From Self-Publishing to Blogging: 7 Solid Ways to Make Money Writing

Jane Friedman is a writing and publishing guru.

Yes, the guru moniker is used with too much abandon these days, but Friedman’s laudable credentials, practical books and excellent website have earned her the title in my book.

If you get nothing else from this article other than an introduction to Jane Friedman and her work, I’ve done my job.

That said, the inspiration for this article stems from Friedman’s most recent release, The Business of Being a Writer, a fantastic primer for any writer looking to take their writing from a personal hobby to a possible business.

Or maybe you’d just like to earn coffee money. That’s OK too.

In the book, Friedman presents dozens of options for your consideration as you look at what you write and how you could turn that into some form of income.

Your art and your commerce can, in fact, commingle.

Writer, beware

Before we dive into the major areas of making money from your writing, I have to relay one hard truth. Friedman brings it up, and my professional experience has borne it out.

As she writes, “Very few people can make a living solely by writing and publishing books.”

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write and sell your books. It means that “this one pursuit should not constitute one’s entire business model.”

And this is why you should make yourself aware of the many different ways we as writers in the 21st century can turn a buck from turning out words.

Write your books. Sell hundreds — millions — of copies. But don’t begin your career by banking your future on that collective dream of every first-time author.

If you want a career in writing, think wide and think long.

As Friedman encourages us, “It remains possible to make a decent living from writing if you’re willing to pay attention to how the business works, devise a business model tailored to your goals, and adapt as needed.”

Think wide about your writing

If you’re at least a year or two into taking your writing seriously, you likely have a type of writing you enjoy. Maybe it’s short stories, or poetry, or freelance writing, or fiction.

Whatever puts fire to the kindling of your writing life, keep doing that.

By all means, leverage your writing strengths and experience. Don’t negate your gift in the pursuit of income.

But.

If you want to create and maintain a financial foundation for your future as a writer, you will need to think wide. In other words, you need to think beyond what you currently do as a writer. You need to continue honing your craft, but you should open your mind to the possibilities of peripheral writing and writing-related work.

Ask yourself, “What other writing work could I do that both encourages me to write and provides compensation?”

If nothing immediately springs to mind, let’s consider seven ways you can monetize your writing, using Business as our guide.

Note: Business goes into further detail about each of these paths, and Friedman’s website has even more information. I’ve also listed useful articles and books to help you get started along any of these pathways.

1. Traditional publishing

For many authors, traditional publishing is the pinnacle achievement, the bucket-list Mt. Everest they need to climb.

But, as Friedman writes, “Most authors will earn little, or at least nothing close to a living wage, from their books…Industry insiders estimate that 70 percent of authors do not earn out their advance.”

Maybe don’t try to climb this mountain first.

But if you must:

2. Self-publishing

Rupi Kaur. Andy Weir. E. L. James.

You may know these names because they have all enjoyed wild success as a result of their self-published books.

But they are the exceptions, not the rules.

The brutal numbers of self-publishing report the real story:

Again, write your books. Publish them yourself. Work on your platform and your marketing.

Whatever you do, don’t believe the lie that anyone will “just find” your self-published book once it’s released. You cannot “just write” your book and “just hope” it will do well.

You must apprentice yourself to the craft of writing first, to the means of self-publishing second, and to the necessity of platform and marketing third.

Even then, you might just recoup your investment — which is a great start to your business of being a writer.

To enjoy a sustainable living through self-publishing, you’ll need strategy and purpose, and, honestly, a good amount of luck.

Do self-publish. Don’t only self-publish.

Starting points:

3. Freelance writing

Heed Friedman’s warning when it comes to freelance writing: “It now takes considerable experience and expertise to land paying work at a traditional print publication, and I don’t recommend it as a first line of attack. New writers will do better to look to online-only publication.”

However, pitching articles to websites is an excellent way to bolster both your experience and your expertise. In time, you might also augment your income.

To wit: I first pitched The Write Life in late 2014 for the article that eventually became About to Respond to a Negative Review of Your Book? Read This First. I pitched my next article a few months later. I pitched a column three years later. Now readers contact me about editing because they’ve seen these articles.

In other words, freelance writing has cross-promotional benefits to all of your other writing.

And just think about when someone googles you: if you’ve written for dozens of known websites, you just might own the front page for your name — a definite boon for any author.

Start here:

4. Blogging

Friedman writes, “It may take a very long time before you see a direct connection between your blogging and your monthly or annual income.”

If you’re not consistently and strategically producing quality content, your blogging may not be earning the results you’re hoping for, whether that’s newsletter signups, page views, or affiliate income.

But, if you think long and ensure there’s a method to your online madness, your blog can become a significant contributor to your bottom line.

