I’ve been talking about authors trying to make a living at writing recently, and a couple people have written to ask me, “When can I know I’m actually making a living with my words?”
To me, the answer is personal. One author may feel she is making a living when she’s earning $1500 per month; another may feel she isn’t really making a living until she’s making $3000 per month. I think you have to pick an amount based on your own situation. What are your household income needs? What’s reasonable for you to earn over the course of a year? How much time do you have to devote to writing?
When I started free-lancing, I was working other jobs (I hosted a radio show called “On the Record with Dr Chip MacGregor,” and taught some classes). At first my writing income was slim, but over time I had more writing and editing projects coming in, and I saw my monthly income from writing move from $100 to $300 to $500 to $1000 per month. I had a big jump from $1000 to $1500, then to $1800 per month. When I began making an average of $2000 per month, I realized I could make more money if I gave up my part-time jobs and just focused on the writing and editorial work. Granted, this was a number of years ago, but I had three kids and a mortgage payment, and making more than $2000 each month was enough to live on.
So, as you look at your situation, how much do you need to make? You may choose to set a small goal from your writing at first, then grow it over time as your writing career moves forward. You have to begin to see “words” as “money” — that is, your writing having value. One of the things you’ll discover is that when you look at words that way, there are an enormous number of avenues for you to make money with words. Maybe you can teach writing classes, or start a collaborative writing business. Perhaps you can do freelance editing (every publisher is looking for good copyeditors, in my experience). You might be able to do some work for your local organizations, who will pay a writer and editor to help with newsletters and online information. Or you can write for your local newspaper, or check into local or regional magazines — even mid-sized cities often have monthly or quarterly magazines that feature tourism and business news about the local area, and what every magazine publisher will tell you is that each edition is a monster that has to be fed. They need content to fill up pages, and nobody is going to feel sorry for them if they don’t have enough words with interesting stories to fill those pages. The days of e-zines have pushed many of the print magazines to the background, so while you may find at first that e-zines aren’t paying much, the real money on the web is in business…
Every business and organization in America has a website, and they all need content for those sites. (Quiz: Who writes content for most websites? Marketing companies. Which is to say, “a lot of high school grads.”) When the web first started (or, “when Al Gore first invented the internet”), websites were similar to billboards along the freeway –“Don’s Plumbing: Great Service, Low Rates – Call 555-1234.” But businesses quickly learned there was no reason for readers to ever visit again. So if you go to the website for Don’s Plumbing today, you’ll find the company history, a profile of each plumber who works there, a section where you can make an appointment, another page where you can order parts, a fix-it-yourself guide, and a history of indoor plumbing. Um… SOMEBODY has to write all that text. And then somebody ELSE has to go back and edit it, because the first version of it was probably terrible. So writing and editing online content for businesses and organizations is a huge market right now, as is any sort of marketing writing. (And the concept of marketing writing requires its own blog posts, but probably for somebody else’s site.)
As I noted the other day, there are more people reading than ever before, and more opportunities to read than ever in the history of the world. So… don’t get stuck into the mindset that all your writing income must come from books. Set a financial goal, start to work toward it, and look for opportunities to generate some income from your writing skill.
By the way, Michael Hyatt posted a great interview with author Max Lucado on the subject of writing today — have a look at http://michaelhyatt.com/max-lucado-on-writing.html
As always, would love to hear what writing is working for you, and where you’re finding avenues for making money with your words. Jump into the conversation by posting some thoughts in the “comments” section.