Career as a Creative Writer

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What does it take to build a career as a creative writer?

Traits of Successful Writers

Writers come from many different backgrounds, but most successful creative writers do share a few common traits.

  • Writing ability: It should go without saying, but you won't make it very far as writer without some writing ability. This includes natural talent as well as a solid grasp of the mechanics of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • Original ideas: When Stephenie Meyer wrote the Twilight books, she started a vampire craze. However, aspiring writers can't simply latch on to the trend of the moment and expect to be successful. You need to have a unique angle.
  • Persistence: To be successful as a creative writer, you need to be very good at dealing with rejection. It's unlikely you'll sell your manuscript on the first try and have your book instantly become a bestseller.
  • Good business sense: In today's competitive marketplace, a writer must work very hard to promote his or her book. This can mean creating a web site, maintaining a presence on social networking sites like Facebook, conducting interviews with local media, or traveling across the country on a book tour.

Earning an MFA in Creative Writing

One of the most common questions among people hoping to build a career as a creative writer is whether or not it's necessary to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) in Creative Writing.While academic study can help you improve your writing skills, it won't make up for natural talent and a strong work ethic. Earning an MFA in creative writing will give you time to pursue your projects without the demands of a full-time day job, as well as plenty of valuable networking opportunities. Unfortunately, it won't guarantee that you'll be able to get published. Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner were undoubtedly successful in their writing careers. None of them even had a BA, much less a graduate degree.

However, having an MFA in Creative Writing would be helpful if you hope to earn extra money teaching. Community colleges often have creative writing workshops for children, teenagers, and adults. Teaching these types of workshops can be a very rewarding experience, but you usually need to have a graduate degree in order to get hired.

Expected Earnings in a Career as a Creative Writer

Writers earn their income from the sales of the books, which are obviously quite hard to predict from month to month. Careful budgeting is essential if you're going to be successful as a creative writer. In fact, most writers don't quit their day job until several years after they've been published.

Determining the earning potential for a career as a creative writer is very difficult. The advance on a book contract can range from a few hundred dollars to $1 million or more. Publishers figure amounts based on what they think a book can earn during the first year or two after publication. The advance isn't intended to be reimbursement for the time you've spent writing your book.

The royalties a writer receives for the sales of his books are usually 6-8 percent of the retail price on trade paperbacks, 6-10 percent on mass market paperbacks, and 10-15 percent of the retail price for hardcover editions.

As you might expect, the top earning writers tend to be those who specialize in books with mass appeal. If you write a book that is turned into a hit movie, you can expect to earn much more money than someone who writes a book that is only known in select literary circles. In 2008, the top earning writers included:

  • JK Rowling - $300 million
  • James Patterson - $50 million
  • Stephen King - $45 million
  • Tom Clancy - $35 million
  • Danielle Steel - $30 million
  • John Grisham - $25 million
  • Dean Koontz - $25 million
  • Ken Follett - $20 million
  • Janet Evanovich - $17 million
  • Nicholas Sparks - $16 million
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Career as a Creative Writer