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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Making Money as a Professional Writer: How to Beat the Odds and Succeed

Becoming a professional writer is a tempting yet difficult career path. The competitive landscape coupled with low compensation deters many prospective writers. Despite the long odds, building a sustainable writing career is possible through hard work and perseverance. This comprehensive guide covers various strategies to make money writing and beat the statistical odds.

Why Making a Living as a Writer is So Challenging

The key reason the archetypes “starving artist” and “starving writer” persist is because they hold truth. Making steady income as a creative is genuinely hard. However, a writing career doesn’t have to mean perpetual poverty. With the right techniques, you can earn enough to cover your basic needs.

The Expectation of Free Content

Thanks to the internet’s proliferation, consumers anticipate unlimited free written content. Simultaneously, writers strive for fair compensation for their efforts. This dichotomy makes earning substantial pay as an author challenging.

Furthermore, the “race to the bottom” for written content happened swiftly. Print publications went under, media jobs declined, while free blogs and social media platforms boomed. After adjusting to digital shifts, established outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post now mainly rely on subscriber revenues.

Writing as a Side Hustle vs. Full-Time

Generating supplementary income writing from home is very realistic. Building enough writing cash flow to completely replace your 9 to 5 salary is much more difficult. For those seeking extra money writing, this guide will prove useful.

We’ll cover all the nitty-gritty details on constructing a money-making writing career from the ground up.

The Best Ways to Monetize Your Words

We’ll summarize the most accessible methods to collect checks from writing first. Then we’ll dive deeper into overcoming common obstacles.

1. Freelance Writing

Since writing is an almost universal skill, the barriers to entry for freelancing remain low. You simply need to apply for open contracts through job boards and digital marketplaces. There’s no shortage of freelance writing opportunities out there.

2. Media Company Staff Writer

Want a stable writing job with benefits? Getting hired as a journalist or columnist for a media firm checks those boxes. However, few writers can land such gigs without relevant degrees.

3. Launch Your Own Blog

Nowadays anyone can start a blog for less than $100. You can potentially profit from ads and digital products over time. However, preparing quality content and attracting an audience takes years before seeing money.

4. Publishing Books

This represents the most difficult path to profitability for writers. Don’t expect getting rich off book sales and royalties, even if your title becomes a hit. Ideally only author a book if you have an important message to share.

Now we’ll do a deep dive on the immense challenges aspiring authors face. We’ll also highlight proven techniques to construct a money-making writing career.

Why Making a Steady Living Off Writing is So Hard

It’s genuinely hard to earn enough from writing alone since people don’t value written content like they used to. Surprisingly, many individuals aren’t even willing to properly compensate family members for their creative output.

Thanks to limitless free content online, readers balk at paying for digital writing. Certain individuals feel so entitled to free material they get outraged if they encounter a paywall. They fail to realize quality writing requires research, editing, and formatting – none of which is free nor easy.

To adapt to digital disruption legacy print outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg now concentrate mostly on paid subscriptions. Various new media companies also rely heavily on recurring subscription revenues rather than ads.

So if you want better odds at making real money writing, your best bet is getting hired as a columnist for an established media firm. Depending on experience, such jobs pay anywhere from $35,000 – $150,000 annually. You’ll hopefully receive medical benefits and retirement funds too.

Insights Into Salaries at Media Companies

To demonstrate the earnings potential from writing jobs at media firms, here’s a crowdsourced media salary Google sheet. It covers pay data for hundreds of editing and writing roles. The vast share make under $100,000 per year.

Keep in mind you’ll likely need a English, Journalism or Communications degree to qualify for most salaried writing gigs. Top firms favor applicants with masters degrees from elite journalism graduate programs.

The High Cost of a Journalism Masters

Consider the steep tuition rates below at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, one of the highest rated J-Schools globally. Their total fees range from $81,000 – $118,000 annually for full-time students. That’s a ton of money for a single year of education. Then tack on living expenses…

The takeaway: You need deep pockets to gain credentials required for well-paying writing jobs at top media companies.

Wealth Opens Doors to Writing Careers

There’s an intriguing stereotype among the writing community. Since average pay is low, often only those from wealthy backgrounds pursue writing long-term. Additionally, landing writing gigs at elite publishers frequently requires expensive graduate degrees.

So in reality, building a writing career leans towards those already financially comfortable. Aspiring working-class writers face immense barriers to entering the field.

Writing for Power & Influence

For those already financially set, a coveted writing job represents another temptation – the lure of influence. Even with zero experience, getting published on a major platform gifts you immediate clout.

The allure of swaying public opinion through writing proves appealing for some. Of course plenty of professional writers don’t come from privilege nor seek fame. Most write because they find joy in it.

Now let’s discuss strategies for those determined to make it solely from writing…

Approaches for Aspiring Full-Time Writers

Myriad authors prefer avoiding traditional media jobs to retain creative freedom. Since writing is deeply personal, writers prefer publishing content exactly how they want. Rigid editorial restrictions and deadlines often stifle creativity.

But will you really profit right away from writing whatever you want? Unfortunately no – expect to spend serious time building your brand before earning anything substantial.

