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.  

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Photo via GaudiLab / Shutterstock

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Yes, Freelance Writers Can Take a Real Vacation: Here’s How

Freedom. Flexibility. A yoga-pants-exclusive work wardrobe. Completely unrestricted coffee pot access.

To the average office-dweller, the freelance life can sound like one long vacation. But if you’ve actually worked it, you know all too well the inaccuracy of that perception.

When your home is your office and your laptop is both money-maker and Netflix machine, setting work/life boundaries is difficult. And that’s just within the context of a single day.

Scheduling a three-day weekend, or even a week-long break from reality? Now you’re talking borderline impossibility.

But taking a real vacation as a freelancer isn’t just possible; it’s critical. Human beings need to take breaks, despite the pride we take in logging long hours.

And as a solopreneur, you’re doubly in need of a respite. After all, you’re likely wearing all kinds of hats, responsible for every aspect of running your business.

So here’s how to recharge your batteries — which, unlike those devices you’re so tethered to, you do by disconnecting.

1. Do not take any new assignments during your scheduled vacation time. (No, seriously.)

I know, I know. I said this would be easy. And here we are, facing pretty scary stuff from the very beginning.

As a freelancer, turning down work is hard. Really hard. When you’re not working, you’re not making money; you don’t have the security of next week’s paycheck to fall back on. That much is pretty obvious.

But it can also feel like an opportunity cost, or sound like a death knell tolled for future prospects. If you say “no” today, who’s to say you won’t wind up on that editor’s blacklist tomorrow?

As it turns out, open communication is actually a boon to your business, not a detriment. Jackie Zimmermann, contributors editor for LendingTree, says she’d “much rather have a writer be honest with me about their bandwidth than accept stories they won’t be able to complete.”

Maintaining a clear line of communication helps editors plan ahead while still ensuring you get the break you need to be the best contributor possible — and your willingness to be honest is just another feather in your cap. “Freelancing is all about trust,” Zimmermann goes on, “so being realistic about your workload makes me feel better about assigning you stories.”

2. Work ahead and file everything before you leave

Not taking new assignments is one thing. But to orchestrate a truly successful vacation, you also need to be able to get away from the work you already have on the docket.

And that means being super diligent about working ahead and filing your pieces — yes, every single one of them — before it’s time to hit the road. No oh, it just needs a few final touches or last-minute Skype interviews in the airport. (I might be speaking from experience.)

Take a look at the assignments that are coming due around the time you’re leaving and aim to have them done at least two days ahead of time. It’s all too easy to underestimate the number of hours you’ll need to finish a project, particularly if that project includes interviews or other collaborative, participatory, not-entirely-under-your-control efforts, like editor feedback.

It’s also way too easy to convince yourself that you’ve only got a few minutes of work to do, which you can easily sneak in while sipping your beach bar margarita. Trust me: those few minutes have a way of spiraling into hours of screen time, which is exactly what you’re trying to get away from. Just say no.

3. Warn clients ahead of time that you’ll be incommunicado

Notice I didn’t say “if you’ll be incommunicado.”

Taking real-deal time away from your inbox is super hard, especially in today’s all-online-all-the-time culture. But it’s also imperative to your continued success and sanity. Burnout is a real thing, and if you never give yourself a break, you may soon find you don’t have a choice in the matter.

As discussed above, being open about your vacation plans with your editors is one of the best ways to head off miscommunications and missed opportunities. And it also means you can sign out for good without feeling guilt or anxiety — at least in theory. (Actually getting to that guilt-free headspace might take some practice. But you’ve got to start somewhere!)

Which brings us to the nuts-and-bolts portion of this project.

4. Set an email auto-responder

Even if you reach out to all your regular contacts ahead of time, there’s always the chance you’ll miss an important message you weren’t expecting. What will that person think if you don’t respond for a day — or even, perish the thought, a week?

Honestly, they probably won’t think anything. But when you set an email auto-response, you can bring clarity to the situation — and also hold yourself accountable — by stating the specific date at which you’ll be back in your digital office.

Exact instructions for setting up your auto-responder will vary depending on your email client, but it’s usually not too difficult. In Gmail, for example, you’ll find the option under the general settings tab toward the bottom. It’s called “vacation responder,” and looks like this:

As you can see, it’s easy to set a first and last day, and you can create a custom subject line and message. You can also turn the auto-responder off with a simple toggle… but you’re not going to do that until you’re home, right? Right?

5. Actually leave your laptop at home

Gulp. I know.

But for Type A personalities — a trait so many of us freelancers carry — if the option is there, we’ll find ourselves at work despite all our best intentions.

If you’ve done your due diligence by following the steps above, your bases are pretty well covered. Whatever comes up can wait. You have no reason not to leave your laptop at home… and every reason in the world to give yourself the unmitigated break you deserve.

6. Disconnect your work email from your smartphone

That’s right: we’re not gonna let you cheat with that mini-computer in your pocket!

If you’ve got your work account set up on your mobile device — which, of course you do — finalize your commitment to yourself by disconnecting it. Scary, yes, but temporary; it’s just for the length of your vacation! Though for a real challenge (and a less-insane headspace), you might consider leaving it disconnected for good.

Flexibility and autonomy are probably high on the list of reasons you pursued freelance work to begin with, so don’t cheat yourself out of benefiting from this lifestyle’s best perks.

Oh, and enjoy your vacation. Goodness knows you’ve earned it!

Photo via Anna Klepatckaya / Shutterstock 

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