Reflections on my first week as a non-academic writer.

So it’s day 7 and, so far, I’ve managed to keep my personal commitment to write and post a blog every day.  Including today’s post my word count has varied from 1,423 to 3,306. I have therefore averaged 2,000 words a day.

  • Reflections on my first week as a non-academic writer. 1,998
  • Happy Canada Day! Reflections of an immigrant. 1,870
  • Deafness is a continuum…. it’s not all or nothing. 3,036
  • When did compassion, courtesy and general professionalism disappear? 1,423
  • So I made it to Tuesday…. despite Grey’s Anatomy!  1,870
  • So when did it become OK to pretend to be disabled? 2,831
  • My first Blog as a non-academic author. 2,816

My subjects have been pretty varied but can generally be described as being centred on the theme of:

My experiences navigating life with invisible disabilities, with the support of my Service Dog; while also recognising the fact that I am an immigrant to Canada, and not indigenous.”

I did think about changing the title of my Blog to reflect this, but it would be a very long title! Instead I decided that I’ll stay with “Butterflies” and that I’ll explain the meaning behind that in another post.

So let me come back to writing as a non-academic. When I write in my academic role, it’s a component of my job. I don’t get paid for it, besides my academic salary, and in fact with the move to Open Access in recent years I now have to find funds to pay for the editing and publication costs for many journals, which range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, per article.

I also undertake huge amounts of blind peer review for a wide variety of journals and conferences each year.  This is a major component of being an academic. The phrase “Publish or Perish!” is hammered home from the moment you start post-graduate studies. You’re only ever as good as the last article you had published.

You can have changed national policy with the results of your research, literally your research can have saved lives; but if it wasn’t published in a high impact journal it can count for nothing when it comes time for your performance review.

Books, you’d think that they would count for something? They’re great for your ego but, having written, and published two books: the English Going Paperless: A Guide to Computerisation in Primary Care in 2001 and the Canadian Edition Computerization and Going Paperless in Canadian Primary Care in 2004 I can assure you that they are a ton of work. That that even with pretty decent sales of both editions I didn’t make enough money to cover the cost of the accountant I had to hire to do my tax returns! Also, academically, because they’re not peer reviewed like journal articles, you don’t get a lot of credit for them either.

The only way that you can make money, as an academic writer is to write the definitive textbook on a subject that is exceptionally popular at Universities throughout the world and to provide it in a variety of formats to meet current demand for e-books, and online bonus material as well as actual paperback or hardback books. Oh, and keep it completely up to date at all times. As you can imagine, that doesn’t happen often.

However, having been a member of a number of different online forums for non-academic writing for an entire week now I’ve learned a few things about this kind of writing. The first is that word count is incredibly important.

  • Writers use it to hold themselves accountable to themselves, and others, for productivity.
  • Writing competitions and calls for submissions use word counts to set boundaries for what is acceptable and what’s too long or too short.
  • Writing is often paid for by the word.

That last one was news to me. I’d always assumed that writers were paid on a project basis and while that certainly does happen, the majority of work seems to be paid either by an hourly rate or per word.

Rates of pay vary considerably. The lowest that I’ve come across this week is $0.03 per word for Ghost writing for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services for freelancers first starting out. Once, a reputation has been built that rate of pay increases to about $0.25 per word.

Now as an hourly rate, that can be pretty good, or pretty poor, depending on how fast you write, how many edits you have to do and how much research is involved.

So let’s take a typical 500-word piece written as a ghostwriter for SEO services. At the lowest rate of $0.03 per word that’s $15.00. As Ontario’s minimum wage for Homeworking is currently $12.40 per hour (rising to $12.55 on the 1st October 2016) you can quickly see that as long as you can complete the piece in an hour, you’re making about 20% more than minimum wage. Of course, the longer it takes you, the lower your pay. Inversely, if you get pretty good at it and can knock out that same piece in 30 minutes you’ve just increased your rate of pay to $30.00 an hour. Which is above the national average of $25.00 per hour rate for Canada, as of 2015.

Now this all sounds well and good until you realise that freelance writing is rarely going to bring in a regular income, unless you’re fortunate enough to get contracted to write for one, or more, organisation(s) on a regular basis. For example, writing an article for a newspaper every other week.

The good news is that this kind of writing does bring with it an increase in pay to an average of $0.50 – $1.75 per word.

