If there’s anything I’ve learned in 15 years of writing, it’s that not all writing money is earned equally. There are such things as good writing money, and bad writing money. Here’s an idea of what they mean to me, and a guide to lessons I’ve learned, and how I’ll think about making money as a writer. I wrote this mainly for me, and decided to publish it in case anyone finds it useful:
Good writing money comes as a writer makes more money with each idea they have; this may appear as writing rates going up, but it also could mean that the writer is invited to paid speaking opportunities, to teach workshops, or to create courses. Bad writing money is found in terms of volume, as a writer tries to make a ton of work that makes very little money.
Good writing money is a result of a writer figuring out their own product and price, and selling it directly to other people. The writer is free to make their own bundle. This means that wherever the writer is, they can talk to every single one of their customers directly; they get permission from their readers to reach out to them via phone or email, and they securely own the data inside a spreadsheet or database. Bad writing money is a result of a writer working inside someone else’s product and price (i.e., bundle), like writing for a media company or at a platform. A gatekeeper, like an editor or an algorithm, can cut the writer off from their readers at any point.
Good writing money is paid in perpetuity, and is predictable and forcastable. It can be directly improved through marketing. It should fluctuate less and less as the writer gets better at forecasting. Advances, short-term payouts, limited term guarantees, and a minimum volume quota should only be byproducts of good writing money. Bad writing is paid in one lump sum, often turning milestones into final destinations.
Good writing money appreciates, usually very slowly (but sometimes very quickly!), often commanding its value when the skill of writing is combined with another form of literacy; this could mean technical literacy, cultural literacy, or some other form of reading the world in a specialized way. Bad writing money requires constantly jumping from trend to trend, without ever developing a core literacy or expertise.
Good writing money is usually easy to explain to anyone. Bad writing money is usually difficult to explain to everyone.
Good writing money is abundant, because every person is different. Bad writing money is scarce, because every person who buys into it is chasing a diminishing pool of funds.
Good writing money starts a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, one that produces additional earning opportunities in addition to validation and positive feedback. Bad writing money starts a negative self-fulfilling prophecy, one that is filled with bleak business opportunities that don’t lead to a financial outcome the writer wants or needs.
Good writing money provides the writer with more energy. Bad writing money drains the writer’s energy.
Good writing money makes the writer feel excited to write and earn more. Bad writing money makes the writer dread writing and earning more.
Good writing money is defined by the writer. Bad writing money is defined by the market.
Good writing money feels low pressure and comforting, enabling the writer to put the writing first. Bad writing money feels high pressure and stressful, forcing the writer to apply their skills and craft to something that they know they’re better than.