The fact that you’re reading this probably means that you’re either a writer, or are interested in being one. Either way, I’m glad you’re here.
What is it about writing that attracts you? It could be that, like me, you love to express yourself through words. But has there ever been a part of you that was seduced by the romanticized life of a writer? When you think about living the life of a writer, do you picture yourself sitting in a leather bound chair, surrounded by shelves filled with books, sipping scotch as you effortlessly crank out thousands of words a day (destined to soar to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List) that your adoring fans will devour with delight? Or maybe you see yourself signing books and meeting your fans as you tour the world on your publisher-funded book tour.
Those are just a couple of fantasy-type scenarios out of hundreds, but you get the point. Admittedly, I fell for some of that myself. I mean, I wanted to be a famous rockstar too, and being a famous author was kind of the same thing. I’m not saying those things aren’t possible, but I am saying that those lifestyles aren’t the norm for most writers. That doesn’t mean a writer’s life can’t be amazing, because it can. It comes down to knowing what you want to do with your writing, and how much work you’re willing to invest.
I’ve been writing for several years, but I began to take it more seriously around 2010. I’m not famous, rich, or the best writer on the planet. That said, I do have a few years experience, and I have made money doing it, so I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned along the way. My hope is that I can help other writers who are just getting started, or even those who’ve been at it a while but are looking for a different perspective.
Remember, the things I share are from my own experiences and are in no way the last word, or how “things are supposed to be.” I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but that’s how you learn. Go do, make mistakes, get better, and keep going.
Reality vs Fantasy
No matter what your writing goals are, the reality is that writing is work. Hard work. It may not be physically demanding, but it is mentally demanding. It takes a lot of energy to get those words out and on paper or screen. The fantasy is that writing is easy, and is a quick way to make lots of money. Even if you achieve great heights and live a rockstar lifestyle, it will be because you put in the work. There isn’t a shortcut, or course you can take, that will enable you to bypass the hundreds of hours you will spend actually writing. Oftentimes, these are hours you will spend alone. Like any other worthwhile endeavor, writing takes time, energy, and a certain amount of sacrifice. Plus, the more you do it, the better you get.
Can Writers Make Money?
The short answer is yes, writers can definitely make money. The long answer is- well it’s a long answer. The good news for writers of today is that there are numerous ways to make money with writing. The first step is to decide your goal. What’s your endgame?
-Do you want to write fiction?
-Do you want to write in the area of business?
-Are you interested in self-development?
-Are you primarily interested in using writing to make money so you can work from anywhere?
-All of the above?
Whatever your goal is, the first thing you have to do is believe it’s possible. The next thing you have to do is take action, and the path you choose will determine the actions you need to take. As I said earlier, this post is not an exhaustive list of all the ways you can make your writing dreams a reality. I am only sharing from my own experiences. I have learned a lot on my journey, but I still have much to learn. My goal is to share what I have learned up to this point in hopes that it will help others who have chosen the writer’s path.
If you want to write fiction, the first piece of advice I would offer is this: Read as much as you can in the genre you wish to write in. You can’t pour from an empty pitcher, so fill your pitcher by devouring as many books as possible. The point of doing this isn’t so you can attempt to mimic the writing style of your favorite authors (hint- big mistake); the point is to feed your imagination. Writers are readers, and if you’re not a reader you’re probably not a writer.
The second piece of advice I would give is this: Know from the start that you’ll need to write more than one book if you want to get any traction. Whether it’s a series, or just several books in the same genre, if you stop at one book your odds of getting a lot of attention are slim. I know this from experience because I made this mistake. I wrote a great book, and I know that sounds cocky, but it really is a good story. Everyone that read it loved it! Where I went wrong was not immediately getting started on the next book after I had finished my debut. I didn’t do it intentionally. Things were happening in my life that pulled my attention away, but it doesn’t matter. I didn’t do it. I set up my first novel to be the first in a series, and people want the next book, (I will write it!) but I haven’t written it yet. So, learn from my mistake. The best marketing you can do for your debut novel is to write your next book.
Non-fiction: Business or Self-development
The same advice that applies to fiction applies here as well. Read all you can. Find out what today’s hot topics are, feed your mind, and don’t stop with one book. I made some of the same mistakes in these genres as well. I have written one self-development book, an automotive related book, and one business book that I co-wrote with a friend. Again, there were some significant life events that derailed me for a time. See the lesson here? Life happens, and when it does you may get distracted from your writing goals for a while. Don’t get discouraged. Just because you got distracted doesn’t mean it’s over, far from it. Instead of beating yourself up, just start writing again. That’s the only thing that will get you to your writing goals.
