5 Ways To Become A Professional Writer In Canada
The career of a writer is often seen as a glamorous one. You roll out of bed around noon, make yourself a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette, and take your computer to a hipster coffee shop where you drink more coffee until you find the inspiration to write. Another popular way to portray writers is as manic geniuses that can only work in the hours of the night and forget about food, water, or hygiene when they’re on a roll.
You probably know that the reality is very different. Unless you’re a mentally ill 19th century philosopher with a drinking problem or Carrie Bradshaw, your writing process will look nothing like that. The truth is, being a writer is not as romantic as it sounds. It’s also not easy to become a professional writer in Canada, as the workforce is full of writers already. Here are some tips on how to kickstart your writing career!
Top writers in Canada
One sure way to put your name on the map is by getting in touch with some of the top writers in Canada and learning from them. They can help you create a name for yourself and even recommend some publications that are looking for writers. Experienced writers are always happy to share tips about their career successes. If you’re struggling, you can select a writer from EduBirdie’s base , a website for essay writing. Don’t worry, EduBirdie is not just for homework and research papers! You can find great people to connect with. Maybe you will choose to pursue a career in academic writing after you see how hard these writers work.
The most obvious step towards becoming a writer is to get a formal education in the field. That entails getting a Bachelor’s, or even Master’s, degree in the field of Journalism, Communication, English, or any other relevant program. A formal education will give you more than you can imagine.
You will gain a better understanding of the subject and what your job would entail. You will also gain connections in the field, and network with your classmates and teachers. Finally, having formal education on your CV opens you up to a world of possibilities. Most employers still prefer to hire someone who has a degree.
If you got your education in a different field or don’t want to pursue higher education at all, there are ways around it. You can teach yourself! There are great writing courses you can find on the internet that will cost you close to nothing. Visit websites like Skillshare , edX , and MasterClass , and check out the writing courses they offer.
The internet is full of resources. You can find almost anything! Let’s say you want to become a screenwriter. Surf the internet for some screenwriting books and courses that will elevate your knowledge in the field. You can learn a lot and you don’t have to commit to a formal education.
Regardless of what kind of writer you aspire to be, you should have your own blog. The blog can be about anything. Let’s say you want to become a movie critic. Write about the films you’ve seen in your blog. Make weekly entries about the best and worst motion pictures of the week. You can also write about your life experiences, the path to becoming a writer, or any other journey you’ve embarked on.
It’s not so much about the topic as it is about your writing style. When you inevitably come across a job opportunity that you want to pursue, attaching a link to your blog to your resume can tip the scales in your favor.
If you run, you’re a runner. It’s that simple. Don’t think it’s any different with writing. All it takes is one job and you’re a writer! Gaining experience may be difficult, especially in the beginning. Nobody wants to hire a writer with no experience. That’s what internships are for! You can offer your services to a big or small firm in exchange for some much-needed experience and know-how. Do that for a couple of months and you’ve got something to add to your CV.
Experience can also refer to your own projects. If you take your blog a little bit more seriously, you can turn it into an amazing piece for your portfolio. In this case, you need to have a clear idea and theme that your writing will follow. You should also work to make it visually appealing and optimized for search engines.
Jeremy Raynolds is a famous novel writer in the United States and all over Europe. He loves to write almost as much as he loves to read books. In his spare time, he writes book reviews for his blog.
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5121- Authors and writers
Authors and writers
Authors and writers plan, research and write books, scripts, storyboards, plays, essays, speeches, manuals, specifications and other non-journalistic articles for publication or presentation. They are employed by advertising agencies, governments, large corporations, private consulting firms, publishing firms, multimedia/new-media companies and other establishments, or they may be self-employed.
The following is a summary of the main duties of some occupations in this unit group: Novelists, playwrights, script writers, poets and other creative writers Conceive and write novels, plays, scripts, poetry and other material for publication or presentation May conduct research to establish factual content and to obtain other necessary information. Technical writers Analyze material, such as specifications, notes and drawings and write manuals, user guides and other documents to explain clearly and concisely the installation, operation and maintenance of software and electronic, mechanical and other equipment. Copywriters Study and determine selling features of products and services and write text for advertisements and commercials. Authors and writers may specialize in a particular subject or type of writing.
