When People Ask About Your Income

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on July 31, 2012 in Finance
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People are always shocked when I tell them I’m a full-time freelance writer. Invariably, they want to know how much I make and how I can afford to pay my bills on the money I make from writing. I don’t blame them.

Before I started writing full-time, I was one of those people completely oblivious to the fact that writing was a legitimate source of income. But when the subject comes up, what’s the right way to answer the question?

Very few people need to know the exact dollar figure that you bring in every month. Among that limited list of people are your spouse, your accountant, the IRS, and potential creditors and lenders. Friends, neighbors, and people who are just curious don’t really need to know. I typically just tell these people that I make enough to pay my bills every month and have some money leftover to save and have fun with.

You could tell them your annual salary range, rather than a specific weekly or monthly income. For example, “I make in the $50Ks”. Or, you can name a job with a comparable salary, “I make about as much as an elementary school teacher.” Also, giving your goal or ideal writing income can take some of the pressure and judgment involved with giving out your real salary. "I'd love to make $60,000 a year. I might make it this year."

When people find out you make (what they consider) an enviable amount of money from writing, they’ll want to know how they, too, can be come writers. And we all know how easy it is to make money from writing, much less handhold someone else to freelance writing success.

On the flip side, when you don’t make a lot of money from writing, then you get unsolicited criticism and suggestions from people who don’t understand the nature of the freelance writing business. Sometimes it’s better not to talk about it at all.

Before you give specific dollar amounts, consider who you work for. Contracts with clients and advertisers may limit what you can disclose about your earnings. You risk losing money if you start talking, and especially blogging, about how much money you make. If I talk about an income source, I use percentages, e.g. 25% of my income comes from direct advertising sales or 75% comes from client work.

I appreciate writers and bloggers who post their income because it shows earning potential and lets me know I know I’m not crazy to have a six-figure writing income goal. Before you post your income for the world, talk to an attorney or accountant to see if there are any legal implications involved. The last thing you want is to lose clients or be sued because of a lack of discretion.

How do you respond when people ask how much you make?

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LaToya Irby is a full-time freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Alabama. She primarily writes about personal finance, freelancing, and other self-employment topics.

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6 Comments

  1. Amandah July 31, 2012 Reply

    Thankfully, I’m no longer surrounded by people who ask me how much I earn.

    BTW: Reading this post sent shivers down my spine. I flash backed to the time when I worked for a small family owned business and some of the workers (women) would ask me the amount of my raise along with the dollar amount of my Christmas bonus. I knew I received more, but I sure as heck wasn’t about to tell them that. I couldn’t help it if the owner liked me and my work ethic. The same goes for corporate America. I was a good worker and didn’t complain like the rest of them. Scary… I’ll write a screenplay about it. Oh wait ! Someone beat me to it with “The Office.” :)

  2. Jennifer Mattern July 31, 2012 Reply

    I can’t remember the last time anyone asked me how much I make. I think if it happened now I’d just tell them to guess, and then let them be pleasantly surprised when I say “no, higher, guess again” a few times. In general, I think it’s simply rude to ask. After all, I don’t ask them how much they make.

  3. Cyndi L July 31, 2012 Reply

    I simply go with Dear Abby’s advice and say, “What did you ask me?” This question falls firmly into the none of your business category!

  4. Paula H July 31, 2012 Reply

    As a child I was taught there are some things you simply don’t ask a person unless you’re their doctor, accountant or have another legitimate reason to ask: age, weight, income, and clothing size.

    When people ask how much I earn, I’m cagey. I might explain how some projects are paid per word, others per hour, and some with a flat fee. I also explain that no matter how much a freelancer earns, income typically varies month to month.

    Something I run into a lot are people who seem to think freelance income is “extra” money even when they know it’s my only income. Anyone else experience that attitude?

  5. Rebecca Garland August 1, 2012 Reply

    Normally the people who ask me about my writing income are fellow educators who can’t believe I don’t pursue writing full-time since I have an option to “get out of the classroom.”

    Since teachers are all paid based on some random chart for service and degrees that is widely posted publicly, there are no secrets about how much we make. I think that makes them more open to asking about income in general.

    I normally just tell them I make as much writing as I do teaching and leave it at that. It helps them understand that I don’t teach for the money – which is more important to me than my bottom line anyhow.

    More amusingly, it normally begs the follow-up question, “So how do you get into writing like that?”

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