How to Earn a Living as a Writer

We live in a new age for writers. The written word has never been as important as it is today since there is such a demand for it. The internet has created a new area for people to come and read about the topics they care about and to be entertained. The amount of content that is being produced and consumed is mind boggling. Yes, people want free content, but a good chunk of them are more than willing to give you their hard earned money for your work.

In my last article I talked about how writing for free is bad. I am following up that piece with how you can be a writer in today’s marketplace.

BLOGGER

I laughed when I first heard about this many years ago, “Blogging, you mean pretend journalism?” HA. HA. HA. Now we laugh at what is being considered as real journalism. Blogging is a great way to earn a living and there are two ways of going about it.

  • Do it for yourself– Start a website, hosting is cheap these days and website templates oh so plentiful, and start talking about something. Pick a topic you are passionate about and write about it and its many different facets. Go nuts about something that pisses you off or you think needs to be pointed out. Many great blogs started off as small places for someone to bitch about something and they grew because they gave entertaining or thoughtful arguments about certain topics. It may take a bit, but if you’re consistent and write well enough it could eventually work out for you. EX: The Oatmeal, Hyperbole and a half, and Rage against the minivan
  • Do it for a company– This is what I am doing these days. Blogging as a contract writer is becoming a more popular source of revenue as marketing companies are becoming more and more aware that Click-bait and Likes are not the only way of going about advertising on the internet. A lot of the time blogs on websites are used as a way to SEO a website without dumping a bunch of words on a hidden page. Google hates it when they do that, so blogs are used instead. This gives the website owners the visibility they need on Google, and other search engines, and it gives them content for someone to come and read that relates to their product. You can find a lot of these jobs on sites like oDesk and Elance; also check out marketing company job pages as they are usually trying to hire a writer.

E-BOOK NOVELIST

This might make many of you laugh. Again, I did it as well, but I am enlightened and far more humble than I was when I was in college. E-publishing was a rather new thing when I was in school. Many of my professors warned against it as many them as they were traditionally published authors for decades and they, as well as us students, did not know if self-publishing was going to be a black mark against you or not.

Turns out, it’s not, in fact my old professor informed me that many publishers look through e-published authors and actually offer to buy their books if they are showing to be profitable. This is great news to writers because if your book sells well enough on e-books then you are sitting comfortably and if you attract a publisher you can entertain the thought of partnering up with them or not. The choice is yours and it is a great debate in the writing community right now, but I will talk about that another day.

Being a novelist has never been easier and this is a double edged sword because this means everyone is dumping their half-baked ideas out on to the market. This has created a very flooded marketplace that is filled with about 30% good and 70% bad books. This might seem like a negative against publishing an e-book, but it isn’t, in fact e-book sales are slowly overtaking traditional book sales. Even with the flood of bad, if you are a good writer, you can overcome this sea and rise to the top. I’m not promising you’ll be rich, but I am saying that you can sell enough that it may pay for rent or more if you are successful at it.

If this is something you want to do, please check out these resources for a more in depth look into the world of e-books: AmazonSmashwords, Draft2Digital, Gumroad, Reddit, Teresa LoChuck Wendig. These are a mixture of publishing platforms, a great writing community for E-books, and two writers who have made it work very well for themselves and give great advice on this topic.

I too am wading into this world, so it will be an adventure for both of us!

MAGAZINES/E-MAGAZINES/WEBSITE ARTICLES

Traditional magazines are a tough nut to crack. If you have a great article about a topic that a magazine would find interesting it’s really about how you get that article in front of the people who matter. As a new writer this is a tougher route as many of these magazines will only take pieces from already established authors; but if you can get into contact with an editor of a magazine you can get your work in front of them instead of the catch all email. This usually means having to go to conventions that cover the interest you are writing about or starting a dialogue over Twitter.

E-magazines are a new genre that has come along with e-books. Many established magazines have moved over to this format completely, like Newsweek, but there are a lot of new e-magazines out there for you to submit. This is great for a writer because many new magazines are willing to take chances on new writers who have an interesting story to spin.

Once you’re published with a magazine (traditional or e-versions) it will only become easier to publish with them or other magazines.

Websites need content and many are willing to take open submissions. They usually have guidelines for submissions that will either have you send in the whole article or send in a summary of it. Websites will respond toward your idea if it is intriguing enough as they are for-profit and want articles that will share well.  This is great for those of us who obsess about odd subjects like topography, math, and The Last Starfighter… I mean you obsess about that movie too right?

