How I Earned My First $1,200 From Writing and Publishing Poetry

by Pamelyn Casto

Sometimes writing for free can be the best a newcomer to writing can do. In my own case, I had no intentions of actually being a writer. In the beginning, I was mostly dabbling, mostly exploring to see what activity might interest me so I turned to writing to see what might develop in that area. I wrote a lot online (for free) by participating in various writing discussion groups. Such discussions with others helped me learn more about writing in general and helped me learn a lot about effective ways of expressing myself. I got plenty of writing practice by participating in those many discussions and I met a lot of fine writers and editors too.


I started writing essays and articles when an editor with an online publication asked me to write something for her magazine– on a particular topic. So I did, scared and trembling all the way. I did NOT consider myself a writer. The online journal was a relatively well-known publication at that time so I definitely felt out of my league. I was new at this! To write the requested article I did all sorts of difficult and time-consuming research to make the essay strong and because the essay was on a topic people wanted information on it was popular and ended up as a reference in all sorts of places. Then other editors began asking to reprint that essay so I said yes to those editors too (free again).


Before long I had developed a reputation as someone who knows her topic (and I do) and then I got the opportunity to write for Writer’s Digest. (Again, it was someone else’s idea– in this case my co-writer’s request that he and I co-write some articles). We ended up co-writing three articles for Writer’s Digest and they published those articles in Writer’s Digest itself and re-published them in some of their other publications. So I was paid well for the articles themselves then paid extra when the Writer’s Digest editors re-published them in their other magazines too.


I then began getting invitations to write more on this particular topic . . .  for pay. So I did and my work ended up in all sorts of interesting (and paying) places. So in my case, on that particular topic, writing for free was a good step into writing for pay.


On the other hand, I like writing poetry and I resent there being little money for poetry. So I discovered a way to earn some money with my poetry. I found some annual contests where my poetry fits and began entering frequently. And began winning. Sure, the prizes were only $150 or $100 (or less) but I was pleased to have earned something for my poems. I worked hard on them.


As best I can add it up, I’ve so far earned about $1,200 from my poetry (plus publication in poetry anthologies/journals). That’s not a lot of money, but it makes me feel good that I can earn at least a little money for my poems (when others declare there’s no money at all in writing poetry). So I plan to keep going in that direction (at least until I stop winning) and hope to publish a collection soon. I’ve also had a great break with an online publication who has re-published some of my prize-winning poems and has twice selected my work as their Editor’s Choice/ Featured Poem (and I got some additional pay for that honor).


I guess we each have to choose what might be our best strategy for becoming a writer who is respected, who is paid for her work, or who earns her living from her writing (if any of these is our goal). I would guess the paths vary greatly.

Pamelyn Casto, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has published feature-length articles on flash fiction in Writer’s Digest (and in their other publications), Fiction Southeast, Abstract Magazine, and OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her essay on flash fiction and myth appears in Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips From Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field and her 8,000-word essay on flash fiction is included in the four-volume Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. Her latest 5,000-word article is the lead essay in Critical Insights: Flash Fiction (2017). She’s a contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters

Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam

Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam writes prose fiction and creative non-fiction. She is the founder of Her first novella, Finding Love Again was published by Ankara Press. Her second novella, The Heiress' Bodyguard was shortlisted for the Saraba Manuscript Awards. She currently works as content marketer for various online businesses. You can follow her at @cwritingnws.

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