Skip the Boring Writing Jobs: Get Paid to Write What You Want

Writing jobs
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It’s been said that a good writer can write about anything.

That might be true, but it’s usually mentioned as a subtle jab when you’re resisting an assignment. And it completely ignores whether you want to write about some tedious topic just to make a buck.

I was once paid $25 per hour to ghostwrite articles on overt and covert pre-employment testing. I did hours of research on topics like how to use these tests to identify drug users or to screen out employees who are more likely to file worker’s compensation claims. It was interesting for a while, and then it wasn’t anymore. Despite having a satisfied client, I had to quit after writing a few articles.

I’m not suggesting you never write about subjects that bore you. We all have to pay the bills, and good writers can write about most subjects with a little research. Hey, I spent a hundred hours writing for my website about carpet stains. It wasn’t fun, but I’ve earned more than $59,000 from the site, so I guess it was worth it.

However, writing for my website about ultralight backpacking was much more interesting, and you know what? That site has generated $56,000 of income over the years.

What can you learn from my story? Figure out ways to get paid to write what you want to write. Here are five options to try:

1. Create a website or blog

First, a warning: It’s tough to make money with a website or blog. For many years my wife and I wrote about anything that interested us, put it on our websites, and made money from Google AdSense ads. At one point we made more than $10,000 per month, but alas, that revenue is now down to about $900 per month and it continues to fall due to changes in the search engine algorithms.

So it’s no longer easy to make money from a website. In fact, to succeed now you need a decent niche based on keyword research, search engine optimization skills (if you don’t pay for help) and a solid marketing plan.

Honestly, if it still worked well for us, I wouldn’t be freelancing. But you might be encouraged by these two facts:

  1. A survey of 1,500 readers who blog found that 65 (about 4 percent) make more than $10,000 per month, and another 135 or so (9 percent) make more than $1,000 monthly.
  2. I made $1,300 from a 10-page website about metaphors.

About fact number two: I’m closing down my “metaphorology” website because traffic has dried up, but the point is you can generate some revenue writing about even obscure interests. And there are many ways to make money from a blog besides Google AdSense.

Since you can start a website or blog for less than your weekly coffee budget and write about whatever you want, it might be worth a shot, right?

2. Choose the right clients

Freelancing has some limitations, but subject matter isn’t necessarily one of them. Just choose the right clients.

OK, if you get a particularly lucrative contract to write about the historical spread between short and long-term interest rates, go for it (remember those bills).

But why not also seek out the owners and editors of businesses and websites you love and send out a few proposals and queries? Writing in a niche you enjoy makes the work go much quicker — plus, it’s fun to get paid to write about experiences or subjects you love.

3. Write first, sell later

In a previous post I suggested writing an article before pitching it, but I forgot to include what may be the biggest advantage of that strategy: You can write exactly what you want.

Yes, an editor may want changes, but at least you get to write what you want about a subject you enjoy.

I wrote this article because I wanted to. You’re reading it because I wrote it first, then proposed it to The Write Life. If they hadn’t wanted to run it, I would have tried selling it elsewhere, or maybe I would have put it on one of my websites to make something from ads on the page.

When you write an article just because you love the topic, you can have a particular client in mind, or you can look for a buyer once the piece is finished. All sorts of websites pay for content — there are even sites that pay for personal essays — so why not write a few pieces you really want to write? You might sell some of them.

4. Write a book and get it published

It isn’t easy to publish a book traditionally, and even if you succeed and then use all the tricks for maximizing your book profits, you may not make much. Sadly, 80% of books published sell fewer than 100 copies. On the other hand J.K. Rowling became a billionaire from her Harry Potter series, so you never know.

Here’s my more modest example: I wrote 101 Weird Ways to Make Money because an editor at Wiley discovered my website and my 5,000-subscriber newsletter on that subject. (Keep that in mind; publishers love to see that you already have an author platform.) He called me and asked me to write the book.

I had the website and newsletter because I’ve always been fascinated by ways to make money, and I love writing about them. So I spent six weeks writing a book on one of my favorite subjects. In four years, I’ve made only $19,000 in royalties because I’m a slouch when it comes to marketing my book. But I enjoyed writing the book and I got paid.

By the way, you might wonder whether to write fiction or nonfiction. Recent statistics show that adult nonfiction is the fastest growing category of books, and many writers feel it’s easier to write nonfiction. On the other hand, the authors who make the most (think Stephen King and J.K. Rowling) write fiction. Assuming there are things you would love to write in both categories, you have a tough decision to make.