Technical writers usually require a university degree in the area of specialization, such as computer science or engineering. Copywriters usually require a university degree or college diploma in French, English, marketing, advertising or another discipline. Creative writing programs are offered by universities and colleges. Talent and ability, as demonstrated by a portfolio of work, are important hiring criteria. Membership in a guild or union related to the occupation may be required.
Editors ( 5122 ) Journalists ( 5123 ) Professional occupations in advertising, marketing and public relations ( 1123 ) Song writers (in 5132 Conductors, composers and arrangers) Translators, terminologists and interpreters ( 5125 )
- Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists
- Writers and Authors
- Copy Writers
- Poets, Lyricists and Creative Writers
- Technical Writers
- Social Scientists and Related Workers, All Other
- Transportation Planners
- Interpreters and Translators
- Advertising and marketing professionals
- Authors and related writers
- Translators, interpreters and other linguists
National Occupation Classification, (2011) Statistics Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, February 2012, Catalogue no. 12-583-X
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Job requirements standards writer in canada, national occupational classification update.
We have updated this page to reflect the transition to the 2021 version of the National Occupational Classification (NOC) . This means that the occupation "standards writer" was moved from the group Authors and writers (NOC 5121) to the group Technical writers (NOC 51112) .
Find out what you typically need to work as a standards writer in Canada. These requirements are applicable to all Authors and writers (NOC 51112).
This is what you typically need for the job.
- A university degree in the area of specialization, such as computer science or engineering is usually required.
Source National Occupational Classification
Professional certification and licensing
We don’t have any data on professional certification requirements. This occupation is not regulated in Canada based on our records.
Source Foreign Credential Recognition Program - ESDC
Do you want to work in another province or territory?
If you are already certified to work in a regulated occupation in your province or territory, it will be easier for you to have your certification recognized in another province or territory. See the Workers Mobility's website to learn more.
Content Writing Jobs in Canada: Your Guide in
Content writing jobs in Canada are a great option if you love writing and spend your time hitting your keyboard keys in a rhythmic frenzy to weave paragraphs together. There are thousands of opportunities for you in the world of commercial writing, regardless of your educational background. So, whether you are taking a gap year before medical school or looking for a part time job as a grad school student, a writing position may be the perfect way to gain some skills and earn some extra cash. Are you currently thinking of putting your creative writing skills to use? You are in the right place! In this blog, we will discuss the job responsibilities of a content writer and the top skills you need on your resume to get a content writing job in Canada. Keep reading to learn what it takes to start a writing career, the type of career paths available, and the best current opportunities for writers.
Note : If you want us to help you with your applications, interviews and/or standardized tests, book a free strategy call . If you are a university, business, or student organization representative and want to partner with us, visit our partnerships page .
Article Contents 8 min read
What does a content writer do.
As a content writer, you are responsible for creating written content on topics related to your chosen professional field. The content can include blogs, articles, social media posts, marketing copy, scripts, and much more. Typically, content writing also involves detailed research, so whether you are entering a new field in writing or pursuing your old passion, you must be prepared to dedicate much of your time to becoming an expert in your field.
It is your job to ensure that your content is completely unique and not copied from anywhere else. Plagiarism is simply not acceptable. It is also important to align yourself with the business or organization that you are working with i.e., write content that is relevant to the niche of the business. As a content writer, you will certainly be bringing your own skills to the table, but you must also be able to fit in with the tone and style expectations of your new employers.
If you are a liberal arts graduate, you have the perfect set of skills to match this career opportunity, such as research, attention to detail, creativity, communication skills, and critical thinking. Additionally, content writing jobs in Canada are growing rapidly and you can find ample opportunities to demonstrate your talent. Here are some of the jobs you can explore in content writing and editing:
Web content writing jobs
You can find several website content writing opportunities in Canada as a liberal arts major. Most businesses and organizations are present online via a website, so you can write for any niche depending on your interest and background. You might even be able to cater to international businesses depending on your specialization. Are you a Spanish major? Why not write for a company operating in Spain! Your key responsibilities will be around creating website content and writing online blog articles. You should possess a basic knowledge of writing search engine-friendly copies initially in your career. As you grow as a specialist, you will gain skills to write content that ranks number one whenever someone searches for your topic online.
Technical content writing jobs
Technical writers require subject-matter expertise and detailed research. If you can deep-dive into presented topics, you are fit for the role of a technical writer. In this job, you will be creating easy-to-understand content based on complex information. Also, you might collaborate with product designers and managers to tailor the information for a particular set of audiences.
