Let’s Get It: Author Motivation 101

Three Reconciliations of Time and Money

Image: Boekverkoper en een schrijver, Thomas Rowlandson, after Henry Wigstead, 1802/Rijksstudio

A Mathematician: An Author’s Hourly Rate

First off, there’s a simple way to calculate direct earnings. For me, pitching and writing a piece for a publication can easily take 10 hours by my count. So if I’m writing for $200 per piece, then the rate would be $20/hour. That’s the simple count of how a freelance writer makes money. I was always reluctant to track my time input, but I found it really useful. My time tracking app is a piece of paper and a pen. My lifehack is leaving extra lines on the page so I can add more lines — unexpected revisions, etc.

A Statistician: An Author’s Indirect Earnings

Like Ryan Leslie says, you also need to count it while it multiplies. (#DOTHEMATH!) To gauge my hourly rate from direct income is simple, but it leaves out a lot of the other bread. Here are two examples:

A Damn Magician: The Writing Production Process

I finally got a taste of what it felt like to be a Kanye hater: hate the tone, love the music. I didn’t love the tone of William Deresiewicz’s book, but I loved the subject matter. Systems and incentives have turned artists into producers now — and I think that’s super true. It’s how I approach my writing.

  • Brand building writing: I am pitching articles to publications that all the other “serious” writers pitch to (NYT, New Yorker, etc.), in order to build my reputation. This is part of the fashion show I need to price my work accordingly. Pattern-matching is a real thing, in and outside of Silicon Valley.
  • Promotion writing: I write articles to promote the book. I’m writing to promote something — my book, my studio, etc.
  • Fun writing: I’m writing this piece, and the rest of my blog, firstly for fun. Secondly to improve my writing through experimentation, practice, and maintaining my writing muscles. and thirdly to build an audience for me. The people that stick around here want to read my writing, and that’s really valuable. (Thank you!)
  • Craft writing: I’m writing notes on the psychology and history of belief, with the goal of exploring that through my writing. This type of effort is meant to push my current boundaries and limits of being a writer. It’s meant to be almost athletic — the Olympics events are writing a proposal, writing a sample chapter, and the writing a book. This can sometimes intersect with freelance writing (e.g., pitching a related topic to a publication) or promotion writing (e.g., excerpting), but the goal here is to really push myself as a writer.
  • A freelance writing piece is for that bread…so the less time I spend on it, the better.
  • A brand building piece is probably just as rigorous as craft writing, so I won’t be mad if I spend 20 hours on it for a lower payment.
  • But I can’t expect to write a Kanye religion piece each week (as it turns out, it doesn’t sell books) and actually make a living on it, unless I start a Patreon or Memberful for it and people sign.

No More Reconciliations…

But I read a ton of books for my work, and I recommend the best three each month. Sign up for the Best of Books reading newsletter, where I send three great books to your inbox. As a bonus, you’ll receive my best articles on creativity (read by 300,000 others). See you around!

I write about personal and collective growth. Author ‘There Is No Right Way to Do This’ herbertlui.net/reps/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store