A fellow writer and publisher forwarded an email to me this week, from The Society of Authors, about an event called Making a living as a poet. It occurred to me that one of the first things a poet wants to know before seriously pursuing a career in poetry is: can I pay the bills from my writing?
I think the answer to this depends on a few considerations. Let’s take a look at these below:
MAKING A LIVING
1. If you publish your poetry in magazines for token payments (£5 per publication, say) and supplement your craft by having a day job, does this count as ‘making a living’ as a poet?
2. If you publish a chapbook with a traditional publisher and you’re given 10 free books to sell at £5 a copy, and the £50 profits pays your electricity bill for 2 months, does this count as ‘making a living’ as a poet?
3. If you’re unemployed and you write poetry full time and publish it for free online or in print magazines, where it is widely read, while receiving job seekers payments, are you ‘making a living’ as a poet?
AS A POET
4. If you publish poems in magazines for free and teach creative writing workshops to others for, say, £300 a week, are you making a living ‘as a poet’?
5. If you don’t write poetry at all, but you run poetry competitions and charge a £10 entry fee, are you making a living ‘as a poet’?
The list could go on and on, but essentially what it all comes down to is this: what is your individual interpretation of making a living as a poet? I know a publisher and editor of a long running, established small press and recently found out the guy is on UK benefits for a long term illness. He also writes poetry himself. To me, he ‘makes a living as a poet’ not because of how much money he makes, but because he is first and foremost a poet who is widely read.
How do I define myself? Essentially I am a poet and writer who currently makes some money from my published poetry collections, and has a day job that involves running creative writing workshops for teenagers. Is that making a living as a poet? I’d say yes, but it’s open to interpretation.
It is indeed a subjective matter Leilanie and relative to one’s own perspective. I think the most important take from all of this is to write first and foremost for the love of writing, regardless of the genre. If income is derived from writing that is a wonderful bonus but don’t bet the farm on it and be prepared for a lot of hands on work to stimulate sales.
Especially since the early days of the Internet, we have seen a huge increase in the number of aspiring authors and poets publishing online today. The user base on Amazon alone for publishing purposes is staggering…millions in fact. That means an enormous amount of ‘competition’ as countless fellow authors, poets and writers vie for high ranking sales, rave reviews and a chance, however remote, to join the ranks of bestsellers.
My best advice as an experienced writer/author/poet is to hone your craft as much as possible and remain focused on your content quality at all times. We need to stand out from the masses, not only in terms of quality but a distinctly unique product. If we all copy each others work, shameful and erroneous at that, how can we ever expect to be remembered as an exceptional writer? And remember, quality over quantity! Far too many ‘poets’ in this day are churning out a multiple of poetry writes in a single day and much of it reads back like processed cheese that leaves a bad taste.
I strive to engage my readers, invoke emotional response and sharing of my work and to help new and aspiring writers to understand the mechanics of not only writing but also the essentials of editing and proofreading, developing one’s own distinctive writing style and writing in a highly memorable and relatable way. If your reading audience cannot relate and feel something deeply personal, chances are you lost them part way through the first read.
Make it all about the reader and a powerful and lasting connection is made. Thank you as always for your insights Leilanie. I am always inspired by your determination to engage an audience. You make a point of making yourself available in a public way on and offline and that definitely makes a difference. Good for you running those workshops to inspire our aspiring youth! They will treasure the art and love of writing a lifetime long!
Thanks for sharing your professional advice with everyone, Don. I think what spurs new writers on, most of all, is inspiration from established writers such as yourself. Much appreciated advice!
You’re most welcome Leilanie. We share a love of writing, creative inspired works that we hope in turn will inspire others to love the passion of writing. We know what it has meant to us for so long…I want to share with others best practices and hopefully save them time and frustration in the process. As I explore the language and its incredible flexibility I discover every day just how diverse our language is…a powerful tool for writing exceptional works that hopefully others will love! My best writing pals are the online dictionary and thesaurus!
Warmest regards Leilanie.