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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Double Your Freelance Writing Income: 5 Ways to Make it Happen

If you’re a working freelance writer, I’ve got a question for you: Would you like to earn twice as much money from writing as you do right now?

(I should clarify that I mean without working twice as hard.)

Who wouldn’t, right?

I’ve been helping freelance writers double their income for many years now, and here’s what I’ve learned: Earning a lot more may be easier than you think.

There are a few basic changes to how you run your writing business that reliably boost writers’ income.

What small steps make a big difference? Here are my top five tips for quickly doubling what you earn from writing:

1. Stop and analyze

Many freelance writers are caught in a gerbil-wheel trap. You spend every minute frantically doing current client work and checking online job boards trying to land more gigs. You’re barely earning enough to pay bills, so there’s little free time.

There are zero minutes spent reflecting on the big picture. Where is your writing biz headed? Who would you really love to write for, and how can you position yourself to get there?

In the world of entrepreneurship, this is called working in your business instead of on your business. You’ll need to stop the busy-busy and take stock of your direction to make course corrections. If you’ve got even a single hour, you could reflect on what’s happening and potentially chart a new course.

Question: When was the last time you made a list of all your clients, how much you make from them on an hourly basis — and where they came from?

Do you see any patterns in your marketing of where better-rate clients came from? Worse ones? That may show you it’s time to stop checking online job boards, and time to do more proactive marketing, or to double down on LinkedIn networking. Or perhaps one industry niche is paying better than your others, and you should troll for more work in that area.

Stopping to do a client analysis can help you see where you’re wasting time, which clients should be dropped, and which asked for a raise.

2. Drop the biggest loser

Once you know who your worst client is, lay plans to get rid of them.

Writers often stay trapped at a low income level because they fear change. “I love writing for client X!” writers tell me, even though the gig works out to under $20 an hour. Bulletin: That client isn’t loving you back.

Somewhere in your client list, there’s probably a client that should be cut loose, to free up marketing time to find better prospects.

Use the time you save to find a better client. Once you do, drop the next-biggest loser. And so on. This simple process of swapping out lower-paid clients for better ones is the main technique I used to build my own business to six figures — right in the middle of the last big economic downturn.

3. Create (or strengthen) your inbound funnel

Are great clients finding you online? Whether it’s from a LinkedIn profile or your own writer website, a thriving writing business gets inbound clients who see your work and contact you. You should wake up in the morning and find emails, InMails, or Messenger notes from good prospects.

If that isn’t happening for you, it’s time to build or improve your online presence. I’m currently teaching a bootcamp for new freelance writers, and I’m blown away by how many have fewer than 100 LinkedIn connections. Give the Internet a chance to help you find clients on autopilot!

Consider making network-building and site improvement a weekly goal – it can pay off in less active marketing you have to do. And we all want that, right?

If you’ve got a writer website but it’s never gotten you a client, it’s time to optimize it. Have you given SEO any thought, and are you getting found for the keyword phrase you’re targeting? It can be worth investing a little time to make sure you come off professional, and it’s clear what type of clients you want.

Remember, most clients are searching for someone who knows their thing. They’re Googling for an Atlanta healthcare writer, or a freelance cryptocurrency writer. Something like that. Be sure to think like a client and communicate your expertise.

4. Identify ideal clients

If your marketing is all over the place, it’s time to focus. One of the best ways to do that is with an ideal-client exercise. Here’s how:

Close your eyes and imagine your ideal freelance writing life. Who are you writing for? Is it Vanity Fair? IBM? Think big and make a list of at least 10 dream clients.

Next, ask yourself this: What clips would impress those clients? Who would be a good stepping stone down the yellow brick road to that Emerald City?

For instance, if you want to write for Forbes, you might pitch a piece to your city’s business magazine or weekly business journal, to start. Aligning current prospects with ideal clients helps you quickly assemble a portfolio that’ll impress the right people.

Stop taking any and all gigs that come your way, and writing about everything under the sun. Instead, build a path that leads directly to your best writing jobs.

Sometimes, this exercise will even lead you to realize you should pitch dream clients right away! I’ve seen writers pitch and get hired immediately by dream clients, once they did the ideal-client exercise and realized they had the portfolio to go for it.

5. Raise your rates

There’s a bottom line that if you want to earn more, you have to charge more.

Start figuring out how you’ll do it. Hint: You’ll need to target clients that have real money and understand our value — bigger-circulation magazines, larger business and websites. Generally, these gigs aren’t sitting around an online job board.

Make sure you know what you’re earning on an hourly basis (even if you charge project rates, like you should)…and keep inching that figure up.

If you don’t have the stomach to ask existing clients for a raise, be sure to bring in new ones at higher rates. If you’re not raising rates, you’re not keeping up with the rising cost of living.

I speak as someone who’s paying $7,000 for braces on kid #2 right now, that cost $5,000 with kid #1, about 5 years ago. The price of everything else is going up, and raising rates shows you’re professional and value your worth.

Once you’ve done the client-analysis process and realigned your actions to suit your goals, make a date with yourself to repeat it every six months- one year. Your client base will change, as will your best actions to grow your income.

We don’t tend to hit new earning levels without a goal. Set yours high and even if you fall short, you’ll be earning way more than you did before.

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 Monster Ztudio / Shutterstock 

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