The Ultimate Guide to Making a Living Writing
Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone on planet Earth wants to learn how to make money writing?
Making money writing is one of those strategies that sounds sexy, but when it comes to the following through, it can be quite difficult.
Difficult, but not impossible.
Can you make money writing? Absolutely.
But you won’t be able to do either until you adopt the right attitude.
All of the strategies I’m going to share with you work. How do I know? Because I personally use each of these strategies to make money writing myself.
If you want to make a living writing, you need to have the following qualities:
- You really, really, really have to like writing — It’s OK if you’ve procrastinated on starting your writing career; I did. But once you start you have to begin to enjoy the process or else you’ll quit.
- You have to be patient — I’ve seen people execute some of the strategies I’m going to share in a year or less, but they’re anomalies. It’ll probably take you three to five years to go full-time.
- You have to focus on your audience — If you expect to write random stories about your life and make a killing without taking readers into consideration, you’ll fail.
Still with me?
Let’s take a look at the income streams I personally use to make money writing.
My Number One Blogging Income Stream by Far
As long as the website medium.com exists, I will bang the drum and be one of its top evangelists because this site almost solely afforded me the opportunity to quit my job and become a full-time writer.
I joined Medium in late 2015 after seeing someone on my Twitter timeline share that she had an article go viral on the website.
I had no idea how the site worked, but by that point, life taught me to always seek out and seize new opportunities. When I joined Medium, it didn’t have as many writers on the platform as it does today, but it had a sizeable audience already. Call it right place, right time, but the true lesson is to always be on the lookout for the next trend.
From 2015 to 2017, I wrote articles on Medium primarily to build my email list. In 2017, Medium rolled out the Medium Partner Program, which pays writers based on engagement from Medium members. I gave it a test run and when I saw the results I just kept going. Nineteen months later, I had my first five-figure month on Medium and quit my job.
Anyone reading this right now can start writing on Medium and start making an income in as little as 30 days. In the beginning, you likely won’t make much money at all. But if you stick with it long term, you can make anywhere from a decent living to a full-time living.
Pros of writing on Medium
- You don’t have to do anything but write. I promote my articles a bit using my email list and social media, but primarily, I focused on creating the best possible content and publishing it on the right publications within the website
- There’s no barrier to entry on Medium. Everyday Joes and Janes publish on Medium on the same feed as award-winning journalists and experts.
- You can make money and build an audience at the same time. Medium allows you to add a link for readers to sign up for your email list without it affecting your ability to earn money.
Cons to writing on Medium
- If you are just now starting to write on Medium, you will face more competition than I did. No question about it. As with any trend in its late stages, being successful becomes more difficult when more people find out about the opportunity.
- If you want to be successful on Medium, you have to write a lot, maybe even more than you’re initially comfortable with. I write anywhere from 20–30 articles per month to maintain my income. Some argue this incentivizes writers to rush and decreases the quality of the writing as a whole. I don’t disagree with that argument. For more patient and thoughtful writers, Medium may be an uphill climb. But it’s the perfect place for prolific writers.
- You have no control over Medium. I always tell writers to maintain a WordPress blog and an email list because you never want to have all your content solely stored on a third-party platform. I’m betting long on the success of Medium, but I don’t run or work for the company, so I can never truly know. Keep Medium as part of your strategy, even the primary part, but don’t make it your entire strategy.
Resources on success on Medium
How to Make Money Writing and Achieve a Life-Long Dream at the Same Time
According to a New York Times survey, 81% of people say they have a book in them. If you’re an aspiring writer, odds are you’d like to publish a book. And I think you should.
There’s nothing quite like having a book, a solidified piece of thought, out there in the world. Thanks to self-publishing, you can put together a professional book without having to use a traditional publisher in the process at all.
Self-publishing gives you total creative control over the content of your book, the design and packaging of your book, the price of the book, and the timeline for when the book comes out. You also get higher royalty payments from self-publishing than you would a traditional publisher.
I’ve published three books. My first book made a few thousand dollars. My second book did much better, making multiple five figures. And my third and most recent book is pacing to outdo both of those books combined and then some. With each new book you put out, you have a larger audience to share your book with.
Most self-published authors write multiple books to build up a catalog that can lead to a more substantial living. Again, if you like to write a lot, you can put out multiple books and make a living from them. I personally know writers who do just that. They’re not famous, but they make a living with serial publishing and reach the goal of making a living with their words.
