Filtering by Tag: MONEY

How to Make a Living as a Writer

Over the last year, as the Lawrence Grauman Jr. Post-graduate Fellow at the Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, I had the opportunity to mentor graduate students in journalism. What question did they ask me most often?


How do you make a living?

For me, the answer was simple. I wasn’t precious about writing. I do one thing well, and nothing else well: I am a very, very good writer. One could say writing is my superpower. Writing is the tool I use to make money. How I use that tool is up to me. There is no one correct way to use the tool. There is you, and the tool, and how you use the tool is your business.

At this point, I’ve been a writer for over two decades. Which is a pretty long time to make a living at something. Along the way, I’ve been many things, but all of them involve writing. I’ve been an investigative journalist, a copywriter, a TV producer, a branding consultant, a publicist, and a speaker, to name a few.

While I know that I can write and well, I have a sort of shrugging attitude as to how I’ve applied that talent.

  • In 2010, a communications company hired me to be the voice of Pepto-Bismol on Facebook. If you’re not aware, Pepto on social media is a personality. P&G was unhappy with what this company had done to give Pepto a persona. It was up to me to provide that. So, I did. One of the most popular posts I wrote featured the caption: “I partied so hard my cup fell off.” The photo featured Pepto with its cup next to it.

  • In 2009, I wrote and published a 10,000-word investigation of the Great Recession’s impact on the adult movie industry: “They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?” Slate included it in their "Seven Great Stories About Paying for Sex and Being Paid to Have It,” and Longform called it “unflinching and devastating.” Subsequently, an essay I wrote about the project, "The Numbers On Self-Publishing Long-Form Journalism," was taught in “Media, Politics & Power in the Digital Age” at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Studio 20 program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

  • In 2008, I was an editor for a Time Warner-owned digital vertical for 18-to-34-year-old women. During that tenure, I wrote nearly 1,400 posts, oversaw a team of freelance contributors, and directed the site’s digital outreach program, helping grow the site’s traffic from startup to 4 million unique visitors and 22 million page views a month.


So, who am I? A copywriter? An investigative journalist? An editor? Pretending to be Pepto made $100 an hour and earned me thousands of dollars every month. The porn investigation I published “made” no money but was read by thousands and thousands of people and, according to one reader, “changed the way I think about the business of making pornography.” As an editor, I made over $80,000 a year and learned slideshows are the easiest way to maximize page views. I’ve also developed TV shows, consulted on films, and worked as a branding consultant and a publicist. Was one job better than the other? Was one a waste of my time? Was one meaningful and the rest not? Does it matter? To me, it’s all the same. I’m a writer.

Awhile back, I published a digital short story: “The Tumor.” I had it professionally designed and edited. Every month, people buy copies of it on Gumroad, where consumers can pay they want ($1+) for it. It might be a bizarre fiction inspired by reality and populated by a monster, but it’s also unequivocally mine.

To young journalists, I want to say: Do whatever you want—as long as its yours.

Buy my digital short story, “The Tumor” … “a masterpiece of short fiction.”

What's the Ratio

I got ratioed here — and, surely, I was out of line — but I was annoyed. I’d recently read this interview with Abigail Disney, and I found her really charming: humble, shrewd, and filled with moxie. In any case, she ended up responding to his tweet in a far more sophisticated way than I did, so there you go.

Want more? Buy "The Tumor." It’s been called "a masterpiece of short fiction."

Don't Give Away Your Right To Negotiate For Yourself (Updated)

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find a clause like this in a contract for a freelance article.

(*see below for an update)

Image via Magic:  The Gathering

Image via Magic: The Gathering

  1. Read your contract in full before signing it. Don’t skim-read it on autopilot.

  2. Do not agree to terms like these. You are giving away your right to negotiate.

  3. Explain the clause must be removed from this contract in order for you to sign it.

“10. Film/TV/Audiovisual Works: You hereby grant and assign to [redacted] exclusive decision-making, signing authority, and rights with respect to feature film, motion picture, video game, mobile application, television, episodic programming, and any other audiovisual work based on or derived from the Work.

[Redacted] agrees to make good faith efforts to consult with you before signing any such ancillary rights agreements.

