Well, that’s a question, along with two others involving my age and my weight, that I always hesitate to answer.
I can say honestly that as a writer I certainly do not make the 2010 average for female Canadians.
But I make a living by augmenting my writing with other work, and I have a very rich life. I travel extensively to tour or to work as a writer in residence. Being an author has taken me back and forth across Canada and Canada’s North, to a number of states, across the pond to Helsinki, Finland; Bern, Switzerland; Istanbul, Turkey; and farther east to Hanoi, Vietnam and Doha, Qatar. There have been many, many moments in my teaching and presenting career on which one cannot place a price tag. I have been delighted and awestruck and humbled by encounters with readers, fans and eager younger and older writers.
It is, however, nice to eat. I highly recommend such a practice. Have you seen the price of food these days?
Others have weighed in on the reality of the Canadian author’s income. Lesley Kenny’s excellent article, “Canadian Fiction Writers’ Average Income: reality cheque please!” (alas, in the officially defunct Descant magazine) is one such example. Even self-published authors have it tough as Alison Flood soberly notes in her Guardian article, “Stop the press: half of self published authors earn less than $500.” And in an earlier blog, I cited Camilla Gibb’s honest, if depressing, account, “The more you write, the less you make,” from a recent issue of the Globe and Mail.
All of this is glum stuff. But I assure you there are creative ways to make a living as a writer. Here are some ideas:
i. Find another something to do to pay the bills. Maybe you are a good copywriter, editor, blogger, social media writer, proofreader, event planner, publicist, newsletter editor… Perhaps you write a mean brochure or a cookbook or textbook… Spread your wings and branch out with your writing, perhaps even as a freelancer.
of course, this may necessitate that you
ii. Get another degree or diploma to complement (not consume) your life as a writer. You might consider marketing and communications (MacEwan and U of A have some excellent programs), teaching, ESL teaching, or training in technical/ scientific writing.
iii. Pitch your writing to magazines – small, larger, largest, print and online. Get some publication credits and make a few bucks on the side.
iv. Once you have some publication cred, you’ll be eligible to apply for grants. Apply for grants! Learn how to write them and then write them well. Submit! Grants may be a lottery, but you don’t receive if you don’t try. (Some sources to tap: Alberta Foundation for the Arts, any Emerging Artists’ grants – at creative writing colleges or provincial organizations, Edmonton Arts Council).
v. Get paid when your work is photocopied or in library circulation. Any Canadian who has published anything (even if it’s just a one-page article in a local paper) can apply to be a creator through Access copyright, or any Canadian who has a book in a Canadian library is eligible for Public Lending Right dollars (based on the number of “hits” of your book in libraries searched by the PLRC). As Anna Humphrey wisely espouses about Access Copyright: “once a year, using a formula which, very roughly speaking, involves the number of pages you’ve published, relative to the number of pages other creators have published, divided by the total amount of money they collected, they send you a cheque. Is it a lot of money? No, not really. But depending on how extensively you’ve published, you can generally expect at least $100-$200 or more a year and that, my friend, is a lot more than you were getting before you knew about this. So go to their website today. Join! It’s free.”
vi. Get paid for presenting. Check out what others are charging according to their experience and numbers of books published, and then charge a presentation or workshop fee, according to your level of expertise and profile as an author. Register with an organization like Authors Booking Service. For more detail, see Anna Humphrey’s excellent blog, “101 Ways to Make Money as a Canadian Writer.”
vii. Put on an event(s). Invite other artists, musicians, writers to participate. Charge a modest fee. Share the door. Build a profile. Have a ton of fun!
So yes, there are lots of naysayers and doomsdayers out there. On my dark days, I crawl into the fetal position and bemoan the state of Canadian publishing and the perils of poverty as an author in this country.
But we have agency. We have choice.
We could throw up our hands in despair or we could place them at the keyboard and keep writing. That is what I choose to do.
If you have any wise ideas for making a living as a writer, please share!
Writing Quote: “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.” – Robert Graves, poet and novelist (1895-1985)
Writing Tip: Put aside thoughts of fame and fortune. As Michael Crichton famously said, “when you start to think, Will this sell?, that’s death.” Focus on the writing, writing, writing!
Writing Prompt: Write a poem using three of the following words: euphoria, susurration, bruise, opine.