Proposal content writing jobs
You can find the role of a proposal writer in sales or business development departments. This role is exciting as it involves working with marketing, sales, and product teams to produce proposals that can win potential clients or business prospects.
You can work with the marketing department of an organization to produce marketing material, product specs sheets, promotional copies, annual reports, and PRs. You will be required to conduct proper research and develop engaging content copies. Formal training in marketing or business communication might be necessary for these positions.
Grant writing jobs
As a grant writer, you will be working with non-profit organizations to draft proposals for securing funds from different bodies. Since grant applications are complicated and include different application components, you should have a keen eye for the details related to the organization you are working with for writing supporting documentation.
Advertising copywriting jobs
Working as a copywriter might sound intimidating due to the constant demand for concise and eye-catching content, but you will enjoy this job if you enjoy a creative challenge. As a liberal arts major in writing, this is a perfect career choice for you if you can develop original ideas to impress your employer or clients.
How to Become a Content Writer as a Social Science Graduate in Canada?
As a social science graduate in Canada, you can opt for a career in content writing. In grad school, you must have conducted research on various topics by collecting data, assessing it using qualitative research methods, and writing reports for presenting your research findings. It is similar to the job responsibilities of a content writer, which include conducting research and developing content based on your findings.
With your school assignments and presentations, you would have acquired communication skills and the ability to work in collaboration with others. Are you also able to identify problems around you and solve these challenges? Well, considering all these qualities, you can definitely build your professional career as a content writer.
As a social science graduate, you can work in positions related to web content writing, marketing communications, or technical writing. You can start looking for content writing jobs in Canada post your graduation or even work part-time during your studies. Here are a few ways to build your content writing career as a social science graduate:
If you are still completing your social science grad program, you look for part-time content writing jobs and utilize this opportunity to understand what it takes to work in a full-time content writing position. You can gradually move into a full-time role once you complete your studies. "}]'>
There are a bunch of skills that you need on your content writing resume to impress potential recruiters. Remember to demonstrate your skills through your work and not merely mention them. Some of these technical and soft skills include the following.
Interested in a quick summary of the next section? This infographic is for you:
Research skills are a significant part of the content writing process for any writing projects you undertake. It is logical to collect information about the topic before you begin writing. Thus, you should have the ability to dig deep into the topics you are writing.
Conducted in-depth research on 5 topics every month to create detailed guides that attracted 10,000+ visitors.
Creativity and adaptability
You should be able to adapt your tone and style to a particular type of writing. As a skilled and creative writer, you should be able to tailor your words to any niche and format. Also, you must be creative enough to be able to develop interesting ideas for new articles from scratch. Take a look at the example below to get a better idea:
Produced original landing page for product X from scratch to increase leads volume by 95% for Company Y.
Writing and editing
You must convey to the recruiters that you have expertise in writing different forms of content. Provide quantifiable information to impress the recruiters, for example-
Researched, edited, and contributed writing to 100+ long-form articles, research reports, press releases, and email newsletters which gained over 500,000+ traffic.
Search engine optimization
It is essential to create content that is easily discoverable by search engines. So, as a writer, you should be able to write SEO-friendly content and understand the importance of SEO elements such as keywords, meta descriptions, titles, and more.
Created 45 SEO-friendly blogs from scratch, including keyword research using Ahrefs and writing meta descriptions for each blog.
Content management software
If you have the ability or experience of working on any content management software, then it is a bonus point for your profile. Recruiters like content writers who know how to work with technology platforms to bring the content to the users. A great example of a CMS is WordPress which is super simple to learn and does not require you to have the knowledge of coding.
Assisted in uploading 30 blogs to the website every month using Strapi CMS.
Social media management
This skill is optional but useful if you are looking to write social media posts and work on YouTube video scripts, which is also an attractive option for creative writers.
Planned the social media calendar for 14 continuous months in 20XX and created 15 posts for each of the company’s platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
BeMo's Content Writing Jobs in Canada
You can find the best content writing jobs in Canada with BeMo. We are looking for experienced part-time to full-time content writers who can develop original and engaging content. BeMo is the industry leader in academic consulting, and you can improve our contribution as a team by writing content about postgraduate applications, the admission process, and education in general. We aim to provide the best and most informative blogs for our students. We research each topic thoroughly, write in-depth guides, and provide samples to help students understand admissions expectations. You can check some of our blogs to get a better idea, such as medical school personal statement examples , residency personal statement examples , graduate school statements of purpose , and more. If you think you have the right skills, you can become a part of our content team.
