Becoming a Writer: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a writing career? Get real job duties, career prospects, and salary information to help you decide if becoming a writer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Writing Career

Writers provide written content for a variety of subject areas, industries, and media. Read about the pros and cons of this job to decide if being a writer is a good choice for you.

Pros of a Writing Career
Available work in many industries (broadcasting, newspaper, advertising, motion picture)*
Flexible work hours*
Variety of work locations (home, office, coffee shop)*
Opportunities to specialize in individual areas of interest*

Cons of a Writing Career
Slower-than-average job growth (3% expected between 2012 and 2022)*
Keen competition*
May balance several clients and projects simultaneously*
May work nights and weekends*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Depending on the nature of their writing assignments, writers often devote hours, days, weeks or months writing and editing their work to make it flawless. Typical duties may include brainstorming ideas, conducting research, interviewing sources, meeting deadlines, and proofreading. Freelance writers may also market and sell their work to various publications, agencies, producers, or other organizations or people interested in buying their work.

Career Paths and Specializations

There are many different specialty areas within the writing field, making it possible to write about things that interest you. If you like making up stories, retelling historical events, and developing characters, you may want to be an author or novelist. Screenwriters draft scripts for movies and television, while playwrights develop scripts for stage productions. You can also incorporate a love of sales and marketing with your writing abilities by becoming a copywriter, or you can become a journalist and write for newspapers or magazines.

Career Prospects and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of writers and authors was expected to increase by 3% between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than the average for all occupations. The most competition for positions may be found among major newspapers and magazines. However, developing online media skills can help increase your job prospects as the publishing industry turns toward online expansion. Other job prospects may be found in public relations departments. The BLS stated that about 2 of every 3 writers were self-employed in 2012, and about 1 in 4 writers worked part-time.

May 2014 data from the BLS showed that the 10th percentile of writers earned salaries of about $29,000, while the 90th percentile earned about $115,000 annually. The median annual wage for writers was estimated at $58,850, with salaries varying according to writing specialty and region. For instance, advertising and public relations writers earned more than those working in the newspaper and magazine industries, and writers in the District of Columbia earned more than those in Maryland. Freelance writers typically get paid per project and must continually seek new assignments to earn steady incomes.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

According to the BLS, salaried writing positions typically require you to have a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's and master's degree programs in creative writing, English, communications, and journalism may teach you about fiction writing, reporting, magazine writing, or screenwriting. Depending on the program, you may also learn about researching, interviewing, writing styles, and literature. You can also benefit from earning a degree in the particular field you want to write about, such as technology, history, or politics. Successful writers often have the following characteristics: creativity, determination, a love of words, and good communication skills.

What Employers Value

Many employers want to hire writers who have a bachelor's degree in English or communications. The field is competitive, so experience is a common requirement. The following are some samples of job postings for writers from November 2012:

  • An online retailer in Seattle, Washington, wanted a writer/editor with computer skills, e-commerce knowledge, and experience writing web-based content and email campaign advertisements. The minimum education requirement included a bachelor's in English, technical writing, communications, or a related field; but a master's degree was preferred.
  • A travel service based in Providence, Rhode Island, searched for a staff writer who could write 8-10 travel-related articles per month, take photos, and proofread content. The employer preferred someone with a bachelor's in a communications-related field, 4 years of newspaper- or magazine-writing experience, and computer skills.
  • A church in Johnstown, Ohio, sought someone with good listening and communication skills to create training manuals, e-newsletters, blog posts, and mailings. Proofreading and multitasking abilities were a must as well as at least 3 years of writing experience and a bachelor's degree in communications, journalism, or English.

How to Beat the Competition

Examples of your work are one of the best ways you can prove your writing skills to employers. While earning your degree, seek out any opportunities to have your writing published; these can be found at student publications, non-profit organizations, community theaters, and blogs. You may also get chances to have your writing published when participating in internships. You can find internship opportunities with book publishers, magazines, newspapers, literary agencies, and other publishing organizations. In addition to publication possibilities, you may also get experience with research, interviewing, production, and page layout.

Develop Related Skills

Sharpening your computer skills is another way to gain an edge. Digital writing opportunities are growing while print-based opportunities are declining. As a result, employers look for candidates who have knowledge of graphic design, page layout, and multimedia programs, according to the BLS. One way to showcase your writing skills and your computer capabilities is to create a website containing examples of your published clips, resume, references, and any other useful information.

You may also find positions, particularly in journalism, that require you to have photography skills. While earning your degree, you may be able to choose a minor in photography or photojournalism to learn the fundamentals of camera operations, lighting, photo editing and shooting techniques. Continuing education classes in photography are also available at post-secondary schools and for-profit businesses.

Other Fields to Consider

If the slow growth rate projections and high competition make you think a writing career may not be for you, consider a career in public relations. Public relations professionals improve their clients' relationships with the community by acting as the facilitator between the public and the organizations they're representing. You may write press releases, communicate with the media, prepare speeches, arrange interviews, and plan events. A 13% employment increase was expected for public relations managers and specialists during the 2012-2022 decade, according to the BLS. A May 2014 BLS report showed that public relations specialists earned median salaries of about $55,680, while public relations managers earned median wages of about $101,510 a year.

Alternatively, you may find a career as a producer or director interesting. These professionals work on various performing arts productions and are the people who bring writers' scripts to life. Specifically, producers handle the financial aspects by finding funds and implementing a budget. They may also hire directors and crew and keep the project on a timetable. Directors are more involved with the creative aspects and may select the cast, organize rehearsals, and guide actors on character development. For 2012-2022, the BLS expected a slow 3% growth rate for these professionals, and a 2014 BLS report indicated an earned median annual income of roughly $69,100.

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