How I Found My Dream Writing Job—and Paid the Bills

BY HANNAH GUY • November 17, 2022

How I Found My Dream Writing Job—and Paid the Bills

There was a time when I wondered how anyone made a living by writing.

Mind you, this was after years—years—of barely making my ridiculously low rent and living off thirty dollars a week. (I am sorry to say that this was in the last decade.) Creative writing wasn’t working, my freelance work was sporadic at best, and I just couldn’t seem to make anything click into place.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t a good writer. It wasn’t that I didn’t work hard. It was that somewhere along the line, I believed the lie that if you work hard and prove yourself, people will recognize your efforts and ensure you get opportunities.

The truth is less black and white. Like any kind of success, you need to work hard to find the perfect opportunities. But you also need the right (or write) connections, a bit of audacity, and a little luck. Even then, you still have to protect yourself from people who are just as hungry, just as skilled, and sometimes (rarely) unscrupulous.

It’s a wild, unfair world out there, and a lot of people are playing dirty, gaming the system, and using every weapon they can to get the job, sell the product, and ensure they (and not you) are bringing home the bacon. The worst part of this is that it happens in the writing community, too.

While many writers and authors are on your side, sharing lovely words of encouragement or introducing you to their friend who might have a publishing opportunity, there are also folks out there looking to make a little extra money and create a little more room for their success, happily hip-checking you out of the way in order to grab those sweet greenbacks for themselves. It can be a writer-eat-writer world out there. And if, like me, you are someone with a strong sense of fairness, it sometimes feels like maybe the deck is stacked against you.

It gets exhausting, and it definitely gets frustrating. Invariably, you are reminded of the big bestselling success stories of people who manage to write the right book at the right time and get it in the hands of the right people. You see the authors slogging away until they finally get that breakaway hit or incredible critical review that boosts their sales. And you celebrate for them. But you also see those people who have someone else funding their writing or MFA. Those who have personal relationships with folks in publishing, or are mentored by someone who knows how to turn a charming, clever little book into a big hit.

So sometimes we get desperate and we wonder what we’re doing wrong. We look outside of ourselves for solutions. We think, Maybe someone else has found the key. After all, whenever you peruse the wild of the internet, invariably you get a few targeted ads shoved in your face: “Let AI Write Your Blogs for You,” “Make Six Figures with This Great Writing Trick,” and “Buy This Guide to Get Rich by Writing.”

How did they do it? we ask ourselves. What’s the magic trick?

Here’s the terrible, mean, no-good truth: sometimes there is no magic trick. Sure, AI can write blog posts for you, but if you’re being paid for that blog, that’s your reputation and income on the line. Those “get rich quick” writing schemes are usually people selling their book about how to make money . . . and lo and behold, that trick is usually writing a book about making lots of money writing.

I know some folks managed to get their dream writing job right out of the gate, and that’s fantastic. But for everyone who got lucky, there are far more (like me) who weren’t.

The actual trick to success? Perseverance. Not a few weeks or a few months, but a few years. Sometimes longer.

When you’re just starting out, explore as many opportunities as you can—not the ones that seem cool, or that you think will get you where you want to go, but the ones that spark a genuine interest. Something that makes you think, Huh, that sounds like it might be kinda fun.

On a whim, over two decades ago, I answered an online ad from a well-known romance publisher. It sounded both ridiculous and fascinating, and best of all, they paid me to not only read but to write about what I was reading. And it turned out that I actually had a gift for writing book jacket copy. I wasn’t great, but I had potential. More importantly, I was willing to learn. That willingness to pick up new skills, to ask for criticism and accept it, and to adapt to changing needs and listen to what people needed and wanted played a significant part in making me not only a better writer but a better professional.

Over the years, that romance copy became my regular side hustle while I pursued new opportunities and explored other kinds of freelancing. I became something of a jack-of-all-trades, only for writing. That fun little side job started to teach me how to change my voice and writing style depending on what I was doing. And somewhere along the way, people I had worked with started referring me to other publishers, or reaching out with new writing opportunities.

I wasn’t making a ton of money, but suddenly work was coming to me. I was gaining a reputation for turning in good copy on time and being a reasonably decent (and occasionally hilarious) human being to work with. When people I had worked with left their jobs and moved to other companies, they occasionally brought me along with them. Sometimes they referred me to someone they knew. Referrals, I’ve learned, are one of the most powerful tools in creating opportunity. Not everything turns into regular work, but you keep learning new things and meeting people. And that little side hustle was now paying my rent and occasionally paying for my groceries, too.

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to work with an upstart independent romance publisher. It was an incredible opportunity, and it paid—well, what I asked, but I hadn’t yet learned all the lessons I needed to learn. My writing was great, sure, but I hadn’t yet realized that it was possible to do too much.

At one point, I was writing copy for forty books a month, sometimes more. I was keeping up, but my energy reserves were starting to drain, and the more tired I got, the harder it was to work. Which in turn meant spending more time on each book and having even less recovery time. After a year I was depleted, and pneumonia set in. And that was the end of that.

Or so I thought.

Just over a year ago, that same upstart company reached out to me about a more permanent position. By this time, I had fully found my feet in my niche and was working regularly with several publishers (along with this excellent blog). I had a solid reputation, and they were looking to expand. This time, it fit. I knew what I could offer and what I was worth. I also knew that I couldn’t afford to burn myself out again.

I am now making a comfortable living. I finally have savings. I have found the perfect mix of freelance clients and semipermanent contract work. More importantly, I am doing what I love. Every day when I sit down and write, I feel a moment of gratitude and thankfulness. The journey was hard, but I got here.

I still make mistakes. I have yet to create a proper website or newsletter, or any kind of sales funnel, and I am the worst at promoting my work. I don’t trust myself to try writing another book after my former agent broke me.

But I don’t quit. I keep learning. I pursue the work that I enjoy. And somehow, I’ve finally found a way to make a decent living at it—and that’s pretty spectacular.

Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.

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