Would you like to listen to some examples instead? Check out this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZRnSb _uYrI' css-class='video youtube '>
Your job responsibilities would involve extensive research on topics related to medical school, residency, nursing school, law school, grad school, and other professions to create professionally written content. Thus, you are a great fit if you have expertise in writing long-form content. Moreover, you can explore your creative side while also taking full responsibility for your task and working independently with minimal supervision.
In turn, you get the freedom to work from anywhere and choose your working hours. Are you a night owl who functions best when everything is calm? Or are you the early riser who likes to head start before others rise? Either way, you are welcome to join us because we focus on results rather than the working hours. You will be working to impact the lives of students who aspire to succeed in different professional backgrounds while receiving comprehensive health, dental, and disability insurance benefits once you transition to a full-time position. If you have read until this point, we are assuming that you are still intrigued, so go ahead and check out blog writer job opportunities to apply today!
Yes, content writing jobs are popular in Canada because all the businesses have an online presence, and they require good content for their websites and marketing campaigns. You can build your career in social media writing, web content writing, SEO writing, blog writing, article writing, advertising copyright, and other forms of writing.
You should first put together your portfolio of sample articles to show your writing potential to recruiters. Then, you can start searching for opportunities on job listing websites and adjust your resume based on the requirements of the jobs you find interesting.
You can work as a content writer in Canada after completing a Bachelor's degree in humanities, liberal arts, social sciences, communications, marketing, journalism, or a related field.
Content writing jobs in Canada pay around CAD 50,000 on an average, with entry-level positions starting at CAD 40,000 per year and can go up to CAD 70,000 as you gather more experience.
You should have proven content writing or copywriting experience to become a content writer in Canada. A diverse experience in different writing forms such as articles, technical manuals or documentation, ad copies, and more can help you to secure content writing jobs in Canada.
Yes, you can apply for entry-level content writing positions in Canada, but you need to demonstrate your flair for writing through sample articles. These can be from your personal projects if you haven’t written professionally yet.
Entry-level content writers are beginners who research and develop original content such as blogs, social media posts, and website content.
You can become better at writing content by polishing your writing and editing skills as you write every article. Your content pieces should be created after extensive research, written with a logical flow, an easy-to-read vocabulary, and flawless grammar.
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The Writing Cooperative
May 17, 2019
Becoming a Real Writer: How to Set Up Your Freelancing Business
Freedom and write-offs, yes, but taxes and meticulous record-keeping too, how to set yourself up successfully as a freelancer in canada.
Disclaimer: I’m a Canadian freelancer who lives in the UK, deemed to live in Canada still, with writing, editing and fitness clients on both sides of the pond. My situation is far more complicated than anyone’s really ever needs to be, but, in sorting myself out, I’ve learned quite a bit about the “normal” way of doing things (in a nicely tax- and law-abiding way, that is). Please, let my confusion, frustration and research help you (especially if you’re working in Canada), or at least give you a starting point for your own research, should you live elsewhere.
Note: I highly recommend that you undertake your own research.
Starting to freelance: as easy as it sounds (almost)
It’s true. To be a freelancer, in effect, you can simply hang up a virtual “open for business” sign on your front door/Facebook/Linkedin page, and (with at least one of the following: skills, education or connections) you’re ready to go.
So, you get a gig! You work away at it in your home office or local coffee shop on your own schedule. You don’t have to wear a tie (or pants, for that matter, if you’re at home). You deliver greatness! They pay you, and you live happily ever after.
Becoming a Real Writer: How to Start Building your Portfolio
(capitalizing on friends and family is a great start).
Actually, it is that simple, or can be if you’re freelancing for a bit of extra income on the side, as long as you disclose all your income (more on that below) to the taxman.
My first paycheque from Medium was $0.90 (USD), and I was happy, proud and…completely off the hook for doing anything else about it, because frankly, 90 cents is embarrassing, and the government felt sorry for me (as they should). But as long as I made less than $30,000 per year, the only thing I needed to do was to record my income meticulously.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) agrees about not necessarily registering your sub-$30K-self as a business in Canada: “In some cases, sole proprietorships operating under the name of the business owner do not need to register.” But, it’s best to be sure. And specific. Call them .
