eing a professional fiction writer is a highly coveted career, especially for avid readers. However, it can also be very difficult to get your fiction work published, or to make money in general. Thankfully there is not one single career path that you must follow in order to be a professional fiction writer.

Whether you want to start right out of college or wait until you retire, there will always be a need for fiction writers. As you start off on this journey, keep in mind that it is a very grueling and time consuming process to become a professional fiction writer.

Since there is nowhere near a specific career trajectory for those looking to make money writing fiction, here are some places to start:

  • Perfecting Your Writing Craft
  • Where to Begin Your Money Making Journey with Fiction
  • Making Your Way into the Professional Fiction Writing World
A type writer for a fiction writer.
With any form of writing, but especially fiction writing, you have to know what you are doing. That often leads to having multiple drafts before having anyone take a look at your work.

Perfecting Your Writing Craft

Before you can start thinking about making money by writing fiction, you have to hone your writing craft!

While you may not like the sound of it, you really cannot begin making money by writing without exploring your writing skills and honing in on your craft. Even if you have studied fiction writing in an undergraduate or graduate program, it is a good idea to continue working on your fiction outside of an academic environment. Here are just a few ways that you can perfect your writing craft:

Read a Lot: There is one thing that every fiction writer has in common: they all read, like a lot. This is just like the old adage says, practice makes perfect. By reading and reading some more, writers are able to see what other writers are doing in their work. This is an especially important step for those looking into becoming a professional fiction writer. If you are not reading, there is no way that you will be able to keep up with other professional fiction writers.

By reading, you will see how other writers craft their work. It is especially beneficial to read with a specific focus in mind, whether that is how an author develops their character, utilizes point of view, or manipulates dialogue. By focusing on a certain topic that you want to better in your own writing, you will be able to take what you have observed and apply it to your work.

Write More and Edit Less: As you begin the journey of perfecting your craft, it is important to remember your end goal, which will most likely be a short story or novel of some sort. If that is the case, the most important thing for you to do is to write, to just get the words onto the page.

If you are constantly going back and editing your work, you will never be able to move forward and finish the project. That is what agents and editors are for - to clean up your work. Of course, you always want to proofread your work and check for any inconsistencies before sending it out, but do not spend so much time editing and revising your work that it never sees the light of day.

Attend a Fiction Writing Workshop: For those of you that have studied fiction writing in some capacity, this may not sound like an appealing option. However, it could be really helpful for you! Writing workshops typically cover a variety of topics and are a one time only hour long commitment. If you have a specific topic in mind that you want to focus on such as setting or plot, chances are you can find a workshop near you! Many bookstores hold writing workshops, so it is worth it to see what events your local bookstore has coming up!

Fiction writer writes away to perfect his craft.
Patience is key when beginning your journey as a professional fiction writer.

Where to Begin Your Money Making Journey with Fiction

While there is no correct place to start, here are some of the best places to start, with some additional tips.

With your writing craft perfected, it is time to begin thinking of ways to make money with fiction. Unlike other careers and writing based jobs, there is no specific path that fiction writers follow. However, there are some places that may be easier to begin than others.

Look for Freelance Opportunities: A large amount of fiction writers begin with writing for freelance opportunities. While you are most likely wanting to write what you want when you want, you cannot always afford to be picky when first starting out. If you are able to write professionally, you should definitely go for it, regardless of how interested or disinterested you are in it. After all, experience is experience, no matter what it is! Looking for freelance opportunities can be quite tricky, especially when looking for fiction opportunities. Thankfully, there are various websites that have a plethora of fiction writing freelance work opportunities.

Begin Writing Long Form Works: When it comes to writing fiction, a lot of writers begin with short form works, like flash fiction and short stories. While this is a great starting point for those that are looking to write fiction professionally, it is not where the money is. So many people are writing short form fiction that it is very unlikely for you to get your short form work published.

By writing long form works, you will be able to limit your focus to this one format of fiction writing. While still very difficult, it is more likely for beginner writers to have a long form work of fiction picked up by a literary agent than a piece of short form fiction.

Be Patient: As you are writing long form works and looking for freelance work, remain patient. While there are various ways to make money writing fiction, it can take quite a while before you actually start to make money. You may spend several hours a night writing, but you may not be paid for that work.

With fiction writing, there is a lot of work on the front half of your career that will most likely go unrecognized. This is something that you have to keep in mind as you navigate the field. However, if you are able to remain patient, chances are you will see a great reward if you keep with it.

Embrace Your Day Job: In a very similar vein, chances are that you will have some sort of day job as you work your way into becoming a professional fiction writer. With that, you should pick a day job that you will be able to enjoy to some degree, while not taking it too seriously. By embracing your day job, you will drain less energy dragging your way through the day and have more energy to write when you get home!

A fiction writer signs with a literary agent.
The best way to go about getting your fiction work published is by finding a literary agent.

Making Your Way into the Professional Fiction Writing World

If you are lucky, you may even start off here. No worries if you don’t though, you are still able to get your foot in the door.

If you have dipped your toes in the waters of freelance writing and have discovered that it is not for you, there are some next steps you can take to continue working your way into the professional fiction writing field.

Write Query Letters: Query letters are essentially a cover letter for the project that you are proposing, but instead of selling you, query letters are selling your project. Rather than writing to a hiring manager or human resources department, you are writing to a literary agent.

Query letters are almost like an art form, given all of the details that are required within them. The essence is to write praise for your project, but not so much praise that you are overselling your project. Easy, right? Not really, which is why there are plenty of online sources with tips on how to write the best query letter!

Get a Literary Agent: As alluded to in writing query letters, the best way to get your book published is to find an agent that believes in your project. Which is why query letters are so important! However, finding a literary agent is more than just writing a pristine query letter.

There are a plethora of tips and tricks regarding how to get a literary agent. However, the main takeaways are to always research the literary agents first to make sure that they are looking for works similar to what you are hoping to publish. That way, you will not be querying a sci-fi project to a literary agent that only accepts romance novels. A great place to start is to look at literary agents of books similar to what you are hoping to publish. If they worked to get a project published similar to yours, chances are they would be willing to do it again!

Remember it is All About Connections: As is true with many professions, the book publishing world is primarily about the people you know. So, even if you have the next best selling novel, your query letter may not even get a response. While it may be disheartening, there are ways to build connections with literary agents and publishers through writing conferences, and even just LinkedIn!

Hopefully you have not been scared off yet! Becoming a professional fiction writer is a long and daunting process that is not for the faint of heart. Whatever you do, do not get down on yourself! There are plenty of famous authors and famous works that got dozens of rejections before getting that one acceptance. That could be you and your project!

Image courtesy of The Ascent.

May 31, 2021