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Fiction Writer Job Description, Career as a Fiction Writer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Fiction writers compose short stories, plays, and novels using imaginary characters and events. Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, J. K. Rowling, Sandra Cisneros, Steven King, and John Grisham are noted fiction writers.

Writers generally work alone. They may write on assignment for a specific publication or complete a story, play, or book and submit it to a publisher for possible purchase. If they sell their ideas for stories or books to editors before they begin the actual writing, they can avoid putting a great deal of time into writing a piece that might be difficult to get published.

Some books are written by several writers under the direction of an editor. Only the very best writers can support themselves solely by writing. Many fiction writers teach. Some novelists and playwrights may earn extra money by writing for magazines and newspapers.

Fiction writers often do research before they begin to write. If their books or stories are based on past or current events, they must know the facts on the subject. They do research in libraries and interview people who have the information they need.

Education and Training Requirements

There are no formal educational requirements for fiction writers. Most have learned about writing by writing—they write for many hours a day, practicing and perfecting their skills and techniques. Writers also spend a great deal of time reading the works of other writers, which gives them ideas on subjects to use for stories or books and exposes them to different writing styles and techniques.

Individuals interested in writing fiction professionally should finish high school and, if possible, attend a good liberal arts college with a highly rated English department. During their college years, students should refine their research skills and take a variety of literature courses to ensure a broad exposure to many authors and writing styles. Courses in creative and expository, or nonfiction, writing are also helpful to prospective fiction writers. Some writing professors have had their own works published; their experience and knowledge may benefit students as well.

Students can gain practical writing experience in high school and college by writing stories and submitting them to the school's literary magazine or by working on the yearbook or newspaper.

Most fiction writers write in their spare time because they cannot earn enough money from writing to support themselves. (© Larry Dale Gordon/zefa/Corbis.)

Getting the Job

Fiction writers generally begin by submitting short stories to magazines. Few publishers take a chance on a long work by an unknown author. By reading directories such as the Literary Market Place and magazines such as Writer's Digest, and by talking to someone who is a professional writer, beginners can get some idea of what markets are open to them. Magazines usually have their own style and look for stories written in that style. Serious writers should try to interest a literary agent in their work—publishers usually pay more attention to manuscripts submitted by an agent. Fiction writers who have no agent should submit the manuscript themselves.

Government and private foundation grants are available to good writers. Fiction writers with proven ability who are working on a time-consuming project such as a novel can apply to the National Endowment for the Arts, for instance, for grant money to support themselves while completing their work.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Fiction writers consider themselves successful when their books or stories receive good reviews in magazines and newspapers and when their work is studied in colleges and universities. Many writers have stories or books published but do not make enough money to support themselves.

Fiction writing is a highly competitive and growing field. However, authors often have difficulty earning a living solely by writing.

Working Conditions

Fiction writers have very individual writing habits. Most authors set aside a certain number of hours each day for writing—they try to write during these hours despite illness or lack of ideas. Other authors write only when they feel inspired, and then they may write for twenty-four hours at one time. Research for a particular project might result in travel.

Writers often have to write in their spare time if they hold other jobs. They generally enjoy writing so much that they do not mind doing it in their free time.

Earnings and Benefits

A fiction writer's earnings depend on where their work is published, the type of writing they do, and, in some cases, the length of the piece. Beginning writers may have a hard time finding a publisher for their fiction. They usually work in another field to subsidize their writing. Once a writer gets published and garners critical and commercial attention, it becomes easier to attract the interest of magazines and publishing houses. The more interest authors can generate, the better contract offers they will receive.

Where to Go for More Information

International Women's Writing Guild
P.O. Box 810, Gracie Station
New York, NY 10028-0082
(212) 737-7536

National Writers Association
10940 S. Parker Rd., #508
Parker, CO 80134
(303) 841-0246

National Writers Union
113 University Pl., 6th Fl.
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-0279

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.
P.O. Box 877
Chestertown, MD 21620

Publishers often sign contracts with well-known writers to publish books before they even see the finished manuscript. These contracts generally offer writers advances, which are sums of money paid before publication. Bestselling novels can make their authors very wealthy, although most writers who sell novels and plays can barely earn enough money to support themselves. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income of fiction writers—taking into account the starving artists and the successfully published—was $45,460. Since almost all fiction writers are freelance writers, they must provide their own health and life insurance and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts