The Reality of Writers Who Have Bills to Pay

pay bills

This week, as a high punctuation on the trend of colleagues and loved ones losing jobs, I found out that my husband’s company is going to lay him off. It’s not because of any fault on his part. The company he works for simply has decided to outsource his entire department because it’s cheaper to pay workers from another country. Fortunately, the layoffs are not immediate. He has time to find another position.

But the situation triggered my mind to immediately start wondering about how I, as a “lowly” writer, could pay all of our bills alone. I could probably do it if I took a corporate writing position. But what about all the writers who don’t want to do that? What about people, like me, who want to write articles or books?

Why writers have even less cash than before

Writing never has been an especially lucrative career. But advertising revenue has dried up at many digital publications. ChatGPT prompts businesses to cut writing staff. So, gone are the days when a talented writer could freely submit and hope to land a column. The industry has tossed meritocracy into the ditch, instead relying on word-of-mouth referrals and, in a complete reversal of traditional work, the ability of authors to pay to access the clout and brand recognition of the publication through “memberships.” In this environment, it’s increasingly difficult to find clear submission instructions. Even when those directions are available, there’s often no way to direct the submission to a specific editor or follow up.

This description is not intended as a lament or a downtrodden, judgmental expression of frustration. Rather, it is an explanation of why non-staff writers (i.e., freelancers like me) are finding it harder and harder to earn their way. Access to editors has shrunk. Social media algorithms have made organic visibility from non-publication accounts a crapshoot, too. On X (formally Twitter), my impressions today are just 25 percent of what they used to be before Elon Musk took over.

The pay choice that really isn’t a choice

I know some people probably would say, “Well, everyone has a choice of job. Just do something different!” But when someone is truly good at something, when they’re creative and passionate about it, and if they are willing to work, why shouldn’t they, as a writer, be compensated at least to the degree that they can take care of themselves and their families?

It feels like a pretty basic, low bar, and somehow, we’re missing it.

So, lest any writer out there feel like they don’t have the right to ask for proper compensation for their work, here’s Amanda Palmer’s Ted Talk, “The Art of Asking.”

Her premise is that fans can support writers and that writers should be free to ask for that support. If it sounds a little like readers supporting self-published authors, it’s because that’s the new reality of the writing world. Not editorial or newsrooms. Not traditional book contracts. Readers. Writers. Direct. Maybe that’s how it should be.