“You can’t make a living as a writer.”
“Freelance writing doesn’t pay very much.”
“You can’t make a career out of writing.”
Have you heard these statements before? Maybe you’ve picked up on them through the media, where “the writer struggling to make ends meet” shows up as a character in a TV show or movie.
Maybe you’ve thought them yourself because you don’t know what’s really available for writers, and it seems like other fields are much more vocational (and profitable).
Maybe people have said them to you directly, either from their personal experience or their assumptions related to competition in the marketplace.
But they’re myths.
Where did these myths come from? They were once closer to the truth. In decades past (especially pre-Internet), making a living as a writer wasn’t impossible, but it was much more difficult. Here’s why:
- The publishing industry was exclusive. To get a hard copy book into the world and distributed in any meaningful way, you had to go through the gatekeepers first. The same would be true related to magazines; you had to get a publisher’s attention for your stories to be seen by others. As a journalist, you needed a job at a newspaper or media outlet.
- The advertising industry primarily operated out of agencies and firms. In general, you needed a job in advertising for your writing to be useful in a commercial setting. Because there were only a handful of major channels (TV, newspaper, radio, etc.), that meant fewer jobs for writers in advertising.
- Freelance work was harder to come by. Prior to the Internet boom, your options for freelancing would have been generally limited to your local network or personal connections. The demand for writing (and certain types of writing) would have been restricted to your community or whomever you could personally reach.
These are just a few reasons, but they’re significant enough for the idea of “writing as a living” to invite skepticism. However, advances in technology since the early 2000s have changed the landscape for writers completely.
Here’s why writing for a living can now be a profitable venture:
- The publishing industry is wide open. Thanks to Amazon and innovations in self-publishing, writers can publish and sell their own books on one of the largest retail platforms in the world. Thanks to Google and other search engines, anyone with a website can become a publisher, posting content that can be found and read by Internet users across the globe. Digital magazines and newspapers can operate with less overhead (forgoing printing costs).
- Advertising channels and providers have increased exponentially. The sheer number of channels and media where businesses can advertise, and the affordability of certain types of advertising, has led to an increase in the number of providers. That is, you can get ad copy, design, and video content from agencies as well as individual contractors. One or two people can start and run a profitable agency, an enormous change from the business model of large firms ruling the roost.
- Freelance work is more abundant, wide-ranging, and accessible. If you’re a business seeking copy or content, but you don’t want to sign a contract with an agency or pay for extra services, you’ll be in the market for a freelance writer. The emergence of freelancing sites, the ability to publish content freely across channels, and the expansion of personal networks thanks to the Internet (and travel accessibility) have made it possible for businesses to find freelancers, and vice versa, with frequency and ease.
It’s difficult to try to describe all the needs that copy and content meet in today’s marketplace. Businesses know that they can’t simply sell products; they’re publishers with a platform. Their marketing is a multi-faceted, multi-channel, multi-media venture. To build brand equity, they need to be generating useful, engaging content on a regular basis.
From emails to research articles, social media posts, infographics, white papers, brochures, blog posts, ebooks, and the like, the content needs of businesses are growing — and opportunities for writers are growing along with them.
So here’s the truth about writing for a living:
- More businesses and agencies are hiring writers (both copywriters and content writers) to meet the increasing demand within the digital marketing industry.
- You can get a writing job with a steady paycheck or run your own writing business as a freelancer. Both options are available to you. As you improve your skill set and versatility, you can realize more opportunities and greater income potential.
- Writing is one of the jobs most suited to remote work and working from home. You don’t have to be in the office regularly (or at all) to complete your work.
And here’s one more important thing to know, in case you’re not sure that “writing for a living” is right for you:
Writing is a skill set that complements nearly every other skill set in the information industry, making it a leverage point for an increasing number of other vocational options you might want to pursue.
It’s hard to tell where our rapidly-developing world will take us. The next generation will likely get jobs that don’t even exist today.
One thing is for certain: The ability to communicate in writing — in a clear and compelling way — is substantially valuable, whether you want to make a full-time income as a writer or leverage your talents into existing or emerging job opportunities.
Now that you know the truth about writing for a living, what will you decide?