Once your services start becoming less of a hobby, and are pulling in more respectable levels of funds (or if you are doing business under a name other than your own), you must — MUST — register yourself, register for, collect, and remit the GST/HST and pay an annual fee.
I repeat: Registration is mandatory if your business makes $30,000 or more per year.
After you verify with the Feds, don’t forget to check in with your province, as each province (of course) has different requirements. For everything. (See also: Saskatchewan’s eschewing of Daylight Savings Time , Alberta’s Rat Patrol , and, well, everything about Quebec .) Start with the website of your provincial or territorial business registrar for more information on their requirements.
Budget for taxes
Ah, taxes. Bless.
(For our purposes, I’m assuming you’re a stand-alone freelancer (no staff) and excruciatingly honest. Canadian law says, clearly, “Thou shalt not just take payment (as money — be it cash, cheque, transfer, gift or crowdfunding — or barter) without paying your share.”)
Before even thinking about the write-offs (which we all know is the fun part), start thinking about taxes. It might centre you, ground you in reality and prevent Very Serious errors in judgement, leading to Very Serious consequences.
A good year for your business means a hefty tax bill, which is only fair. Put time and discipline now into making sure you budget for income taxes throughout the year.
Look up your federal (but of course, Quebec is different) and provincial tax rates, and consider setting aside a minimum of thirty percent of your earnings in a separate account, so you are not left scrambling on April 30. I recommend transferring the 30% into your tax account bi-weekly at the least. It’s hard to do (mentally), but is so very worth it.
Without having a proper “employer”, you need to contribute both the employee portion and the employer portion of Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance (EI), which can prove costly. TurboTax offers up great advice for freelancers, and says that this may represent approximately 10% of your business’ income: not a negligible amount. Plan now.
Also, it’s good to know that, if you owe $3,000 or more to the CRA in the current tax year (and any of the last two tax years), you will now have to pay your taxes in quarterly instalments (instead of paying your taxes all at once, you pay them quarterly throughout the year). I suppose it’s less of a shock that way.
What if you’re paid in cash? (wink wink)
Report everything you earn.
Seriously, it’s not worth it.
CRA has severe penalties in place for freelancers who fail to report cash payments, including more taxes, interest and penalties.
Or, if you are paid in trade accept payment (for example, in the form of free dog training lessons for your dog), you must claim the retail value of that trade as income on your tax return.
Claim everything. Be the person your dog thinks you are.
Write-offs: the real reason we freelance
All right then: deductions.
The biggest rule of thumb is to be reasonable. “If it’s reasonable, then it’s deductible,” says Mike Delves , an accountant and business advisor at MNP LLP in Nanaimo, B.C.
You can write off so much: office space, internet, fun supplies like paperclips and pens, telephone, entertainment, legal, accounting, travel, your bank fees on your business account…but, you need to be irritatingly meticulous with your records and very aware of the distinction between what you use for work versus your personal life.
So, if the square footage of your home office is (actually) twenty percent of your total home square footage, and you use it daily, only for work, you can claim 20% of your heat, hydro, water, telephone, home insurance, mortgage interest and property taxes.
(Also, 20%? Really? Your home office is considerably bigger than mine. Congratulations.)
If you keep a log of your phone calls and you make 100 phone calls in a month and 20 of those calls are for business, then you can deduct 20% of your phone bills. But you have to keep a log.
And, hey! Memberships or subscriptions are deductible as well…including your membership to Medium ! (I just added it to my spreadsheet this afternoon.)
To quote Canadian band Trooper, the sun won’t shine every day
Ok, so you’ve done your homework and made your calls. You’ve registered yourself as a business, opened a business account and a separate tax account. You have alienated friends and family with your enthusiasm for and dependence on spreadsheets and spreadsheet-esque apps. You have an accountant on call (or more patience than I do). You are a fully-functional, responsible freelancer, and I salute you.
But do you have money set aside?
Freelancers don’t get vacation pay. When we don’t work, we don’t earn. We also don’t have pensions. Consider setting up and regularly contributing to a tax-free savings account ( TFSA ) for rainy days and vacations, and an RRSP for your retirement. They’re both free to open, and any bank will be happy to take your money and help you start.
That’s it! Go pitch something
No, seriously, that’s it. Go! You have work to do.
(Again, please do your own research for your specific situation, country and province.)
(Especially if you’re in Quebec)
Karen (Power) Hough is a writer, editor and blogger with an Honours BSc. in Human Kinetics. She currently lives in London with her husband, three energetic kids and a codependent dog.