Ever since Tim Ferris’s book The 4 Hour Work Week, came out in 2007, countless people have sought to live the laptop lifestyle. The laptop lifestyle refers to using the power of the internet to make money online, or in a way that enables one to live
and work from anywhere they want. It may sound too good to be true, but it really is possible. I have been doing it for almost seven months now myself. Today, there are countless gurus and courses out there who claim to be able to teach you how to do this and do it fast. I’ve never hired anyone or paid for any of those courses so I can’t offer any reviews. I will say that I am skeptical about anything or anybody that offers a really fast way to easy street. I would love to be proven wrong though, so if you know of a quick way to easy money please share it with me!
What I have found through my experience is that living this way is definitely possible. However, the people I follow or have met in person who are doing it typically make just enough money to fund their lifestyle, but not much more. They’ve reduced their expenses and live a minimalist lifestyle. The ones who are making a lot of money are building businesses and finding ways to scale. Once again, it all comes down to your goals.
If this lifestyle appeals to you, or if you simply want to start a side hustle to earn some extra cash, there are several ways you can do it. Two avenues that I have experience with are:
Ghostwriting: Besides writing your own books, you can write books for others. You can do it on your own (find your own clients) or contract with companies that do it. I have experience with the latter, and have helped ghostwrite or create content for dozens of books over the last 5 years. This is a great way to both earn money and get a ton of writing experience. I have worked on fiction books, self-development books, and lots of business books by doing this.
Content Writing: My first experience with content writing was back in 2000-2001. In fact, it was my first paid writing gig! I had been a closet writer for a while, and too timid to share my work with anyone. I was an automotive mechanic at the time, and I was writing short articles on automotive topics. Finally, I got up the courage to share some of my articles with the general manager of the car dealership in which I worked. He loved them, and soon started printing them in the local newspaper! This was in the days before businesses began utilizing the internet and content marketing. Years later and I now create content for the blogs of business owners and their websites.
There are so many ways to make money with writing. You could be a copywriter, and write copy for websites, direct mail, and email sales campaigns. Some businesses have their own monthly newsletters and you could write articles for them, maybe even manage it for them. Contract with a two or three companies and you could be making some decent side money. The same goes for content writing for blogs or copywriting.
A few more thoughts and bits of advice:
- Whatever your writing goals are, if you plan to put your writing out into the world have it edited. I cannot overemphasize this. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, editing is necessary in order to put out high-quality work. Look inside any book you like and you will see where the author thanks their editors. Everyone, and I mean everyone, gets their work edited. TIP: You can’t edit your own work. Hire a pro.
- Write a lot. No matter what type of writing you do, the more you do it the better you will become.
- Don’t limit yourself. Writing doesn’t have to be the only thing you do. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a paid speaker, writing a book is a must. It gives you credibility and positions you as an expert on your subject. Then, when you are at a speaking engagement you can sell your books. This could lead to courses, training programs, consulting, and more.
- Build a following. Use the power of social media to create fans of your work. This is another area that I need to work on. TIP: You need your own website! Don’t rely on the fickle nature of social media algorithms. Your social media activities should direct people to your website. PLUS: Build an email list. Yep, another thing I desperately need to work on!
- If you intend to make money from writing you have to treat your writing like a business, because it is. You’re creating a product that you want people to buy. To be successful with it you have to behave as if you’re running your own business because you are.
If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge and skills, check out these resources. Note: These are not affiliate links, and I’m not making money from them in any way whatsoever. They are people I have been connected to in some way for a while and who I believe could offer you some value depending on what your writing goals are. Still, if you go check them out let them know I sent you. 🙂
Amy M. Hale is an award winning author and she holds online workshops that focus on the habits and practices to support the writing life. Her workshops are affordable, work at your own pace, and they almost always fill up.
Jorden Makelle offers several courses on making money through freelance writing. She is straightforward, authentic, and brings a ton of actionable value to the table.
Davina Haisell is a professional editor and has been providing high-quality editing and proofreading services since 1996. She’s top notch and I’ve used her services myself.
Jeff Goins is an author, blogger, and podcaster that I have been following for a few years. His blog, podcast, and website offers tons of resources for writers.
I hope the things I’ve shared from my own experiences as a working writer help you in some way. Like I said, I’ve made tons of mistakes and I still have much to learn. But that should encourage you because it demonstrates that you don’t have to know it all (you never will anyway) to get started on your writing journey.
Go and write. Share it, and then go write some more.