Nine Different Ways Writers Can Make Money by Writing
Do you sometimes despair of ever making any money from your writing?
Perhaps it’s not your main goal – like most writers, you probably write because you love to – but you’d really love to have the opportunity to actually do what you love for a living.
In my early years as a writer, as a teenager and into my twenties, I wrote several novels (and read a ton of books about creative writing). I was focused on making money as a novelist – and I had no interest in writing non-fiction … or so I thought.
Then I came across blogging. Not just the “me and my life” sort of blogging that I’d dabbled in for a couple of years – but blogs that were collections of articles on a particular topic. Blogs that made money.
I was quickly hooked – and, surprisingly quickly, got into freelance blogging and quit my day job. Today, I get to make money doing what I love: writing and working with writers.
If you’re very focused on one type of writing, you might want to look at some other options. Don’t automatically dismiss anything as “not for me” or “not proper writing”.
You may also find that adding variety to your writing life helps invigorate other projects, or helps you make the best use of your time. I don’t think I could write fiction all day, every day – even if it was profitable. I like the balance that comes from working on a variety of projects.
Even if you’re not interested in making a living from your writing, making some money could give you the ability to take your writing further by paying for help.
Here are nine ways you can get paid to write – some of which you may not have considered before:
#1: Getting a Book Deal
I’ve put this one up front because it was my initial writing dream, and I know it’s what many writers think of as “success”.
While a book deal will bring in some money, it’s not likely to be enough to live on. I’ve had a book deal (for Publishing E-Books For Dummies) and while it was a fun project to work on, the money wasn’t exactly life-changing – it amounted to a couple of months’ worth of my normal writing income, at the time.
Getting a book deal is hard. There’s a fair bit of luck involved in getting your proposal in front of the right editor at the right moment. There’s a lot that’s out of your control.
If you want to have a novel or a non-fiction book traditionally published, by all means pursue a book deal – but don’t spend all your writing time on that.
Tip: Give yourself a time limit. Spend, say, three months sending out your manuscript to agents – then stop. Move on to something new, while you’re waiting for agents to reply. You can always do another round of submissions at a later stage.
#2: Self-Publishing a Book
Back in 2005, when I was 20 and working on my second (unpublished) novel, the only path to success that I could imagine was getting an agent. Self-publishing was still very much the poor cousin of traditional publishing, and very tough to succeed at: it wasn’t an option that any of my writing peers were considering.
A decade later, in 2015, the publishing landscape has changed dramatically with the rise of ebooks (and ereaders, tablets, and smart phones). It’s now incredibly easy and cheap to self-publish a book electronically – and pretty straightforward to create a print version using print-on-demand services like Lulu and Amazon’s CreateSpace.
In the past few years, I’ve self-published a bunch of books, from the Blogger’s Guides to my novels Lycopolis and Oblivion – and I’ve published several novels and non-fiction books on behalf of other writers too. Every year, the technology gets more user-friendly – and every year, more and more readers join the e-reading ranks.
Tip: If you do self-publish, set aside some money to make your book look really professional. A decent cover design is an absolute must – readers will judge your book by the cover. If you can possibly afford it, get paid editing too.
#3: Running a Popular Blog
When I first got into blogging, I thought I’d mainly make money through selling advertising space on the blog, and through promoting products to my readers as an affiliate. (An affiliate gets a percentage of each sale.)
In fact, I’ve ended up making far more of my money from some of the below methods – but there are of course plenty of popular blogs that primarily make money from promoting products/services to their readers, whether in the form of advertising or as an affiliate.
This can be a bit of a divisive one, because some people hate ads and are sceptical about affiliate promotions. Personally, I think they’re perfectly legitimate ways for someone to make a decent living from their work – but I’ll agree both can be done badly.
Tip: It can take a long time to build a popular blog: for much quicker returns, I’d recommend introducing some of the below ways to make money too, rather than just relying on advertising and affiliate revenue. Small blogs don’t normally have the readership to make a significant income from these.
#4: Offering Services to Other Writers
I know plenty of writers (me included!) who have spent time helping fellow writers – often those who are at a fairly early stage of their writing journey.
Depending on your own experience, you might offer:
- Manuscript editing for full novels
- Detailed editing of short pieces (e.g. blog posts, articles)
- Mentoring and support
Editing other writers’ work can be very rewarding – and it can help you further your own mastery of the craft. Quite a few writers, though, find that it ends up taking over to the extent that they don’t have enough time for their own writing and end up resenting the editing/proofreading that they do.
When I used to do this freelance, I made good coin doing it and walked away from all that nice money because I hated doing it so much. […] I think my aversion to this boils down to one thing: I resent having to use my talents for other people (no matter how much they are paying me or not), when I don’t get much time to use my talents for myself and my projects.
Editors normally charge per word or per page, quoting for each project up front, rather than charging per hour. This means clients know exactly what they’ll be spending – and it also allows you to make a higher hourly rate as you become more experienced and faster at editing.
– Hillary DePiano, I Resent Editing Other People’s Work, HillaryDePiano.com
Tip: Charging a flat rate can lead to you working for less than minimum wage. Always get a sample of the writer’s work before you quote, and track the time you spend on every manuscript so you can see whether you need to raise your rates.
