So You Want To Make A Living Writing? 13 Great Truths

It’s a great life. I’m my own boss. I wear shorts and t-shirts to work, which is in my house. I sit at my desk with a great view of the TN River with a blank stare, drool running down the side of my mouth, and I’m working. Well, not really. Because no one’s paying me for my great thoughts. They’re paying for my writing. I’ve been doing it for over a quarter of a century and here are some Great Truths I’ve learned about making a living as a writer.

  1. You can. You constantly hear “No one makes a living writing novels.” I’ve heard it for decades. In 2012 I was at a conference where I gave a keynote, then was listening to another keynote speaker saying “Don’t quit your day job”. And it started to worry me, until I realized my day job was writing. So I didn’t quit.
  2. It’s the best time ever to be a writer. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years and have heard all sorts of gloom and doom, but I can honestly say, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time. That’s not to say it isn’t an extremely confusing time.
  3. There is more information than ever before out there. Which could be bad too, but seriously, you can garner a wealth of information about the craft and business of writing without leaving home.
  4. Leave home. One of the greatest mistakes I made in my early writing career was not networking. Even in self/indie publishing, it’s key to network with people. I know you’re an introvert, but get out there and talk to people. It’s a people business. And network with a couple of other serious writers on your craft. I’m not a fan of large writers groups getting together and doing line by lines, but 2 or 3 serious writers working on story, like we do in Write on the River, is invaluable. Find better writers than you to work with.
  5. Publishing is full of great people. Yes, both in the trad and indie world. Everyone I’ve met is there because they love books and stories. You hear terrible stories about publishers, editors, agents, Amazon etc. but pretty much everyone I’ve met has been really nice. In fact, I’ve been very impressed with how nice the people at Apple, Amazon, Pubit, Kobo etc are, especially to authors.
  6. Writers support writers. Mostly. I always advise writers to join their local RWA chapter. It’s the most professional writing organization around and your local chapter has tons of expertise and friendly people and monthly workshops.
  7. It’s about story not the book. Change your frame of reference. I sell stories. In various modes: digital, audio and print. Wrap your brain around that concept. It’s about the content not the format! I market using . . .
  8. Slideshare, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. all from home. I used to not be a fan of book trailers, and while I don’t think they do much direct selling, they increase your digital footprint. And they’re cool.
  9. The framework of the story is evolving in the digital age. Since you can self-publish just about anything, you aren’t constrained creatively. I think self-pubbing is doing what the cable networks did to TV. HBO broke ground on new formats for series and characters. Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood. Other networks have picked it up. Have you seen Orange Is The New Black? And its precursor Weeds, which my wife and I are binging currently? Jenji Kohan does things with story that are crazy. And seriously, Weeds was Breaking Bad before there was a Breaking Bad. Definitely a different format there. I love studying story and then playing with it.
  10. You can study story in books, but also on Netflix and On-Demand. Watch everything twice. The first for enjoyment of the story and characters and to learn what happens. The second time is the key as a professional writer. Because you know what’s going to happen you can see how the writers crafted the story and characters now. The second time is eye-opening. If Marie hadn’t stolen that damn state spoon in Breaking Bad, Hank would still be alive and the story would have gone in a completely different direction. Get it? You didn’t the first time you saw it and probably forgot that little event. The second time, it looms large.
  11. Focus on craft; not marketing and promotion. You can’t promote crap. The best marketing is a good story; better marketing is more good stories.
  12. The gatekeepers are readers. While traditional publishing is still a viable path, they no longer control distribution. This is such a fundamental change in the business paradigm, I truly believe very few people grasp the implications. New York is hanging on to its antiquated business model instead of embracing change. As part of the transition in the Army from a focus on conventional forces to Special Operations, I saw how hard change is in a large organization. But evolve or . . .
  13. Bottom line: The only person who can stop your success is you.

Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author.

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  1. Emphatic head nods on point after point, but #s 4 and 7 were particularly on target for me at this point in my career. Thanks, Bob.

  2. Reblogged this on DV Berkom Books and commented:
    More words of wisdom from Bob Mayer.

  3. Reblogged this on Tina Bausinger: Southern Mom and commented:
    Bob Mayer’s advice at the DFW Writers’ Conference is one of the reasons I published my first novel. The guy knows his stuff!

  4. Reblogged on Great advice, because we all sometimes wonder if we should keep going, if it’s worth it. Not at the point where I can live off my writing, but I want to get there.

  5. Reblogged this on Sara.Stark.Writes and commented:
    I’ve heard Bob Mayer speak at both the PNWA conference and a PNWA monthly meeting. He knows what he’s talking about.

    I haven’t gotten to the point that I can live off my writing, but it’s my goal.

  6. I think point number 11 is the most important. Start there, once you have the product then look at selling. 🙂

  7. Reblogged this on Gina X. Grant and commented:
    A wonderful post from Bob Mayer.

  8. I predicted #9 to my local RWA chapter back in 1998 or 1999.

  9. Great shot in the arm! The last three especially. It’s about the story. I’m one of those writers driven by the story–I couldn’t quit writing even if the readers all went away. And I find it motivating and exciting each day to sit at the computer, pound out a new story, then spend the afternoon polishing a completed one and pondering the best path to publication for that story. So freeing to have so many options and possibilities. Yes, it’s the best time ever to be in a creative field–so many outlets.

  10. I found your truths at JUST the right time. I’m moving cross country, which helps me leave my day job and make writing my full-time job (instead of 5:30 -7 a.m. job!). Scared, but already self-published and loving the challenges ahead. Thank you!

  11. #9 is one of my favorite things to see lauded by someone else. 🙂 Thank you for all of these. Much more productive positivity than the typical “don’t quit your day job” posts. Much appreciated.

  12. Great concepts here. Love a positive view of a writer’s life.

  13. Reblogged this on My Writing Path and commented:
    Reblogged on My Writing Path Thank you Bob for the words of wisdom.

  14. Reblogged this on The Modern Woman and commented:
    As I wander into published writing territory (aka putting my writing “out there” in the scary world), I’ve been reading more writers’ blogs and what their thoughts are on all things writing/stories/marketing/yougettheidea. Here’s a great one:

  15. An interesting article, Bob… Thanks for the great tips!

    Too many people say that you need an (or another?) income as a writer. Allow me to paraphrase – someone makes a living writing novels. But there are authors who don’t. I’ve been wondering for quite a long time – how many writers can make a living writing?

    I think Californication’s Hank Moody created quite a dangerous stereotype in here 🙂

    • Hank Moody was so far away from what the real life of the novelist is, that it’s not even worth watching.

      However, not many people make a living actually writing just novels. Still, it’s more than we might guess.

      There’s also the question of one person’s “making a living” vs another’s.

  16. Excellent post, Bob. I’m a true believer in #4 & #6 and on my way to believing #1. I live by the idea that if you realize your passion, success will follow. Thank you for sharing these truths!

  17. Great Advice! Thanks for sharing!!

  18. Reblogged this on Liz Madrid and commented:
    Truth > Bottom line: The only person who can stop your success is you.

  19. Reblogged this on The Writers' Workshop Blog and commented:
    Great advise from Bob Mayer for writers. I particularly like what he says about focusing on content and thinking in terms of being a storyteller.

  20. Brilliant, awesome……no, that’s it really.

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