Pros to publishing books
- If you publish a book and put marketing elements in place to keep promoting it, you have an asset that continues to pay you over time. I make money while I sleep from readers across the world buying books I wrote years ago. It’s a great secondary stream for me that keeps solid income coming in.
- Books establish credibility. It’s funny. Every time you mention to someone that you wrote a book, their eyes widen a little bit and they’re impressed. Writing a book makes you feel like a real writer.
- There’s just something about writing a book that gets a huge monkey off your back. When you get that copy of your book in your hands, you feel euphoric. A book is tangible. You always have something to look at and say, “I made this.”
Cons to publishing books
- Odds are, you won’t sell a ton of books unless you have a huge audience. Many big-time authors who have massive hits, e.g., Mark Manson, have email lists of 100,000 people or more. You can, however, go the serial publishing route if you don’t have a huge audience.
- Books aren’t the best ROI on your time, at least not initially. After you’re done writing your book you won’t even want to look at it anymore. The process can be grueling. It’s worth it, but it might not be the most optimal use of your time.
- Without proper promotion channels in place, many self-publish books tend to just die off. If you want to write a book that lasts, you will have to continue to focus on building an audience and sharing your book with them.
Resources on successful self-publishing
Share Your Wisdom With the World
If you write ‘how-to’ content, you can leverage that knowledge to make money teaching people about your subject. You can become a coach, create online courses, or become a consultant.
After a few years of learning how to write myself, I provided one on one coaching for aspiring writers. Recently, five years after penning my first word, I created an online course teaching people how to build an audience and make money on Medium.
People kept asking me for advice on writing and wanted to work with me in a bit more depth, so I created the course and I’m currently working on a coaching program to go with it.
If you put your writing out there and share your expertise, you’ll have people who see the value in your work and want to work with you. When it comes to teaching others, you don’t have to be an infallible expert, you just need to have knowledge that helps other people.
One thing that struck me when observing new writers is the fact that there are many things that seem obvious to me that are totally new to them.
When you write and build an audience, you build up a level of expertise you might take for granted. Just know that people are out there who want your help and if you’re suited for it, teaching can be a great option.
Pros to coaching, courses, and consulting
- You don’t need a large audience to make a great living as a coach. With coaching, you can command higher rates, meaning you need to convert fewer people to reach your income goals.
- With online courses, you can scale them and make a great income as you build a larger audience over time. And courses are an asset that keeps you from having to trade your money for time. You can stay involved in your courses and work with students, but it’s not as constant as coaching.
- The upside is very, very, very high. This doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but most writers who reach huge incomes, six or seven figures, usually make it there through a combination of ‘the three Cs’
Cons to coaching, courses, and consulting
- The degree of difficulty can be high for people who aren’t accustomed to working with others. You can suffer from impostor syndrome over teaching others. If you lack confidence in interacting with people, coaching will be difficult.
- Online courses tend to have low success rates. Most people don’t finish them. Hybrid models are becoming more popular, a combination of courses and coaching, because self-paced courses may leave students hanging.
- Some people just want to write. A few years back, it was a given that you had to teach others to supplement your income and support your writing career. Now, with places like Medium, you don’t have to do that. I’ve seen some prominent bloggers turn course creators who just stopped writing altogether. You can lose some of your free-spirited creative joy if you ‘go corporate.’
Resources on coaching, courses, and consulting
How to Make Money Writing Damn Near Out of Thin Air
If you have no idea what products to create or don’t want to become a coach, you can promote other people’s products on your blog and make money writing through affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is simple. You get a custom link to a page for a product. You add these links to blog posts or pages on your website. When people click on those links and buy the products, you receive a commission at no extra cost to them.
That’s the great part. You just share products with people who might be interested in them and get paid. I don’t do a ton of affiliate marketing. Mainly, I have a page teaching people how to start a WordPress blog that contains affiliate links to website hosting.
You’ll want to create helpful content around the affiliate product you want to promote to educate and persuade people into buying the product.
If you can attract traffic to pages on your site that contain affiliate links, you can earn anywhere from a decent trickle to a massive income. Depending on the niche and the price point of the products you promote, you can make a killing with affiliate marketing if you know how to do it right.
Pros to affiliate marketing
- The upside potential is huge if you can get traffic, as you can see above.
