24 June 2011

No Way to Make a Living: Freelance Writing

The job market for philosophy professors is appalling bad. It has been for a long time, and only has gotten worse in recent years. For any given job, it is not unusual for 200+ people to apply. These are very smart people (well, for the most part) who spent 5+ years in graduate school, reading very difficult books, grappling with very difficult arguments, interacting with (not infrequently) very difficult advisors, and eating very difficult Raman noodles. So I feel incredibly lucky to have a job doing what I love, in a supportive and stimulating department (even if the location is not ideal, given the location of my partner, friends, and family).

I’m also grateful that I didn’t try to pursue a career in my other great love: fantasy role-playing games and literature. As soul crushing as a career in academia can be in the 21st century, it seems to be considerably less dreadful than pursuing a career as a freelance RPG or fiction writer.

Don’t take my word for it. A recent post by Robert Schwalb – entitled, appropriately enough, ‘Crapping on Your Dream: Freelancing 101’ – explains how suicidal it would be for someone to try to make a living as a freelance writer, either for RPGs or fantasy fiction, in this day and age.


  1. In fact, it's almosy impossible to make a living as a fiction writer period -even one that is lucky enough to join the talent stable of a publishing house like Baen.

    The vast majority of successful published authors I know also work a day job. Usually something anti-social that leaves plenty of time time for writing when your loved ones as asleep. Night security, hotel staff, concierge, waiting staff.

    Very, very few authors these days make enough from writing alone to actually make it their full time profession. Which is why so many are going to work for computer games companies as plot designers. Hell, even R.A Salvatore makes more in a year working on developing a MMO than he does from book sales and royalties. (At least that was the case the last time he talked about the fiction industry).

  2. Speaking for the US only we have many large cities with 3rd tier illiteracy rates. Detroit is the ur example, its 40% functionally illiterate and economically on par with say the better parts of the Kabul . The suburbs are somewhat alright but even they are under pressure.

    Do to various reasons,immigration, failed parenting, lack of economic opportunity and other effects a big chunk of the populace of many states also cannot read English well or even read other languages well enough to be a market for books. They are functionally literate but weak readers, certainly not able to enjoy a novel.

    As for the rest of the populace, well basically only 10% of the population is doing well, given that its little wonder that making a living with ones intellect is nigh impossible.

    The hell of it is there is no way to educate ourselves out of it, as we have seen throughout well everywhere thats tried it more education even if the State pays for it just means well educated waiters and barristas, which is stupid and wasteful.

    Whats needed to salvage the system is fairly complex, guaranteed jobs rebalanced trade, work sharing, social credit and a host of things that the powerful do not want and even if they could be over-voted, the political class is too stupid to implement.

    If this topic is of interest and you can handle the despair factor Google Global Guerrillas

  3. Hey all,

    Just wanted to give you a heads up that we launched a site for freelance writers to find paid gigs (Scripted.com). Have a look, and let us know what you think! We have a bunch of open projects at the moment, so please feel free to apply! Thanks, and look forward to hearing your feedback.

    Best Regards,

    Sunil Rajaraman
    Co-Founder and CEO


Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.