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How to Make a Living as a Writer — Everything I Know

This is everything I know about making money writing.

Image by Playground.

First thing’s first; what kind of writing are you trying to get into? Are you trying to get into content writing, copywriting for agencies, blogging? Do you want to be a novelist? Are you looking strictly for creative projects? Have you thought about ghost writing? I do a combination of nearly all of these things. Today, I believe if a writer wants to earn a living as a writer, they should be versatile.

I will say, though, that my ultimate goal is to one day be a full-time novelist. But that on it’s own, at the moment, doesn’t pay the bills. Not just yet. But I’ve been able to carve out a now six-figure career doing multiple writing projects, most of which I enjoy. And this article is geared towards writers, not novelists or authors, but those who are willing to take on all that comes with the title of writer.

Let’s start from the beginning:

Energy

  • Not Getting Distracted — Almost every move should be towards your goal. Even when I was working odd jobs, I knew what my real career was going to be.
  • Commitment — You can’t get to a profitable level if you aren’t committed. Carve out time in your schedule for writing.
  • Payment at the beginning comes in the form of promotion — Take every opportunity you can to post your writing to different platforms. If someone offers you a guest blog opportunity, take it (unless it’s a site that’s totally against your beliefs).

Portfolio

  • Don’t be afraid to try stuff — I wrote for Hip Hop Canada, an amateur basketball site, wrote biographies for musicians, RFPs, About and Product pages for startups; yeah, a bunch of stuff. A writer’s best friend is their experiences. That includes life experiences and your experiences in writing different content.
  • Connections matter — not only is building your experiences important, so is building connections. You may not be able to see the connections immediately, but they often present themselves down the line. For instance, one of the early music publications I wrote for later did a full interview in support of my first book.
  • Store and revisit your portfolio from time to time — Even today, people still ask me for samples and I just dig through my catalogue and send them a file. Eventually, you won’t have to write anything new when someone asks for a specific sample.

Study the craft

  • Know the language, understand sentence structures, get comfortable with grammar. It’s crazy to me how many writers I meet that skip this step. Writing is a skill that involves many technical aspects. You can’t break the rules unless you know all of them inside out.
  • There are tons of resources online for writers. Also, think about taking an editing course or reading a book on editing. You don’t have to go too deep, but it will give you a better grasp of proper sentence structure and general grasp of the language. I still take editing and writing classes to this day.

Put Yourself Out There

I can’t tell you how much money I’ve made early on because people have found my resume or portfolio through online platforms. If you aren’t accessible and visible, then how do you expect to be seen? If you’ve done any writing at all, post your resume/portfolio to these sites:

  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • Kijiji
  • Craigslist
  • Freshgigs
  • Glassdoor

These are literally just the BASIC sites. In addition to adding your name to these sites, you need to know where to look for opportunities. There are so many popular sites that allow you to pitch to them directly, along with sites built specifically for helping creatives find jobs or projects. Sign up for Media Bistro and pay like $50 for the year. They give you info on how to pitch to some of the best online platforms in the world. Last year, I was featured in Essence Magazine next to Kevin Hart and Steph Curry. That’s because of following the instructions from Media Bistro on how to pitch and who to pitch to.

Blogging: Let’s Get Going

Why blogging matters — It’s your opportunity to put out your own authentic voice. Do not take blogging for granted. It’s one way people connect to your brand. And you may not directly earn income off of your blogging, but there are ways to leverage your posts and turn those into opportunities.

How does that happen:

Find your angle

  • Be Specific — What are you writing about? Are you giving tips? Are you a lifestyle writer? Are you simply writing about your own life? It’s tough for most writers to focus in on one general topic, but in order for you to gain an audience, they must understand what kind of content to consistently expect.
  • There are loopholes — There are always ways around every rule. If you think it’s difficult to write about one topic, then utilize multiple platforms. For instance, I use my personal blog to write about whatever the hell I want to write about. I use LinkedIn to write about content related to writing, but from the perspective of how it can be leveraged or monetized. I use Medium for parenting or creativity. I use Huffington Post (before they discontinued their contributors program) to write about education and social issues.
  • Consistency — No matter what you blog about, you MUST be consistent. If you are super disciplined, you can pick specific days of the week to release your content. If you know you’re not that reliable, then I would encourage new bloggers to write at least two posts/week. But even if you write one post per week, make sure it’s every week. Consistency builds familiarity with your audience and it also helps improve your searchability.
  • Start Reaching Out- Once you’ve feel like you’ve started to define your niche and you’re being consistent, start reaching out. Now this is where it depends on what kind of opportunities you are looking for. If you want to write for the NY Times, then submit. If you want to ghostwrite, then let people know you are entertaining those opportunities. People will judge the quality of your work, and then make a decision on if you are qualified. If you want to be a novelist, then you should be submitting to literary agents. For non-fiction, you only need to have a proposal developed. For fiction, your entire manuscript should be all but complete, even though most agents only ask for 25–50 pages.