In any case, write the book you want to write, and then see if you can get it published. It’s worth trying at least once. If you don’t find a publisher, consider the next option…

5. Self-publish your book

When you self-publish, you can write whatever you want. You don’t need to send query letters, make unwanted changes or get approval from anyone for anything. I’m not saying you should ignore good advice or skip hiring an editor, but it is nice to have more control over your work.

Of course, publishing in printed form can get expensive. Authors who share what it costs to self-publish their books report a wide variety of experiences, but I spent less than $900 each of the two times I’ve self-published print books. I may have lost $100 on one book — the one I most-enjoyed writing (sigh). I made about a $3,000 profit on the other, and it took me a month to write it.

Rather than publish in print, I prefer to self-publish on ebook platforms like Amazon Kindle. I’ve made thousands of dollars from the books I’ve published there, and the most I have ever spent was $15 each for a few cover designs. With royalties of up to 70%, you don’t need huge sales number to make decent money with Kindle books, so write what you want and throw it out there to see if it will sell.

Of course, spending time and money on marketing could have helped my sales, but I just wanted to write. I’m not suggesting you emulate my apathy toward marketing. It’s far more important to your success than your writing skills if you hope to make much money from your work. But I was content to take what should have been marketing time and spend it writing yet another ebook, hoping that too would sell a few copies.

Just write what you want

At some point, I’ll probably have to write again about employment tests or something equally boring (to me) just to pay the bills.

But for now, I’m going to finish this article and work on a short story about a disease that stops people from killing each other. Who knows if I’ll ever get paid for that (not likely), but sometimes you just have to write what you want to write.

How often are you able to make money from your most enjoyable and creative work — the stuff you want to write?

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Steve Gillman's experiences inspired a website about odd businesses and jobs, which in turn led to writing .

Webhiker Services | @stevegillman

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  1. Income might have dried up but $900 a month in passive income from a website is nothing to sneeze at. Can you recommend any resources where one could learn how to do this?

    • Lena, you might enjoy Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income. Good luck!

      TWL Assistant Editor

    • I WISH we made $900 from one website, but that’s from about TEN websites my wife and I put together. It IS passive income (I haven’t looked at some of the sites in months), but I suspect it will keep dropping. I would be happy to share more about how to create passive income like this, but if I was an expert we would still be topping $10,000 per month. Sorry I can’t be more helpful there — hopefully the link Heather provided is useful.

  2. Love this post! One thing I’ll say, though, is that I’d be happy to take a few “boring” freelance jobs at this stage in my writing career, lol.

    It’s crazy when you think about that statistic that “80% of books published sell fewer than 100 copies.” I’m assuming that number includes all small press publishing companies, as well as independent and regional ones.

    Do you think the lack of sales is based primarily on poor marketing from the publisher or does that fall more on the back of the author?

    • Authors are expected to be the primary marketer now, even with traditionally -published books. Since many of us are not natural marketers (and more interested in writing than learning marketing), sales suffer. Of course the low average is also (in part) because so many people self-publish and have no following or way to get their books in front of readers.

      • One reason for the poor sales for self-published books might be the appalling lack of writing skills shown by some self-published authors.

        I’ve downloaded a large number of self-published ebooks in a variety of genres, and I can tell you that they run the gamut from excellent writing that is well edited and a delight to read, to writing so bad that I can’t bear to continue reading. This, in spite of story lines that are often interesting and well thought out.

        Garbled tenses, bad grammar, and appalling punctuation can ruin such books, when all it would take to make them sparkle would be a few sessions with a professional editor–or, at the very least, someone they know with such skills. Often this is NOT a family member or best friend.

        Writing a book is no small task, and it’s a shame to let all that work go to waste for lack of a decent presentation. Developing a following is important, but without well-written–and well-edited–writing to entice potential readers, there won’t BE a following!

        • Yeah, I agree with that. Self-publishing has lowered the bar, I’m afraid.

        • Great point, Susannah — editing is a crucial step in the publishing process! There’s a great conversation about the costs of self-publishing and editing in this post and its comments, as well.

          Thanks for commenting!
          TWL Assistant Editor

        • Maybe. But I’ve read some rather so-so books that have done really well. Look at “50 Shades of Grey”! You have to know your audience –and spend time finding that audience to market to. I agree that you have to have a good product, but you it doesn’t have to be Moby Dick. But a writing a good product without knowing where your readers are is like speaking in a room and expecting people to come out of nowhere to come and listen. Most of my books have been sold at readings, retreats or talks I’ve given.

  3. I think you really hit it on the head with this Steve: “Writing in a niche you enjoy makes the work go much quicker.” I’d also postulate that you’re a BETTER writer when you handle subjects that interest you.

    Unless you’re writing about something super obscure (and as you pointed out, even that could potentially generate income), I think passion for a particular subject is a huge selling point for potential clients. Not only does that passion come through when you write, but it also means you’re equipped with better information and resources you can utilize to really make your words drip with value.

