IN THIS ISSUE
- FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK: A six-figure income in 2-4 hours a day
- ON THE WORDLING: Why you haven’t cracked the nationals yet
- NEWS & VIEWS: How not to go broke when you win as an author
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
Hiya writer friends,
Like most long-time freelancers, I’ve had to reinvent my writing career multiple times. More so because I’m easily bored and the moment something becomes a specialty, instead of doubling down and using it to further my career, I go off to do something new and exciting that will challenge me (and drop my income).
I’ve been trying to break out of that sabotaging pattern in the last year and to practice what I endlessly preach: build on existing sources of income rather than replacing them. After a break of several years, I spent the last year building up my freelance clients (again), and as long as things stay stable-ish and I don’t get in my own way (again), I should be on track to making six figures this year working 2-4 hours a day.
The 2-4-hours-a-day piece is important to me because I’m not just interested in freelancing. I love writing articles and reporting stories, but I also want to build The Wordling and launch a book career. I’ve spent a lot of of time this past year being patient and prioritizing my freelancing so I could bring it to a point where it didn’t require non-stop hustle. Now that goal is in sight, which means I can shift my focus to building the book business up to an equal, if not higher, revenue. This time, though, instead of replacing my freelancing income, I’m determined to add to it. I want to have a career through which I can indulge all my interests and passions, not be forced to selectively sift through them.
One of the best pieces of advice I received early in my career was from an editor at TIME magazine, who was paying me a daily rate. I’d reported a story for her, then filed it along with my invoice. When the edits came back, I dutifully dealt with them and thought nothing of it. Two days later, the editor called me. “Why have you not charged a fee for the edits?” she asked.
“They only took a couple of hours in the morning,” I replied. (I also hadn’t known I could charge for revisions. Duh.)
Then, the six-figure question. “Did you do anything else that morning, or were they taxing enough that you were done for the rest of the morning?”
“I was done,” I said.
“I’ll pay you for half a day,” she said.
I understood then that when I factored in time for an assignment, it wasn’t just about the time spent in the chair. It was also the time spent thinking, the time spent reporting, the time spent traveling, and the time spent recovering. While it’s impractical and unfair to charge a client for recovery time, I had to charge an hourly or daily rate that factored in time I wouldn’t be able to work for other clients (or myself). So now I do.
It’s helped me feel much less pressure about being “on” all day long, and allowed me to make a respectable income working only a few hours a day, leaving me time to focus on other business interests and passions. I spent most of my career believing that I had to kill myself to make a six-figure income, and that growing beyond it would require a sacrifice of everything I enjoyed about my life. It’s part of the reason I stepped away from freelancing.
How interesting to circle back, only to find that the easy path had been available all along. I just hadn’t been ready to see it.
By the way, I’ve put together a series that details the behind-the-scenes of how I broke into TIME and The New York Times, landed the contributing editor position at Elle magazine, and made over $10,000 from a single story idea (that I didn’t come up with). In addition to being entertained by all the embarrassing stories I share, you’ll also learn how to get your foot in the door with top publications, even when you don’t have a contact (or a clue). Check them out here.
Enjoy the issue!
Natasha Khullar Relph
Editor, The Wordling
NEW ON THE WORDLING
If your pitches are consistently bringing back rejections, there are only three reasons why.
Before you turn down work, it’s worth considering whether an assignment is as low-paying as you think it is.
NEWS & VIEWS:
Lottery winners go broke—and so do authors
When you enter the world of traditional publishing as a new author, experienced writers will tell you that publishing is a lottery. It’s not necessarily about merit, they’ll say. Whether you receive a book deal and how big an advance you get has little to do with how talented you are, and sometimes even how good your book is. You could hit it big. You could win nothing. Most authors, with a lot of luck and persistence, will fall somewhere in between.
The truth, however, is that selling a book to a publisher is not a lottery, it’s a selection. (A biased selection, but a selection nonetheless.)
Where traditional publishing is like a lottery, however, is when you win big.
And just like lottery winners, a third of whom eventually declare bankruptcy after big winnings, authors who have been waiting a long time for the success to come and are not mentally prepared for the larger numbers can burn through the cash in no time at all.
In an article published in 2019, author Heather Demetrios talks about how she spent a third of a million dollars and almost hit financial ruin as her book sales diminished and advances went down. New York Times bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch explains why this happens:
“I know a lot of writers who won the writer equivalent of the lottery: they got several hundred thousand or maybe a million from a movie or TV deal, but didn’t ask for proper credit. If the writer is good at managing money, as one of my friends was, they buy their home outright and pay cash for a decent car or two so they have transportation. They put a lot of money in savings or safe investments, and keep writing.
“But even then, at the most conservative, those writer-lottery payments fizzle out. Do the math. Half a million dollars lasts ten years if the writer spends $50,000 a year, five years if they spend $100,000. Money is finite and writers often forget that.”
Takeaways? Three big ones.
1. Plan to keep writing
The writers who are most likely to struggle after a big success are those who view it as their way out of the work. In her post, Rusch talks about her friend who says, I want to be rich and never have to work again. “If the writer has that idea of wealth, then they’ll stop writing altogether as long as they’re rich (in their own mind, anyway).”
2. Get financially savvy
Many writers will have made sacrifices—financial and otherwise—to get to monetary success. When the money comes, it can easily go towards paying off the mistakes of the past rather than becoming an investment into the future. If you’re at a point financially where an influx of cash isn’t the solution to a problem, you’re more likely to hold on to it.
3. Understand how book deals work
A six-figure book deal does not mean $100,000 appears in the author’s bank account overnight. The advance will be split into three instalments (on signing, on submission, on publication) and may be for more than one book, which means it’s likely to be spread over years. By a conservative estimate, that six-figure book deal will be $68,000 after the agent’s 15% commission and taxes, split over two years, equaling a modest $34,000 per year.
SPAIN: “[Demócrata’s] value proposition is to report on public policies and Parliamentary debates in much more detail than mainstream publications. Newspapers in Spain are much more focused on politics than on public policies, and this might provide an opening for a publication like Demócrata, whose goal is to cover those policy debates in a more nuanced and granular way.”
JAPAN: “Japan ranks the lowest among the Group of Seven nations when it comes to media freedom. Journalists’ vulnerability to government and business pressure as well as a culture of self-censorship are to blame, say experts.”
CHINA: “Chinese authorities have detained a man for using ChatGPT to write fake news articles, in what appears to be one of the first instances of an arrest related to misuse of artificial intelligence in the nation.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.”
– Sylvia Plath
SHARE THE WORDLING
We’ll be grateful if you do!