Building a Fan Base

  • Fans are built one by one — I hope you’re really taking in that sentence. One by one. And I mean that literally. You have to really pay attention to everyone who likes, comments, and shares your posts. Each of them will be the foundation of your fan base.
  • Identify Your Fans— Once you start putting out work, particularly through your blogs, you start finding out what your fans look like. And I don’t just mean age and gender. If you really want to take this seriously, you must get hyper-focused on who’s reading your stuff. Are they women between the ages of 35–50 who are mothers that tend to be liberal and enjoy travelling? Yeah, that kind of focus.
  • Communicate with your fans — Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone once they’ve engaged. Send them a DM, or invite them to be friend or connect. The closer you can get to your readers, the better. To this day I still keep in touch with my original readers. Even if it’s a rare hello or a personal email, you have to let them know they matter. Remember that having one reader is like having two, because they will share their experiences with at least one friend.
  • Yes, A Mailing List Matters — I’m not going to lie, even I need to do a much better job at this. The fact is that a mailing list is a way to speak directly to your audience. You’ll have to give something up to get people to join your list (free e-books work well), but once they do, treat those people like gold. I’ve been fighting this for years, and I’ve been able to make really good money without it, but if you want to build your personal brand, there’s really no way around it.

How Do I get Paid

I know this is what everyone wants to hear. Well, I’ll break down how I get paid to demonstrate the different opportunities that exist.

  • Content Writing: I usually land a contract with an organization that’s in need of monthly content. Right now, that organization is RBC. Before, it was a publishing company named Lombardi Publishing. In both cases, I write or wrote content for multiple clients or platforms that these organizations represent. My contract with Lombardi was worth about 40k. My contract with RBC is more than double that.
  • Personal Clients: This number fluctuates month to month as I gain new clients and other contracts expire. What I do for these clients is tell their stories. Most of the time it’s through articles on a website or blog site, but it can also be through a series of posts directly on social media.
  • Ghost Writing: I’m part of an amazing team of writers who ghost write for some pretty amazing clients. We’re sworn to NDA’s, but some of our work is on publications such as Forbes, Time, INC, Elle Magazine, NYT, Global Citizen, and more. These pay in the hundreds of dollars range. I also ghost write novels and have been paid to write two scripts. These pay in the thousands and tens of thousands range!
  • Influencer Campaigns: My most recent Influencer campaign was with CCFC. I wrote several posts over a one year span on Children’s Education from a global perspective. I used Huffington Post as the platform. This was a small monthly contract, but I felt great about the content we put out and helped bring in some money for their cause.
  • Guest Blogging: I’ve been paid on more than one occasion to guest blog. Most of the time, though, I guest blog for free. The opportunity to speak to an audience outside of your own is not one you should pass up.
  • Book Sales: This isn’t lucrative yet, but I make money every quarter from the sales of my first two novels.

How Are YOU Going to Get Paid — TRUST and LEVERAGE

TRUST & LEVERAGE — This is how you will get paid. Clients, literary agents, publications, publishers. No matter what your end goal, these people need to trust you can deliver.

When I say leverage, I mean understanding the situation along with your competitive advantage and using that your benefit. So I am a single father raising a teenage daughter. I’m also a (good) writer who blogs about my adventures, struggles, and the joy I go through raising this crazy kid. My advantage is my perspective. It could be that simple.

Now take that advantage and find other communities or platforms or organizations that could use your perspective. They should be able to see the value immediately.

Give Your Plans Time to Work

Take the time to let your plan work. One month is not enough time to make a decision on whether or not to continue. It’s enough time to gauge feedback and iterate, but not to make any presumptions either way.

What’s important is that you monitor your progress. Gauge your progress. You have to be aware of how well you’re progressing. What are your milestones? Setting time limits may be difficult, but there has to be a way you determine if you’re progressing. Be patient, but aggressively patient.

Finally, invest in yourself. Everything I explained above takes time, energy, and some cash. Embrace that. If you’re not taking the time to make sure that you are putting out the best version of yourself, then you won’t be prepared for the opportunities that come your way.

CRY