It’s worked for Jane Friedman, as it has for many other known entities you likely follow. After you’re introduced to their work in some way and you see how consistently they produce worthwhile content, you involuntarily begin to expect their regular content.

In other words, you become a fan.

And in the writing world, you need fans.

Start here:

5. Editing and related writing services

As a freelance editor, I wanted to place this choice first — but I know that editors are wired differently.

If you find yourself more engaged in your critique group when discussing what works and what doesn’t about someone else’s story, you might be a developmental editor in waiting.

If you have a negative physical reaction to an improper your instead of you’re, you might be a copy editor.

If you’re good at pretending to write in someone else’s voice, you might be a ghostwriter.

All of these writing-related services are valuable and needed today, but — as seems to be the case with every point on this list — establishing yourself in any of these areas requires patience, education, and, yes, learning how to sell yourself.

For what it’s worth, a majority of my income as a freelancer has stemmed from copyediting, developmental editing, and ghostwriting.

Start here:

  • What Editors Do, by Peter Gonna
  • Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers, by Scott Norton
  • Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs, and More, by Kelly James-Enger

6. Teaching

If you have a few years of experience and the capability to form coherent sentences out loud and in public, your knowledge and insight can help other writers.

As an introvert, I challenged myself in 2017 to increase my freelance profile by seeking speaking engagements and teaching opportunities. It was one of the best things I did for my job that year.

Disclosure: my speaking engagements and teaching opportunities did not directly lead to increased income. But the relationships I formed with other area writers were worth far more than income. Plus, they can now refer me to people in their circles, and I can refer them.

When you overcome your fears, you might be amazed at what kinds of doors open to you, either in the immediate future or years down the road.

For what it’s worth: speaking and teaching seldom pay well — or at all. This is one area where I would encourage you to pursue them for the benefit of exposure.

However, in time, as you accrue experience as a speaker or teacher, you will be able to ask for payment. Or you can channel your newfound confidence into an online class or podcast.

Start here:

7. Publishing career

If you really want to go all-in and you live in or near a town or city with a publisher, literary agency, or other writing-related business, apply for a job there.

What better way to understand the business than to be in the business.

Jessica Strawser, the erstwhile editorial director of Writer’s Digest, comes to mind. After leaving her full-time post with the magazine after a decade, she released her first novel to critical acclaim. She’s since released two more.

Which makes me think she probably learned a thing or two during her tenure with the magazine.

That magazine, by the way, once employed another writer who’s now making her living from everything we’ve just discussed.

Jane Friedman was once the publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest.

I’d say she’s learned a thing or two as well — and we are all the beneficiaries.  

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

Photo via GaudiLab / Shutterstock

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How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

So you want to start a blog?

If you’re a writer, it makes perfect sense: You can use a blog to serve as your author platform, market your book or find new freelance writing clients.

But where do you begin? Though you’ve got the writing part down, the rest of the process can be overwhelming. Hosting, themes and all that other techy stuff can stand in your way for years.

Well, today is the day that ends. We’re here to help you navigate every step of starting a blog, from choosing your domain name to publishing your first post.

Here’s how to start a blog as a writer:

1. Pick a domain name

First things first: Where are people going to find you online? As a writer, you are your brand, so we recommend using some variation of your name. To check availability, simply visit Bluehost and click on “new domain.” Or, search this handy domain-name checker!

Even if yourname.com isn’t available, you might find it with a different ending, such as yourname.co or yourname.io. If you’re super committed to this whole writing thing, you can also  try tacking a “writer” onto the end of your name, as in susanshainwriter.com.

Alternatively, you could opt for a creative blog name — but remember your interests and target audience may change as the years go by. When I started blogging in 2012, I focused solely on adventure travel and named my blog Travel Junkette. After expanding  my niche and services, I switched to susanshain.com because my name won’t change, no matter what I’m blogging about.

Although it wasn’t a huge deal, I wish I’d started out using my name as the domain, and would advise you not to make the same mistake I did.

Once you’ve settled on your domain (or domains, if you’re like many of us writerpreneurs!), don’t wait to buy it. Even if you’re not ready to start a blog right now, domains are cheap — and you don’t want to risk losing the one you want.

Before you actually click “purchase,” though, you might want to read the next step; we’re going to tell you how to get your domain name for free.

2. Purchase a hosting package

Now it’s time to choose a web host. Your hosting company does all the technical magic to make sure your site actually appears when people type your domain name into their browser. In other words, it’s pretty important.

While we use MediaTemple to host The Write Life, it’s typically better for blogs with lots of traffic, so you probably don’t need that if you’re just starting out.

For a new blog, try Bluehost. It’s used by top bloggers around the world and is known for its customer service and reliability. Bluehost’s basic hosting plan costs $3.95 per month — and as a bonus, the company throws in your domain name for free when you sign up.

