How to (really) make a living as a writer
You don’t even have to search for “how to make a living as a writer.” You see it all the time online, whether you search for it or not:
“Get my secret sauce for becoming a high-earning writer”
“Follow my step-by-step process to become a 6-figure writer”
“Get my blueprint on how to make money as a writer”
Well, I’m here to tell you that the majority of these advertising campaigns are as full of s**t as the people who write them. Most of these people have become 6-figure entrepreneurs by teaching people how to become 6-figure entrepreneurs.
And although I love the concepts in the 4-hour-hour workweek as much as the next entrepreneur, the truth is, no business person ever works a 4-hour workweek, especially if they’re just starting out and doing it all on their own (which is why you should outsource tasks).
Here’s the deal: I know you can make a (good) living as a writer. But it’s not easy, and there isn’t a single blueprint on how to do it. There are many ways to become a professional writer, and no one’s way is the best way. You have to do what works for you, and sometimes work by trial and error (just make sure to stick with something long enough to find out if it was actually an error).
You can make a living as a writer. Lots of writers do. One of my biggest goals as a blogger is to always be transparent with my followers. 100% honesty is: the amount of money I make as a writer is not a living wage if you go by Ontario standards (on the road, it’s a different story).
But the reason I don’t make a super large income doing what I do is that I prioritize time with my kids. I’d rather make less money and spend more time with my children while they’re young. But I know how you can make a living wage as a writer (well, at least one way. There are many).
The truth is, no matter what kind of writing you do, you can get paid for your writing. And it’s not complicated. But it’s not easy, either. It takes hard work, many hours, and dedication—just like any other entrepreneurial endeavour. To really make a living with your writing, you need to remember a few things.
1. View your writing as a business.
Writing is both an art and a craft. But if you want to make an income with your writing, you also have to treat it as a business. And a business does not involve just creating a product; it involves marketing and selling it as well (even if your product is actually a service).
Most writers hate marketing themselves, but this is a necessary part of any successful business. Clients won’t discover you and your work unless you put some effort into helping them find it. Exactly how you market your work will depend on the kind of writing you do and what kind of clients or readers you want to reach (and remember: your readers are your clients).
2. Even multi-niche writers have to find a target market.
Even if you consider your writing to be an art, if you want to sell that art, you need to know who will buy it. For multi-niche writers, this usually means identifying several target markets for the various kids of writing they produce. Don’t worry about the minute details of what your perfect client looks like. For writing, a general population is fine. For example, if you’re a novelist and like to write young adult novels, your target market will be teenagers. Depending on what your story is about, you can refine your target market a little more from there.
3. Do the writing that pays—to fund your passion writing projects.
Like it or not, book writing is slow paying work. Even if you can get an advance (which is rare for new writers), the royalty payments (which are often abysmally small if you publish traditionally) come much later, and you’re dependent upon someone else’s sales efforts to get paid again. And if you self-publish, it still takes time to sell enough books to make a decent income. Don’t be a victim of the feast and famine cycle. Do the writing that pays to fund your writing (or other) passions.
I’ll be honest; copywriting and sales writing isn’t my favourite type of writing. I’d rather blog any day. But building an income-earning blog is a slow process (despite what some might say), so while I build my blogs, I continue to freelance write and edit, since I’ve already built a reputation in these fields, and the pay is good and immediate. Once my blogs start generating as much income as I can make from content marketing & copy editing, then I’ll probably leave freelancing behind and blog full time.
4. Don’t be afraid to take lower-paying work to build a portfolio.
I’m not talking about writing a 1,000-word piece for $1 here. Know your limits and don’t bend over backwards for those who don’t appreciate your work. But I started my paid work writing fluff articles for an online magazine. The word count was 1,500 words per article, and I had to source 10 images for each article. The pay was $45 per post. Compared to what I can charge now, that’s absolutely peanuts. But they were peanuts, and peanuts are better than nothing when you’re starting out. I was able to use the articles I wrote for this magazine to pitch much better-paying work—including private clients.
5. Work with private clients (and pitch privately, too).
I love writing for publications. The research alone is half the fun; I love having to read what they’ve written in the past, so I can match their voice. As much fun as I have writing for publications, though, most payments from online publications don’t come close to what large brands and startups will pay.
If you want to make a living as a writer, it’s well worth learning some copywriting and working with larger companies. When you do so, you’re much more in charge of your work than when you work with publications. You can set up a contract, and agree to only start working when you get at least partial payment. This isn’t possible with publications, where you’re at the mercy of their payment schedules (which often take a long time to go out).
6. Understand what you can charge.
It’s all fine and good to say you want to make $300 an hour as a writer, but if every writer in your field is charging $50 an hour for the same work, you’re not going to get paid at all. While we’re at it, don’t charge by the hour. Deciding what you can and should charge for projects or monthly retainers involves many questions.
The first question is what value you provide to your customer. For example, will their $50 investment in you make them $100 in sales, get them 500 more subscribers to their mailing list, engage their audience on social media?
The second question has to do with market pricing. Look around at what other writers are charging for the same work (that brings results). And finally, you need to consider your cost of living. How much do you need to charge to, at a bare minimum, cover the cost of operating your business?
The answer to all these questions will help you decide what you can and should charge for each service you provide.
7. Have a plan.
If you want to make money as a writer, you need to treat your writing as a business. And every business needs a plan. Even if you don’t write a detailed business plan, you need to have at least a list of tasks to complete that will help you get the results you’re after. So, if your plan is to sell articles to magazines, set up when and how you’ll research magazines that are accepting articles, how many magazines you’ll pitch per day or week, and start checking those items off your to-do list.
These are only some of the things you need to think about when starting a writing business that pays. If you’d like a much more in-depth look at how you can make money with your writing, including detailed instructions on how to set up your business, sign up for the mailing list. You’ll be the first to know when my course launches, and you’ll also receive weekly tips on starting and growing your multi-niche writing business.