Making a Living as a Writer: Readjusting Your Income Streams

Feast or famine. I talked about that recently. For a freelance writer, it always seems like you have periods of intense, overwhelming busy-ness alternating with periods of no assignments and no good news at all.

When you’re super busy, it’s hard to find the time to drum up new work. But when the super-busy period ends, you suddenly have no income-generating work at all. Sometimes this happens in cycles of months—other times, years.


This car is going the same direction as my income :>(

Right now, I’m working on my 2015 taxes. My income is down 25% for 2015. 25%.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that I am steadily working toward my goal of more trade books, which is leading to more income (proportionately) from trade books–but less income overall.

So, what do I do about this? I figure out how to more writing this year that will generate a reliable, known income in a fairly short period of time.

And…how do I do that? Ah, if only there were an easy answer to that. Here’s what I’m doing now, and this is fairly typical.

  • Touch base with the companies I write passages for.
  • Make it a priority to be available to meet their short-term deadlines, even when it makes it tough for me and means adding in some hours on nights and weekends.
    Start checking job boards again on a regular basis. Each Tuesday, I make the rounds of my writing job boards. Usually, there isn’t anything that calls to me. But every so often, there’s an opportunity I don’t come across anywhere else. Something unusual. Something that might (or might not) be a good fit for me.
  • Go back to companies I’ve done writing projects for in the past and tell them how much I enjoyed it and see if they have any upcoming projects I might be a good fit for.
  • Every time I write a new kind of project for a new publisher or client, it’s extra time-consuming. I make the least amount of money (if I divide it out by time spent on the project) on the first time I do something. So, if I’m successful on one thing, I see if I can replicate it. Recently, I finished a leveled reading nonfiction picture book, and I had a blast. I don’t know yet if it will be accepted, but the editor loved it! She was very complimentary about my manuscript, and she was super easy to work with. So, I checked back with her to ask if they still needed manuscripts. She told me which levels they’re still looking for, and I put together two proposals for her over Friday and Saturday. (The second one I structured and figured out almost entirely on my drive home from a school visit Saturday morning, using the voice memo function on my phone.) I have my fingers crossed that one or both of those might pan out. And several ideas I flew by her earlier she said might be a good fit for the higher levels they’ll be doing later this year, so hopefully that will produce some work for me this fall.
  • I think about which direction things are heading. The last couple of years, I’ve had a couple of extended school visit tours or projects that were about $7,000 each. I don’t have that this year. And because I don’t have a Minnesota Book Award Finalist book this year, and I have no book coming out this year (so, clearly, no chance of any Finalist Book next year), that could mean a downward trend in school visits. Outstate Minnesota schools and libraries have, in the past (though the budget was recently cut) gotten funding to bring in children’s writers, and one of the criteria is a Minnesota Book Award Finalist or Winner (maybe in the past certain number of years—not sure). Anyway, my newest book not being a Finalist could impact my school visit invitations—if not this year, then next. So I need to think about what to replace that lost income with. What other income stream can I INcrease?
    One area I’d like to increase is teaching children’s writers. Lisa and I so enjoy speaking at conferences and teaching at the Loft, and we always get awesome feedback. But the logistics of in-person teaching make it hard to reach large numbers and inconvenient at the personal level. So, this year, I’ve decided to make a foray into online teaching via video. I’ve taught online a lot, but never via videos. I’m doing a trial course right now, just learning how to do it. I plan to give that one away as a freebie for people who are willing to take it and give me feedback (which I’ll use to make my paid courses better and stronger). I would love it if the online courses took off. We’ll see how that goes!
  • And I’ll keep touching base with my trade book editors who don’t have my books that I’ve acquired on an editorial calendar yet! The publishing process is slow. I have a poetry collection I sold three years ago that isn’t even with an illustrator yet. That makes me so sad on a personal level, and it’s difficult financially, because a book has no chance of earning royalties (or even earning out its advance) until it’s actually published. And I have a couple of other manuscripts in similar situations.

And, of course, I need to balance this increased work for money with the writing of my heart. If I don’t keep writing and sending out work I love, that I’m passionate about, then there’s no point in working so hard at the writing for money. I really do the writing for money to subsidize my writing for heart. (Well, that and I have no patience for  office politics.)

So, this month, I have finished an 8-month revision on a collaborative novel in verse project and turned it in to an editor. I’ve revised a quirky/poetic/nonfiction picture book and turned that in to an editor. Both of those were revisions suggested by those editors, so we’ll see. I’ve written a work for hire nonfiction picture book and sent in two more proposals. And I’ve completed the fact-checking (and addition research and slight rewriting that provoked) of a trade nonfiction picture book that I am waiting on the contract for.

Trying to keep all the balls in the air is hard. But my latest practice that I think helps is to plan my month around what’s the one thing I most need to focus on for my heart writing, and what’s the one thing I most need to focus on for my income-earning. Asking myself those things leads to lots of gnashing of teeth, an initial refusal to narrow things down, making of lists and crossing things out, possibly some cussing and/or overindulging in donuts. And then I accept the truth and map out how I can best work toward my goals of writing things I love and also meeting my commitment to the family budget.

Sorry this was kind of rambling. I’m trying to sort of share my mish-mash process in some cohesive way, but it’s tough! Still, I hope this peek into my thought process is helpful to someone out there.


About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
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9 Responses to Making a Living as a Writer: Readjusting Your Income Streams

  1. Definitely helpful, Laura! I’m trying some of the same strategies. Good luck!

  2. Thanks, Laura! Your honesty about the writing life is so helpful. Here’s to keeping all the balls in the air in 2016!

  3. Thanks for keeping it real, Laura. Best wishes on all that juggling!

  4. Sara Matson says:

    Thanks for the transparency and nitty-gritty details, Laura. I find the peek you give into your process so helpful!

  5. Pat Bauer says:

    Thank you, Laura! I really enjoyed following you on your journey through the financial/creative labyrinth! Lots to think about . . .

  6. Thanks, Jane, Sara, and Pat! I’m glad the details–though wandering around–were perhaps helpful in some way 🙂

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