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6 Ways to Earn a Living as a Writer

Do you have a way with words? Is it easy for you to express yourself in writing? Are you a reader who enjoys how words and sentences are structured to communicate ideas? Perhaps you are the sort of student who excels at crafting essays and compositions. If writing is one of your strengths, you may want to consider a career involving those talents.

There are numerous ways to earn a living as a writer. You can go it alone, as an author or freelance writer. Or, you can work for one of the many businesses and organizations that need people who know how to use words effectively.

Becoming a Writer

If you like to read novels, poetry, nonfiction books, articles on websites, and other materials, you are already a student of writing. Being a prolific reader may be the best kind of training. By studying the works of others, you can see how words are used and ideas are organized. You can appreciate how writers create images in readers’ minds through their clever use of the language. You also will learn how writing styles vary among journalists, authors, advertising copywriters, and others.

Some people are able to get writing jobs, or work as freelancers, without having obtained formal education. However, it is common for employers to require at least a bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism, or English. Graduates of other degree programs also may qualify, and specialize in writing about the subjects with which they are familiar.

Self-Employment

More than two-thirds of those who make a living as writers work for themselves. The most glamorous type of self-employment is becoming a published author of books. Penning the “great American novel” is a dream and goal of many writers. However, this is often the culmination, rather than the start, of a writing career. Most people need to obtain significant life experience, as well as training and education in the field, to become published authors.

You can also work independently as a freelance writer. Articles and other content are needed for websites. Print newspapers and magazines pay privately employed writers by the word or piece. This work enables writers to find jobs involving subjects with which they have expertise. Writers sometimes specialize in certain areas of interest.

News Media

One of the best ways to gain experience as a writer is to submit stories to local newspapers. These publications often need someone to cover community events or rewrite news releases. You may be able to get a summer job or part-time position.

Newspapers employ full-time and part-time reporters to cover a wide range of news topics. Writers at larger papers specialize in local government, education, sports, and other fields. While some people with only high school diplomas get reporting jobs, a journalism degree is frequently required.

The highest-paid positions in a newsroom are those of editors. To become an editor, you will probably need at least a bachelor’s degree in journalism, as well as years of experience as a reporter. Copy editors are advanced proofreaders who not only correct spelling and grammar, but also make suggestions regarding writing structure and style. Large newspapers have editors in chief, who supervise city editors, news-wire editors, assignment editors, sports editors, and others.

Television and radio stations, as well as online news media, also employ reporters and editors. Like newspapers, they need professionals who are adept at writing advertising copy, as well.

Other Publishers

Books, magazines, and websites offer jobs for writers who have proven ability as editors. Copy submitted by writers needs to be proofread, corrected, and sent back for revisions. Other positions in publishing include assistant and associate editors, copywriters, dictionary editors, editorial assistants, promotional assistants, and researchers.

Nonprofit organizations produce magazines, newsletters, news releases, and public-information documents. Large groups’ national headquarters employ teams of writers and editors.

Corporations

Large businesses need a variety of written materials, internally and for public consumption. They hire writers to create trade magazines, employee manuals, newsletters, news releases, reports, and speeches. Jobs are found in communications, publications, and public relations.

Technical writers are specialists who produce instruction manuals, software documents, and other detailed materials. Advertising departments hire marketing specialists to write promotional copy. Other corporate writing jobs involve greeting cards, scripts for television shows and commercials, and advertising slogans and songs.

Government

Local, state, and federal government entities churn out legislation, reports, and other documents on a regular basis. Government positions also include speech writers, press secretaries, and technical writers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, writing jobs employed 129,100 people nationwide in 2012. Their median salary was $55,940 per year, or $26.89 per hour. The pay varies widely, depending upon the type of writing and the employer.

The BLS predicted that the rate of job growth for writers would be just 3 percent (3,800 additional positions) between 2012 and 2022, much less than that of the average occupation. Some types of employment, like print newspapers, are declining. On the other hand, the number of writers needed online is growing. New sites, which require articles and other content, are being created all the time.

If writing is what you do best, there is a multitude of possible careers to explore. Find one that involves subject matter with which you are interested and knowledgeable. Get some experience and education, and read the works of other writers. With persistence, you will be able to find a way to put your writing talents to work.

Newspapers Still Offer Many Careers

A variety of professionals is needed to produce a print newspaper. Careers in the field involve writing and editing, financial operations, administration, sales, marketing, graphic arts, circulation, and production.

The decline of the newspaper industry in recent years has been well chronicled. The number of jobs is down considerably from the days when most people got their news from the daily paper. However, it remains a huge industry. Newspapers are publishing online editions, which enhances future employment prospects. Here is an overview of career options provided by newspapers.

Publisher
The top job is that of the publisher, who supervises all departments (news, advertising, circulation, production, and the business office). This career often requires a graduate degree and significant experience. Publishers do not always have backgrounds in news reporting, but they generally hold business degrees.