Be sure to put your purchase (and all the purchases listed in this post) on a business credit card and keep the receipts; as investments in your business, they’re tax deductible.

3. Install WordPress

We’re almost through with the techy stuff, we promise!

You have several different choices for blogging platforms, but we like WordPress best. Not only is it totally free, but it’s easy to learn, offers a wide variety of themes, and has an online community and abundance of plugins that make blogging accessible to everybody.

You can read comprehensive instructions for installing WordPress on your new blog here. Once you’ve completed that, you can officially log into your blog and start making it look pretty.

4. Put your site in “maintenance mode”

While working on your blog’s appearance, you might want to put up an “under construction” sign to greet visitors.

You don’t want any potential clients or readers to Google your name and find a half-finished site. (You may think you’re going to finish setting up your blog tomorrow, but we all know how writers procrastinate when there are no looming deadlines!)

To set up maintenance mode,  just download this plugin. On your maintenance page, you could even include a link to your email newsletter or social media profiles so visitors have an alternate way of getting in touch with you. When you’re ready to share your blog with the world, simply deactivate and delete the plugin.

5. Choose a theme

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! Your theme determines what your blog looks like, and you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Yes, there’s a wide range of free themes, but if you’re serious about blogging, the customization and support offered by paid themes can’t be beat.

Here at The Write Life, we use Genesis, which is one of the most popular premium themes available. Another popular and flexible theme is Thesis. On my first blog, I used Elegant Themes, which has a wide selection of beautiful themes at a reasonable price. All of these themes come with unlimited support — essential when you’re starting a blog.

If you want your blog to be a marketing tool for your writing services, you might look for a theme with a static home page (like mine). That way, your site will look professional and appealing to everyone — whether they’re there to read your latest post or hire you for a project.

Whatever you do, make sure your theme is “responsive,” which means it automatically adjusts to look good on any device. Since more than half of website visits are made on mobile phones, this is crucial for your blog’s aesthetic.

6. Create a header

I think it’s always worth getting a custom header for a new blog.

You can ask your favorite graphic designer, create one with Canva  or order one on Fiverr. I’ve had great luck getting headers and other graphics designed in this online marketplace, where thousands of people offer their services for $5 per gig.

Starting a blog can seem like a lot of work -- but we’ve made it easy with this step-by-step guide just for writers. Here’s how to start a blog from scratch.

7. Write your pages

Though you’re starting a blog and not a static website, you’ll still want a few pages that don’t change. (“Pages” are different from “posts,” which are the daily/weekly/monthly entries you publish on your blog.)

Here are some pages you may want to create:

About

The about page is frequently touted as one of the most-viewed pages on blogs, so don’t overlook it. Include a professional headshot and brief bio, and explain why you’re blogging and why the reader should care. What makes you an expert? How can you help them?

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through — blogging is a personal affair!

Contact

You want your readers to be able to get in touch with you, right? Then you’ll need a contact page.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just tell your readers how best to reach you. Avoid putting your full email address on here, as spambots could get ahold of it. To work around that, you can use a contact form plugin, which we’ll link to below, or simply write something like “yourname AT yoursite DOT com.”

Portfolio

It’s your blog, so flaunt what you’ve got! Show your prospective clients and readers that you deserve their time and attention with examples of your past and present work.

You can see examples of great writer portfolios here; personally, I love Sara Frandina’s.

Resources

Do you have a list of favorite writing tools? Or maybe books that have inspired you? Readers love resources pages, and for bloggers, they can also be a clever way to earn income from affiliate sales. Check out The Write Life’s resources page for inspiration.

Start here

You probably won’t need this at first, but a “start here” page is smart once you have a decent amount of content. It’s a great opportunity to express your mission and highlight your best work, so your readers can see the value of your blog without wading through months or years worth of posts.

Joanna Penn does a good job with hers, encouraging readers to download her ebook and then choose a topic that interests them.

Work with me

If you’re using your new blog to sell your writing services, this page is essential. Be clear about how you can help people and how they can get in touch with you. You could even list packages of different services, like Lisa Rowan does on her site.

Once you’ve set up all your pages, make sure they’re easily accessible from the home page. If they’re not showing up, you may have to adjust your menus.

8. Install plugins

Plugins are great for everybody, especially those of us who are less comfortable with the technical side of things. Think of them as apps for your blog; they’re free tools you can install to do a variety of things.

Though having lots of plugins can undermine the functionality and security of your blog, there are several we recommend everyone look into:

Better Click-to-Tweet: Encourage readers to share your content by including a click-to-tweet box within your posts. This plugin makes it easy.

Contact Form 7: If you want to avoid putting your email address on your contact page, use this plugin, which is frequently updated and receives good reviews.

