making money

Making Money as a Writer

Ann O'Brien

September 12, 2022

Writers hone their craft in a variety of ways. Some writers jump right in and publish a book as soon as they can. Others take on whatever writing gigs they can find to pay the bills or to just get their feet wet as someone who crafts words and phrases for a living. But writers who love what they do or are just talented as wordsmiths may not always know how to turn their skills or love of writing into a career. So how do writers make money doing what they love? And can writers make a good living at their chosen art? Let’s look at what writers who want to make it their livelihood can do to maximize their income from writing and what the earnings potential looks like.

Options for Making Money as a Writer

Making money as a writer can happen in a few different ways. Many authors choose to publish books, which is an excellent way to have control over the content, style, and volume of your writing. But book writing is not the only option for writers to earn a living wordsmithing.

 Freelancing

Many great writers got their start as a writer doing freelance work and plenty of excellent writers continue to freelance as well. As an independent contractor, a freelance writer may work solo or through an agency that manages writing contracts or jobs for the writer. This type of writing career is prized for its flexibility. Writers can choose when and where to write as well as have some control over what types of writing they will take on. Freelancers can work with magazines, websites, or other publications. Many freelancers love this option because they don’t necessarily get stuck writing the same content or topic day in and day out. But some freelancers report that the biggest shortcoming of this line of work is having to chase down payments for their work. Working as a freelance writer can be an enticing career for many though, since writers are always in demand to create a huge variety of types of communication for digital and print content.

Staff Writers

Many who want to pursue making money in writing land jobs as content writers for publications once they have polished their writing resume. Journalists and content writers with some experience may become part of a full-time or part-time writing staff creating content for websites, magazines, or newspapers. Staff writing positions come with some wonderful benefits not often afforded to those in creative fields: a set salary, benefits, and consistent content expectations.

Ghost Writers

Less common than staff writing jobs, ghostwriters are truly the behind-the-scenes writing jobs. Ghostwriters effectively write or co-write books or other content for authors who have the concept but not the writing chops to produce material. Authors who choose to go this route typically won’t earn any name recognition for this type of writing job since their contribution is hidden. The contracted work requires the true author’s name to be disclosed as the conceptual creator instead of the ghostwriter, but it is a great avenue for making money as a writer.

Self-Publishing A Book

While many writers dream of a large publishing house picking up their novels for publication, many authors instead forgo this in lieu of self-publishing a book. Authors who go this route have to do all of the work themselves outside of the main efforts of writing the actual book, including editing and revising the book’s contents. Self-published authors will need to get design help with the book cover and create a marketing plan as well as generate interest around the book so they can sell it. Not every author can or wants to pursue getting their book made by a publishing company since it can take a long time for even excellent writers to obtain a writing agent or get the attention of indie or traditional book publishers. Writers who want to self-publish their books will be making money when they sell their books, as a speaker, or even by writing content related to their books for other organizations once their own writing becomes more popular or well known.

Making Money: The Truth about a Writer’s Income

Unfortunately, being a writer is not like most career paths because, for the most part, authors don’t work for a company or business. Writers work for themselves and the path and trajectory a career takes determines what the pay will be. Since writing is an artistic pursuit, so many factors come into play when thinking about what an author is “worth” versus how much they are paid for their efforts. Whether an author writes full-time or part-time, what genre they work with, how prolific a writer is, and how an author’s work is published all play a part in calculating the salary of a professional author.

Authors can make a wide range of income on books based on how it is published.

  • Self-published writer earnings are up to 35% royalties on e-books and between 60-100% on print books.
  • Small publishing house writer earnings are between 25-50% on e-books, between 20-30% on print books, and may make between $1K-$2K in advances with seasoned publishers.
  • Big Five publishing house writer earnings are up to 25% royalties on e-books, between 5-15% on print books, and between $5k-$10K in advances or more for well-known, proven authors.

Why Self-Published Authors Can Make More

Sure there are some outlier authors who command huge advances and their portion of book royalties provides them an excellent income. Authors like JK Rowling, Stephen King, and John Grisham are household names who command huge advances and larger royalties than average for their writing, but they represent only a tiny fraction of the experiences that many writers have. Many gifted writers don’t have the backing of a publisher for their writing (or they don’t want it) and they still are making money as a writer for a few reasons.

1 Royalties – Self-published authors can earn a big portion, if not all, of the royalties of their books once their initial upfront printing costs have been recouped. Self-publishing also allows for smaller printings of a book without advances putting pressure on the creative process of a new writer.

2 Printing Time – Large publishing houses sometimes take years to bring a book to press. Self-published authors can move much more quickly allowing for multiple books to be marketed quickly, increasing the excitement and buzz around their work and holding on to a fan base more easily by churning out books at a faster pace.

3 Author’s Autonomy – While having an editor (or many editors) can be a great help to many authors, some writers like that they hold on to more of the creative control of their work when they self-publish their books. This autonomy can lead some writers to follow their instincts and not just the market and for some, this has led to great success.

Tips for Making Money as a Writer

The best way for making money as a writer is to produce the best quality content possible by following a few tried and true steps as an author.

  • Do Research: Create stories, characters and plot elements that your readers will love. Check out similar books on Goodreads and see what readers are saying about your genre. Search social media posts and accounts related to your genre, other book titles, and authors to see what is creating buzz to help guide your own writing.
  • Hire Experts: Invest in a professional editor to help polish your writing. Someone who catches inconsistencies and has an eye for finished manuscripts can save you heartache later on if you find problems after going to print. Most authors can benefit from expert design assistance on their cover art as well. Don’t skimp here since readers often decide to read a book based on its physical appearance and research shows that professionally designed covers that fit well with their genre get more clicks and purchases than those books that didn’t have assistance with cover art. Authors should also work with a reputable printer like Publishing Xpress to self-publish their books beautifully and quickly.
  • Make Multiples: Authors that can write books in a series or trilogies can snag an audience quicker, resulting in more sales and income than writers whose books stand alone. Considering the “what ifs” of your characters and storylines before penning the first book can help authors map out a series, a spin-off storyline, or another way to keep readers coming back for more of your writing.
  • Be Consistent: Even the biggest names in literature usually turn out new books regularly. Keeping the figurative pen to paper is one of the best ways to increase your income as a writer since publishing new books will keep your fan base engaged and potentially bring in new adoring readers with every new book you write.

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