“It’s possible to make a good amount of money as a writer. Most writers don’t. You should assume, strictly for business purposes, that you won’t, or at the very least, won’t for a very long time. It’s not all about you, it’s also about the market. Don’t get defensive. The median personal income in the US in 2005 was $28,500. You have a lot of company in the bottom half.”

A realistic yet not damaging quote from Science Fiction writer John Scalzi. Most of the time all we hear is that writers are always poor, and you should never hope to earn a living solely from writing — definitely not from travel-writing.

Having said that, this recent article by Scalzi was a much needed read. Being a writer himself, he completely understands where we come from (…”when it comes to money — and specifically their own money — writers have as much sense as chimps on crack”). It doesn’t give you false hopes for e.g. he made $164,000 last year from his writing — something a result of his skills, business sense and luck. However, as a writer you must initially prepared to be broke.

The piece is full of personal and blunt anecdotes — some you may feel are arrogant. He doesn’t say anything that we don’t know already, but adds to it personal experience with a flair that hits you as “this is how it is, honey”, which is what makes it a worthy read.

I’ve done many (most in fact!) of the things he says are a complete NO NO if we want to survive as writers: I left my day job, I date guys who are broke, use credit cards as therapy, buy cheap things that don’t last, am planning to move to NY, and often forget that I need to write for a market and not for myself. Argh. All of a sudden it’s very clear why I’m not making much money writing! Sigh. Anyway — READ IT.

Thanks to Where Am I Wearing Kelsey Timmerman for a heads up on this piece.


  1. For someone who just did the exact opposite that he did – he moved from the east coast to Ohio, I did the reverse – I have to say something. If he never lived on the east coast to begin with and made all of the initial contacts to be able to write from Ohio or anyone else, I seriously doubt Scalzi would be making the income he does. Creating those clients and making those contacts is not always easy from a place like Ohio. Believe me. I’ve tried. Although, he is right: NYC is expensive and being a writer here is not easy. Expect poverty.

  2. I moved from Ohio to Indiana. Surprise…surprise, there are just as few/many opportunities here. But I think it’s very possible to make it as a writer living anywhere in our virtual world.

    I have a day job. I only write what I want to write. And I’m actually making it. I sold my first book. I do radio programs that pay decent. I’ve been published in major newspapers. I’ve been paid several thousand $$ for a magazine feature and much less for others. This year I’ll actually make enough that I could carry my load of the financial burden of my wife and me. Of course, there were many years I made squat and who knows what next year will bring. But if I lived in NYC or somewhere more expensive than Muncie, IN, what I made this year wouldn’t go very far. I wouldn’t be able to afford having a day job on only a part-time basis. I wouldn’t be able to write only what I want to write because I wouldn’t have the time.

    I started with 0 contacts in the industry and now have a couple. I made them through the internet, or them contacting me after they read something I wrote, or at regional writer’s conferences. I write hard. I travel hard. I hope hard. And I’m making it as a writer in the Midwest.

    I wish all the aspiring and budding writers in NYC the best. I hope that someday when they make it big, they’ll give some unconnected writer in Indiana or Ohio a chance.

  3. It’s true that these days you can work from anywhere if you have a computer and an internet connection, but living in NYC has given me greater access to contacts and jobs in the writing biz that probably wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. While NYC is expensive, it is possible to live relatively cheaply in the City (just ask the locals). Like most others, I have a day job that pays the bills (though I did give up an overtime-intensive $$ making job to focus more on my writing goals). The endless possibilities of this city make the minute square footage worthwhile. One addendum, I’m single–ergo, living simply is quite easy. As for rule #3, if you’re waiting for a proposal from Mr./Mrs. Wonderful, Compatible and Financially Sound, you’ll have to stand in line behind the million plus NYers who already live here. Bon courage.

  4. The “don’t quit your day job!” mantra should not be taken lightly until you’re absolutely ready for the initial consequences of breaking into travel writing.

    Sound and realistic advice!.

  5. I’ve been writing for more than twelve years, but only freelance for about four months. I get tired of hearing about how I’ll never make any money and be broke forever. It seems other writers love to share this information.

    At least this post gave some vague hope to the legions of writers who are tired of working in veal pens for the man.

  6. I lived in New York for a while but don’t use any of the contacts I had back then. Meanwhile I live in (much cheaper) Nashville, TN and have hundreds of contacts all gained since I moved here and started going to conferences and on press trips and just picking up the phone more often.

    I make real money as a writer and web publisher now, but it’s the day job that paid the bills while getting here…

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