Writers and Money - Sometimes It's a Two Way Street

Artists and writers can be excitable and trigger happy when it comes to exposure and opportunities to get work out into the world and make a little money. In general, creative types don't command high salaries and every little help. So, competitions to win paid publication, or just to win a place in an anthology, are a tempting sight. Having someone accept your work makes you somehow Officially a Writer - and if there's a prize, or a direct payment for pub., then hey, you've realised the dream of making a (small) living from telling stories. That's all right, right?

Right. Well, right and wrong, of course.

[Edited: I should point out that this idea itself should be treated with suspicion. Validation does not make you a writer, and publication is entirely irrelevant to being an artist. If you write and consider yourself a writer, be proud of that. At the same time, I don't want to ignore the fact that there is very much a widespread idea that being accepted and distributed earns you your 'writing stripes'. To each their own - just don't let the glamour of pub. blind you to whether it's actually good for you.]

There's an old adage that money should always go towards the writer - but in the modern world of e-publishing and e-anthologies, is this so hard and fast anymore? Aren't there times when a writer can, quite validly, pay something - an entrance fee, for example - and still feel like everything's legit?

File:PSM V88 D106 Destruction process of old paper money.png
The Destruction of Old Money
I would argue yes - but with some strings attached.

The idea that money should always go towards the writer and never, ever away is a good thing, and a simple way of espousing the overall philosophy that writing is a profession you should be paid fairly for - while at the same time issuing a warning to new writers about vanity publishers and downright charlatans who will steal from you, knowing that being 'published' will blind many artists to the reality of what's happening.

Again, it's a Good Thing. New writers need warning, and sometimes people in general need to remember that fiction isn't always a hobby, and you can't expect freebies if you want quality and professionalism.

But then ... if you want to be a writer, you have to be willing to make some sacrifices and some investment. Money should go towards the doctors, too, but that doesn't mean they don't spent thousands of pounds getting their medical degrees. Money should go towards electricians, but they still spend their own money getting extra certifications and licences if it'll move them up a rung. Writers can't be too precious about this. The key word here is investment. So, actually, sometimes the money does need to go away from the writer.

Bye bye, money! For now.

Entrance fee to a competition? Pay it. What is it - £5? $15? You'd spent that on lunch without thinking. Don't be stingy and get suddenly protective because you've misunderstood the idea behind the writer / money flow. Overall - and especially from large and established publishers buying novels - yes, you should make money. But when you're building a future career, making contacts, getting your name out - no, it doesn't just happen with no costs at all. Network. Go to conferences. Spend yo' dosh on things you believe in.

You're essentially starting a business of one, self employed to write. Businesses have start up costs. Buy The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. Pay to enter stories. Even pay for editing if the company is legit and well known. (Don't pay agents, and don't pay publishers. These rules are hard and fast).

Now, I mentioned caveats above, and here they are. If you're paying a few quid/bucks/yen to enter a short story, you can reasonably expect clear and open communication about:

  • What winning will mean
  • Who's judging
  • What publication will look like - rights, formats, time-frame
  • When winners will be announced
  • Compensation - prize / complimentary copies / other

If this information isn't available, I'd be wary. If it is, and you think winning / being shortlisted / being published will boost your resume, your confidence, and your name as a writer - pay up.

So, there you go. Thoughts on money and how it sometimes does go both ways for writers. Agree? Disagree? Let me know. Let's keep the conversation going.


  1. Some things can be considered legitimate business expenses, just like paying for the computer you write on, paper, envelopes, stamps, conferences, etc., if it will help your career in the long run, then it's an investment. If you live in the U.S., even the IRS considers these deductible business expenses on your tax return.

    The best thing to remember is to know exactly what it is you're getting from your investment, and to research the source you're paying to be sure they're trustworthy.

    1. Very good point, Laura - thanks. I think I'm right in saying if you work from home and rent, even part of that can be deductible? Think this definitely belongs in the 'money going TO the writer' category!