How to Make Money as a Writer
Notice: Sometimes I use affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission per sale. This does not affect my review of products or platforms. All opinions are my own.
Today we’re talking about the bane of every writer’s existence. How the hell do you make any money as a writer? As a writer who does this as a full-time career, I can say with confidence that it's definitely possible to make a living in this industry. The key is to invest in multiple streams of income. That essentially means you're not putting all of your eggs in one basket. You're not making your money solely on book sales, you're making your money through several avenues that are all related to writing.
That's not something a lot of writers wanna come to terms with. They wanna make their money off of one book, and that's it. The problem is books take time to write, and while you're writing 'em, you're not earning shit. Additionally, book sales have their peaks and valleys. Some months you're rolling in the dough, other months, not so much. Having multiple streams of income is a great way to ensure that you are supporting yourself, even if your books are slow to launch. And you can absolutely create these streams of income while staying true to your writerly roots.
That's what we're talking about today! I’m breaking down the ten things you need to understand in order to make money as a writer, as well as different routes you can take in order to earn that cash. All of these income sources tie directly into writing or having a writing platform. Some of these options can make you a ton of money, and I’ll bet that you never even considered them. Let's get to it.
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Before we get started, I want to give all my love to Ghostwriting University for partnering with me. Ghostwriting University is an online course hosted by number one bestselling ghostwriter, Alex Cody Foster. You might know him as the ghostwriter for John McAfee, as well as the author of The Man Who Hacked the World. Basically, if you wanna learn all about ghostwriting, this is the guy to go to.
If you're not familiar, ghostwriting is essentially when you write a manuscript to be used by someone else. And this avenue is a great option for plenty of people who want to get paid to write. Ghostwriting University teaches you everything you wanna know about how to be a successful ghostwriter. It shows every single step of the process including client calls, interviews, outlining, drafting, and publishing. It also provides examples of books that got traditional publishing deals and were optioned by major producers, how to find prospective clients, and most importantly, how to avoid shitty clients. Alex Cody Foster has worked on over forty projects that span nearly all genres, so really he is a master of his craft.
I have an affiliate link to the course here. For complete transparency, that means I receive a small commission whenever someone signs up for the course. This does not affect the price of the course, nor does it affect my opinion. I don't make it a habit to affiliate with companies or products or services that I don't find genuinely valuable to my audience. So, if you want, click the link, and try it out today!
Now I'm breaking down my ten steps for making money as a writer. Start taking notes ’cause you're gonna want to remember this.
Number 1: Passive Versus Active Income
Before we get into money-making options, it's important to understand the difference between passive and active income, and why you’ll probably need both as a writer.
Active income is money earned through effort and output. You are actively doing a task, and you're getting paid for it right afterward.
Passive income requires upfront work. You’re putting effort into a product without getting paid, knowing that sometime in the future you will steadily incur income from it over time.
An example of active income would be if you were hired to write an article for a website. Passive income would be writing a book. You're not getting paid while you're writing that book, but once you publish it, you'll start to receive royalties for it over an extended period of time–in theory. The reason you want both passive and active income is because they supplement one another. Passive income is great because the money will continue to come over time without you having to put in continual work. However, you still need to get paid while you're doing that upfront work. That’s where active income comes into play. Additionally, passive income has peaks and valleys. Sometimes your book sells great, other times not so much. Active income is a godsend in these situations.
Number 2: Platform Matters
I know you don't wanna hear this, but I gotta say it. The larger your platform, the better your odds of making money, and the easier it'll be. That's why it's really important to create some type of author platform. I have an entire course all about how to do this over on Skillshare, it's linked here if you want to check it out.
In order to create a platform that your audience will gravitate towards, you need to offer a service that people want. My service is writing advice. Yours could be book reviews, it could be memes, it could be humor, it could be character art. The idea is to create content people are excited about and over time that excitement will translate into excitement for you. Once you've developed an audience, it'll be much easier to monetize your writing and develop multiple streams of income. And while not every point on this list requires having an audience, a lot of them do. If you wanna make money as a writer, hop on social media right away.
If you wanna make money as a writer, hop on social media right away.
Number 3: Multiple Formats
The most obvious way to make money as a writer is to publish a book, or two books, or ten. What a lot of people overlook is that format matters. It's common for new writers to go ebook exclusive, which means they only offer their book in ebook form. This makes sense because ebooks are the cheapest format to publish. Plus, they're the most popular format among readers. However, there are plenty of people out there that prefer physical books. Some people collect hardbacks because they’re so pretty. Other people just enjoy the feel of a paperback in their hands. And audiobooks are huge right now; they’re a lot more approachable for people who aren’t super into reading, and they're great for people with a variety of disabilities.
That said, if you can afford to publish your book in multiple formats, it will greatly expand your potential audience. And if cost is your worry, please note that there is an option to publish an audiobook through ACX at no upfront charge. Rather than paying your narrator a flat fee upfront, you and the narrator can split your royalties in half. That means you’ll earn less royalties, but you’re not paying a dime upfront. The bad news is this point is only applicable to self-published authors because if you’re going the traditional route, you will have no say regarding what types of formats your book is available in. But if you're indie publishing, definitely take multiple formats into consideration.
Number 4: Patreon
Patreon is a platform that allows people to become patrons of the arts. They donate money to you on a monthly basis so that you can further your artistic career. In return you offer special gifts and incentives as a thank you for their generosity. Examples of gifts you can provide are early access to your content, exclusive blog posts, and different ways to chat with you either online or live streaming. Over on my Patreon, I have an exclusive Discord writing group. You can view all of my YouTube content early. I give people the option to be able to request video topics and have the topic dedicated to them. I have monthly live streams. And I have signed books! Like the previous point, this is going to hinge heavily on whether or not you have an active and engaged platform. If you've created a platform with at least 1,000 active followers, Patreon might be good to look into.
