October 18th, 2008 by Bob Bly
No, according to Garry Trudeau, writer of the Doonesbury comic strip.
In Doonesbury, one of the characters is an older experienced journalist (I am not a regular reader, so I do not know his name).
He has been let go by his paper in a round of layoffs, and to make a living, he has turned to blogging.
When his son asks him how it’s going, the reporter replies:
“Okay, I guess. I’m piecing together a living. But only barely. It’s tough to leverage a byline in a media environment where anyone who can type gets a byline. I’m competing for eyeballs with millions of narcissists, almost none of whom expect to actually get paid.”
This reveals a rule of thumb for freelance writing success that has been in effect for decades: namely, it’s very difficult to make a good living as a professional writing something that millions of amateurs are more than willing to write for free.
This is why things like short stories, poems, and essays pay so poorly.
It’s also why copywriting pays so much better than most journalistic and literary endeavors.
Millions of Americans dream of writing the Great American Novel … but relatively few want to write the Great American Annual Report.
Therefore, novelists submitting novels on spec are a dime a dozen, while top annual report writers are in short supply and command high fees.
I know there are exceptions, so you don’t have to tell me about the rare blogger or screenwriter who made it big.
There’s an old saying: you can get rich in writing, but you can’t make a living.
Those that hit it big in hyper-competitive markets like screenwriting or blogging are few and far between (how many JK Rowlings are there)?
If you want to write for a living — and live well — writing for business customers is the surest road to a six-figure income, for the reasons stated above. (And yes, those business assignments can include corporate blogs.)
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