One of the most lucrative forms of writing is copywriting: producing promotional copy to sell a product or service. (This could be in the form of an advert, a web page, a whole website, a sales letter, or a brochure.)
I’ve never done much copywriting because I’ve wanted to spend my writing time on other things, and I’ve never invested the time to become really good at it … but you might find you love copywriting.
Even if it’s not a service you want to offer to other people, it’s a good idea to learn the basics of copywriting as you’ll inevitably have to sell yourself/your writing at some point. Copyblogger is a great place to get started, as is Bob Bly’s book The Copywriter’s Handbook (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk).
Tip: You’ll probably need to get started by writing for free, so you have some samples to show potential clients. Look for a non-profit that could benefit from your skills – this is a great entry point, and generally a good way to get a glowing testimonial from a very grateful company!
No-one seems to talk about ghostwriting much – it’s a tricky area to discuss when you generally can’t disclose who your clients are! It’s definitely not all about celebrity memoirs, though.
A ghostwriter writes in someone else’s voice and has their words published under the other person’s name. Some writers feel uncomfortable with that, or would simply prefer to have their name on their work. Others like the freedom to focus on the writing itself – not to be “out there” as a writer, having to promote their work.
The opportunities I’ve had to ghostwrite have come about by word-of-mouth (many people don’t like to admit that they use ghostwriters, and so don’t tend to advertise jobs publically).
It’s not just about non-fiction, either: fiction can be ghostwritten too. Roz Morris, for instance, is an experienced novelist as a ghostwriter, and now writes novels under her own name too.
Tip: Writing in someone else’s voice can be quite a challenge. Encourage the client to give you feedback, and get them to be as specific as possible (e.g. “I wouldn’t use that word” or “This sentence sounds a bit too formal for me.”)
As a freelancer, you’re going to be working for publications like blogs, newspapers and magazines – these require fresh content on a frequent basis. Probably, you’ll have a few publications that you write for regularly, and others that you pitch on a one-off basis (potentially leading to regular gigs).
Although it can take some time to find good paying gigs online, blogs typically want several posts a month (potentially several per week) and have a quick turnaround on publication and payment. I quit my day job after spending six months freelancing for blogs, so this can be a great way to make a steady income.
Similar to freelancing in structure, if not in content, is writing short stories for magazines. You’ll normally have to pitch these individually, rather than having an ongoing column like you would for non-fiction – and be prepared for rejections and long wait times.
Tip: Get yourself well-organised from the start as a freelancer – it’ll make life much easier. Set up good systems for keeping track of your work and your payments. If time-management isn’t your strong point, get a good book on it or take a course.
# 8: Winning Competitions
Like getting a book deal, winning competitions is a way of making money that new writers can get a bit fixated on. Some big writing groups run their own competitions (often open to the general public) and here in the UK, Writing Magazine and Writers’ News have monthly competitions. Writers’ Forum has an open competition, also monthly, for stories of any length on any topic.
There are plenty of advantages to a competition win or even a shortlisting – not least the boost to your confidence – but most competitions don’t have large payouts. (Those which do will attract a lot more entrants, making your chances of winning increasingly slim.) For instance, a first prize might be £100 or £150 for a 1,500 word short story – not bad, but no better per word than a magazine article. You might find that you write 10 or 20 stories before you win anything.
So, don’t look at competitions as an income stream. Enter them, by all means, but see them as an opportunity for practice plus the potential of something impressive to put on your writing CV. If you do win any prizes, use them for writing-related goodies – how-to books, new stationary, workshops, or even a writing holiday.
Tip: There’s a bit of a knack to writing for competitions. Where possible, read previous winning entries and the judge’s comments – this can give you vital insights into what the judge does and doesn’t like.
#9: Taking an Agency Job
This is the one thing on this list that I haven’t done! If you want the steady income of a full-time (or part-time) job, and you want to write for a living, consider working for an agency that supplies clients with advertising copy, content for their blogs and/or social media accounts, or similar.
You may well find that your job involves quite a bit of work that isn’t writing. If it is mainly writing, you could find that you’re creatively depleted by the end of the day/week – difficult if you want to spend evenings and weekends working on your own projects.
Another alternative here is to find a full-time but virtual role writing content for a single client (perhaps one who runs multiple blogs or websites). You’ll get to work from home, which can be a big help if you need to fit your working hours around household/childcare commitments – though if you’re someone who enjoys having colleagues around, you might feel lonely.
Tip: If you are thinking of taking on an agency role, look for a company that’s a good fit for you personally – whether that’s a relaxed environment, or one where everyone goes home on time rather than being expected to work way over their contracted hours. If you can, talk to present / past employees and get an inside look at what it’s like to work there.
There’s no “right” way to make money as a writer – and even if you think you already know what you want to do, why not try out something different to see if you like it?
Go further with…
If you want more details on the methods that I use to make money online, as a writer, then check out this post. It includes details of how much money you can expect to make from different methods, plus lots of links to extra resources.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
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