Hello Bar: Want to get readers to sign up for your free newsletter? Or want to announce the release of your latest book? This plugin allows you to create a banner for the top of your blog.

Mashshare: These share buttons are similar to  the ones you see here on The Write Life. Another minimalist  option is Simple Share Buttons Adder. It doesn’t matter which plugin you choose; it’s just important to  make social sharing easy for your readers.

Google Analytics Dashboard: This plugin tracks the visitors to your site so you can see what people are interested in and how they’re finding you.

Akismet: One of the headaches of blogging is the plethora of spam comments. This plugin will help you reduce the number of spammers that sneak through.

WP Super Cache: Another plugin that’s not sexy, but is important. Caching allows your blog to load faster — pleasing both your readers and Google.

Yoast SEO: This all-in-one SEO plugin helps you optimize your posts so you can get organic traffic from search engines.

9. Install widgets

If your blog has a sidebar, you might want to spruce it up with a few widgets, aka small boxes with different functions. That said, the minimalist look is in — so skip this step if you want to keep your sidebar simple.

Here are some ideas:

About box

You’ve probably seen this on a lot of blogs; it’s a box in the upper right hand corner welcoming you to the site. Check out The Write Life editor Jessica Lawlor’s blog for a good example.

Social media icons

Make it easy for your readers to follow you on social media by including links to your profiles in the sidebar. Your theme will probably include this feature, but if not, here’s a basic tutorial.

Popular posts

Once you’ve been blogging for a while, you might want to highlight your most popular posts in the sidebar, which you can do with a basic text widget. We do this here on The Write Life so you can find our most popular content quickly and easily.

10. Purchase backup software

Don’t overlook this important step just because you don’t have content yet! It’s better to install this software early than to start blogging and forget until it’s too late.

Free options exist, but I’ve never had good luck with them — and for something as important as my entire blog, I don’t mind paying a little extra. (It’s a business write-off, remember?!) Popular backup options include VaultPress, BackupBuddy and blogVault.

11. Start your email list

I know, I know — you haven’t even started blogging and I already want you to build an email list. Trust me; you’ll be so glad you did.

Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, agrees with me. “If I could go back and do one thing differently for my business, it would be starting a newsletter earlier,” she writes. “My email list is THAT important for my business, bringing traffic to my website, buys of my products and opportunities I never could’ve expected.”

Even if you don’t have anything to send, just start collecting email addresses. The best way to entice people to sign up is by offering a free ebook or resource. For a great example, check out The Write Life’s Freelance Writer Pitch Checklist.

My favorite email newsletter platform is Mailchimp. It’s intuitive, fun and free for up to 2,000 subscribers. There are many  tools to choose from, though; here are a few more options for building your email list.

Once you’ve created your list, encourage your readers to sign up  by adding a subscription box to your sidebar, and maybe even installing a plugin like PopupAlly.

12. Write!

If you really want to start a blog, you’re going to need to…start blogging.

We recommend creating an editorial calendar — even if it’s just you blogging. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it can even be scribbled out in a notebook.

What’s important is that you plan your posts in advance, so you can keep track of your ideas and stick to a schedule. It’s also a chance to assess and tweak your content strategy. What do you want to write about? How will you draw readers in?

Don’t forget you’re writing for the web, so your style should be different than if you were writing for print. Keep your tone conversational, use “you” phrases to speak to the reader and break up text with bullet points and sub-headers. Lastly, keep SEO in mind, and grab a feature photo from sites like Unsplash and Pexels to make each post shine

13. Promote, promote, promote

You’re almost there! Now that you’ve started writing, it’s time to get readers. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for many writers, this is the most surprisingly time-consuming aspect of blogging. Though it’d be nice if we could just write (that’s what we love to do, right?), it’s nicer to have people actually read your work.

You can try guest posting on other blogs, reposting on sites like Medium and LinkedIn, or including links when writing responses in forums, Facebook groups, or on Quora. Just make sure you’re adding value — and not spamming people with your URL.

Social media is another great way to get more traffic and grow your author following. Instead of merely tooting your own horn, be sure to interact with editors, writers and bloggers, too.Share their content with your community, comment on their posts and support them when and where you can. Hopefully, they’ll return the favor!

14. Get help if you need it

If you feel stuck at any point, don’t be afraid to invest in a course or ebook like these:

Sometimes a little outside help is all the boost you need.

Other than that, creating a successful writing blog is about hard work and consistency. Keep posting helpful and engaging content, optimizing it for SEO and sharing it with your networks — and you’ll soon see your new blog start to blossom.

Congratulations, you’ve now officially started a blog as a writer. Guess it’s time to get writing!

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life and we thank you for that!

This post was updated in February 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers!

The post How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers appeared first on The Write Life.