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Thursday, October 09, 2008

How Can Writers Survive the Credit Crunch?

The world seems to be in a topsy-turvy state right now, with banks folding left, right and centre, or else being propped up uncomfortably by national governments.

The knock-on effects of the 'credit crunch' are hard to predict, but one thing that's certain is that sadly a lot more jobs are going to be lost in the coming months.

I'm no economist, but I'd like to offer my 2c worth here on how writers can best survive and even prosper in these tough times. In particular, I'd like to offer two pieces of practical advice...

The first is to diversify. In times of recession (which is where the world seems to be headed right now) no business is safe. And in the publishing world, many are already feeling the pinch as people cut back on 'luxuries' such as books.

So it must make sense to have a variety of sources of income. If books are your main writing interest, then, consider trying your hand at articles and short stories as well. Conversely, if you're mainly an article writer, why not look at other options as well, e.g. writing an e-book and selling it on the Internet?

In my view, every writer should have a broad portfolio of projects. This might, for example, include books, articles, short stories, Internet writing, comedy writing, TV scriptwriting, advertising copywriting, and so on. That way, if a particular market vanishes or a regular client goes to the wall, you still have plenty of other irons in the fire.

And, of course, there is no reason why you can't have some non-writing-related sidelines as well. When I started out as a full-time freelance writer, many moons ago, I also sold copyright-free artwork packs by mail order. That business eventually died as electronic clip-art became the norm, but in my early days I was very grateful for the extra income it provided. Nowadays, the Internet offers lots of potential sideline-earning opportunities - check out my Pseudotube site and my Squidoo Lens which explains about it, for example.

Moving on, my second piece of advice is to invest in the best and safest place you possibly can: yourself!

In uncertain times, you need to build up your palette of skills, to increase your employability (if you're seeking a job) or offer a wider range of services (if you work for yourself). Learning new skills can also provide a means for earning extra cash in its own right.

So it's important to invest some time - and, yes, money as well - in developing your skills. A writer seeking to diversify might want to build (or improve) their skills in other areas of writing, such as comedy writing, self-publishing, TV or movie scriptwriting, copywriting, travel writing, and so on. If you're interested in any of these, by the way, you could do a lot worse than check out WCCL's WriteStreet website.

It's also worth developing skills in related areas, e.g. HTML and website design. These days I do a lot of work writing content for company websites. While I'm never going to be an expert web designer, I know enough HTML to insert formatting codes, check hyperlinks, and so on. Allying this with my writing skills has helped to generate a lot of extra work for me. There are courses you can take at many local colleges, or by distance learning, or online. One free resource for learning HTML I highly recommend is PageTutor.

But whatever method you choose, the returns from investing in yourself can be far greater than any stock market investment, and with far less risk. I think that the twin methods of diversifying and investing in yourself should be at the heart of every writer's strategy for surviving the current economic crisis.

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Blogger Nick said...

If this article looks a little familiar to you, I should perhaps explain that it's a longer version of an editorial I wrote recently for my E-Writer newsletter. I thought it was worth expanding on this important topic here for a wider readership.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

I did things the other way around, but the outcome is the same. The credit crunch is biting and I considered going back to work. I actually got a job in the 'real world' and was going to give up writing, but the bug has bitten me too hard.

At the last minute I took a gamble, turned the job down and re-evaluated my writing. I had been writing website content (with HTML) and other company documents to pay the bills. As I was evaluating I realised the main reason I had been looking for work outside writing was tat I had become disillusioned with my work.

I got into writing to write books. I know I have to do other writing work to pay the bils, but somewhere along the line I had allowed that to take over and my own writing had died. Time to change things around.

I took the biggest gamble of my life, and while I'm still waiting to see if it paid off, things are looking promising. I resigned from a couple of regular paying jobs and started to approach publishers again.

Within a week I have had requests for three proposals from large publishers. Now, while I appreciate that they can still be rejected and nothing is certain, I am happy in my writing again. The good thing about writing books is that while the credit crunch is biting hard, they won't be publised unti AFTER the recession is over - this is becuase the average lead time to publication is 18 months.

