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 the “Ideal Reader” Myth Hurts Your Writing Process

A lot of writing advice encourages you to market to your audience by defining your ideal reader.

It says to think of your reader as one person, create a profile and write for that person.

You’ll even find templates for defining your ideal reader — fake head shots and all. They’ll ask you to name the reader and list their demographics, interests and job. They’ll ask you to explain why this reader is totally in love with what you write.

The problem? This exercise does nothing to help you understand what actual readers want from you.

The “ideal reader” myth

When you set out to define your “ideal reader,” you’ve probably already decided what you want to write — maybe even written it.

You’re sitting on that romance novel, self-help book or blog about what cats have taught you about love, and now you’re ready to market it. So you dream up a reader who fits the bill. They’re male or female, between ages 18 and 54, probably own cats and are single. So, obviously, they’ll love your blog.

Voila. You’ve got your ideal reader.

Except that’s useless. All you’ve done is reverse engineer an audience for yourself, and you can’t do that with real people.

If you want to attract actual readers, you’re going to have to do it the other way around: Learn what real readers want, and write it for them.

How to write what your audience wants to read

To understand who your audience (actually) is and how to write for them, I’ve come up with a simple exercise.

Borrowing from the way software developers plan projects by first working to understand their end users through a user story, I define readers with what I call a “reader story.”

The reader story is a simple way to understand who you write for, what they need from you and why.

The exercise might feel similar to fantasizing about your ideal reader, but it’s goal is different. Instead of inventing a reader for something you’re determined to write, the reader story helps you plan your writing around helping the audience achieve some goal.

To create your reader story, fill in this statement about the typical person you expect to read your work:

As a [type of person], they want [some goal] so that [some reason].

For example:

As a millennial mother of young kids,

They want advice on raising children, self-care and relationships,

So that they can balance being a parent with a full-time job while still enjoying me-time and a relationship with their partner.

That reader story might drive content for a parenting and lifestyle site like Scary Mommy.

If you don’t know anything about the typical person who might read your work, do your research before creating a reader story. Don’t invent a reader you hope exists.

How to use your reader story to plan writing projects

Once you create a reader story, it should drive all the decisions you make about your writing.

Does that blog topic help the reader achieve some goal? Does that book cover appeal to their some reason? Are those marketing platforms frequented by this type of person?

Write down your reader story, and stick it somewhere you’ll see every time you write.

Keeping your reader’s needs top of mind can help you make decisions about:

  • Which topics to tackle to get your story across.
  • Your goals for what you write.
  • Which products make sense for disseminating your story or ideas.
  • Which platforms are best for distributing your work.
  • The tone and voice you’ll use to speak to your readers.
  • When and how to release your work to have the greatest impact.

Developers rely on the user story to focus on features customers actually want — and leave behind the stuff that’s super cool technologically but totally unnecessary in real life.

Use the reader story the same way in your writing. You might love the anecdote you’ve found to open that article about your grandmother’s butternut squash soup recipe… but does it serve the reader’s goal of, you know, making a good butternut squash soup?

Yeah, the reader story will make you get real honest with yourself about the value of what you’re writing.

For more guidance on using your reader story to plan writing projects and answer those big questions for everything you write, I invite you to download my free guide: “How to Write Anything (Well).”

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