You’re Not the Boss of Me!  Questions Authors Ask about What to Write and Whether to Get Paid

I never realized before I became a writer just how much I like being told what to do. There is safety in knowing what’s expected—and freedom to blame your boss if something doesn’t work out.

Who can I blame now that I’m self-employed?

This is in real time, folks—an internal struggle I am actually engaged in as we speak.  You see, now that I am my own boss, I make all the decisions: when to write, how much to write, and what to write.

Mostly, I love this.  But, as with any endeavor, pressing in deeper reveals how little we know.

As of this very moment, I have the following projects:

  • 1 short story, pending acceptance from a publisher
  • 1 YA novel, in process (almost done with first draft!)
  • 1 book editing project for a paying customer, in process
  • 1 blog post, which I am of course writing at this very second
  • 3 poems that need to be submitted
  • 5 LOIs that need to be written and mailed to publications (Letters of Introduction basically say, “Hey, I’m a great writer! If you have any articles that need to be written, please let me know!”)
  • 6 queries (offers to write specific articles), pending
  • 7 essays that need to be submitted
  • 16 poems, pending
  • 22 essays, pending
  • Plus, countless ideas or rough drafts in all genres, just waiting for me to get to

In my internal dialogue (more like a scrum, actually), one of my current questions is: What should take priority?  Really, if I want to get my YA novel done, I should just work on that.  However, if I want to get paid anytime in the next two or three years (yes, that really is how long it takes with a first novel, best case scenario), I need to be marketing shorter pieces.  And, the more pieces out there, the more likely I am to get published—it’s simple statistics.

I don’t have an answer to this question, and unfortunately, this question has an equally troubling sister: Is it time to get paid?

This is a question most serious writers will ask at some point.  You see, a new writer starts off on a teeter-totter, standing on the end labeled Writes for Free.  I’ve been doing mostly that for the last seven months.  I am starting to wonder, Do I have enough publishing credits to be taken seriously by paying markets?  In other words, have I crept far enough along on the teeter totter that it is starting to tip the other direction, toward being not just a writer by profession, but by paycheck?

I don’t know the answer to this.  For the most part, it’s easier to get published in non-paying publications.  But, of course, publication in and of itself doesn’t put food on the table.

Some authors, notably Renegade Writer’s Linda Formichelli (“On Writing for Peanuts“) and Funds for Writers’ Hope Clark (“Writing for Literary Magazines“), consistently counsel writers to demand payment—not by being pesky to editors, but by refusing to submit to non-paying markets.  But new writers often feel the need to build clips (previously published pieces) or credibility by spending some time on the Free side of the spectrum.

I have some thinking to do, and maybe you do, too.  If you’re a writer who has already made the switch to the Will Work for Food side, I would love to hear how you knew it was the right time, and how it’s working out for you.

I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, it’s back into the melee for me!



photo credit: By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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