SCRIPT WRITING

Many script writers might scoff at this idea because it could take a while for you to make money as a script writer; but frankly the internet has made it possible that for you to create great videos that you have written.

Youtube and Vimeo have made it easy for you to have HD quality videos on the web. Making a movie or a series has never been easier and really you don’t need an insane amount of equipment to do it. A lot of the time you need good lighting, sound, and a camera that can record. Your phone can do most  this in fact.

It’s not about the equipment, but the talent of storytelling that makes a movie or series great. Many bad movies have been made on very expensive pieces of equipment. If you know you can do this, then you will prosper.

CONCLUSION

This isn’t a list of how to get rich or even how to succeed, but rather to help demonstrate that if you put enough elbow grease into this line of work you can make a living out it. I wrote this article because I have heard so many times how writers cannot find any money for their writing, and frankly I think it’s a bit of a cop out. If you have the talent there is an avenue for you to make a wage doing this, but it requires you to take this gig seriously and to have an open mind.

These are my thoughts and I hope they helped you.

-Nicholas Mazmanian

Writing for Free and How it Hurts Us All

I have a confession to make, I have written for free.

You might not think that is a big deal, but it is, especially in the creating words industry. The writing industry spans all genres and content types and for some reason people think that it is okay to write for free. I am here as a warning sign to you all who are contemplating doing this very act to not do it!

Trying to get a job as a writer is a mental workout because you are going to read so many job posts that say: Experience Required or even No Unsolicited Work. It can be daunting and quite demoralizing for many, including  myself, because through this barrage of negativity there will posts saying: Great Experience For New Writers or Experience That Will Help! These are the vultures that swoop in at the last moment of your trudge through the deserts of job postings and promise water but really they’re going to peck your eyes out; and when they’re done they’ll move on to the next victim.

Writing for free isn’t just bad for you but it is bad for all of the other writers as it sets a precedent that it is okay to work without compensation.

Here is my story:

Coming to the video games industry I really didn’t have a big portfolio. I had been published four times in a car magazine and on a website, but I didn’t have anything for video games specifically. A lot of writers coming to the video games industry want to write the next Uncharted or Fallout or Spec Ops: The Line; but there is a barrier to entry saying you need experience doing this sort of thing.

This kind of information, compounded with a writers sometimes low self-esteem, led me to working for free. I had just been laid off from Blizzard Entertainment and my friends had an indie company that needed a writer. Of course I jumped at the chance of actually working on a video game, because at Blizz I was a Game Master; which is the furthest you could get to working with the developers. If I could get a game under my belt I knew that would elevate me and help me find additional work. The hitch was they couldn’t pay me, I figured the experience is worth it, so I took the gig with a promise of being paid later. I was eventually paid, but for social media and marketing, I wasn’t paid for my writing for Retrovirus.

(Addendum: I want to clarify that my time at Cadenza was very educational. I learned a lot about video games, the industry itself, and how stressful it can be to make a game. I assert that working for free is a bad move in general, and while I wasn’t paid for my work, I worked under a contract saying that I would be paid if the game was profitable; sadly it was not. I could have taken a small check during production but I would have received a smaller percentage of the game sales. If you are given an offer like this, take the money, don’t be me here as I waved the check in favor of a larger percentage of game sales. It was gamble on my part and I wanted to clarify that information in this addendum. 7/25/2014)

I went down this path because I thought it was the only way. I was told by so many writers to not work for free, don’t give it away, because it will only make things harder. I thought they lived in a different era when you could live off of a meager sum of money and write at the same time.

I was a rather naive person at this time.

It is easier to be a working writer now than it has ever been before in the history of writing. I learned this the hard way, and while my self-imposed free labor gave me a leg up, I was hurting my profession.

How does working for free hurt the writing community? It hurt it because I aided in perpetuating a problem that has plagued writing for so long and that is this statement:

I don’t agree with your point of view, and if you don’t like it, tough! I can replace you with fifty fresh college graduates who would kill for this job and they would do it for free!

Knowing that you, a skilled vet, could be tossed to the curb because you disagree with a project director who may know nothing about storytelling is probably one of the most disheartening things that can happen to you. If you think I am over exaggerating, I’m not, this is standard protocol at some studios in the video games industry and other mediums. If your livelihood is threatened over some prose on a page, and you have a family to care for, you learn to shut up and let it slide.

