Chip MacGregor

November 12, 2013

Making a Living at Writing: Two Types of Writers (a repeat)


Last month I blogged about the two types of writers. Normally I try not to repeat myself much, but since we’re now talking about making a living at writing, I’m going to repeat much of what I said in a blog post last month. (Regular readers of this blog will forgive me the repetition.) When you look at writers who are making a living at their writing, you find they come in two basic types:

TYPE 1 is the writer who writes all over the map. There are plenty of examples of this in publishing – writers who do kids books, teen books, women’s fiction, romance, thrillers, study guides, and the occasional novella. They publish with multiple publishers, self-publish some titles, do some work-for-hire or collaborative writing, and cobble together a living. This author has good years and bad, makes decent money, is certainly out there a lot. On the nonfiction side, you find this much more with journalistic types — they’re taking on a variety of projects in order to make a living.

TYPE 2 is the writer who figures out what she wants to write, then writes it. She focuses on a genre, figures out her voice, and writes to that audience. An example of this is Terry Blackstock (there are plenty of others). Terry is writing suspense novels, everybody recognizes her voice, and she’s focused on that one audience. Another is an author I represent, Lisa Samson. Lisa writes literary fiction, knows who she is and what her style is, and focuses on it.

I’ll tell you right now that TYPE 1 writers rarely hit it big. She might make a good living, but it’s tough to really hit the big time when you move around in categories. You know that feeling of being overwhelmed because you’re doing six books in four different genres? Well, that’s the sort of life a TYPE 1 author is going to lead forever, because she finds it tough build an audience. Readers have trouble following her. Bookstore owners have a hard time getting behind her because they don’t know what her next book is going to be. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do this — frankly, it may be the only way to make a living with writing these days. Some writers do this and make a great living, but they rarely hit it big because their releases are diffuse.

TYPE 2 authors have a much greater chance of building an audience, hitting the big time, partnering with retailers, establishing a brand, not working so hard or writing so many books. BUT it’s more risky being a TYPE 2. Why? Because what if your voice doesn’t catch on? Take a look at publisher mid-lists — they are filled with good authors (occasionally great craftspeople) who are writing and publishing but struggling along. I can think of a couple fantastic writers — literate, fun, insightful, with solid craftwork… but they’ve never really had a hit. There’s no guarantee that becoming a TYPE 2 author will establish you as a bestselling author. On the other hand, a good TYPE 2 author continues to get published, because she’s GOOD.

So… when you start to think about making a living at writing, ask yourself what you want to be. One problem I see is that many authors writing numerous historical novels aren’t taking the long view – they started out with the goal of “landing a contract,” and they continue with that as a goal. I would simply suggest a better goal than “landing another contract” would be “establishing a successful long-term career.” Or, if you will, “making a living at writing.”

Again, there’s no right or wrong here — just differences. Would love to hear what sort of writer you see yourself as being.


Share :


  • Ron Estrada says:

    This is a familiar topic, but worth repeating. My writing partner and I spend time discussing long term goals. She’s published a novel (Gina Conroy…one of yours) and I’ve only published articles. So we’re both just starting. While it’s tempting to jump on smaller projects or publishing fads, we both agree that we need to think about what we want to be writing for the next 20 years. With that in mind, it becomes much easier to find our niche.

  • Hi Chip!

    I write children’s/young adult from picture books to young adult mystery & fantasy. Am I spreading myself too thin? I’ve taken these past three years to learn, grow, and fine-tune my writing voice. My PB voice is different from my YA voice but you can definitely hear my writing style if you read my blog posts or my stories. Will I become financially successful at writing? Only the future holds the answer to that one, but I’m having a blast along the way and working very hard to become the writer I always knew I could be…

    Great post as always!

    Take care,

    Donna L Martin

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Donna. I think a writer will usually have a different voice with children than with adult works, of course. As for spreading yourself too thin… beats me. Different writers can accomplish different things. Many can write in multiple genres and make it work.

