a point somewhere I am assuming.

    However I randomly skimmed through it and took away a few pointers.

    You missed the most lucrative option: kill a rich guy and steal his money.

  2. Hey man,

    Always glad to slightly annoy readers with an overly long post. Hope some of it helped.

    Take care, and keep away from the murdering!

  3. I'm employed as a journalist, but actual, proper writing?

    Much harder.

    My freelance magazine writing career was very short-lived. Crashed along with everything else in the GFC.

    I've blogged for years, but made no cash. Have thought about AdWords etc, but it just doesn't seem worth it.

    Great post. :)

  4. Hey Girl Clumsy,

    Thanks for also popping by our blog!

    Here's a huge cheers for us impoverished writers.

    - David