Any monies actually received by [Redacted] upon optioning and/or selling the Work (after deduction of [Redacted]’s actual, out-of-pocket costs and expenses, including, without limitation, agency fees and other fees and expenses related to sale and exploitation thereof) will be distributed as follows:

Fixed Compensation.

i) Option Fees/Purchase Price: 50% to [Redacted], 50% to you 
ii) Royalties and/or Series Sales Bonuses (if any): 50% to [Redacted], 50% to you 
iii) Contributor Writing or Consulting Fee (if any): 100% to you 
iv) Executive Producer, Producer, or Similar Fees for [Redacted] or its employees/contractors (if any): 100% to [Redacted].

Contingent Compensation and box office bonuses (if any): 50% to [Redacted], 50% to You

It’s acknowledged that [Redacted] may have a first look or overall deal with a third party, and any guaranteed fees associated with such an agreement are expressly excluded.

Accounting statements with respect to any ancillary exploitation of rights pursuant to this Section and payments, if any, will be delivered to you within 90 days following receipt by [Redacted] of the actual monies and such statements from third party purchasers or licensees of such rights.

It is agreed and understood that the services you are furnishing under this Agreement are extraordinary, unique, and not replaceable, and that there is no fully adequate remedy at law in the event of your breach of this Agreement, and that in the event of such a breach, [Redacted] shall be entitled to equitable relief by way of injunction or otherwise. You also recognize and confirm that in the event of a breach by [Redacted] of its obligations under this Agreement, the damage, if any, caused to you by [Redacted] is not irreparable or sufficient to entitle you to injunctive or other equitable relief. Consequently, your rights and remedies are limited to the right, if any, to obtain damages at law and you will not have any right in such event to terminate or rescind this Agreement or any of the rights granted by you hereunder or to enjoin or restrain the development, production and exploitation of the rights granted pursuant to this Agreement.”

I requested the clause be removed. The editor declined, describing the contract as “writer-friendly.” I declined to sign.

Buy "The Tumor" — my short story that’s been called "a masterpiece of short fiction."

Memphis Money Wars

When I was in Memphis, I visited a black strip club. This Instagram image is from that visit. I will write a post about it, likely this week, probably on my Forbes blog. I wasn't sure whether or not to go to the club. When I asked white people about the neighborhood, they said, don't go there. When I asked black people about the neighborhood, they said, you'll be fine. So, I went. It was really late, and I wasn't sure where the club was. I accidentally walked into the wrong club. The guy behind the bulletproof (?) window where they took the cover charge finally figured out where I was trying to go. They told me to go around the corner. So, you know, I did. 

Forbes Blog Monthly Stats #5

Every month, I review the traffic stats at my Forbes blog. This is my latest.

Last month was terrific. This month was not so much. Last month, I did around 193K unique visitors and 230K page views. This month I did around 115K unique visitors and 140K page views.

Here's what worked and what could use improvement.

The month's post popular post had to do with soft-core lesbian porn. The reasons for its popularity elude me. Another frequently read post was about an MMA fighter on trial for beating up his former porn star ex-girlfriend. The surprise post of the month was about Wonder Woman's armpit hair. Frankly, I wrote that one without thinking much about it, and it caused quite a fuss, getting cited by the National Review and discussed for a full hour on "The Dennis Prager Show." Apparently, armpit hair on female superheroes is a must-click topic. I'll keep that in mind for April. I also wrote a post about some porny YSL ads that upset some Parisians. That post got a nod from the Kansas City Star. The post I thought was the most unique was an interview I did with a lifestyle blogger -- who's armed and dangerous. 

As for what I can work on: post more, be more creative, write better headlines, do more interviews, be more daring, focus more on things that are fun, keep up the regular posting.

I'm noticing that I'm writing more about women-related issues, and I'd like to do more of it. In addition, I'm doing more hot takes, which is good, because that makes you a part of the conversation. And it was nice to get some media attention.

Yo, it's all good in the bloghood.

Final monthly stats: 

Pageviews: 140,725

Total Monthly Visitors: 115,545

One-time Visitors: 112,156

Repeat Visitors: 3,389

Comments: 46

Posts: 12

Current Recency Score: 74.511%

Virgins for Sale

I did an interesting interview with a businessman who sells virgins for a living.

