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AWP Dispatch: The Prosperous Writer

money money money, writers like money

We’re still getting some writeups trickling in (so if you have some, it’s not too late) from the AWP conference last month. This one’s from one of our faves, Cheap Like Me’s Susanna Donato (who, btw, will teach a mini-blogging clinic at Lit Fest!):

“If I am completely honest, I attended my final AWP panel as a second choice. I had hoped to attend “Weirding It Up” next door, but 10 minutes before the session started, that panel’s audience of hip, stylish young people was spilling far into the hallway. Taking that as a sign, I went next door to The Prosperous Writer: Career Strategies for Staying Flush.

This is not to say I had low expectations; it’s just that I’ve made my living as a writer for more than 10 years and I was unsure what I would take from the session.

That uncertainly was correct, in a sense. In some ways, the panel was aimed at new or soon-to-be graduates or those just beginning to write and seeking a way to make any living as a writer.

I hoped the panelists would pass on a mystical phrase that I could use to begin making a fortune writing short stories and memoir in my spare time. They did not. Nevertheless, I did gain a lot from the panel.

The panelists agreed that it is possible to make a living — and even a decent one — by writing something. The panelists are experienced at this. They included:

  • Christina Katz, the moderator, who is the author of two nonfiction books, Writer Mama and Get Known Before the Book Deal. She teaches, coaches, blogs and tweets as TheWriterMama.
  • Jane Friedman, publisher and editorial director at Writer’s Digest, who tweets at JaneFriedman and blogs at There Are No Rules.
  • Ericka Lutz, who writes fiction and nonfiction. She writes the column “Red Diaper Dharma” at Literary Mama and teaches at UC Berkeley, among other things. Her Twitter handle is elutz.
  • Wendy Burt-Thomas, who has written The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters” and blogs at Ask Wendy-The Query Queen and tweets at WendyBurt. She teaches on breaking into freelance writing and is a full-time freelance writer and editor, and she’s practically local (Colorado Springs).

In case you’re wondering why I provided all those website addresses and Twitter handles — the panelists all agreed that something you MUST do is get a website. In fact, Jane Friedman ordered us to do so immediately upon leaving the panel, even if you begin by merely reserving the domain name (as easy to remember and logical as possible) via or another service. The panelists also advised getting on Twitter and staying involved in the conversation that happens there.

The panelists listed the ways they make money writing. These included articles, stories and poems, but also booklets, greeting cards, business writing, teaching, speaking, public relations materials, coaching writers, online education, e-books and more. Ericka Lutz said she teaches at UC Berkeley based on her publications, though she does not have a master’s degree. The point in explaining all the tasks they do, Lutz said, was that writers shouldn’t pigeonhole themselves into one type of work for money.

Friedman told writers to not be shy about asking anyone they know for help finding work. And she went against conventional wisdom, saying that sometimes it is OK to write for free if you are just getting started — especially if it’s for a market where you want to build visibility.

On the other hand, Wendy Burt-Thomas cautioned writers not to undercharge or devalue themselves — “be clear that you are running a business.” She suggested, when networking, to give some specific ideas of what you can do: “I would love to help businesses write websites and brochures, business cards or ads.” And she said not to buy into the lack mentality — there is plenty of business to go around.

Lutz encouraged writers to get a good tax accountant, and not to assume that your earnings will be the same year after year. (Boy is that true!)

And take advantage of resources — some of the resources these writers suggested include:

  • Other writers
  • Public speaking classes
  • The book “The Seven Laws of Money”
  • The book (published by Writers Digest) “102 Ways to Make Money Writing at 1,500 Words or Less”
  • LinkedIn
  • (to find new magazines as they launch — opportunities might be more open at new publications)
  • An accountability group to meet once a week and keep each other on task
  • Organizations specific to your writing genre
  • Sports psychology — if you lose once, get back in the game!

And I’m sure they would have added “Lighthouse” if only they knew.

–Susanna Donato 

4 comments on “AWP Dispatch: The Prosperous Writer

  1. Tamara
    May 3, 2010

    I was in attendance at the Weirding It Up panel, and while it was highly entertaining and a useful reminder of many things, it wasn’t – as I heard another attendee say – ‘groundbreaking.’ Thanks for sharing what you learned in this panel 🙂 I think everybody probably missed some good ones.

  2. Jane Friedman
    May 4, 2010

    A really wonderful recap of the panel – thank you so much!

    And next time, I’ll be sure to mention this blog as a resource. 🙂

  3. The Writer Mama
    May 4, 2010

    Very cool to see this recap of The Prosperous Writer Panel at AWP. Thanks so much for investing the time, Susanna. 🙂

  4. Wendy Burt-Thomas
    May 4, 2010

    Thank you for giving such a detailed recap to those who couldn’t make it. Your time is appreciated!

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This entry was posted on May 3, 2010 by in Delusions, The Write Idea.

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