Side Hustling: Author Gil Robertson Shares Tricks of the Writing Trade

Lucrative Side Hustles: Author Gil Robertson Shares Tricks of the Writing Trade

gil robertson smiling

The next book on Robertson’s radar will be one on death and dying in the Black community. “I lost my mom in September, and 13 years prior to that, I lost my father. It’s been rough,” he says. “In our community, our parents are really important. Black mothers and fathers play a very instrumental role that is somewhat different, I think, from other communities. I don’t think that the love is different. I just think that, in a sort of a nuanced way, our relationship with them resonates differently than it does in other communities. It’s the reason why we so relate to that that song by Bill Withers, ‘Grandma’s Hands,’ for instance, or The Intruders’ ‘I’ll Always Love My Mama.'”

Though Robertson has some cinema-related projects up his sleeve— specifically documentaries based on his books— he highly recommends books as a way for professional writers to make a living.

“As far as an advance is concerned, you might be looking at anywhere between $15,000 to $25,000 for a healthy advance,” he says. “What you don’t want to do, however, is have your advance be so high that you don’t earn out, because if you don’t earn out then the book is looked at as being a failure,” he adds. “Publishers don’t want to do business with people who don’t earn out on their investments. Essentially a book proposal is a business proposal, and, essentially, your publisher is your chief investor. Based on the proposal, Publisher A says, ‘Ok, fine I will invest in that. In exchange for that— after you’ve fulfilled my initial investment— I will pay you a royalty.’”

Speaking gigs related to the topics you cover in your books can also generate a handsome income.

“In terms of speaking, an author or journalist should be able to command $2,500 to $3000 for an hour-long speech,” he says. “[Depending on your popularity] it could jump from $5,000 to $10,000. I know when I first started doing speeches I felt like a superstar because I’d go on to a campus —I do a lot of college talks— and talk about HIV/AIDS or safe sex or about the very things that deal with self esteem and identity or what we’re doing now with Black love. You spend an hour talking about how to have a healthy relationship and someone gives you a check for $3,000. Really, where else can you do that?”

To that end the media professional insists that what makes the most sense for a writer financially is to remain extremely flexible regarding the kind of work he or she takes on.

“Once upon a time a person could earn a good living working as a journalist, a freelancer or working at a company,” he says. “Nowadays what you have to do is have a clear sense of what your skill sets are and know how to apply them in various ways in order to earn the amount of revenue that will allow you to sustain yourself. In my case that means paying a mortgage, into a retirement account, paying for health insurance—everything you need to lead a healthy and stable life,” he says. “So, you may do public relations, you may do media training, you may do all types of things. You may produce or write scripts. Everything I do is revolved around our ability as writers, journalists,” he says.