Image via  Dynamite

Image via Dynamite

"What makes thinks exklusive? That not everyone can have it. For example a very old Wine or a luxury car which is just produced 100 Times. A woman can give just one time her Virginity and she hold it for at minimum 18 Years. Further demand determines the offer."

The interview was done via email, and I preserved the way in which he wrote it. He's German, so English is a second language. 

Someone once called me a modern-age Studs Terkel. I particularly like when something is written in such a way to as exactly as possible capture not just what someone said, but how they said it, which is equally important. 

In this way, you render what they said and what they meant.

Forbes Blog Monthly Stats #3

Last year, I started and then stopped a transparent blogging traffic series in which I examined the numbers associated with my Forbes blog, SIN INC, where I cover the business of vice (guns, sex, alcohol, gambling, etc.). That series -- you can read #1 here and #2 here -- went on hiatus for some reason. Now it's back. It may or may not shed light on "blogging for dollars" for you, if that's something you do.

I'm going to focus here in on January 2017, which I hope is the last month that my traffic on the blog there will suck. I had put a pause on blogging on the Forbes website for a few months prior, in order to work on another project, but this month, February 2017, is really banging so far, traffic-wise, and I look forward to detailing that next month.

Let's talk about January. So January 2017 will be, I hope, the last time I post the minimum number of times required, which is five, at least for me. Historically, I've not infrequently procrastinated until the end of the month, and then posted during the last five days of the month. What a bum. Thankfully, in February 2017, I started posting five times a week, every weekday, and that's been working great. I'll detail how that happened in next month's post.

In any case, I did a post on a firearms coloring book that I thought was interesting. I enjoyed interviewing the woman who created it. That post got 2,833 views, which is not that great, but whatever. I also wrote a post about a new Playboy Club that's coming to New York. That got 1,806 views, which is way meh. Since I sometimes work as a copywriter, I like to write about ads, and I wrote about the Mr. Clean sexes up the Super Bowl phenomenon. That got 6,018 views, which is better than the others. A post about an autographed copy of Playboy signed by Not My President really shit the bed with 724 views. I also watched the new Warren Buffett documentary and extracted five tips for women. That got 6,000 views. So, in all, not a great month, but lots of room for improvement.

Thoughts: My headlines aren't strong enough. Thankfully, the Forbes CMS has a funny little widget that reviews your headline, grades it, and helps you make it better. I didn't post more, but I'm working on that this month. And I offered little in the way of "hot takes." The closest thing was the Buffett post, because part of my point to women was good luck turning into Buffett if you weren't born a white male, because that's what Buffett points to in the documentary as the equivalent of winning the "ovarian lottery." But the post should've been stronger in tone and funnier.

Final monthly stats:

Pageviews: 66,116

Total Monthly Visitors: 51,135

One-time Visitors: 49,431

Repeat Visitors: 1,704

Comments: 0

Posts: 5

Current Recency Score: 35.967

In any case, come back next month for a far-more impressive tally. I'm also going to talk about finding better story ideas on what I've come to refer to as "the grey web." It's where everyone else isn't hunting for fodder.

How to Get a Job in Reality TV

I was lucky enough to have a few weeks-long gig recently working on developing a few reality TV show ideas.

Here's what I learned:

Have fun

The hard thing about writing books is that they're sometimes no fun. Reality TV? It's entertainment. You could say the bar is lowered, but maybe the bar is raised on having a good time.

Stop trying

The reason I got the gig is that the producer found me on the internet. Sometimes you have to try hard to get something. Sometimes it just falls into your lap.

You aren't perfect

I was better at some aspects of this work than others. But even the stuff I wasn't great at helped because it made me more able to get it right the next time I worked on it.

Support the arts! Buy a digital copy of THE TUMOR, a "masterpiece of short fiction" by me, Susannah Breslin.

Mistakes I've Made in My Career

Going on job interviews lately (copywriting for ad agencies) and getting a new gig lately (development for reality TV) have got me thinking about mistakes I've made in my career. There have been many. Here are a few.

