If you think being a writer involves conjuring up characters and plots and sipping a cappuccino at the local café, well, you’re only partly right. A writing career comes with as many options as your choice of morning cuppa.
Read on to discover the ways you can break into the many niche writing fields of fiction and non-fiction writing.
What kinds of fiction writing careers are there?
Novelists, short story writers, playwrights, poets, lyricists, comic or graphic novelists, video game narrators and screenwriters create their own fictional worlds.
Where must you study to be a writer of fiction?
No formal education is required. Some fiction wordsmiths learn the tools of the trade by completing a degree or MA degree in Creative Writing. Other writers develop their craft in online and in-person writing courses and mentoring. Browse through our 13 specialised creative writing courses here.
How much can you earn from fiction?
A fiction author’s income fluctuates with the success of their work. There are no set figures, though a 2019 report commissioned by Copyright Licensing New Zealand found the average annual income for an established author was about $15,200.
Traditionally, fiction writing involved submitting stories and novels to magazines and publishers. While that is still the case, self-publishing on platforms like Amazon is shifting the ability to break into writing – not to mention the figures earned! Amazon’s 2019 review of Kindle sales showed thousands of self-published authors earned over $50,000 in royalties. (For full disclosure, thousands also earn very little, but that is because their book covers, content or marketing are poor).
Author Steff Green self-published five fantasy books online and earned $125,976.53 in 2018. And after publishing her debut novel on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP) in 2015, author L.J. Ross published nineteen more, sold around 4.5 million copies and earned a ‘very sustainable means of income’.
What are typical non-fiction writing careers?
Online freelancing platforms provide the opportunity to break into many writing careers. You can set your price and rates, discover worldwide publications and connect to a broader audience. And in the case of ghostwriters (who earn between US$20 and $45 per hour on freelancing platform Upwork), you can find opportunities to collaborate on other people’s stories.
Where must you study to be a non-fiction writer?
As with fiction writing, no formal qualifications are required, although Upwork does ask for proof of some form of writing-related skills training to sign up. See our journalism courses, as well as specialist non-fiction content writing courses.
Freelance Journalism also falls into the non-fiction category. Journalists can work from home, writing for a variety of print and digital publications.
If you can deliver well-written, well-researched articles, formal qualifications are not required to succeed in this field. However, completing a certified or diploma-based journalism course – whether online or in-person – is highly recommended for this competitive field.
These days, in-house journalists (like in a newsroom) may require a journalism or communications degree to secure a position. In-house positions are scarce, though; most journalists are freelancers.
What can you earn with freelance writing?
Upwork’s average freelance writer rate is between $30 and $40 dollars per hour, with an annual salary of around $42,000. And projects include just about any writing you can think of: copywriting, business writing, press release writing and technical writing to name a few. Plus, setting up a profile is free.
Excellent examples of copy and content writing careers
Copy and content writers produce advertising copy, blogs, website content, online articles and social media content.
Many copywriters and content writers have bachelor’s degrees in communication, journalism, marketing and English. Others have completed specialised online writing courses. See our Copywriting Course, and Writing Content for Websites Course.
What can you earn as a copywriter or content writer?
A typical copywriter in New Zealand earns between $60k and $150k per year, depending on experience. A copywriter can freelance or work in-house for an advertising agency, publisher or the marketing department in any large enterprise.
Making a living as a technical writer
Technical writers create simplified documents, instruction manuals and user guides.
What can you earn as a technical writer?
New technical writers earn between NZ$50k and NZ$60k per year, while experienced technical writers make NZ$60k – NZ$130k per year.
Once again, there are no specific training requirements. However, tertiary qualifications in English, science, engineering, electronics, computer science or commerce can be valuable, as are technical writing certificates.
How can you become a medical or academic writer?
With a sound knowledge of writing and medical science, medical writers craft peer-reviewed articles, report on clinical trials and educate healthcare professionals and the general public.
What do medical writers earn?
A medical writer’s income ranges from NZ$60k to NZ$146k, and most medical writers work freelance. Plus, medical writer’s skills are transferable to academic writing. Whether it’s engineering essays, financial theories, or articles in environmental sciences, going freelance provides ample opportunity to get hired and set your own academic writing rates.
Academic writers can write articles and reports for governments, NGOs, large-scale enterprises and medium-sized companies.
Many academic writers write part-time as part of a career as a lecturer or professor at a tertiary institution.
What kind of career can you have in business writing?
Business writers pen everything from proposals and grants to reports and resumes, emails and newsletters. Attention to grammar and excellent writing skills are necessary, and supporting qualifications or certificates of proficiency would be helpful.
And while there’s no set income, proposal writers, for example, earn an average salary of around NZ$75,000.
While some business writers work as freelance consultants to companies both large and small, most business writers write as part of their job.
Browse through our business writing courses here.
How do you launch a career in copy-editing and proofreading?
All written material requires proofreading and copy-editing, regardless of the field of writing.
Correcting grammar errors, double-checking facts, and enhancing readability are skills honed through specialised copy-editing courses.
Occasionally, copy-editors are self-taught; however, publishers increasingly require that their copy-editors and proofreaders have at least completed a six-month training course. View the details of our 8-month practical Copy-editing and Proofreading Course here.
What can you earn as a copy-editor?
Copy-editors can earn between NZ$46,000 to NZ$78,000, or $35 per hour, depending on experience. Opportunities include freelancing or working for creative agencies, publishing houses, film and TV studios, government organisations and public relations firms.
Whether writing is a side hustle that provides a creative outlet, or if you work on multiple projects as a full-time freelancer, making a living as a writer is possible.
And while some writing careers may be more lucrative than others, combining technology and different styles (plus caffeine!) allows you virtually unlimited access to all of them.
1. Amazon. (2019, December 23). Kindle: A Year in Review
2. Green S. (June, 2019). ‘This year I’ll bank over $200k’: An NZ writer on actually making money. The Spinoff.
3. Haysom, S. (2021, February 24). These self-published authors are actually making a living. Here’s how. Mashable.
4. Copyright Licensing New Zealand. (2019, March 27). Latest Report into New Zealand Writer’s earnings reveals the difficulty to make a living from writing.
5. Cope, S. (2021, March 12). How much can freelancers make in 2021? Upwork.
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About the Author
Danielle Ramaekers is an avid writer with notebooks of collected ideas and feedback. A professional yoga instructor, she blogs about yoga, travel and life on www.daniramaekers.co.nz. When Danielle isn’t writing you’ll find her teaching upbeat Vinyasa Flow yoga classes, planning her next travel destination, or chilling at the beach with her nose in a good book.