A fellow writer and publisher forwarded an email to me this week, from The Society of Authors, about an event called Making a living as a poet. It occurred to me that one of the first things a poet wants to know before seriously pursuing a career in poetry is: can I pay the bills from my writing?
I think the answer to this depends on a few considerations. Let’s take a look at these below:
MAKING A LIVING
1. If you publish your poetry in magazines for token payments (£5 per publication, say) and supplement your craft by having a day job, does this count as ‘making a living’ as a poet?
2. If you publish a chapbook with a traditional publisher and you’re given 10 free books to sell at £5 a copy, and the £50 profits pays your electricity bill for 2 months, does this count as ‘making a living’ as a poet?
3. If you’re unemployed and you write poetry full time and publish it for free online or in print magazines, where it is widely read, while receiving job seekers payments, are you ‘making a living’ as a poet?
AS A POET
4. If you publish poems in magazines for free and teach creative writing workshops to others for, say, £300 a week, are you making a living ‘as a poet’?
5. If you don’t write poetry at all, but you run poetry competitions and charge a £10 entry fee, are you making a living ‘as a poet’?
The list could go on and on, but essentially what it all comes down to is this: what is your individual interpretation of making a living as a poet? I know a publisher and editor of a long running, established small press and recently found out the guy is on UK benefits for a long term illness. He also writes poetry himself. To me, he ‘makes a living as a poet’ not because of how much money he makes, but because he is first and foremost a poet who is widely read.
How do I define myself? Essentially I am a poet and writer who currently makes some money from my published poetry collections, and has a day job that involves running creative writing workshops for teenagers. Is that making a living as a poet? I’d say yes, but it’s open to interpretation.