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Writer, editor & blogger ~ Fitness nerd with a BSc. (Hon.) Human Kinetics ~ Owner of aspirational sweatpants ~ http://KarenHoughWrites.com
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Why write for canada talents.
We started to serve our community in 2015. Since then, we have continued to grow and evolve to reach more French-speaking folks moving from Europe to Canada.
Each month, more than 1,800 visitors come to our website to seek support in their professional development.
Each year, we write 20 unique articles on selected topics to foster community engagement, development and success!
Canada Talents helps people with the cultural challenge of working in Canada as an immigrant. We cover a wide-variety of topics that fall into 6 respective categories.
How we work
As a Contributing Writer, you will be an integral part of our team. We are aligned on goals, values and mission. We mentor all contributors to create the best content possible and excel in this role to develop meaningful content for our community.
You have 3 weeks to draft an article . Then, we use the following week to work on edits, summary, photos and publishing.
We want you to feel passionate about what you are writing about . That’s why we allow you to choose your topic while ensuring it aligns with our guiding principles.
Once your article is published, you will receive credit with your name, a photo and short bio with a link to your LinkedIn profile.
How to apply
Sign up to be a member . You can complete your membership during the recruitment process to join our amazing team of volunteers. Please send us an email to explain why you are inspired to write for us and feel free to share examples of your work.
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Can you afford to be a writer?
Not everyone can win the giller prize and for many authors, writing doesn’t pay the bills.
Oh the glitter and the glamour. It’s book prize season and on our television screens, Twitter accounts and newspaper pages are writers — great Canadian writers — being feted for their work.
The excitement of the literary prize season can make it look as if the writer’s path is paved, if not with gold, at least with the dull lustre of a Canadian loonie.
Finalists for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, for example, each received $2,500, while the winner — this year, Miriam Toews — got $25,000. For the Scotiabank Giller Prize , which will be handed out Monday night, each shortlisted writer gets $10,000 while the winner now gets an unprecedented (for Canada) $100,000. The Governor General’s awards distribute $450,000 into the hands of writers, poets and translators.
There is no doubt literary prizes can make a difference to a writer’s income. Even getting on the short list offers some payout.
But not everyone wins $100,000 or even $25,000. And choosing writing as a career can be a tough slog.
Evan Munday, 34, did earlier this year what many people dream of doing: he quit his full-time job to become a writer.
“I was a publicist for a small but well-known press and, as you may know, doing publicity is a never-ending job.” He was putting in more and more time at work while also writing his children’s and young adult books at night and on weekends. “I wrote my second book on a holiday break.”
He wanted to make the jump, he said, before he got too burned out.
“As soon as I left I did start to worry, I found it very precarious . . . sometimes cheques take months to arrive and I also found it very socially isolating. I was used to going into a workplace every day,” Munday told the Star.
Like many writers, he’s taken on other jobs: speaking at schools in his capacity as an author and working part-time at a bookstore.
Harry Thurston, the chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, has been writing full-time for 37 years. He’s “on the cusp of 65” and has written 25 books. And he’s always made a living from it. Part of that living has come from two payments: copyright income and public lending right income.
The copyright laws changed in 2012. It used to be that when schools, mostly universities, photocopied a writer’s work (articles, chapters of books, etc.) for use in courses, the writer would collect a licence fee administered through Access Copyright. According to the writers’ union, that cost “has never been higher than $27 per student per year, a bargain for millions of copies.”
In 2012, the Copyright Act was changed to say very small amounts of copying may be free to educators, but many administrations have interpreted that to mean their entire course collections are now free. There is a court challenge pending, with the writers’ union saying schools should use only a paragraph or two at a time, not entire chapters.
For Thurston, the change cut about a quarter of his income.
The AC payment and the public lending right payment together “almost equal my Canada Pension Plan.”
For Thurston and many older writers, those cheques “are in effect a pension plan. The loss of the AC income is a big blow to writers of my age.”
John Degan, executive director of the writers’ union, puts it like this: for most people, writing is no longer a full-time job.
In Canada, “The average income for authors from book royalties, etc., is about $10,000 a year,” he says. “There are the bestsellers, but for a lot of writers it’s really supplemental income — they’re also teaching, running writers’ unions or working for newspapers.”
That is particularly true for midlist writers, points out Dean Cooke, who runs the Cooke Agency.
