Welcome to our new series for 2012, Making a Living: One Writer’s Story, which we hope will give you ideas on how you can make a living as a writer if your writing alone isn’t paying all the bills.
Today’s guest is Meredith Efken.
First, can you tell us a bit about what you write and your publishing history?
Sure! I’m in the middle of a transition with my writing. My first three novels were comedies about mothers. My fourth novel, LUCKY BABY, is a magical realism/women’s fiction story about a couple who adopt a child from China. Moving forward, I’m planning to continue with the magical realism as well as try some full-on fantasy and even some steampunk!
What writing-related work do you do to earn money, besides writing books, short stories, etc.?
I am a freelance fiction editor, both for individual writers as well as for publishing houses.
What prompted you to find a writing-related revenue stream aside from your novels?
Book advances and royalties only come 1-2 times a year (if at all!). I needed something that would provide the opportunity for a more consistent income. Additionally, as a mid-list author, my writing income tends to be pretty limited. The editing helps supplement it, especially when there is a gap in my publishing, such as now.
How did you break into this field?
I started critiquing for some of my friends who are published authors before I was even published myself. They saw a talent for editing that I didn’t know I had, and they encouraged me to do it professionally. Through a lot of critiquing and a lot of learning about writing, I improved my skills and officially opened for business in 2006.
Do you have any advice for other writers who want to stay in the writing world, but aren’t currently making enough to pay their bills through their writing alone?
I think most writers are in that position, really. Few of us do well enough to make writing our day jobs, even though we’d prefer that. But the pressure of trying to write fast enough or put out enough books to make ends meet can really damage a writer’s creative energy–at least I found that to be true for me. My advice would be to only write what you can write WELL–maintaining the quality of the story, maintaining your mental health. If that doesn’t provide enough income, then supplement with other streams of income. It’s better to do that than ruin your health and your creativity by putting too much pressure on your writing to meet your financial needs.
What do you enjoy about this second business?
Editing helps me improve my own writing because I have to really think about what makes a piece work or why it’s not working. That sort of constant analysis strengthens my own skills as a writer, and I enjoy that.
I also love the satisfaction of seeing a writer improve. I’m a teacher at heart, and the lightbulb moment is always a joy. It also makes me happy to see a book I’ve edited make it into print and be enjoyed by readers.
Do you think having a second income from something writing-related that isn’t actually writing helps your writing career, or does it get in the way?
A bit of both, honestly! As I said above, I am a better writer for being an editor (even though I can’t edit my own work very well at all). But I am constantly trying to balance the time and energy needed to maintain my editing business with the time and energy I need to continue writing. It’s frustrating because it seems that neither business gets the attention it really should have. But I’ve learned a lot about how to juggle my time and how to find creative ways to keep both businesses alive.
If you could earn a living from just one of these choices, which would you choose?
Writing, definitely. Editing is something I do, and do well, but I feel like “writer” is who I am.
With the new world of publishing and the move to self-publishing by many authors, do you think new opportunities will open up for writing-related revenue? Where do you see a need aside from what you are doing?
I am so excited by this new publishing paradigm. It definitely is opening up new opportunities for writers and for supporting businesses. In my editing, I’ve always been reluctant to work with self-publishing fiction writers because I knew the distribution and market simply wasn’t there for fiction. But with digital publishing, that is all changed, and I am planning a big update to my website to welcome self-publishing fiction writers as clients. I’m so excited about this because it opens up the publishing world for new writers as well as provides more stories for readers.
Obviously, I think good editing is enormously important for writers. Additionally, I think there’s going to be a big need for people with the graphic and technical skills to provide e-book formatting and good cover design. I think there is also room for people with the knack of finding creative and effective ways to promote books–since many writers aren’t as strong in that area. Discoverability is an important key to making this new digital publishing world work for authors, and there’s a huge need for people who can effectively help with that.
How important do you feel it is for writers to support other writers both by providing these types of services and by hiring other writers?
Of course, I think it’s great–at Fiction Fix-It Shop, I contract with other published novelists as editors because I know how important it is for writers to supplement their income in ways that leave them flexible to still write.
But I don’t think writers should support each other solely out of a sense of loyalty. I truly believe that a writer who also has excellent skills in one of these support areas is absolutely a better choice than someone with equal skills who isn’t a writer. When you work with a writer, you work with someone who knows what it’s like to be in your position. They “get” the writer temperament, the concerns, the drive–all the stuff that makes us writers. They also are more likely to have a good understanding of the current trends and standards in the publishing industry. That insight and experience is very valuable.
I would never suggest that you work with a writer just because they are a writer. They have to have excellent ability in whatever support service they offer as well. But if they have the skills, then I do think it’s a “win” for everyone concerned.
If writers would like to hire you, where can the learn more about your services, fees and availability?
I would love to work with any fiction writer on any of our editing services. The name of my editing business is The Fiction Fix-It Shop, and you can find out all about the services we offer, cost estimates, and how to get started by visiting that site.
Please do keep in mind that as I mentioned above, I will be doing a major revision to the site to welcome those writers intending to self-publish. I probably won’t have those changes made until after the new year, but self-publishing fiction writers should feel free to contact me in the meantime anyway.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think it’s an exciting time to be a writer. I also think that for all the new opportunities opening up for us, it is more important than ever to approach writing in the most professional, businesslike way possible. I have always felt strongly that writers should plan to invest in their business–whether than means attending conferences, hiring an editor, working with a publicist or an administrative assistant, etc.–and I think that will be even more crucial in this new environment. Craft has always been and will always be the most important piece in successful writing, but more than ever, it’s also essential for writers to take charge of their business and make sure they are offering the most professional and highest quality product they can.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
You’re welcome, and thanks for doing this terrific series!