The Last Choices Left to Survive as a Writer

Today, as I did my usual LinkedIn perusal, I read about the bloody week the news industry has had. Major outlets like Business Insider, The Los Angeles Times, and Forbes are all cutting staff or experiencing walkouts. It’s a cherry on top of the chaos within the writing industry, adding to the shakeups at traditional publishing houses. All I could think was, what routes do a wordsmith have left? How can a person still survive as a writer?

survive as a writer drowning

The options to survive as a writer, they dwindle

In the past, writers could

  • cold query agents and publishers
  • get a staff or columnist job
  • self-publish
  • gig for independent clients
  • write for businesses

Now, reread the opening paragraph one more time.

As organizations increasingly try to stay profitable and visibility on social media gets worse, writers have lower odds of getting traditionally published, getting responses to cold queries on articles, or landing a staff/columnist job. Gig writing can offer some income, but work can be too inconsistent to ensure writers can pay their bills. It only works if you are serious about gigging as a full-time business and have the you-know-what to insist on a good rate.

That leaves self-publishing and writing for businesses. Of the two options, writing for businesses is often the most financially secure. It can offer not only a paycheck, but insurance and other options like daycare that wordsmiths often desperately need. But not every writer has the stomach for business writing. It’s dramatically different from journalism or fiction. And although many companies have excellent missions, many writers don’t feel like business writing aligns with their creative goals. And as writers lose other positions, the competition for business writing jobs is fiercer.

For many writers, the best solution is to cut out the middleman altogether, go private, and go to readers directly for payment. Platforms like Substack support this concept and allow readers and writers to find each other. But using them is risky in that they are still a third party that can fail. If the platform dies, a writer might no longer be able to access previously published works and share them.

So, by my rationale, the only way a writer truly can control both income and content is to build their own platform through which they can both publish and distribute their work. The downside for many writers who consider this route is twofold. Not only do they have to accept full responsibility for every aspect of running their own writing business, but they also have to invest heavily in their own marketing.

If you enter the race, be ready to run hard

The reality I’ve described above doesn’t mean that you can’t survive as a writer. It just means that you don’t have the same channels you used to, and that if you want a career in the industry, you absolutely cannot be shy about it. You must lean into it completely to build the web necessary to support the full publication process. It is not a job for the faint of heart anymore. So, make sure before you start that you are committed with everything you are.

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