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Becoming an “Intern” at 33 Years Old

I was an English major in college, with an emphasis on creative writing. Why? Because I enjoyed writing stories and I was good at it. But of course, none of that really lends itself to a budding career. I had no desire to write books (no “starving artist” for this guy!) and I never really read fiction anyway.

So what was I going to do?

I asked teachers what I could do with an English degree, and the only answers I got were, “Don’t do it for the money, do it for the love of the art” or “You can do anything with an English degree!”

I was on my own.

After browsing the stacks at Barnes & Noble, I found a book called The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman, and I fell in love with the idea of being a freelance copywriter: I could write interesting things, get paid well, and work from home. And best of all, I could get going right away!

I went in fits and starts, but I ultimately went full-time with my freelancing career in spring of 2008 – three months before my college graduation.

That’s when real life hit me.

The next 10 years were filled with dizzying highs and depressing lows. I racked up debt and failed to get any traction in copywriting at first. Then, in 2013, I hit it big. The next two years, I made six figures each year and paid off a huge pile of debt.

Then I started losing clients one by one. The industry I was in started moving all their writing in-house, and they were all located in places like Baltimore or Florida.

Being in Wisconsin, that meant I was frequently out of work.

It’s just as well, too, because I hated the work. Since December of last year, I quit copywriting almost entirely and have been running a very stress-filled wood shop out of my basement. It’s kept the bills paid, but I’ve been longing to write more.

I discovered Kindle publishing back in 2015.

This was a game-changer already for me.

I love blogging, and I learned that there were loads of people writing and publishing short, nonfiction books on Kindle. So I jumped in, publishing six different nonfiction books throughout 2015 and 2016.

Unfortunately, I was a few years late to the “Kindle Gold Rush” of around 2011 or so. Publishing wasn’t as simple as throwing a book up there and hoping it sells. But I loved the experience, and I knew that I wanted to go somewhere with this.

In the fall of 2016, on a whim, I started a fiction series. I wrote the first book (about 11,000 words) and posted it to the Kindle store as a free download. To my uneducated surprise, there are thousands of hungry, voracious readers begging for more fiction series to consume.

So I started teaching myself to write fiction. I published more books in that series and my audience grew. I made a few hundred bucks with little effort, and I was really enjoying the work.

Now, I made a series of calculated mistakes during 2017 that set me back, but I still believed that I had enough of a knack for writing fiction that I could do this full-time.

But my money woes continued.

The year 2017, I had to step back from publishing fiction so much because the bills weren’t getting paid. I scrambled to scrape together freelance writing gigs to keep food on my family’s table. It was a rough year.

This year, I’ve analyzed all the data from publishing books for the last couple years, combined with studying up on writing to market and developing new series. I’m a part of several writer’s groups on Facebook loaded with no-name authors who are doing very well publishing fiction full-time.

I know that if I stick with it, my publishing career is going to succeed.

But what do I do in the meantime?

For me, I decided to become an intern.

Time to learn on the job.

One of the big benefits of being an intern is that you get valuable work experience and knowledge. And if you’re a paid intern, it’s like going to school and getting paid to do it.

As an English major, I never took any internships. I didn’t have any career direction, so I didn’t know what I would do with them anyway.

A couple months ago, I stumbled on a blog post written by a fellow author who was doing very well as a ghostwriter. He would write books for clients who pay him for the rights to publish them.

I had long figured ghostwriting was a losing effort, financially. But he had clients paying him several thousand dollars per book. Given I could write fairly quickly, I determined that I could pay bills with ghostwriting and publish my own books at the same time.

It still nagged at me a little bit: say I write a series for a client and they hit it big. Maybe they publish the books and they start selling at $10,000/month for the client. And then I only got paid $7,500 total to write the series. Am I not getting ripped off?

Well, no. No, I’m not getting ripped off.

Why ghostwriting is like an internship.

When you’re an intern, you’re working for a company. The company uses your efforts to further their work. You don’t get the benefits of an employee. You don’t get any profit sharing. You’re there to get the experience that you can use to further your own career later.

In exchange, the boss is providing you with the experience and investing in your work. The boss gets the profits.

As a ghostwriter, I’m viewing this as a similar type of opportunity.

The client is going to get my writing. But they’re going to invest in publishing it. They will pay for the book covers and the marketing side of things. They’ll take on that risk. Heck, they’re risking paying for something that might not sell.

I’ve been writing essentially for free for the last few years. As a ghostwriter, I’m getting paid for my time. So that’s a win.

Plus, I’m developing my “writing muscles”. I get to work on my craft and get paid to do it. As a ghostwriter, I’m going to become a better writer. That will only help my career as an author.

Some view ghostwriting as a sham and as a ripoff. They think that there’s no money to be made in it. They think their ideas are worth a lot more.

I say, screw it.

I’ve got nothing to show for my “writing genius” yet. Ideas are only as good as their execution. If I have a great idea that I think will sell a million copies, I can either A) take the risk of publishing it myself or B) make a few thousand bucks and let someone else take the risk.

Those are my only options. I know too many writers who are averse to ghostwriting because they think their ideas are wonderful and will sell boatloads of books.

But until you sell boatloads of books yourself, your writing isn’t worth anything. The market determines your worth as a published author, not you.

So I’m jumping in as a ghostwriter. I’ve already secured one great client who is paying me well and we’re working on one series together. If I write 2-3 books a month for him and maybe one more client, I’ll be more than covering my family’s budget and I’ll have the freedom to pursue my own publishing career.

Not many internships can provide that.