News and Interviews

Writers and Money

Tanis Rideout 2

I’ve been a professional writer for about eight years now, that is, writing has been my full-time occupation. That wasn’t always the case of course, and I’ve tried to be forthright with people about how I got to where I am. A little luck, a lot of time, some great support, and a lot of hard work. But I think as writers (and readers) we often have no idea how writers make ends meet. It’s something I’ve spoken about with a number of friends in the business and they agree, there’s very little conversation around this.

So, I set out to find out how writers get by. I put together a survey, delved into my address book and sent it out to a bunch of fellow poets, novelists, memoirists and the like. Their responses will be posted here over the next few months.

And I agreed to go first.

If you want to answer the survey yourself, and the more the merrier, you’ll find it here:

Writers and Money

Who are you?

Tanis Rideout. Best-selling, award winning novelist and poet. My first novel was published in seven countries.

I am a white woman, in my forties.


How many books have you published?

Three. Two books of poetry and one novel.  


How many publishers, in Canada, have you published with?



What type of publishers did you publish with?

I self published my first collection of poetry, published my novel with a large press, McClelland and Stewart, and my most recent poetry collection with Wolsak and Wynn, a small press.


How much money did you make from writing last year?

In the range of $30,000.


Are you a full time-writer? That is, does writing or writing related activity make up the entirety of you income?



Do you have another job as well as writing?

Sometimes. I have taken jobs teaching writing, working as a writer-in-residence, running workshops.


Where do you live?

Toronto. Mostly.


On your own or with someone else?

I’m married and live with my husband and two cats.


Do you receive financial support from a partner, spouse, family member, or anyone else?

My husband and I share most of our living expenses, but not fifty-fifty. So, while he doesn’t support me entirely, certainly I live a better lifestyle than I would if I was on my own.


Have you ever been supported for a period of longer than 1 months by someone else since becoming a writer?

Yes. Before I was published at all I went and lived in my dad’s basement after quitting a job to finish a novel (that will never see the light of day.) Before the publication of my first novel I had some funding from grants but my now husband supported me for a year to finish the editing of it.


Last year, what percentage of your income came specifically from writing – including advances, freelance work, royalties, not including grants, prizes fellowships etc.

About 70%.

I’m including in here, royalties and a writer-in-residence gig, in which most of the payment was for writing as well as payments I make to myself from an investment account I created when my first novel sold internationally. I pay myself every two weeks, the same as when I worked in the non-profit world.


Is this significantly different from other years?

I would say not hugely for the last five years. Some years I have done slightly more teaching, or received some grants or awards. But the majority of my income in the past five years has come directly from writing.


Last year what percentage of your income came from grants, prizes fellowships etc?

About 10%


Is this significantly different from other years?

Yes. I have had a couple of years where the bulk of my income has come from grants.


Last year, what percentage of your income came from writing related work – ie teaching creative writing, writer-in-residence positions, speaking engagements, manuscript evaluations, judging etc.

20% Most of that would be from the writer-in-residence work.


Is this significantly different from other years?

Yes. Most years I haven’t had a gig like the WIR one.


Last year, what percentage of your income came from work not related to writing in any way?



Is this significantly different from other years?

Not since I began writing fulltime. Prior to that, yes!


If you have/had another job, do you find it hinders you’re writing?

Yes and no.



Certainly writing a novel requires, for me sustained time to think and work, so not having to be on someone else’s schedule is great. That having been said, there’s something to be forced to interact in the world that is very good for writing. It’s easy for me to avoid it lots of the time. But being around other people, in other environments is good grist for the mill.


Is there anything you’d like to do that you feel your writing hinders? Home ownership, a family, travel, etc.?

I’m really lucky in that I’ve been able to travel, and am not much interested in having a family or a home. I’d say writing has opened up travelling for me in a big way, actually in that I can take my work with me.


What do you do for free that you feel you should be paid for? reading series etc.

I try to make sure that I’m paid for most of my work these days, though I certainly did a lot of readings and some writing for free earlier in my career. Now I tend to only work for free if there is a charitable component attached to it.


How much does it matter to you that you’re paid for writing? if you weren’t paid, would you write?

It matters a lot to me if there are other people along the way being paid. If someone else is making money around my writing then I should be getting paid. That having been said, I would absolutely write if I wasn’t being paid for it. I think there’s a difference between the publishing and the writing. I’m not sure I would publish if I wasn’t being paid for it. Not without good reason.


Have you ever felt taken advantage of, or asked to do something for free that you felt you should have been paid for?

Taken advantage of might be a little strong, but I was asked to write essays for large UK publications in conjunction with the publication of my novel there. A classic case of being paid in exposure. I have no idea if it paid off at all in terms of sales, but did feel like I should be paid for content for a business.


Anything else you would like to share?

I’m really fortunate that my first novel did so well financially. In addition to that, my sister-in-law is a financial manager so handles my finances and investments for me. I incorporated when my first novel sold, and pay myself a bi-weekly salary that hasn’t changed since I worked full-time for a charity.

Tanis Rideout writes both poetry and fiction. In 2010 Rideout won second prize in the CBC Literary Awards for her poems about Marilyn Bell. Her first novel, Above All Things, was released in Canada in 2012, and in the US and UK in 2013.