Torching bridges

At one point several years ago, I spent a good period of time working for a communications agency as as copywriter. Eventually, I ended things without sufficient warning. That was dumb. So much for a reference from them, forever. For some reason, Forbes is one of the few companies for which I've worked with which I've kept a (so far as I'm aware) decent relationship. This is smarter. The other way is stupider. Don't be stupid.

Stop moving

Right before I left Los Angeles some time ago, I'd interviewed for a job that would've led to me being a part of a think tank of people coming up with reality TV ideas. But in my personal life there was a breakup, and I thought I wanted to get out of LA, and, who knows, maybe I needed to leave. But I've always had an easier time finding work in LA. I think I'm more professionally compatible with that city's ethos: shiny surfaces, bleeding hearts, pulsing insanity.

Raise the stakes

It's hard to imagine a job I've done for which I haven't been underpaid. Ad agencies paid me a good chunk of money for what I did, but it was a drop in the bucket of their budgets. I should've asked for more, more often, more of the time. These new work opportunities push me back into negotiating for my worth. And that's some high stakes shit, right? Because you're not negotiating for money, you're telling somebody: This is what I'm worth: as a person, as a woman, as a talent. Monetize your talent. It's what will earn you the only paycheck you won't be embarrassed to cash because it won't have cost you your soul.

Oh, and if you want to hire me before I get too busy to take on more work, here's my copywriting portfolio, my LinkedIn profile, and the best thing I've ever written.

Want to show your love? Buy THE TUMOR, a "masterpiece of short fiction" by me, Susannah Breslin.

Forbes Blog Monthly Stats #2

You can read Forbes Blog Monthly Stats #1 here.

The month of June was a real fail whale of a month for my Forbes blog. In May, my total monthly visitors was 98,340. In June, it was 62,925. Shakira's hips don't lie, and neither do those numbers. What went wrong? Let's discuss.

In my last post, I wrote: "In June, I'm aiming to post five times a week, as a way of building my traffic." Instead of doing so, I posted a grand total of seven times out of a possible twenty-two times. Simply put, when the initial posts I wrote didn't "pop," traffic-wise, I got frustrated and wandered off in another direction. Another reason this didn't "work" is that "quality over quantity" is probably the better mantra here, not "quantity over quality." Most of the posts I wrote got crap traffic. The one that got the most traffic was one about Trophy Wife Barbie, which was fun to do. 

Of course, one can always look for things to blame. Blogging is slower in the summer! My mojo was off! I was too busy working on my book proposal! And yet when one blogs, one has no one to blame but oneself, and so I shall bear the burden of my blogging failure.

A couple days ago, I put together a short list of five posts that I thought could do well traffic-wise. More "interesting ideas" than "churn and burn." The first of those posts will run next week. I think it will be a good one.

Let's hope for a better performance in July.

Final monthly stats:

Pageviews: 80,648

Total Monthly Visitors: 62,925

One-time Visitors: 60,673

Repeat Visitors: 2,252

Comments: 18

Posts: 7

Current Recency Score: for some reason my recency score isn't appearing on my dashboard

So come back next month and see if I can get quality over quantity to get this thing going again.

Guns 'n' Porn

Watch out for those porn stars' shoulders, Rep!

[Rep. Brandon Phelps’ campaign] expenditures in 2015 included a $1,100 donation to the Central Florida Shootout, a fishing tournament in the Sunshine State. He said in an interview that he did not attend the tournament. He spent time at Lake of the Ozarks last summer and also went to Las Vegas in January 2015 to attend the Shot Show, a gun exposition. The tab for his stay at the Hard Rock Hotel during the gun show came to $1,340. Coincidentally or not, Adult Video News was holding its annual adult entertainment convention, which draws crowds of porn stars and their fans, at the Hard Rock at the same time as the gun show was in town.

Phelps said that the National Rifle Association arranged for his lodging and that he did not rub shoulders with porn stars. He says that he checked out when he discovered that porn stars were coming.

“When I heard that, I left early,” Phelps says. “They (the porn convention) came in the day after I left, supposedly. I was not there. God knows that I was not.”

[Capitol Fax]