• What Exactly Do You Do For a Living?

    So, Steve just got off the phone with his mother, and she seemed unsure of what exactly it is I do all day. I get that reaction from many people. They know I’m a writer, but what exactly does that mean? I also do other little things that bolster my income– teaching, editing. And that confuses the issue.

    For one, I talk about Lansing Community College a lot, where I teach. I also talk about “my business,” and every now and then I have to go to New York City for different trainings. I also joke about the books I’d like to write. Yet, I’m generally picking up and dropping off my kids every day, heavily involved in PTO, and basically have my weekends to myself. So what the heck do I do all day?

    Basically, GardenWall Publications is a business I set up which offers writing services for anyone who needs them: companies, publishers, magazines and websites. For example, a local non-profit hired me to write their brochure. An individual once hired me to polish up his portfolio. One of Steve’s friends pays me to edit his dissertation (he’s a PhD student at MSU). Companies nationwide have hired me to write their websites. They feel like I can sell for them. Sometimes they have blogs on their websites, and I write blog posts for them, too.

    I have relationships with editors at magazines, who call on me to write stories for them. I wrote about Sonia Sotomayor and Chicago’s Mayor Daley, for example. Sometimes I interview these people first, and sometimes my editor has already interviewed them and just sends me a tape. I recently posted a picture on Facebook of me interviewing a CEO of a local company. That was for a local magazine that I work for.

    I also have my own ideas for magazine articles, and I try to sell those to big magazines, such as the ones you’d see in a bookstore or grocery store. This is called “pitching” or “querying.” It is a risk because you spend time trying to get the editors to publish your story, but if they do, the pay is really good.

    I also do a lot of editing and proofreading for publishers. They send me a contract and then will send me either hard copies or PDF copies of books. For example, you know those leveled readers that kids bring home from school? I spent about a month proofreading about 100 of those things! Since most publishers are in New York, I sometimes have to go there for training.

    I will sometimes edit for magazines, too. I edit for one local magazine in particular, and have been doing that for about 3 years.

    I like to review books, even though it doesn’t pay a lot. I review books for two California magazines right now. I read and review about 3 books a month from them.

    I have one ongoing job with this company called About.com. It’s a HUGE website that is owned by the New York Times. They pretty much pay my mortgage every month. I’ve been with them about 2 years. Most everything is online– (all my columns are online) but they are based in NYC and like to train people there every year.

    I also teach short seminars at Lansing Community College. They hired me to teach in their community education department– so I don’t generally teach 20 year olds looking for a degree–but instead I teach adults who want to learn a new skill. For example, I teach how to use social media (Facebook, Twitter), how to write for magazines, or how to become a book reviewer. Most of my classes are one or two days. They also have hired me to speak at several conferences on the same subjects. I am often tapped to speak to entrepreneurs on virtual and online topics.

    As for my books, well, everything else keeps me busy. I have a novel that is about 25% done– that is fiction. I also have a proposal going for a non-fiction book on freelance writing– like a reference book for writers. I would love to see either of my books on the shelf at Barnes and Noble someday, but paying work keeps me busy. Again, writing books is a risk, because you never know for sure if it will pan out and you will get paid.

    So that’s what I do: kick my kids and husband out at 8am, work until 3pm on “all of the above” and then start over the next day! There are benefits. I make about 30-40K a year and can work 6 hours a day. I don’t work a lot in the summers or over the holidays. That sounds great.

    But there are drawbacks,too. I can go for a month without any kind of paycheck. I can look over my records and see months that I’ve made $7,000 and months that I’ve made $900. That’s a big difference. Big companies like publishers and magazines sometimes don’t pay their writers for 60 days!! Steve and I are always waiting for paychecks from my clients. I am waiting on 4 checks right now. They could come tomorrow, or they could come in November. That’s just how it is.

    We also absorb a lot of costs from my business: paper, ink, phone calls, internet usage. It costs a lot to run a business out of your house. That’s why I said I make between $30,000-$40,000– because at the end of the year we have to subtract out all the expenses to get the real number.

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