- Affiliate marketing is cost-effective. You just need to pay for your website hosting, site design, and email marketing software. You don’t have to spend money on creating a product. Theoretically, you could start a six-figure affiliate business with less than $100/mo in expenses.
- Since you don’t own the products, you don’t have to run the business aspects of having a product, e.g., customer service, refunds, maintaining and updating the product, etc.
Cons to affiliate marketing
- To get affiliate marketing to work well, you need to get a lot of traffic. This likely means learning SEO or running paid advertisements, which carry a higher degree of difficulty than, say, publishing blog posts on Medium.
- You have no control over the commission structure and the terms with your affiliates. Amazon recently decreased the commission rate for its Associate’s program, which wiped out many entire affiliate businesses overnight.
- Your reputation is tied to the products you promote. You get the upside of not having to create the product, but you get the downside of having no control over the quality of the product. This is why I suggest promoting products you actually use. I promote Bluehost on my blog and my blog is hosted on Bluehost.
Resources on affiliate marketing
A Straightforward Path to Cashflow
You can make money writing with this last model quite quickly if you’re dedicated.
It’s my lowest source of income, but I’ve still used it to make quick cashflow. When done right, you can build an amazing writing business from this model.
What is the model in question? Freelancing.
I wrote freelance articles for the digital marketing company I worked for prior to quitting to write full-time. I wasn’t making much money with other forms of writing yet, so freelancing was the quickest and easiest way to make a living at the time.
These days? I take on freelance jobs only if they come my way and only if they pay a lot of money. If you start to put your work out there, eventually people will notice the quality of your writing and want to hire you for jobs.
Also, if you start writing with the intention of becoming a full-time freelancer, you can quickly pave the way to making a full-time living if you do it right. Companies have bigger budgets to hire you than individuals.
Say you make $60,000 a year right now. To replace that income as a freelancer, you’d need five clients at a $1,000/month retainer, or you could piece together that living by finding a way to write 20 articles per month as $250.
Not only are these numbers doable, but you can charge much much higher rates than that if you have the skills and sales knowhow. Copywriting specifically, words that sell, is one of if not the most lucrative form of writing you can learn, with some copywriters making seven or eight figures.
The bottom line. The skill of writing sells. First, you develop the skill. Second, you create a portfolio displaying the skill. Last, you either go out and find or attract traffic to get clients.
Pros of Freelancing
- Freelancing is as straightforward as it gets. You can start a freelancing career with zero audience by creating a portfolio and pitching potential clients. It has the best of both worlds — a straight line to cash without having to write as much or build a large audience like you’d have to do with a strategy like writing on Medium.
- As you increase your writing skills and your confidence and ability to sell, you can raise your rates and increase your cash flow just like that.
- If you have a savvy business owner’s mindset, you can not only become a freelancer but teach your skills to others and create a business by having them do the writing while you take a portion of the profits because you know how to get the clients. You can eventually go from a solo freelancer to owning an agency, which can help you scale your income.
Cons to freelancing
- You’ll inevitably run into bad clients. Pro tip: Avoid cheap clients who aggressively negotiate and nickel and dime you from the start.
- You will always be chasing invoices to get paid. The accountant at the agency I worked for was constantly on the phone trying to get people to pay their past due balances.
- As a solo freelancer, there is a cap on how much money you can make because you’re trading your money for time.
Resources on becoming a freelancer
The Bottom Line on Making Money Writing
The bottom line here?
You have no excuses.
All of these strategies to figure out how to make money writing work. They’ve all been successfully done to the tune of six, seven, even eight-figures.
My advice? Choose one to work on as your primary strategy until you replace your income with it. Then, build your second, third, fourth, etc. to create safety and hedge against having all your eggs in one basket.
Don’t try to do them all at once.
There are so many ways to not just make money writing, but make money online period, that you can suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’ or experience fear of missing out because you just don’t have enough time to execute them all at once.
Guess what, though?
If you wear yourself thin trying to do them all at once, you’ll surely make less money than you would have if you just chose a path and stuck to it. Not only that, but you’ll probably burn out.
Give yourself time. My blogging mentor told me it would take four to six years to make a full-time living blogging. I listened to him, put my head down, worked hard, and it took just about that long.
It will probably take you that long, too.
But a half-decade is nothing if it gives you the chance to spend the rest of your life making a living doing what you love.
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