Freelancing represents the easiest route to profitability for independent writers. You write articles on commission for a pre-determined rate based on word count. We’ll cover freelancing more soon.

First, let’s analyze if blogging alone can realistically replace your full-time salary.

Spoiler: The odds aren’t good. But clever writers can absolutely build livable blogging income with the right methods.

Can Blogging Replace Your Full-Time Salary?

Constructing a profitable blog from scratch demands tremendous patience. Expect putting in two years of consistent posts before gaining any momentum. Sadly most writers give up well before that point.

But for those stubborn enough to persist long-term, blogging can generate livable earnings. You simply must keep nurturing your site and expanding your audience.

There are professional bloggers earning 6-figures annually strictly from their sites. But they relentlessly pump out content their niche rabidly consumes. They also invest heavily in site design and user experience.

Let’s analyze the monetary potential blogging realistically holds.

Potential Blogging Income Sources

These represent the main ways to monetize blogs:

  • Advertising Revenue: Displaying Google AdSense units on site pages. You earn tiny sums per click.
  • Affiliate Marketing: Recommending related products and getting a % of sales.
  • Selling Own Products: Digital info products like ebooks, courses, and subscriptions.
  • Brand Sponsorships: Getting paid to showcase brands through articles/videos.

Building meaningful income from ads alone is unrealistic without millions of monthly views. Niche sites charging memberships or selling specialized products do much better.

But constructing digital products and optimizing funnels requires extensive additional skills. And few niche sites ever reach that elite status where brands approach them for sponsorships.

That’s why freelancing gives aspiring full-time writers the best shot of earning a living wage in the interim.

Why Freelance Writing is the Smart Starting Point

Getting your first freelance writing gig remains simple since fluent English is the only requirement. Just sift through job boards and content mills to find open contracts aligned with your abilities.

Based on your niche authority and writing competency you can charge 5 cents up to $2 per word. Let’s compare two extremes:

  • 1,000-word novice health blog post – $50
  • 1,000-word detailed finance article by subject matter expert – $2,000

See the immense fluctuation among pay rate? As you gain mastery writing for reputable publishers, income grows significantly.

Building a respected personal site to display published clips helps tremendously too. This proves you can produce quality content on spec toprospective clients.

We’ll circle back to site authority in a moment. But first, let’s touch on why building your own writing platform is non-negotiable…

Why You Must Have Your Own Writing Platform

Every ambitious writer needs their own platform displaying published articles to grow. Posting on social sites likes Facebook and Medium is fine temporarily.

But concentrating your writing on your own site makes the most sense long-term. Once you gain decent search visibility, interest in your niche site climbs organically.

Don’t make the mistake many writers do – spending too much time creating for other companies instead of themselves. Devote roughly 90% of your energy towards building your own platform and 10% writing for others.

Otherwise you’re primarily expanding platforms who don’t value you. Wouldn’t you rather grow your own asset?

Your Site Acts as Your Digital Headquarters

Your niche site essentially serves as an extension of your personal writing brand. It doesn’t have to become a media empire with millions of visitors. Start small by providing quality content consistently around topics you enjoy.

Don’t obsess over mass appeal either. You’ll automatically attract the ideal audience that aligns with your belief system and style. As long as you create content sustainably, your website holds immense value.

Let’s summarize everything required to set up your money-making digital HQ.

Components of a Writer’s Website

These elements create a memorable writer’s platform:

Distinct Site Design: Colors, logos and layout should represent your sensibilities.

Consistent Publishing Schedule: Start small by committing to 2 quality posts per week.

Demonstrates Writing Abilities: Include niche articles showing your range.

Writing Samples Page: Display links to your best off-site articles.

About Page: Share your origin story and core values. Build a bond with your audience.

Contact Page: Make it easy for potential clients, publishers and readers to reach you.

Calls-To-Action: Encourage newsletter sign-ups, social follows, affiliate purchases etc. Don’t be afraid to (tactfully) ask for support.

Now let’s detail how to leverage your website to unlock coveted book deals and speaking gigs.

Turn Your Site into a Book Deal Springboard

You don’t necessarily need an audience to get a traditional book contract. But a decent platform significantly boosts your odds.

For instance, if you regularly freelance write within your niche your site can showcase those article links. Potential publishers browsing your platform then acknowledge your range and authority.

Now let’s get into the extremely intimidating odds of actually landing a traditional book deal…

Tough Odds of Securing a Literary Agent

To share recent data, I spoke with Howard Yoon, partner at top DC literary agency Ross Yoon. Howard generously spent an hour reviewing the ins and outs of mainstream book publishing.

He estimates only around 1-3% of prospective authors secure literary agent contracts. For context, his firm receives about 60 formal author inquiries every single week.

Furthermore, even if an author does get an agent, under 50% of literary reps close eventual book deals on clients’ behalf. As one of the most respected agencies, Ross Yoon has a 90% success rate selling their clients’ book proposals to publishers.

So in summary – actually getting your book commercially published requires immense perseverance. You have better chances making the finals at Wimbledon (250 competitors) than becoming a commercially printed author.