“What we find is it’s the writers in between (who are finding it toughest), whose previous books have not been nominated for major prizes and who have sold what most books in Canada sell: a few thousand hardcovers and a few thousand in paperback.”
For most readers, the financial consequences of being a writer come as a surprise.
Munday relates a telling anecdote:
“I was working at the bookstore one weekend . . . and there was a kid there who went up to one of my co-workers and asked, ‘Oh, is that Evan Munday? Is that the guy who wrote The (Dead Kid) Detective Agency ?’ When he said, ‘That’s him,’ the kid said, ‘Oh, I voted for his book for the last Silver Birch award. Is he doing a special guest appearance here?’”
Thurston breaks down the proceeds of a book: traditionally the author gets 10 per cent — so $3 for a $30 book — the bookseller gets 40 per cent, so $12, and the publisher would get the rest: $15.
Due to the concentration of booksellers in the industry now and to very large chains, “there’s often downward pressure because of deep discounting on the author’s royalty. It might well be below 10 per cent,” he says.
Books can take up to five years to write. The Canada Council for the Arts provides grants to help some make it through the lean periods and many of the country’s biggest writers have received them, including some on the current short list for a Governor General’s prize, which the council administers: Michael Crummey, for example, received a $20,000 grant in 2012 and $15,000 in 1998; Thomas King received $15,000 in 2002 and Joan Thomas $12,000 in 2009.
Even then, those funds are taxed, which, as Thurston points out, can quickly erode that income to below the poverty line (which for a single person was just over $19,000 in 2010).
The writers’ union has made a prebudget submission to the government with three major recommendations: 1. institute a copyright income deduction for artists learning less than $60,000 in copyright income (a similar measure is already in place in Quebec); 2. remove the tax from subsistence grants such as those handed out by the Canada Council; and 3. institute income averaging, so if you publish a successful book and make a bundle one year, the revenue can be averaged over several years to mitigate the tax burden.
Another issue dogging writers is eroding royalties. Many, but not all, publishers are changing the way they pay writers. Some are paying royalties on the price the book sells for (even if it’s on deep discount), not on the cover price.
BookThug is a small, independent publisher based in Toronto. It still pays a standard 10 per cent cut of the cover price to authors, even if they sold the book at a discount.
“We are paying priced on cover even though we’d never sell it based on cover,” says publicist and co-owner Hazel Millar. “Whether you’re at an event or whatever the scenario is, generally the book will be slightly discounted.”
Discounting is at the crux of writer royalties. There aren’t big margins in bookselling; for physical books there’s a cost associated with printing, shipping and so on. Ebooks can provide bigger margins, but writers’ royalties are still being squeezed, notes Cooke.
In terms of ebooks, if an author had previously been selling 10,000 trade paperbacks and 40 per cent are now ebook sales, their take is cut, notes Cooke. And if the price on those ebooks is $9.99 instead of $15.99 for the print version, that’s a further cut.
“The royalty is linked to net as opposed to gross: 10 per cent on print edition of the retail press, which is quantifiable. Net is a result of whatever deal the publisher has struck with that particular retailer.”
If a deal is struck for a writer to receive 25 per cent of net, that’s not a bad deal. The problem is “we don’t know what net might be next year.”
Amazon, for example, might say “we can’t afford to pay you that much anymore, we’re going to cut our royalty rates, we’re going to change the basis upon which we work with you.”
Supplementing income has become more and more important for writers. They can go on the speakers circuit where, if they’re popular enough, they can command appearance fees. But that’s not a solution for everybody.
A wider problem might be the lack of diversity in publishing caused by low pay. As Munday points out, “it does limit the kind of people, class of people who are able to make books. Certain perspectives will get shut out because people need to feed their families.”
“We are filling a void in the large publishing landscape of Canada because we are giving a voice to our authors who are taking a lot of challenges in their writing,” says BookThug’s Millar. “A lot of larger houses would not be able to see a return on their investment up front.”
Still, most writers are not likely to break $10,000 a year from their writing.
“It’s never been a path to riches,” says Cooke. “My job as an agent is to try to maximize the amount an author will make. It gets harder, it doesn’t get easier.”
“You know you’re not in this for money. . . . It’s so much driven by passion and your love and your creativity,” says Millar.
“I write the books because I love writing the books and I would do it whether it paid or not,” says Munday. “I don’t expect to earn some kind of retirement fund; I expect to work until I die.”
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