Ghost writing for SEO services seems to be the bottom rung on the freelance writing ladder, where you do actually get paid. A lot of writers start out this way. It’s a good way to develop your writing skills, increase your productivity and get paid. However, the downside is that you don’t get credit. So if you’re writing because you want to be the next Stephen King or J.K Rowling then Ghost writing isn’t for you.

It also raises an ethical question. When you work as a Ghostwriter somebody else (often a corporation or business) will be representing your work as theirs. Now, this can be a good thing. If your “own voice” is distinctive and you want to develop your writing in a specific genre, not being associated with pieces that you’ve ghost written may be exactly what you need as you hone your craft. Ghost written SEO pieces tend to be pretty bland in style, and aimed at optimizing the use of key phrases and links to ensure that specific websites get selected by Internet search engines; and ranked highly by them. They’re about funnelling attention to a website, rather than entertainment.

An alternate route to making an income as a freelance writer is to submit pieces to highly popular forums with great readership, but that don’t pay you at all. However, you do get to work with professional editors and start to get your name known. Over time, you can turn this into paid work. Writing letters to the Editor or submitting articles in response to calls for submissions from such organizations is how writers get started here.

Another method for converting non-paid work into paid work can be achieved by getting your own Blog recognized to the point that companies, like Google, pay you to include links and reviews on your site and you get a small fee for every ‘hit’. Again you’re not likely to get rich but you can make a reasonable income if you have the time to keep a Blog active and timely on a daily basis.

The ultimate goal for many writers, of course, is to earn enough money to give up their day job and write full-time. This is where we hear the apocryphal stories of people writing books in the middle of the night, and receiving hundreds of rejections, before finally getting a publishing contract and becoming millionaires over night. However, multi-millionaires like Stephen King and J.K Rowling are few and far between.

While there is a community of writers able to make a full-time living writing it is important to remember that the average income in Canada for fiction writers is $500 per year in royalties. Consequently, you’ll soon see why so many writers never do give up their day job and why that SEO ghost writing suddenly looks a lot more appealing again!

So where am I at? Well, my Blog’s getting a few hits a day and a small, elite, number of people are following it faithfully. However, to really get it recognised I need to move it to a different host, as opposed to the free one that I get with my Shaw Internet service account. I’m exploring options for this before I have much more content that would make it harder to move.

I also understand that I should probably have a more specific focus if I do this so I’m debating whether I want to move it at all. I’m enjoying writing it and I very much appreciate the comments that I receive from those reading my entries. However, it is pretty much a stream of consciousness, rather than a targeted piece of writing, and I don’t think that I want to change that at this point.

However, several of this week’s entries really hit home for people.

My first one resulted in my being sent a message from an ER physician, in the US, who was going to go into work that day and insist that:

  1. They check all sprays and cleaners for scents and ‘natural products’ such as citrus, and get rid of them, and
  2. That all allergies now be documented on admission to ER and that staff would be informed immediately that somebody was present with specific allergies and that they needed to check their drinks, snacks etc. and that of patients in the waiting areas.

So hopefully, at least in that ER, I wouldn’t continue to be exposed to my allergens on admission! That’s a win that will likely save somebody’s life one day!

Another entry resulted in many people contacting me to thank me for educating them on why it’s wrong to just call your pet dog, a Service Dog, to gain access rights. They knew that it was wrong but nobody had ever explained to them just why it’s so offensive to the disabled.  Now they know, and if each of them discusses it with just one other person the word will spread.

Several readers encouraged me to submit another of my of my entries to a national newspaper in the form of a “lived experience essay’. I did, and I’ll hear within the month if it’s been accepted for publication. Fingers crossed!

I also came across a call for submissions on choices around becoming a mother or not, for women over 35. As an adoptive mother, as a single parent, of an older child I have a pretty unique experience. I submitted an essay in response and will hear in the next few weeks if this will be published in a special edition later this year.

Then finally, I decided to try my hand at Ghost writing for SEO services. Today, I received my first payment!

USD$15.00 for one article!

I’m definitely on the lowest rung of that ladder!

It’s not going to break the bank. In fact, given my need for soy milk it will probably only buy me 3 cups of Starbucks™ coffee.

However, today, one week after realising that if I want to be a writer, I just have to write; I am delighted to say that I am now a freelance writer who has actually been paid to write!

Who knows – maybe I will be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling?

5 Replies to “Reflections on my first week as a non-academic writer.”

  1. I’m really enjoy reading your blog, Nikki. I feel like I’m finding out more and more about you and you’re naming me think – always a win!

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