How can I make a living doing what I love?
August 15, 2010 10:52 AM   Subscribe

How can I make a living doing what I love? My almost-50 birthday is this week. Several years ago I quit my job to start a new career. I still have little idea how to make money from what I want to do. I'd hate to go back to my former career, and I can't imagine who would hire a man nearing 50, who hasn't had a job in years...

I spent 25+ years in retail, managing regions of high-profile, high-volume, high-end stores. It was a 60 - 80 hour a week job, no matter what company I worked for.

At the age of 45 I had had enough. I had saved money to buy a house, and had received a very small amount of money when my father died. Burned out and exhausted, I quit my job, went back to school, and studied journalism.

Now my funds are growing short, but in my heart I know I want to be a writer. I've been writing a well-respected (though, sadly, not highly-trafficked!) blog daily for the past two years. I also write for another (very well-respected) blog, and occasionally get calls from reporters.

(Of course, I "work" -- meaning, I write -- almost every day, often 12 hours a day, so I'm not afraid to invest my time in something I love!)

I've made several good contacts in the field I write about, and several of that industry's leaders know me and occasionally quote me.

If I could make enough money from the blog I would be thrilled, but I can't, or haven't gotten enough traffic and attention to yet. I'm also terrible about marketing myself.

I'd love to write books on the topic I blog about but I have little self-confidence, and little knowledge of how to write a book! (I'm sure I could if I hunkered down and just started...)

Despite all this, I know I am a good writer and I know, as many have told me, I have touched people's hearts and minds.

So, how can I make a living doing what I love? Do I need a PR person? An agent? A winning lottery ticket? ;-)

Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated!

Many, many thanks!
posted by ifnot to Work & Money (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Congrats on being a journalist! Sounds like you have great life experience to make into a book - a devil wears prada account of fashion from the retail side? I'd pass that by an agent. Seriously, you are in a good spot as long as you use your powers for good writing.

I am sure there are a lot of trade magazines from the retail biz who would be stoked to have a vet who can actually write writing for them. Reach out to them, start an analysis blog and get the word out.
Good luck! Write more if you want more ideas...
posted by parmanparman at 11:15 AM on August 15, 2010

It sounds like you have an embryonic senior consultancy business in your hands: experience, contacts, insights. Now if you add some original research to that (hard numbers to fuel in depth whitepapers, knowledge that gives your clients or subscribers a competitive edge) and some clever personal branding (yourself as an opinion leader) you will be on your way to having a succesful second career. Not necessarily as a journalist, but at least as a Voice in your chosen field.
posted by NekulturnY at 11:38 AM on August 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much for your thoughts!
I'm sorry I didn't make my post clearer - I'm not writing about retail anymore. That would have been a good idea...
posted by ifnot at 12:19 PM on August 15, 2010

Reading blogs about blogging (oh, how meta of me), I see a lot of talk about monetizing your blog by writing an ebook. The idea is that your readers, as well as others who may be interested in the topic, would spend a small amount of money to download an ebook. And this is something that with a little discipline and tech savvy, one can do without the gatekeeping force of the publishing industry, agents, editors, etc.

I'm not sure how much money there is to be made by this sort of thing, or how much of it is just monetization of pre-existing traffic to your site. But it might be something to look into.
posted by Sara C. at 12:34 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why aren't you writing about retail? It may not be what you want to write about every day, but writing a couple articles a month on a topic you have expertise in could help to finance the topics you want to write about the rest of the time.
posted by freshwater at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2010

As one who's made a decent living for decades as a freelance writer, I just want to congratulate you on having the guts to dig in and attempt it in these crappy times. Publishing has changed so much since I started that any advice I might offer would sound downright quaint, but I truly wish you well. Everything else may change, but clean clear vivid language with heart never goes out of style.

Or is that just something I hope?
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:04 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can try selling a book idea to an agent, who could get you a (probably modest) book deal. It's not as impossible as it sounds. Get a membership to Publisher's Marketplace and make some queries to agents. It's hard to make a living as a journalist, and you probably have to be comfortable with a much lower income than you were accustomed to, unless you win the publishing lottery and, for example, Oprah loves your book. Anyway, I'm in a similar boat. If you want to discuss it more, send me a memail.

Good luck.
posted by Buffaload at 2:37 PM on August 15, 2010

Can you say what you've been writing about? That will make a difference.
posted by alms at 3:11 PM on August 15, 2010

Agree with alms. We could also probably give better advice if we knew what sort of writing you do - opinions, interviews, observation of industry trends, something else entirely? Comedic? Serious? And who's your audience?

The freelancers I know who make a living at it are often still at least partly dependent on traditional media - freelancing to magazines, newspapers, trade publications, etc. Most have (or try to have) bread-and-butter regular assignments that, if not always exciting, ensure the bills are paid.

If what you love is to write, period, you might want to diversify and not focus all of your energy on the blogs, however well-respected. Find industry or trade pubs in your field and pitch them. Depending what your niche is, try to build up yourself as a brand (a hateful but useful expression). If reporters interview you and industry insiders quote you, it sounds like you're already getting there. Do you have enough experience/knowledge to sell yourself as a conference speaker? Can you give workshops?

But all that said, more info about what you do would really be useful.
posted by nicoleincanada at 4:58 PM on August 15, 2010

Well, Retail Hell was a blog that became a book. But blogging alone isn't going to attract a publisher, unless you've got really big numbers and a strong bent for self-promotion.

You can take a look at Mediabistro courses and forums, sign up for Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and respond to those who ask questions about retail. You need to play to your strengths before you can branch out.

You have to be your own PR person now. Can you do some consulting for retailer or for those who want to start their own businesses? Etsy's packed with people who think they can turn their handicrafts into the next Anthropologie.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:41 PM on August 15, 2010

Response by poster: First of all, I want to thank you all for such great and thoughtful responses. This was my first question on Me-Fi, and I am very impressed and grateful to you all!

There are a lot of great ideas here, and now that my birthday has come and gone I've been giving them all a lot of thought.

A few of you wanted to know what I write about. I write a blog about gay rights, which at the moment has been a bit of a "hot topic."

I really would love to write a book about the current marriage situation and the opposition from the right. I certainly have been on top of the issue for the past two years and have a lot of knowledge and material, not to mention I'm a very good researcher and have some good contacts.

If anyone has any other thoughts, or additional ideas about how I can learn to market myself -- yes, that truly is my biggest area of opportunity! -- please, please let me know, here or feel free to drop me a memail.

And, again, thank you!!
posted by ifnot at 12:19 PM on August 19, 2010

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