Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Resources for Writers

On Making a Living as a Writer

NualaI’d love to tell you that I make a living by writing, but HAA HA HA HA!
 
My sixth book, Nuala: A Fable (UAP, 2017) went on to critical acclaim and a spot on a fiction shortlist (with Gail’s invaluable input on an early draft). I made a few hundred dollars in royalties that first year (that’s usually how it works), and then the income has consistently dwindled. I can now take my husband out for dinner on my annual royalty cheque from that book. If I add up my cheques for all six of my books, I could buy a fancy weekend at the Banff Springs Hotel. I’m fortunate that all of my books are still in print (one is nineteen years old now), but I certainly don’t earn a living from those tiny cheques.
 
I contribute to my household’s (modest) finances largely by editing full manuscripts. I’ve honed my craft and built my reputation over the past eight or nine years, so that now I’ve built a bit of a name for myself in editing and publishing circles. Six Canadian publishers hire me on a fairly regular basis to edit their forthcoming books, and I estimate that I edit about twenty manuscripts per year for private clients. To some extent, I’m bound by the presses’ budgets (though I always negotiate a higher fee if I’ve proven myself to them in the past), but my private clients are another matter. I’m free to charge them more as my track record of editing award-winning and shortlisted books precedes me. Having edited two books that have been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award in their respective genres has done nothing but help me.
 
My Public Lending Rights cheque is real money. The PLR searches your books in libraries, and pays you a certain amount per hit. In other words, if my new book is found in five out of seven libraries, I make hundreds of dollars. Access Copyright also used to be real money, until the travesty of Bill C-11 in 2012. Now, I hardly notice that cheque, it’s so pathetic. I will often write for my local Guild’s newsletter as it pays well, but I’ve largely stopped submitting to journals, as the pay is meagre, it can take years to be published and paid, and often pay is in the form of copies. I’ve also recently built an e-course on editing your own prose. Over time, I hope for that course to replace enough of my income that I can turn down an editing job or two per year.
 
By and large, community is how I make most of my income. A pal on a book awards panel will ask me to sit on a jury for a provincial book prize. A provincial funding organization will ask me to sit on a grants jury. An author will work with me and recommend me to a writer friend looking for an editor. A writer in residence will know of me and send one of their clients to my website (where I’m careful to keep my portfolio completely up to date, including any awards the books have won or have been shortlisted for). I pick up the odd writer in residence gigs where I can. A library I’ve worked for will hire me to run a full-day editing workshop. Editors who are overextended will sometimes send me clients they simply don’t have time to work with. I estimate that about 75% of my paid work comes from referrals. Guess what I’m going to say now! Make friends (real ones, not just “connections”). Be an excellent person whenever you can. I give my repeat customers a discount if they hire me again. I have a network of friends whose work I’ll always read for free in exchange for them reading my next work when it’s ready. 
 
The keys are: always be learning, and always be helping. Invest in your professional development in whatever way you can afford. Take editing and writing classes, or design or layout courses: whatever it is you want to do. Go to launches and hand out business cards at literary events and conferences. Make it known that you’re available for work. Toot your own horn online, but build a behind-the-scenes network of horn tooters to help you do that. Reciprocate. Make a good website. Don’t fight it. Just do it. You need it. But above all, be a good, kind person and don’t undervalue yourself. You will get potential clients (for everything you offer) who will push back and try to negotiate a lower rate. Ask them if they’d ask their dentist for a half-price root canal. No. It’s a good word, and more abundance comes to us once we learn how to say it more often.
~~~
KimmyBeachKimmy Beach’s sixth book, Nuala: A Fable (University of Alberta Press, 2017) was shortlisted for the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction in 2018. Her articles, poems, fiction, and reviews have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada, England, and Wales. Please check out Kimmy's website for her editing services, her portfolio of award-winning editing projects and her shop where she offers a self-directed e-course on editing one's own prose. She is available for workshops, private consultations, and writer-in-residence opportunities. Kimmy writes and edits from Red Deer, Alberta, where she lives with her husband, Stu.
 
Photo credit: Shawna Lemay

Resource Categories

Blogs on Craft

On the Building Blocks of Fiction

Tips on how to craft vivid scene that allows the reader to experience events right along with the characters.

On Finding Your Big Idea

Insights into the writing process and what a writer's day really looks like, as well as perspectives on research and writing from real life.

On Getting to Know Your Characters

Advice on the many ways you can make your characters come alive on the page for both you and your reader.

On Deciding on Point of View

What is the best perspective from which to tell your story? Writers discuss how they made choices on point of view and voice.

On Choosing Your Situation and Setting

Writers talk about how they use situation and setting to build story and convey emotion.

On Developing Conflict and Structure

From how to work in different genres to finding the real story, writers offer good advice on building conflict and structure.

On Revising

Tips on how to gain distance from your work and to how to re-imagine your next draft.

On Publishing

Writers offer practical advice on the business of writing and promotion, and on the importance of finding a writing community.

On Making a Living as a Writer

Writers offer words of wisdom on living on less.

On The Writer's Life

Writers talk about their life as a writer.

About Gail

Gail's novels have been national and international bestsellers and two have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, among other awards. She works with writers from around the world on her online teaching forums.