How (and When) to Develop Multiple Streams of Writing Income
How many different sources of writing income do you have, right now?
Maybe you’ve got a novel up for sale on Amazon.
Maybe you’ve got a blog that brings in a little bit of advertising or affiliate revenue.
Maybe you write occasional articles for a magazine.
Maybe you’re a full-time freelancer with a couple of major clients.
One big danger in the writing life is only having one or two sources of income. If all your money comes from one particular client, you’ll really struggle if that client suddenly no longer needs your services.
(If you have a day job, then only having one source of writing income is obviously less of a problem, but it can still make it difficult for you to build towards a writing career.)
I’ve been writing for a living (ie. without a day job!) for nearly eight years now, and one of the ways in which I’ve made it work – particularly during the past three years of motherhood! – is to develop multiple different streams of income.
What Are Multiple Streams of Income?
Let’s say you’re a freelancer. You’ve got two major clients, both of whom have 15 hours of work for you each week. That plus a bit of admin time makes for a fairly full working week, and you’re not working on any other projects.
If one client suddenly no longer needs you, your income’s cut in half. You could take on a new freelancing gig – but you’ll probably struggle to find something to cover that full amount of time very quickly.
On the flip side, if you have several different sources of writing income, it’s easy to replace one or to do without it for a while. You might have:
- Several freelancing clients who you write blog posts for.
- Four writers, less experienced than you, who you coach or work with as an editor (they’ve probably found you through your blog or social media accounts).
- Books for sale on Amazon or in other major e-stores.
- Ebooks, audio seminars, or other premium digital content that you sell through your own website or blog.
- An online course that you run, or even a membership site where people pay a monthly fee to access exclusive content.
- Advertising revenue from your blog or website.
- Affiliate revenue from other people’s products or services that you promote, on your blog, on your social media accounts, or in your email newsletter.
I’ll come onto all of these a little later in the post.
(If you want to hear about some of the ways I’ve personally made money as a writer, check out How I Make My Living as an Online Writer (And How You Could Too).)
Why Have Income from Multiple Sources?
Money isn’t the only issue, of course.
For me, and I suspect for quite a few authors and freelancers, one key benefit of multiple streams of income is that you have a variety of projects to work on.
I enjoy everything I do – freelancing for clients, writing novels, producing content for Writers’ Huddle, writing ebooks on blogging – but I don’t think I’d enjoy my work nearly so much if I just did one thing all the time.
You may also find that, even if you enjoy freelance writing or editing, there’s a special joy to be found in working on your own projects. You can write something you really care about, you have full creative control, and it can potentially bring in a fair bit more money than you’d make for spending the equivalent amount of time on client work.
If your multiple income streams include books, ebooks or other products – anything that people can continue to buy after you’ve put in the initial time to create them – then you’ll also be able to earn money even while you’re not at your desk. That means you can take a week or two off without your income drying up completely – or you can potentially take several months off on maternity leave (like I did with each of my kids).
When to Get Started and What to Do
Of course you can start whenever you like, but if you’re just getting established as a freelancer, you’ve probably got enough to juggle right now.
I’d suggest that, once you’ve been freelancing consistently for six months, you’re ready to carve out a little bit of time to work on building a new stream of income. (By “consistently”, I don’t mean you have to be doing it full-time, but you’ll probably be putting in 10+ hours per week.)
Another potentially good time to get started is when one client leaves. If you can afford to, hold off on replacing that client and use the spare time to build a different income stream.
Here are some starter projects to try:
Ebooks are simple and straightforward – it’s (reasonably) easy to produce something that looks professional, whereas recording audio or video can be a lot tougher. As a writer, too, you’re probably more comfortable communicating with the written word.
When I got started in blogging, most ebooks were sold through the author’s own website, as .pdfs. Many specialised ones still are (like my Blogger’s Guides), but ebooks aimed at a wider audience are generally found on Amazon and other ebook stores instead.
Essentially, if you’re writing something that’s got a limited, specialised audience, you’ll probably do best pricing it as a premium product and selling it through your own site – potentially bundled with some bonuses.