I do agree writer's need to diversify in order to pay the bills, but sometimes going bac to your roots is a good place to find some gold that got hidden under all the rejection slips.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologise for the spelling in my last post, but I did it on my laptop and the keys are sticking! Time to upgrade, I think...

11:28 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Many thanks for sharing your experiences, Suzie.

I absolutely agree with you that maintaining your enthusiasm for writing is crucial. Personally I do some writing work that isn't very well paid, but I get a kick out of doing. That helps keep me going when a less exciting (but probably better paid) job comes along. I see this as a crucial aspect of my freelancing. If I ever get to the point where my only criterion for accepting a job is how much it pays, I might as well pack it in and become something sensible like an accountant!

Good luck with the book proposals.


11:31 AM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Hi Nick - I think you make some excellent points and I agree totally about the diversifying thing - but I seriously question how much money people can make out of some types of writing anyway - if writing is a passion or a hobby alongside another job, then that's great to pursue but I personally think it's a mistake to think it's ever going to be a massive moneyspinner unless the writer is prepared to do the 'bread and butter' stuff such as that mentioned by Suzie.

Perhaps I am mistaken but I sometimes get the impression that people think they can merrily pitch away to their chosen or favourite editors and this will make them rich, or even 'just' build a career. But it's not like that is it? Even less so these days as markets shrink and writers find themselves in more competition.

I personally feel that writers are in a very privileged position as their skills are transferable or may be in demand in areas they haven't thought of yet.

The same can't be said for people who have slogged in other trades or professions and now find themselves redundant.

All the best - I hope you are doing okay, would be lovely to catch up again sometime.


12:18 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Linda - always good to hear from you!

Someone once said that it's possible to make a fortune as a writer, but very hard to make a living. I don't entirely agree with that, but I do think that if you're going to try to earn your livelihood from writing, unless you're lucky or supremely talented, you do need to write for the market. And much of the time, this will not correspond with what you would ideally choose to be writing yourself. I have the deepest respect for people who do jobs they hate in order to finance (say) their novel-writing ambition. I couldn't do it myself.

But yes, it's true that writing is a transferable skill, and one that will (IMO) always remain in demand. I think that to be fully marketable it needs to be allied with certain other personal qualities, e.g. reliability, ability to meet deadlines, and so on, but that's another story!

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Essay said...

I totally agree with your post and it's nice to know that you have the ability to bring out the best in every writer. I am a novice writer and to be honest, I am indeed having a hard time catching things up on work and in the industry I am currently at. It seems that the economic crisis is eating up even the hopes within us. But I;ve learn to invest in what I have-my skills. And I am back to show the whole world that the problems we are facing right now may be tough-but I am tougher. I have experimented my skills by trying all sorts of writing- essay (which is my forte), poem, scripts and even songs. And now, I am proud to say that I am a survivor, and will be always be that way.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for your comments, Essay. It's good to hear you're staying positive. These are undoubtedly tough times, but such times bring opportunities as well as threats. I wish you every success in achieving your ambitions.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Yokel (TKS) said...

Excellent advice, Nick. In the end, it's still about what we do, and not what They do. Writers are especially lucky to be able to diversify and to take creative approaches to solving the dilemma of paying the bills. We have lots of experience trying to balance our ledgers, after all! Just another day at the races.

Tamara Kaye Sellman || Writer's Rainbow

The creative writer's guide to mucking through the apocalypse

4:25 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Tamara. I read your recent blog article on this topic too - very thought-provoking. I left a comment, as you'll know.

I find this a worrying time - I've already had one client tell me I will 'need to be patient' about an overdue invoice - but also a challenging and even exciting one. I guess the crisis is a wake-up call for all of us to take stock of our lives, rather than simply trundling along in the same old rut. I've definitely decided to make a few changes (e.g. diversifying), anyway.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Deborah said...

I avoid worrying over 'overdue invoices' by charging in advance. I have also made creative deals that I would not usually make. People advertise for me, carry my links, plea for donations for my non-profit charity (, and sign a contract to give me a percentage of their future sales.> Admittedly, I can't accept much work like that, but it's a win-win proposition when things are tight all around.

4:59 AM  

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