You better absolutely love writing to withstand the gauntlet of traditional book publishing!

Now – let’s get into the question prospective authors get most curious about – earnings potential!

What is the Average Author Advance?

We’ll start with the cold hard truth – most authors only receive an advance and never earn additional royalties. That’s because roughly 70% of books don’t sell well enough to trigger royalties kicking in.

In that case, the advance constitutes the only payment most traditionally published authors receive. Advances generally range from $5,000 – $15,000. Let’s expand the range to $10,000 – $20,000 to give benefit of the doubt.

Can you solely survive on a $10,000 – $20,000 annual salary? Highly improbable unless you reside in a rural low cost-of-living area. For comparison, the 2023 federal poverty line for a single person equals $14,580 annually.

Therefore trying to live solely off a modest book advance proves almost impossible. We haven’t even touched on the tiny installments advances get paid out in…

Book Advances are Broken into Tiny Pieces

Adding insult to injury, publishers don’t pay out your full book advance upfront. Instead it gets split into multiple tiny installments over years.

Industry standard is three equal checks – one upon signing, one upon delivering final manuscript, and one on publication day. Otherwise it’s four installments culminating a year post-launch.

For example, let’s say you get a $30,000 advance, slightly above average. You’d only receive $10,000 initially for signing the contract. Then wait at minimum 12 months for the next $10,000 check.

As you can see, average book advances hardly provide enough yearly income to survive on. We haven’t even discussed the fierce competition authors face…

The Sheer Number of Books Published

Here’s a terrifying statistic: Over 3 million books are available on Amazon alone right now. Around 200 additional books publish daily across formats.

With so many titles flooding the market constantly, only the top 0.5% of commercially printed authors sell enough books to earn a reasonable living. The odds of launching a breakout hit feel almost impossibly slim.

Beyond competing with millions of past and upcoming books, you’re also up against ultra-cheap self-published ebooks. Despite no oversight, Amazon ranks these titles beside traditionally published books.

Doesn’t sound too promising earning sustainable income solely from book sales does it? Well unless you hit the literal lottery winning a shockingly massive advance…

Mega-Advances Are Basically Unheard Of

At the start we covered average advance amounts ranging from $10,000 – $20,000. While life-changing for most, sadly those sums don’t provide enough yearly income to thrive on.

Technically if you secured a $250,000+ advance you could temporarily survive solely on your payments. But landing a quarter million+ book contract constitutes a fantasy scenario for 99.9% of authors.

Don’t take my word for it – getting any book deal at all remains a pipe dream for most writers! Even if you’re one of the lucky few who publications agree to print, relying on books to pay for your life proves foolishly optimistic.

Well, what about ongoing royalties after books release? Couldn’t those future earnings allow you to solely write?

Probably not. Here’s why:

Why Book Royalties Are Unreliable

We touched on earlier how roughly 70% of published books don’t sell well enough to earn royalties beyond advance pay. But for the 30% of titles that do sell sufficiently, how do royalties work?

Author royalties derive from all book sales once the total exceeds the advance amount. Using a $75,000 advance example – you’d need to sell around 23,150 books at $3.24 royalty per copy before accumulating additional earnings.

Now what if your book really takes off? Couldn’t seven-figure sales set you up with perpetual income?

In reality, around 90% of commercially printed books sell under 5,000 total copies according to an editor at Penguin Random House. She relayed only about 1% of published titles ever sell over 100,000 copies.

So while technically possible to get rich off royalties, plan foryour book earning under $20,000 total forever. Harsh but prudent expectation setting goes a long way sustaining a long writing career.

Key Takeaways Summarizing Book Publishing Earnings

Let’s review core lessons on income potential from commercially publishing a book:

  • Don’t rely on royalties – advances constitute likely max earnings
  • Average advances equal $10k – $20k total
  • Advances break into small installments over years
  • Making a full-time living off book earnings alone is nearly impossible

Now that we’ve covered traditional book publishing, let’s discuss alternative paths to profiting from books – self-publishing and eBooks.

Self-Publishing Print and eBooks

We just exposed the immense grind traditional book publishing entails. So what should aspiring authors who still wish to publish books do instead?

Self-publishing either print books or eBooks makes the most financial sense. Maintaining creative license over your work remains priceless. Plus you keep a much larger cut of sales controlling everything yourself.

While commentators look down on “vanity presses”, self-publishing constitutes a perfectly legitimate strategy earning from books. Top independent authors easily clear over $100,000 yearly from selling specialized eBooks and print course bundles.


Pursuing writing as a career remains an uphill but rewarding journey. Despite low compensation and high competition, structuring a money-making writing business is absolutely achievable through resilience. Freelancing gives new writers immediate income potential to reinvest towards their own platforms.

Combining both short-term assignments and long-term owned assets moves careers forward. With the proven techniques covered in this guide, aspiring authors can defy the odds – escaping statistical failure as full-time writers. Remember why you started writing and let your passion fuel perseverance finding personal prosperity. You indeed can beat prognostications through faith in your talents and assembled support systems. Now confidently move towards your writing and financial goals undeterred.


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