If you’re writing an ebook with wide appeal, you can price it much more cheaply and sell it through Amazon – and readers are increasingly coming to want and expect to find ebooks through big ebook stores.
Whichever approach you take, you’ll need to spend time marketing your ebook – perhaps through paid advertising or through guest posts on other people’s blogs.
Going Further with Ebooks:
If you want to sell products through your own website, at a premium price point (e.g. $29) rather than through Amazon at a mass market price (e.g. $4.99) then you may want to branch out into multimedia.
This could mean audio recordings or videos: I use Camtasia to create screencasts, which has allowed me to add some useful extras to my Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing. For my membership site Writers’ Huddle, I normally record audio seminars on Skype (for interviews) or with Audacity (when it’s just me talking).
Coaching, Consulting or Editing
These sorts of services are often offered by fiction writers who blog about writing and who want to supplement their fiction income (or who simply enjoy working with fellow writers!)
If you’ve got a fair amount of writing experience and/or writing-related credentials, then you could consider offering:
- Coaching or mentoring, which involves encouraging and supporting newer writers, and potentially doing some editing of their work-in-progress.
- Consulting, which is more business-focused – for instance, you might consult with a small company to help them develop a strategy for their blogging and social media, if that’s an area of expertise for you.
- Editing, which normally involves getting a finished project from a client and going through it to make big-picture suggestions (developmental editing) and/or detailed changes (line editing or copyediting).
Whichever of these areas you choose, you’ll need to be clear about what types of writers or writing you work with. For instance, fiction editing and non-fiction editing are different skills and you may not be able to do both well (or you may prefer one over the other).
Going Further with Coaching, Consulting or Editing
One of the difficulties with these income streams is that you can only scale them to a certain point. Of course you can keep putting up your prices if you’re regularly fully booked with clients … but there’s probably a cap to how much you can realistically charge, and there’s certainly a cap on how many hours you can offer during a day.
One solution is to form some sort of group to help: as a coach or consultant, that probably means working with multiple clients at once; as an editor, it might mean taking on assistants who you can train in your editorial methods.
For instance, back in 2012, I launched Writers’ Huddle as a teaching / community site where I could support lots of writers, charging a fairly low monthly fee rather than my hourly coaching rate (which was out of reach for a lot of newer writers).
Workshops or Courses
These can be run online or offline: obviously you’ve got more overheads and admin for the latter, but you’ll also likely be able to charge more. The main drawback to offline workshops and courses is that you’re limited to a local audience and it can be hard to scale up as most will involve quite small groups (perhaps with a maximum of 10 or 12 participants).
A workshop or course can be almost any length. For instance:
- A one-hour or two-hour webinar. (K.M. Weiland does this with Writer’s Digest.)
- A three-hour afternoon workshop. (My editor – and friend! – Lorna Fergusson runs some great ones in Oxford in the UK.)
- A weekend or week-long residential course. (You might work with an established organisation, like the Arvon Foundation, to tutor on one of these.)
- A several-month online programme. (Holly Lisle runs a few of these, though they’re currently in a transition progress to her new website.)
I’d definitely suggest starting small! You might, for instance, offer a free or cheap online course by email – or you could run a two-hour workshop at your local library.
Going Further with Workshops or Courses
One straightforward way to take this further is to partner up with another writer: perhaps you can teach some sections of a course (e.g. you’re great on dialogue and characterisation) and they can teach other sections (e.g. they’re great on time management and writing cover letters).
As well as potentially being able to put together a stronger course, having two or three writers involved means having a bigger audience to market your courses to.
If you’ve only ever run offline workshops, you’ll want to give serious consideration to turning these into something you can sell online. Depending on your material and your preferences, this could mean anything from recording a live workshop (with the permission of participants!) to reworking your material completely for the online world.
Is a Blog an Income Stream?
If you have a blog (or if you’re thinking about starting one), you might well be considering that as a possible income stream.
When I got into blogging back in 2008, there was a lot of focus on “monetizing” your blog – and I still see this coming up a lot in certain areas of the blogging world. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making money from a blog, it’s not necessarily as easy as you might think.
