Last Updated: Aug 23, 2013
Making money writing isn’t as easy as it once was, but it’s not impossible. Here’s a realistic view of what it takes to make a living as an author.
Used to be if you were a writer there were plenty of outlets, from the local newspaper to national magazines, books, and even speeches and corporate collateral. Now it seems like there are more people with English and liberal arts degrees than there are grains of sand on the proverbial beach, and all of them are willing to work for free. Makes you wonder how they eat, not to mention pay the rent!
Most newspapers are on a slow collapse with ad revenue drying up as a new generation moves completely online, the big magazines seem to be failing — though new ones pop up occasionally — and books? Two words: self published.
Or maybe three words: Not for profit. There are paid writing gigs out there, but it’s becoming quite tricky to find them and if you’re not plugged in, online all the time, you might just miss the opportunities.
I’ve been a professional writer for a long time, starting with my first writing gigs fresh out of college back in the 80s. I can still remember the “a ha!” moment when the now defunct “Computer Language” magazine’s editor called me to ask if I’d write for them, and explained that they’d actually pay me for the privilege of publishing my writing. It’s amazing still.
Then there’s book publishing. I just had lunch with a friend who’s written a series of books, seeing roughly $30-$40k advance per title. Now he’s lucky if there’s an advance at all: publishers are much more leery about investing too much in a book because the odds of it making back a substantial amount has diminished as book sales have dropped and, simultaneously, the number of books published has skyrocketed.
So what’s a writer to do?
There are still avenues for getting paid as a writer, but it’s definitely more work. I write a monthly column for a tech magazine, for example, and am paid roughly $0.50/word. The publication used to be a print magazine on the newsstand, but ad dollars dried up and now it’s an online only publication.
It’s still paid by ad revenue, but just as the writing has moved online, so have the ad dollars moved online simultaneously.
And that’s the heart of finding writing opportunities: being online and keeping active in your field of expertise. For example, on one mailing list I’m on, someone posted that they needed a writer to update a white paper. I emailed them privately and landed the gig, about a week’s worth of research and rewriting with a nice paycheck at the end.
As every good journalist knows, stories no longer come to you. You have to go out and find them, and writing jobs are no different. You can’t just update your LinkedIn profile and wait for the opportunities to arrive in your inbox, you have to actively pursue them and negotiate the deal.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t Web sites where you can try to find work. LinkedIn is a good place to start if you have domain expertise and can identify target companies to pitch, but I find that meetings through meetup.com can be quite profitable in terms of building relationships and finding work. Other places to check out include Elance.com, Guru.com, ScriptLance.com and freelancewriting.com, but in all those cases you’ll run into the danger of being one of a huge list of commodities, bidding based on lowest price rather than highest quality.
There are also the mainstays, like Writer’s Digest — writersdigest.com — that has classified listings, etc. It’s more focused on fiction writing and poetry, and it’s crazy hard to earn money as a fiction writer nowadays with the millions of stories published online every year, but WD is another avenue, including the magazine’s industry tome “2013 Writer’s Market”.
Finally, you can also make money by publishing your writing for free.
Move into the publishing business and you can work towards having an ad-supported Web site or blog where you write to your heart’s content, work on marketing your site to gain traffic, then include adverts through ad networks like Google AdSense, Kontera, Chitika, and many other ad networks.
It’s unlikely to generation millions, but $1000 or more annually can be attained with relatively little work, and you don’t have to work with cranky editors!
However you seek to generate revenue as a writer, I wish you good luck and encourage you to write, write, write. That’s the secret to making money as a writer.
Dave Taylor has been a professional writer for over 30 years, has written 21 books for major publishers, appeared in thousands of newspapers and magazines, and currently writes a monthly column for Linux Journal, bi-weekly column for the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, and publishes daily content on his own ad-supported AskDaveTaylor.com site, along with his father’s rights advocacy site GoFatherhood.com. You can find him online at DaveTaylorOnline.com.