  • Janet Tronstad says:

    Very insightful post, Chip. I was just discussing this with a newer writer (we both write for Harlequin’s Love Inspired line) and she was wondering if it was best to branch out into several areas with several publishers. I told her I’d had very good success with staying with one publisher and writing a series of books (now numbering in the 20’s) thus building a brand and niche that is very recognizable to the LI fans (the Dry Creek books). At times throughout the years, I wondered if I should do something different, but staying the course allowed me to hit the USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling lists (something I very much doubt would have happened if I had scattered my energies). Still, I wonder if that is the course a beginning writer should take today. Publishing itself seems to be more of a scattered effort now, everyone pushing as many buttons as they can in hopes of finding the one that works big.

  • Jane Gaugler Daly says:

    I love to write fiction. Since I’m pre-published in the fiction genre, I’m building my resume by writing articles, devotionals, and short stories, which have been published. So I’m a Type 1, working toward being a Type 2.

  • Peggotty says:

    I’ll have one Type 2, and please Biggy-Size that.

  • I think its easier to be a type 2 writer if you have the luxury of writing from passion and not for the purpose of a paycheck. If you write books not for the money but for broader influence and purposeful impact, then I’m not sure type 1 would be desirable. I think this applies not only to books but blogs as well. Those with singular focus and identifiable mission have a larger audience more often than those who are writing something different every time they post. I thought of examples in both categories as well. You’ve given me good food for thought Chip. Thanks.

  • Shaun Ryan says:

    I’m with Lee. If you’re prolific enough, why not go for Type 3: someone who focuses on their genre and voice under more than one name, maybe even in multiple genres, build an audience in each?

    Tall order, sure. But possible. I’m considering this as well, coming at crime/mystery from two different angles. Might not be necessary though. Two books a year I can probably do, but the angles aren’t that far apart, so one name might work, and publishers might smile.

    For a guy like Lee it would seem advisable though. Otherwise, he’s going to be competing with himself or sitting on a lot of manuscripts.

    Is it Max Thompson or Lee Brand? I forget. You know how I am with names…

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Not just a tall order, Shaun — incredibly rare. Rare enough that when it happens, it’s written about because it’s so rare.

    • Shaun Ryan says:

      Hey, there’s something else I can write about!

      Seriously though, you mentioned focusing on one brand over time, and I can see how that would become a sort of default. It happened to me with art when I was a teen. I ended up liking pencil and ink drawing best, and the more I submerged myself in mastering them, the harder it became to work in other mediums like pastels or watercolors, both of which I also enjoyed. The techniques, the papers, the execution, all of it was too different, and as the hours devoted accumulated on one side, tipping the scales, the less time I had to give the paints and oil sticks. They got left in the dust

  • Lee Thompson says:

    Thanks for the post, Chip! I’m pretty prolific (I’ve been writing four novels a year for the last two years) so I’m writing under a couple pen-names in the Suspense genre. I’ve also started writing under my own name in the suspense genre as well since I’m not going to keep my pen-names a secret. I want readers to associate me with unflinching, heartfelt, and fast-paced Crime fiction.

    I do tinker with other projects though: I’m working on a children’s picture book series with my brother, which will be a lot of fun. But I do want to stay true to my Suspense roots and focus on building my audience under my Lee Thompson, Thomas Morgan, and Julian Vaughn bylines.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s true, Lee, and the occasional author can make that work. But it’s rare. And, in fact, most writers gravitate toward focusing on one brand over time. (Sure, there are exceptions… but not a lot of them.)

    • Lee Thompson says:

      Thanks for the comment, Chip. 🙂 I’m mostly going to focus on building my brand of Suspense fiction. Any other projects that strike my fancy are simply for extra money, and for a quick change of pace, before returning to writing what I love most.

    • Shaun Ryan says:

      Food for thought:

      You’re Type 2, brother. Because no matter what you write, it’s you; the themes, the voice, the pacing remain the same. The style too. We’ll just call you Chili Peppers…

    • Lee Thompson says:

      Type 2 works for me! 🙂

  • AshleeW says:

    I don’t switch gears easily, so I find myself falling most definitely into Type 2. Although I’d love to try out another genre or two, I am very comfortable with the genre I write in and definitely see the benefit of staying within that genre to find my voice and my footing in the publishing world. Very good insight! Thanks for the post 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.