If you’re thinking of making money by running advertising, you’ll probably need quite a large audience (and/or a well-established blog) for this to become an established income stream. I do make some money through advertising on a couple of my old blogs, which I now spend virtually no time at all working on, but it took me a lot of initial work to get those blogs established!
Affiliate income (where you promote someone else’s product or service as an affiliate, and take a cut) is another popular way to “monetize” a blog, but this also isn’t likely to bring in very much money.
Essentially, I think you’re better off focusing on your own products (e.g. ebooks) or services (e.g. editing). You might well choose to run ads or promote affiliate products as well, but be careful not to make this too obtrusive – readers are, understandably, not keen on blogs that are stuffed full of adverts.
Having diverse sources of writing income gives you a lot of freedom. It means you can make potentially risky decisions – like taking a couple of months away from client work to write your novel – because you know you’ve still got money coming in.
If you’re making money from your writing (or if you’re close to doing so), I’d love to hear what you’re up to! Write a comment below and let us know what’s working well for you.
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:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
Mighty good post, Ali,
You hit all the bases.
Just like other businesses, writers shouldn’t rely on any one income producing activity. Of the strategies covered by you, creating products such as ebooks and courses are good examples of leveraged income activity.
Other leveraged strategies I like are group coaching and mentoring (ie masterminds)
I also agree with your point about blogging as an income stream. I don’t see blogging as an end in itself. It’s simply a means to an end – a way to inform, educate and motivate people to reach out and take action (such as make an inquiry). Sure we can install Adsense or sell an ebook from our blog, but the real money is made when we capture a lead, follow it up in a professional way, and promote higher value services.
That’s all for now – thanks for your contribution
Kim Willis’s last blog post ..Blogging Nightmares and Other Horror Stories
Thanks Kim! Good additions with group coaching and mentoring — I considered this as a possible direction at one point, but went with the membership site in the end.
Yes, for me blogging is a form of marketing and outreach, though it took me a while to come to see it that way!
I agree with you about how having diverse sources of writing income gives you a lot of freedom (although it can create potential risks too).
My big discovery that’s helped me is not trying to guess or think I know what products or services are going to bring in income for me. For example, when I started blogging for business I created a copywriting course because that was what my blog at the time was about. And it was a popular topic. But it didn’t generate sales.
This taught me one of the most valuable lessons I learnt about creating income online:
Wait until your audience tells you what they want to buy.
For example, I now run a blog dedicated to helping people take the frustration out of getting traffic by giving them little-known and useful strategies. It’s attracting a growing audience who are tired of traffic tactics that don’t work (I know, because they tell me via email and in the comments sections on my posts). They also tell me what they want most help with and this has helped me understand and know what products and service to create to deliver that help.
I couldn’t have done this without taking time to create an audience that’s actively looking for what I can give them. And wants it enough to buy.
I think, without first creating this audience, I’d not have any income streams. So, creating an audience first before trying to make money is what I always recommend people do. Yes, it takes time. But it’s worth it.
Tom Southern’s last blog post ..6 Little Talked About (and Possibly Controversial) Reasons Why Your Traffic Conversion Rate Sucks
That’s such a great point, Tom. Whenever I’ve created something that I thought readers clearly needed … it’s been a flop! Now, I run surveys to find out what readres actually *want*. And yes, I agree with you on building the audience before trying to create something to sell: it’s great market research AND it gives you a ready-made customer base.
I agree with you that it’s good to have multiple income streams for financial cushions and to maximize your potentials. your post reminded me that I have to polish my skills to do more and earn more. I want to be good in editing and e-book.
Thanks for sharing your ideas.
Love this blog post. You laid out all the options so clearly. I have some multiple streams of income — books and consulting clients — and am currently working on an audio project. But I want to expand. You make an excellent point that when a client leaves, the income loss isn’t as impactful when you have multiple streams of income coming in. It’s such a smart approach to the writing life.
Frances Caballo’s last blog post ..5 Tools Every Indie Author Should Use
Thanks Frances! So glad this one was helpful — and good luck with the audio project. 🙂 I’ve found that, especially since having kids, it’s hugely helpful to have some income coming in that’s not strictly per-hour / per-project! I always enjoy your posts on The Book Designer, too. 🙂