Number 5: Social Media
Based on your size and influence, a lot of social media platforms will pay you for producing content. Pinterest has a paid partnership program that will essentially allow you to turn your pins into ads. You can monetize your content on both TikTok and YouTube, depending on your size and views. And even Instagram has rolled out Reel bonuses, where depending on how many followers you have, you can get paid to post Reels. Again, the key here is to have a platform, so it behooves you to get the ball rolling on this. Start engaging with people online. Not only to create a readership but so you can start creating multiple streams of income. I can post a Reel of Butters that I was gonna post anyway, except now I get paid to do it. Not a bad gig in my opinion.
Number 6: Affiliates, Sponsors, and Ad Revenue
Usually, if you're creating a writing platform, you’re doing it online. That opens you to tons of options, like posting content on social media as we already covered. You can also create an author website with a blog, or you could create a YouTube channel or a podcast. All of these options lend themselves to affiliate, sponsor, and ad revenue.
Affiliates are business arrangements made with brands. You agree to promote their product or service in return for a small commission from every sale made.
Sponsors are companies that pay you a flat fee in order to promote their product or service. Think of it like getting paid a lump sum to produce a commercial.
Ad revenue is received from regularly producing content on various platforms and having ads roll throughout the content. For example, if you have a YouTube channel or a podcast, ads may play before or during your episodes and you receive a small payment for this.
If you decide to go this route, please remember it is important to partner wisely. I do not accept affiliate arrangements or sponsors from companies or brands that I do not find valuable to my audience. I also don’t accept partnerships from brands that have nothing to do with writing or my platform. Do you know how many partnerships I've turned down? Underwear companies, perfume, sunglasses, and even vagina vitamins. When it comes to ads that play on say YouTube, you might not have a ton of control over that. But when it comes to affiliates and sponsors, make sure you're developing connections that directly benefit your audience, or they’re gonna be pissed, and rightfully so.
When it comes to affiliates and sponsors, make sure you're developing connections that directly benefit your audience, or they’re gonna be pissed, and rightfully so.
Number 7: Merchandise
A merch store is probably the coolest form of passive income. If you have a tagline, a catchphrase, and of course, books, merch is a super fun option. I recommend setting up a merch store using a platform similar to TeeSpring, RedBubble, or CafePress. These companies handle all the shipping and printing, which makes it so much easier for you, and in return, they take a portion of your profits. All you have to do is upload the designs, set your prices, and publish your storefront. TeeSpring also has designers in-house who could potentially design some of your merch for free. To be transparent, when comparing my sources of income, merch is usually one of my least lucrative. But it’s also my easiest source of passive income. Once I upload those designs, my work is done. Plus, it's really fun to see your merch out in the wild.
Number 8: Ghostwriting
Unlike my previous points, you don't necessarily have to have a big platform in order to snag this gig. Even better, ghostwriters can make good money. I know several ghostwriters who are making a killing. As we covered, ghostwriting is essentially writing for someone else. Your client dictates the content, you put pen to page, and they slap their name on it.
Because of the qualified work that goes into this, ghostwriters can make a pretty penny, so it is definitely a great option for people who wanna get paid to write. I am not a ghostwriter myself, so if you wanna learn more about it, I definitely recommend checking out Ghostwriting University, hosted by master ghostwriter Alex Cody Foster. This dude has tons of experience, he's worked with huge names, and he knows a hell of a lot more about ghostwriting than I do.
I've got the link to Ghostwriting University here if you’re interested. Please note that, as I mentioned above, it is an affiliate link, which means I receive a small commission per sale.
Number 9: Freelancing
There are approximately one bajillion websites out there boasting articles, listicles, blogs, educational resources, and so on. Someone’s gotta write that shit, and it very well could be you. I know countless writers who got their start freelancing, writing articles or lists for various websites in return for a lump sum payment. It's possible to get a gig as the recurring writer for a website in return for a recurring income. Or you can submit a variety of pieces to a variety of websites.
Some people get intimidated by this option and think, “What the hell am I gonna write about?” But there's something for everyone. I know people who have written gossip about the royal family, they’ve reflected on intersectional feminism. Hell, there are people who get to write reactions to their favorite TV shows. Imagine getting paid to write about a show you were gonna watch anyway? Pretty sweet deal.
Number 10: Virtual Assistant
A virtual assistant is an assistant who works virtually, as the name suggests. A lot of authors, influencers, and content creators need virtual assistants. And you know what a lot of virtual assistants do? Write! They write blog posts, they write articles, they write newsletters, they write social media posts. Of course, virtual assistants do more than that. They may handle administrative work like organizing calendars, invoices, and scheduling. They may also handle promotional work like social media posts, or designing sales imagery. You need a variety of skills in order to be a virtual assistant, but literally all of those skills are necessary for being a novelist anyway. Since you already got those skills, or you’re at least honing them, might as well use them to help someone else out and get paid while doing it.
I have a virtual assistant, she is an absolute godsend. And guess what? She's also a published author, and she uses her know-how not only to boost her platform but to get paid for helping me with mine. And I love her for it.
So that's all I've got for you today!
Hopefully, this got your gears turning on ways to make income as an author and/or freelance writer. As a fellow cyborg living in this digital age, you’ve probably already got a lot of these skills at your disposal. With some creativity (which we writers are pretty good at), you can diversify your income and set yourself up for success.
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