The Business Of Writing

A while ago, I started a small survey. The purpose of the survey was to find out a little more about the feasibility of writing for a living. You see, I write quite a bit of technical (code-related) stuff. I’ve always been curious of whether I could do this full-time.

Of the 76 people who completed the survey, only 3 seem to think I they could.

Motivations

It was interesting to see (from this admittedly small sample size) that motivations for writing fall roughly into 3 categories:

  1. Mostly for learning
  2. Mostly for sharing/teaching
  3. Financial/person brand growth

Roughly 10% of writers mentioned being motivated by things other than these. While I expected many to be motivated by sharing first and learning second, it’s surprising to me how many writers are already focussed on the business reasons for writing.

It’s interesting to note: even though roughly ⅓ of writers mentioned financial/personal brand growth as their main motivation for writing, only 5 of the 76 people who completed the survey intentionally display ads alongside their content.

Platforms

17% of writers said that they use a blog service, like wordpress.com or medium.com, to host their posts. Everyone else hosts their own platforms.

That equates to roughly 12% of total estimated daily views (when one excludes outlier values, below 10 and above 10,000 estimated visits per day). In other words, 88% of the total estimated daily traffic, of everyone surveyed, happens on self-hosted platforms.

I have to admit, the biggest motivation for me not to host my own platform is that I don’t want to be responsible for debugging a failing server at 3am. It would seem those surveyed, who host their own platforms, either don’t share this fear or have learned to manage their own platforms regardless of it…

5% of writers currently charge for their content, while 17% said they would like to charge but lack the tools to do so. 26% said they already support writers in other fields of expertise, while 48% said they already support other writers in their chosen field of expertise.

From these figures, we could conclude that 1 out of 5 writers are interested in monetising their content, while 4 out of 5 are interested in paying for the work of their contemporary writers. That’s at odds with the motivations previously expressed. I’m not really sure what to make of that…

Books

Of those surveyed, 17% report they have written at least 1 technical book, and 18% say they earn money from their writing (in other forms). The sample set is too small to connect these figures to ad revenue. However, only one of the writers, who have published a book, say they could live sustainably just from writing.

Personal Stuff (you can skip this)

I didn’t complete the survey, mostly because I didn’t want my answers to cloud my analysis. But here’s what I’ve personally found:

  1. I write because it helps me refine what I know. I write because it helps others learn from my mistakes and gives them an opportunity to call me out on the problems I have not yet seen.
  2. I publish to Medium and SitePoint. SitePoint pay well for the level of effort I put in, so every interesting PHP article goes there. I don’t want to have to host or debug my own platform, and I don’t have access to the stats of what I write. In a sense, the money SitePoint pay me (per post) is the only financial reward I get for writing for them. I don’t know how much more I will publish to medium.com…
  3. I do not intentionally serve ads, and I have no control over the ads that Medium or SitePoint show. I wouldn’t show ads, even if I had the tooling, because I can’t be bothered to negotiate that stuff.
  4. Other than what SitePoint pays me, I don’t charge for any blog content. I write lots of stuff. I also stream lots of live coding and discovery, free of charge. If you’re interested in watching the streams, head over to twitch.tv/assertchris
  5. I support as many content producers as I can. In particular, Chris Hartjes, Jeffrey Way, and Eric Barnes. There are many others who I learn from, but they don’t charge for their content. I love being able to support these folks (even the ones who charge or allow donations) because they produce excellent content.
  6. I have written a handful of books. Sometimes for publishers (Apress and Packt), sometimes self-published (Leanpub). Almost all of the money I’ve made, from them, have been from the self-published variety. Publishing companies take so much and give so little in return. Published books to have other value (which is harder to measure than just cash).

In Conclusion…

I don’t think I could live sustainably from writing, at this stage. I don’t know if I would be able to produce enough good content to ever live sustainably from writing. I don’t know if, being removed from ordinary development work, whether I would be able to continue to write about ordinary development work.

Thank you to all the people who took the time to share with me. Thank you for reading this. I hope you find this useful, if only to know what you’re getting yourself into, as a potential writer.