So, You Want to Make Money as a Writer?

photo from Flickr via Creative Commons from Emma Brabrook

Maybe you have an English degree. Maybe you have an MFA, like me. Maybe not. Maybe you just love to write and think it’d be really nice to make some dough while you do it. Maybe it’s more than a hobby to you. Maybe you want it to be a career.

First and foremost, you should know that it is possible to make a living as a writer. Lots of people do it. But lots of people are also rock stars and that’s not something that just anyone can do. It will take time and dedication, and it’s not going to happen overnight. This, I know from personal experience. It is not easy.

Making a living as a writer can be very inconsistent. It’s helpful if you have a spouse-type person in your household making a steady income, especially while you get started, but it’s not absolutely necessary. If you’re counting on it being fast or easy, though, or quitting your day job tomorrow, you might want to reconsider.

Chances are, you’ll need to do a combination of these things to bring in enough to live on. There are always people who break the mold, but for the majority of us, doing only one of the things on this list won’t be enough.

The things on this list are also all freelance-based stuff, which means you’ll have to do a bit of selling your self and/or your skills, and you’ll be responsible for things like paying taxes and health insurance, so you know, don’t put that off until April 15 and then panic.


1. Article Writing
There are still places out there that pay for content. From what I read, that’s diminishing, but I’m sure there will always be a few outlets that need quality articles and don’t have someone on staff to do it. I found this article that lists places that pay for content: Based on the comments, some of these are no longer active, but the author said he’s writing a new post with 50 places that pay for content, to be posted soon, so watch for that.

** Update: There is a new article, with 51 places that pay for freelance writing. Click here to read. **

2. Ghost Writing
With site likes Elance and oDesk, you can find a plethora of writing gigs in a wide variety of requests. Someone out there is looking for a writer in nearly every category you can think of, so brush off your day-job skills and hobbies and see what you might be an expert in. Not an expert? No worries. Sites like this host jobs that fall into the creative realms, too. You can ghost write just about anything. Elance and oDesk have a reputation currently for being the two most reliable and legitimate sites for freelancing, but beware and do your research to protect yourself from a scam or bad situation.

3. Blog Posts
While this falls somewhere between article writing and ghost writing, blog posting is a bit different. Here’s an article that lists 30 sites that pay for guest posts. It might be a little easier to break in as a blogger than an article writer. The biggest difference is that a blog will have a specific audience and you’ll need to cater more to the style and tone of the blog than you would a bigger outlet that publishes articles for the general public.

On the free end of things, guest posting is a great way to network and help build your platform, which will, in the end, help you get more paying jobs.

4. Journalism
Believe it or not, newspapers are not dead. You can still get paid to write articles for a newspaper. My husband has done it. He also has a weekly blog that he gets paid to write. The tricky thing here is that they may not be advertised. He got in because he worked there as a graphic designer for a time and he jumped on the opportunity when it arose. If you know someone who works at a newspaper, bend their ear. If not, put together your most impressive writing resume and portfolio and go in there and wow them into paying you for your mad writing skills.

5. eBooks
If you have a blog and/or lots to say on a certain subject, you might consider writing an ebook. This has become a popular thing to do recently with self-publishing being so accessible. Essentially, you write what amounts to a very long article or maybe even a full-length book on a certain subject, maybe something about writing or some other area you know lots about. Get it professionally edited, pay for a nice cover, and put it up online through Smashwords or Amazon. Combining together similar blog posts is also a great way to do this. I’m in the process of doing that very thing with my posts on Making Your Novel Sellable.

6. Freelance Editing
If you’ve spent time honing your writing skills and critiquing for other writers, chances are, you’ve built up your editing skills in the process. Why not put them to good use? I’ve now edited four full-length books and found it to be a great way to earn some money while helping out some fellow-writers. Truth is, no matter how good of a writer or editor you may be, we’re all too close to our own writing to successfully edit it ourselves. We all need editors, so why not be that editor for someone else? You may have to start out doing some work for real cheap or even free to build up some testimonies and word of mouth, but this one can become very lucrative if you get known for being good.

7. Self Publishing
Already written a book or two? Awesome! If you don’t want to go the traditional publishing route, give self publishing a try. Those who are successful at this are the ones who’ve spent the time to strengthen their writing skills, who spent the money for a good editor, who hire a cover designer (this is super important since it’s your book’s first impression), and who know how to market themselves without spamming “sell my book” in every social media platform they’re on. This one is easy to do, but hard to be good at. Don’t expect to finish a book and throw it up on Amazon with a clip art cover and make a ton of money. Unfortunately, a lot of people have done that and it leads to the self-publishing stigma so many are working to overcome. You want an example of how to do it right? Look at Nat Russo. He’s got a great platform, has mad writing skills, paid decent money for editing and cover design, and never once have I seen him push out those dreaded “buy my book” posts. He’s also got a great blog with lots of advice for self-published authors.

8. Traditional Publishing
Yes, it’s much harder, but yes, it’s still possible to make money through traditional publishing. Of course, there’s the most obvious option of writing and polishing a book, finding an agent, and selling your novel. But, don’t forget the small stuff! As in, stories! It seems quite difficult to find a publisher willing to publish a book of short stories, but there are plenty of options for selling your stories on their own. I’ve been published in several anthologies. Most recently, I have a story published in a book that came out March 17, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom.
If you start Googling, there are a ton of anthologies, journals, and contests that pay a wide range of amounts for short stories and/or flash pieces and poems. The Dragon’s Rocketship has one coming up soon and while the payout isn’t huge, it’s a great way to start getting your name out there and hey, it’d buy lunch or a cup of coffee!

9. Teaching
This is maybe one of the most popular ways to put an English or creative writing degree to good use. The options available for teaching vary widely, but most people I know that have gone this route do it by teaching creative writing classes at a local college. Check with your local universities and see what’s available. Don’t forget the online option, as well. Online education continues to grow in popularity and that means you can teach from anywhere.

10. Classes/Seminars
If the more traditional classroom or virtual classroom style isn’t for you, you can teach on a smaller scale. Through a writers’ organization like Pennwriters, there are online classes, one-day seminars held at libraries, and conference sessions, all run by Pennwriters who have excelled in a particular area. Or, just start your own! You could make a web site, contact your library, or just rent a room. I heard of a woman who had been published in Chicken Soup and had a small group of writers meet at King’s restaurant for 4 sessions that she gave privately.

11. BONUS! Non-Writing-Related Stuff
It may not seem obvious, but you can make money off of other people who are making money from their writing. Writers need other stuff. They need web sites, social media platforms, book covers, head shots. If you have skills outside of writing that could be related to writing, find ways to market to writers. I’m a perfect example of this. With over 15 years of graphic design and web site experience, I’ve been able to make a few bucks setting up web sites for authors, creating promotional materials like bookmarks and postcards, and even some cover and interior design.

While it may take a lot of time and effort to get things moving, you can find ways to make money from your writing. It may not always be huge bucks or come in consistently, but if you can get a few streams of revenue trickling in, you just might end up with a decent income to live on.

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