Sunday, June 16, 2013

How low can you set the professional writer bar?

[File this under "I will never be considered a real writer by some people." and "Congrats! You still breathing--here is your ribbon."]

A couple of days ago, one of my online writing friends (who lives within fifty miles of me, but we have never actually met) mentioned the fact that she was appalled by how low an organization set the bar for being able to claim that you were a successful, professional indie (self-published) writer. For those who are curious, they set the bar at $250 lifetime earnings and at least one novel length work. Yes, $250 lifetime earnings, and a book with fifty thousand words.

I draw much the same conclusion that my friend did--I guess that anyone can call themselves a successful indie writer nowdays. And this is despite the fact that my bar for calling someone a successful professional writer is much lower than hers.

Now to understand my viewpoint, you need to remember two things. One, I have people in my life who would never consider me a successful writer, even if I was making fifty thousand a year as a writer...mainly because I do not write literature (in certain circles, hacks are never allowed to claim to be anything better than a hack, no matter how much money you make doing it). Two, I worked food service for twenty years, never making more than ten dollars an hour (the circle of people that insist that I am just a hack think that I should go back to flipping burgers and give up writing...because I will never write anything great or meaningful...see if you can spot my attitude problem about why I think that they are wrong). Therefore, I realize that I will never be a "real writer" or a "real journalist" or "a human being worthy of respect." But I also realize that sometimes hard work produces next to no money at all.

To clarify, I tend to use the following definitions:

Writer: You spend your time stringing sentences together to make some form of sense.

Professional: Someone actually gave you a damn check to do some work.

Self-Employed: You actually had to pay self-employment taxes last year, and you have to do again this year.

Working: You spend at least ten hours a week writing (or attempting to write) stuff that you earn income from.

Successful: You make at least as much writing per hour as you would flipping burgers for a living.

Self-supporting: You pay your bills solely though your writing.

Legacy/Traditional: You work with a publisher other than your family; Indie: You self-publish; Hybrid: You do both traditional and indie writing work. Technical and/or Ghost: You write for some company, and no one ever sees your name on the work. Journalist: You report and/or comment about the news.

By these definitions, I am a professional, self-employed working successful hybrid writer. I am still working on the self-supporting part. And I have been a technical and/or ghost writer, as well as a journalist. Again, it is the self-supporting part that is my lack and current problem.

In my case, I have been paid by magazines, a greeting card company, a student newspaper, a couple of businesses, for stuff that ended up in print. I have also been paid by several internet sites, including paid by the article and/or paid by the view sites. And then, there are my ebooks. By "Olympic" standards, I am a professional. And I became a professional in 1985, and was one during my entire burger-flipping career (aka I have "paid my dues").

The hourly range for what I have earned as a writer ranges from zero to thirty-two dollars plus an hour (the plus is because I am still collecting income from some projects in monthly and/or quarterly royalties or pay views). The stuff that I have earned zero dollars from are things that I wrote for free in the first place. Unlike some writers, I did not start my writing career writing stuff for a mere byline--my first submissions were for potential pay--and all my free work was done later because I believed in the causes that I was writing for (such as the Hearthstone newsletters and the recent Golden Dawn book).

Yes, I paid self-employment last year; I have to pay it this year; and I am projected to have to pay it every future year unless the internet and ebook outlets completely melt down and dry up.

As for the $250 threshold that the organization set up, well I qualify as soon as I hack out a novel length work. Why? Because last quarter, I made that much with just two of my short stories.

But that just means that I am a professional hack, doesn't it? So I get a ribbon for still breathing, but absolutely no respect for being able to write a well-crafted sentence. And that is the story of my life.