What You Must Do If You Truly Want to Make a Living as a Writer

What You Must Do If You Truly Want to Make a Living as a Writer

As editor of FundsforWriters, hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask: “Where do I find money to fund my writing habit?” It’s an innocent enough question, especially to an editor who professes to making a living at this craft and aids other writers with her weekly missives on the how-tos of earning an income.

My mind reels with snarky responses, silly, sarcastic, school-marmish, and third-grade-level replies because I’ve answered the question so many times. I ultimately answer in a positive, mother-hen manner, wanting to motivate the emailer, not chastise him. After all, writers run into enough negative responses already! The business is crazy complicated, and new people often spin in place hunting for the best advice, needing some sort of direction to get started.

But my answer to this question is always the same.

You find funding for your writing by writing for people who pay.

That answer induces laughter when I speak at conferences, but it’s the gosh-honest truth. The best way to make money writing is to write only for markets that pay. (Click to tweet this idea.) And the more they pay, the more you make. The more you pitch paying markets, the better the chance you’ll land a paying gig. The more you pitch higher-paying markets, ultimately the higher your income.

For some reason, we fear presenting ourselves as writers to professionals in our business, and that often interferes with the boldness needed to pitch. We take our work seriously, but we fear others will see us as frauds. I’ve had those thoughts, just like every other writer who’s ever penned a paragraph. But query we must, and if we must query, it might as well be to a good publication.

I dare you to “Keep 13 in Play.” That’s been my mantra for a decade. Keep thirteen pitches outstanding, whether they are contests entries, magazine features, paying blogs, or freelance copywriting gigs. Choose another number if you like, but I enjoy the in-your-face of number thirteen, daring bad luck to take me on. It takes some time to initially place that many queries, but once you’ve reached your magic number, you buckle down and write. Not because you’ve wasted a lot of time querying, but because you probably have a positive response by the time you reach your number. (And no, thirteen is not too many for even the part-time writer.)

That’s the fun part of “Keeping 13 in Play”. You’re so busy shooting queries out into the world that you don’t see the acceptances coming — and then they pop up and slap you in the face. I’ve even forgotten about submissions before, all because I was so preoccupied pitching stories.

And it gets more fun…

When you receive that acceptance, your thirteen has dropped to twelve, right? So you stop what you’re doing — stop in your tracks. And you pitch to another market to maintain that thirteen. When you receive a rejection, you’re in luck! Take that rejected query and slingshot it to another market. Then pitch another story to that person who just rejected you, while you’re fresh on his mind. Sure, he remembers you as a rejection, but truth is that he remembers you. Study his publication harder and throw another letter under his nose. Not only will he pay you more attention as you repetitively remind him that you are still interested (and prove you’re quite prolific), but you’ll probably improve your writing, your pitching, and your knowledge of the publication. And you’ve just added two more pitches to your “Keep 13 in Play” spreadsheet.

The reality of being a writer is that you aren’t easily discovered. You have to climb your way up this tall, rickety ladder, sharing the space with other climbers all around you. You seek paying markets and pursue them. They don’t come looking for you.

No paying market “discovers” you when you write for content mills or SEO sites.

No paying market “discovers” you when you write on your blog.

No paying market “discovers” you for having ten thousand Twitter followers or Facebook fans.

As a writer, you need to help people discover you

Writers must be proactive, and that means setting their sites on markets that pay and chasing them. Get your hands on market guides like these and use them:

Now, go out there and fund your writing.

Filed Under: Blogging


  • Larry Ciampa says:

    Great article that gives this beginner a great starting writing direction.

  • Margot says:

    I wondered if you do link outreach for your website? Most people say to stop with that now
    Do you participate in any forums

  • Ryan Lanz says:

    C. Hope’s’s post here is a great read. She’s right that it’s best to write for those who pay. You likely won’t get rich quick, but it’s possible to get “rich” (or at least a version of it) eventually.

    I recently posted an article about this that some might find helpful, titled “How to Make a Living as a Writer.”

  • Chidi Anslem says:

    Lovely post. I love your mantra “Keep 13 in Play.” Great tips for intending writers. I intent taking up writing career and I find these tips handy.

  • Kate says:

    you don’t need to post this, it is set your sights, rather than sites.thanks for your thoughts that help me explore this subject

  • Erica says:

    I love this idea! Thirteen seems like a high number, but the more I write and pitch, the more reasonable it seems. Thanks for the practical advice. I will definitely be adopting this mantra!

  • Harparamjot says:

    You have given me something to play around with.

  • What a great idea! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Amanda says:

    Just came over from your other article … I so appreciate your specific advice. People are always saying “just put yourself out there” or “keep feeding the mill,” but until now I’ve been very unclear on specific strategies for doing that. So much appreciated ~ thanks!

  • Patrick M says:

    I have never pitched a writing idea to a business in Kenya. I even wonder whether Kenyan business owners are interested in having stories published. They seem to be so busy advertising on the conventional markets to care about content marketing

    • Instead of wondering, Patrick, try pitching. All they can say is no. And all that advertising on conventional markets takes content writers. And there are lots of businesses NOT advertising on conventional markets that you are not seeing. Dig deeper.

  • Great article, I’m going to share! Thanks!

  • I love it! Great tips as always Hope. I love how you always live up to your name and give so freely. 🙂

    One question I have is, do you do anything to keep track of your submissions and if so what? I’ll also search the site in case you’ve answered this before. I use an Excel spreadsheet currently but I always forget to enter them. Thinking of looking for something web based maybe but don’t want to pay for it.

    • I simply use Excel, Charity. Three spreadsheets, actually. The first is chronological, the second is organized by article submitted, the third is organized by publisher/market/editor. That way I can stop myself from making a mistake in my submissions. I can tell who I’ve already submitted at story to, or see if I’m submitting to competing markets. Of course if you know someone with database experience, they can make you something to just input into and it formulates itself properly on a spreadsheet. I keep after my son to do that for me. He says it’s not hard, but then he’s a computer engineer.

  • Hi Hope, I always love your no-nonsense approach to things, and this article is no exception. Great read, and full of quality information. Thanks for the “nudge” to try and find more paying markets.

  • That is such a great idea, Hope! Thank you for passing on “Keep 13 in Play” to help so many of us who are truly struggling, even the part time writers like me. This article is sure to help us all.

  • Chamois says:

    I love, love, love the idea of keeping ’13 in play’. No matter how much I query, the question lingers about whether I’m sending enough. Thanks to your advice, I’m going to kick up my query and intro submissions.

  • Margaret Telsch-Williams says:

    Fantastic article. “Keep 13 in Play” is a lofty, yet amazing goal. Thanks!

  • Love this ’13 in play” challenge. Seriously thinking of implementing it. Thanks!

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