Editor
The news department is led by the editor (formerly called editor-in-chief), who reports to the publisher. The editor determines the stories to be covered, assigns reporters and photographers, and edits stories. The hiring and firing of newsroom employees is also part of the job description.

With the publisher’s approval, the editor makes policy decisions regarding reporting, writing style, format and page layout, and employees’ duties. Editors usually have the final word in deciding the positions that papers take on their editorial pages, though publishers and owners sometimes get involved.

Other Editors
A large daily paper may have a dozen or more lower-ranking editors. Those called copy editors are proofreaders who ensure that stories contain correct spelling and grammar. They are also fact checkers and newswriting-style experts, who ensure that reporters’ copy complies with rules set forth in books like “The Associated Press Stylebook” and the “Chicago Manual of Style.” The guidelines cover punctuation, capitalization, word usage, sentence structure, and other matters.

An assignment editor decides which reporter should do a story. This person schedules everyone in the newsroom, making sure stories requested by the editor get done on time. Staffers heading city, state, and national news desks are among the other types of editors. There are also editors who specialize in sports, editorials, business, lifestyle, and other news sections.

A small daily or weekly may not offer any of these positions. Some of them employ only an editor, copy editor, and sports editor. Though experience and proven ability may suffice, a journalism degree is typically required to be an editor. English majors also may qualify.

Reporter
The people who research and gather information, interview people, go to public meetings, and write newspaper stories are reporters. General-assignment reporters must familiarize themselves with a wide array of subject matter. Beat reporters are assigned to certain kinds of news, like the courts or the schools. Reporters may specialize in covering sports, law enforcement, business, and other types of news.

It is possible to get a reporting job at a small paper with no education or experience. Just being a decent writer, willing to work for low wages, might be enough. However, a degree in journalism or English is usually preferred. Applicants are asked to provide samples of their writing.

Photographer
Some beginning photographers (like writers) see newspapers as an entry-level opportunity; a way to hone their skills and get their work published. Photographers frequently accompany reporters to news scenes, to take pictures that complement the stories. They shoot everything from artistic nature scenes to buzzer-beating basketball shots.

Newspaper photographers may operate on a general-assignment or specialty basis. They are responsible for obtaining some information (like the correct spelling of the names of people in a picture), and may be asked to write captions (called cutlines). Proven ability and experience are more helpful than a college degree in getting the job.

Page Layout
A staffer who writes headlines, and determines the arrangement of stories and photos on a page, is called a layout editor, page designer, or compositor. The editor provides direction as to which news should have the most prominent placement. For instance, the top stories go “above the fold” on Page 1.

Modern newspaper layout is done on a computer screen, using a program like Pagemaker or InDesign. Advertisements are placed on a page first. The percentage of space remaining for news content is called the news hole. At small papers, the editor or copy editor may be responsible for page layout. Educational requirements vary.

Advertising
A newspaper could not exist without advertising, the major source of income for print papers in the United States. (In some countries, subscriptions bring in more money than the ads.) A big paper’s advertising department includes a manager, clerk-receptionists, sales agents, and graphic artists. Business majors, like administration and marketing, are appropriate for these careers.

Circulation
Newspaper businesses, unlike online news operations, must manually deliver a tangible product. Circulation managers conduct promotional campaigns to increase the number of subscribers. They supervise carriers, ensure that newstands and dispensing machines are stocked, and see that subscribers receive their papers.

This position requires multiple skills, such as employee management, marketing, and public relations. Degrees in related fields may improve the odds of employment, especially at large dailies.

Production
A newspaper’s pressroom, where the product is printed, employs several types of workers. Someone has to be in charge of the operation, of course. This person supervises staffers, oversees equipment maintenance, orders supplies, and meets production deadlines.

Others run the printing press, monitoring ink levels and other settings; and bundle newspapers for the carriers. These are considered manual-labor jobs that do not require post-secondary education, though an experienced pressman is highly valued because of the expertise required.

Business Office Staff
Bookkeepers, accountants, payroll managers, clerks, receptionists, human-resources staff, and cashiers are among the employees that may be found in a newspaper’s business office. Other clerical staffers are needed to pay bills, issue invoices, and file reports. Employers prefer applicants with business-related education and retail-sales experience.

Information-technology jobs also are available. A large paper may have a business-systems manager, desktop-systems analyst and specialist, networks-operations expert, networking systems analyst, other tech-support staff.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the number of jobs available for reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts will decline by 7,200 (13 percent) between 2012 and 2022. Other newspaper employees also are seeing dwindling opportunities, as advertising continues to shift away from print publications.

The good news for those interested in newspaper careers is that jobs are still provided in nearly every community. The industry is down, but not out. As Mark Twain said, “The reports of (its) death have been greatly exaggerated.”

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