No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money. — Samuel Johnson
I am a writer, therefore I’m broke. I am a writer, therefore I think about money.
As someone who spins yarns for a living, I know that simply putting words on the page or computer screen isn’t necessarily going to put food on your table. However, there are some things you can do to boost your income. Please note that while these suggestions are skewed towards the UK / Irish writer, you can adapt most of them for your own country too.
So, money. You need it. Where do you get it?
ROYALTIES AND PAYMENT PER WORD
It really begins with that per-word payment. If you write for nothing then what value are you placing on your work? Now, I’m not saying don’t ever write for free. There are times when you get other things of value besides cash: writing credits when you’re first starting out are very important. If you get published by a fairly prestigious low-pay / no-pay market it may pay off in the future when you’re trying to get an agent or prove to a publisher that you have experience.
Right now I’m in the process of writing three very short articles (around-4-500 words apiece) for a travel magazine. I’m not being paid for them but:
- I’m getting the experience and the credit of travel writing. This is my entree into a field that has always interested me and I know I need to pay my dues.
- The magazine has assured me that if my first pieces are successful they will pay me for subsequent ones. (Woo-hoo!)
- The articles serve to support the Kells Hay Festival, which is something that I’m committed to.
In addition to payment for short articles or stories, you need to keep an eye on your contract for book-length work. If you’re not sure what terms are acceptable you should check with your writers’ union. For instance, the stated objectives of the Irish Writers’ Union includes:
- To advance the cause of writing as a profession and as a form of work;
- To achieve better remuneration and more favourable conditions for writers;
- To provide advice, assistance and support to individual writers in their relations with publishers and other users of their work
It stands to reason, if you write for a living, or want to, you should give serious thought to joining the union. It’ll cost you €50 per year in Ireland but for that you get advice about your contract, mediation for contract disputes and a variety of supports. More information here:
Irish Writers Union: http://www.ireland-writers.com/
Writers Guild (UK): http://www.writersguild.org.uk/
National Writers Union (US): http://www.nwubook.org/
Did you know you are entitled to payment every time one of your books is checked out of the public library? It’s a drop in the bucket, I know, but at least it’ll keep the bucket’s wet.
If you live in the UK or Ireland you can apply for Public Lending Rights, or PLR.
Public Lending Right (PLR) is the right for authors to receive payment under legislation for the loans of their books by public libraries.
Under the PLR system in the UK, payment is made from government funds to authors, illustrators and other contributors whose books are borrowed from public libraries. Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK. The Irish Public Lending Remuneration (PLR) system covers all libraries in the Republic of Ireland and operates in a similar way.
To qualify for payment, applicants must apply to register their books.
The UK PLR scheme is administered by the British Library from its offices in Stockton-on-Tees (the ‘PLR office’). The PLR office also provides registration for the Irish PLR scheme on behalf of the Public Lending Remuneration office.
Over 23,000 writers, illustrators, photographers, translators and editors who have contributed to books lent out by public libraries in the UK receive PLR payments each year.
You will need your book’s ISBN as well as the sorting and account number of your bank so payments can be made directly into your account. Here’s the link for further information and to make your application: https://www.plr.uk.com/registrationservice/apply.htm
Other countries offer similar forms of reimbursement. It’s worth checking your entitlements.
BURSARIES AND GRANTS
Arts Councils offer bursaries to artists and writers. Some operate at a national level, others come from local authorities. It’s worth researching because you may be entitled to anything from a few hundred to several thousand euros or pounds. Things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you know exactly what the approval committee wants and give it to them.
- If you’re confused by the terminology or other parts of the process (it can be head-wreckingly confusing), see if the authority offers a helpline or a tutorial on completing the paperwork.
- Keep a close eye on the deadline. If you miss it you will have to wait another year to apply again.
In Ireland, the National Arts Council oversees bursaries. Here’s their website: http://www.artscouncil.ie/funding/
Is a way of raising raising funds to support an artistic project. The money comes in the form of small contributions from a large group of people via the Internet and social media. Think of it as an electronic version of passing around the hat for pennies.
There are a number of programmes to help you get started, if this is something that appeals to you. It can be particularly helpful if you mean to self-publish. The original programme, and deemed one of the best, is ‘Kickstarter’: https://www.kickstarter.com
They are linked with Amazon and are the best known of all the crowdfunding programmes. Others include Indiegogo, Pubslush and Rockethub iso you might want to shop around for the one that suits your needs best.
TEACHING, EDITING, AND OTHER FORMS OF SUPPLEMENTARY INCOME
In addition to writing, you can make money through supplementary tasks. These include proofreading, editing, critiquing, web-design, and so on. You can advertise your services in writing magazines, on websites, and by word of mouth. You’ll need to decide how much you’re going to charge, what you’ll focus on, and how much of your writing day you can afford to dedicate to these tasks.
Fees for Services:
What can you expect to charge for your services? Based on a review of standard rates, these seem to be fairly average. A lot depends on what you’re offering for the money, of course, and your skill level:
Press Release: one-page around €45
Critiques: from €65
Editing: depends on the length of the manuscript but around €5 / per page
Proofreading: around €4-5 per 1000 words
Submission Packets: around €85-150 for cover letter, synopsis, and suggestions for improving the first three chapters.
You can also consider ghost writing, web design, cover design, manuscript formatting, typing / printing, and probably many other elements that I haven’t thought of. Make sure it’s something you’re good at as well as something you enjoy.
For further information on supplementary jobs you can check:
The Irish Writing website. They have a section called ‘Opportunities for Writers’ where you can either look to hire editors, etc., or where you can advertise your own services: http://www.writing.ie/
Writers and Artists Yearbook also offers information on bursaries, grants and supplementary forms of income.
If you can get a job teaching creative writing and if you have any talent for it, it can be hugely rewarding. I’ve done a fair bit of teaching in my time and it’s something I really love. It doesn’t pay particularly well, but at least it pays better than a lot of other forms of writing. You might check local community colleges to see if they’d be interested in letting you add a class to their curriculum.
This is like teaching but works one-on-one. Generally, the professional writer guides the amateur through the development of a work. It’s very time-consuming and can be frustrating if your student is adept or is just trying to trick you into doing all the work for them. However, if your student is bright, talented and willing to work hard, it can be an education for both of you.
I happened upon a very helpful article while I was researching this blog. It’s written by someone who actually understands this financial stuff and he makes it interesting. You might want to check it out: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/02/11/unasked-for-advice-to-writers-about-money/