This kind of mentality is how you get bad writing in games because in many circumstances the other alternative is to walk away. You might sit there and think that another writing job will pop up, but it won’t, writing gigs in video games are very hard to find and are highly coveted. The jerk project director in my example is speaking the truth and the truth hurts; but it shouldn’t be this way.

I am looking at writing for free from the perspective of the video games industry, as that is probably the most misunderstood area for writing, but a majority of these thoughts can be applied to almost any medium that involves writing. Once a content developer knows they can lure people in with the promise of exposure it’s game over for those who are trying to make a go at writing as a job. If we continue to do this to ourselves we are going to make the job of writing go extinct because if you can get it for free, why would you ever pay for it?

When people think that writing is easy and anyone can do it, they are right, but a paintbrush does not a painter make. It takes years of dedication to become a professional and to trade away the time, the hours spent, and receive nothing in return is wrong. I urge those new writers who are just starting out to not take jobs that are paying in experience instead of currency. The reason why we take these jobs is due to the fear that we need to do this in order to get the jobs we want. It can lead you there, but in many cases your name will be attached to something that may be known for being terrible; and in the end all we really have is our name and what that name means.

Now that I’ve dispensed with the doom and gloom my next post will talk about how you can get the experience you need to write any field you want.

Thanks for reading,

Nicholas Mazmanian

Know When You Suck

You know what’s really good? Pancakes.

I love making pancakes and I am really good at making them, or so my wife tells me, but it is because of this information that I am spurred onward to make more pancakes.

You know what’s really funny? Video game videos or Machinima as the internet children call it.

I suck at making those things. I know this because when I make them I feel sad, empty, and hollow inside. Like an orphan child at Christmas when they see all the cookies are being eaten by the old, fat janitor.

When we suck at something, it comes down hard, and we know it. Sucking at something can be the first steps toward being a great at something, but that feeling of sucking is the measure of our tenacity for wanting to be better at it.

When we create, a lot of the time it’s just us and whatever it is we are making, but we have to enjoy what we make. Outside reinforcement, be it good or bad, is completely arbitrary most of the time. If we are unsure about what we are making it can mean the world, but if we are surefooted and in love with what we are making it couldn’t matter less.

Knowing when you suck is entirely dependent on you. Granted, there are some things that we are naturally not good at because of our genetic makeup or traits. For instance, I really wish I could look lanky in a pair of pants, but I am 5’10 and built like a brick wall; that isn’t going to happen. Even if I try as hard as I can, and throw on a pair of straight pants, I will never look like James Colburn or Spike Spiegal.

I got sidetracked, but this comes back to the idea of sucking because it is a mental state. Your level of suck is entirely dependent on your confidence in being good at whatever it is you’re passionate about; it’s a self fulfilling prophecy in some cases. You can defeat the suck and become a master at duck herding but you have to actually have to have the talent for it in the first place. We build off of our talents in order to become great at anything.

To loop this back around, I love video games, and I love to watch people who make funny videos playing video games. The problem for myself in making these videos is that I don’t usually talk a lot when I am playing a game. When I go to make one of these videos I sound like the most unsure person in the world. Lot’s of uh, hm, and LOTS of stuttering. This isn’t me and that’s what bothers me.

I just suck at this!

Recognizing the suck makes me a better person because I don’t continue to try to make you all watch these videos and groan in horror over what is on the screen. I stick with what I am good at doing; and that’s making some damn good pancakes! Right wife?

…Wife?

A Fresh Start!

I recently had the website overhauled due to it coming down with a bad case of ugly. In light of this change I have also stripped the content that was once here, I know, you all didn’t care about it; but it had to be done.

I’ve decided while eating tacos what my purpose is with this site, and that’s to show how great tacos really are… I think I’ve had too many tacos.

I am a writer and I am here to do writer things like writing more stuff for you all to enjoy. This will include better content that will be available on this website. Granted they will be personal musings, but at least they will be humorous to read rather than feel like open mic night in a land devoid humor.

A terrible land known as The City of Industry.

I am also hoping that people who are in need of a talented person will come by, and be so impressed by my body of work, that they will throw me a bunch of money; preferably in unmarked, sequential bills. I tried to make a Cliffhanger joke here, but it was over wrought, so I had to cut it loose.

Long story short, or TLDR, I am a writer and I hope you enjoy what you read here.