    Great piece!

  4. Steve, THANK YOU!! Finally, a positive, motivating article about freelance writing. I have been slipping into the black hole of “how hard it is” from reading too much negativity. I agree with you 1000% – when I’ve sold an article about my writing niche – which happens to be France – I am elated to share my experiences and inspired by seeing my words in the magazine. I am so grateful for editors who take these stories.

    • Thank you Gai, You reminded me of another important point, which is that once you have experience in a niche you’re more likely to get additional work in that same niche (and, perhaps, the less likely you are to get assignments in other niches) — a good reason to try hard to do the kind of writing you want to do.

  5. Doing a lot of things right, Steve. Highly impressed with his blog writing successes. However. In my experience—and I’d love to hear what you’ve experienced—self-publishing fiction, especially literary fiction or commercial fiction that is not vampires or fantasy, is very hard to sell as an ebook or Kindle. Has that been your experience? How about others who have self-published?

    • All of my fiction remains on the hard drive of my desktop and in paper files. I’ve never really tried to sell it (yet). I’m sure it’s more difficult to sell fiction, but on the other hand, it’s free to try on Kindle, and if you ever do develop a following you might have an audience waiting for the next book, especially if you have aseries or at lest ongoing characters.

  6. My earnings from my published books is nominal but my reason to publish was to have my words out in the world for generations to come.
    For my freelancing – I take advantage of my business and life experiences and my ability to write in numerous genres/topics/themes. It is building slowly and I feel confident I can make a living from the income in time.
    Writing may not be the huge income builder for most of us but at least it is enjoyable.

  7. Great insights! I’ve been building momentum and feel my writing is getting better so will opportunities to write for pay. So far have made some $$ helping biz owners with their content. I love to write. Thanks for this post. Always nice to hear from folks in the trenches. Best wishes!! Jenelle

  8. It all boils down to learning new skills and learning how to be a good marketer and salesperson. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of writing in my life. Some have made money and others haven’t. My first profitable website was a website on poetry. It made about $100 per month in AdSense income. That made it profitable. I killed the site when I tried to move it to a new domain name and ran into technical difficulties. I spent so much time trying to fix problems that I couldn’t focus on the real stuff of promoting the business and writing new pages. Ultimately, Google changed their search algorithms and my traffic and income died. Lesson learned: Don’t fix what isn’t broke.

    Last month I earned more than $1,000 writing traditional journalism articles for an online branded news website. Some of the articles were boring and some weren’t. But I like the money.

    Writers have to learn to be good marketers. Period. Whether you send out query letters, promote your website, write books, or whatever, you have to get good at selling yourself and your product/service. That’s the bottom line.

    Good article.

    • Thanks Allen, There’s another lesson there, which is that you never know for sure which efforts will pay (especially for a marketing slouch like myself), so why not try a few things. My own poetry website was up for nine years and it never did more $5/month from AdSense, but my site about ideas (inventions, politics, linguistics, any — really) topped $1,000 per month for a while (now it’s down to $40/month due to those search algorithm changes).

  9. I am proud of you for writing just because you love this craft. Your dedication and passion are obviously being rewarded #HUGS

    Thanks Steve


  10. An excellent item, Steve, for which my sincere thanks. Exceptionally informative, (sadly rare these days when so many items out there seem to merely restate the question over 500 words to please the search engines), a feast of food for thought and – no minor addition – upbeat and optimistic to boot.

    My only quibble is with the idea of writing fiction, at least, with any view to a profit. I absolutely agree that anyone who has a book in ’em they simply must get out should do so, then try to sell it. If you’ve got to write it, why not try to sell it when it’s written? However, I do feel that should be the only motivation, avaricious dreams not even in the mix. 80,000 words on spec in a horrendously over-saturated market should be something left for the dreamers, (of which I confess myself to be one).

  11. J.T. Quinn says:

    I appreciate all of the hard earned knowledge and experience that you guys have shared here. I myself have always loved writing with a passion. I have dreamed about making a living from writing a best selling book series or something or that nature, which is highly unlikely but hey, there is nothing wrong with dreaming right!?

    I have recently decided to pursue writing articles online for cash. I have had some real trouble in finding legit work, and by legit I mean anything that actually pays, because I lack having any previously published work. I am considering taking a non-paying job writing articles for a new local newspaper that is trying to take off in Louisville, strictly for the experience of it and in hopes of it leading to additional work.

  12. Steve,
    Thanks for your detailed insight, and info. Your love of writing inspires me! I have written web content mainly for just a bit of extra income, but always have the desire to be able to write from the heart, and share that with others.

    I have to ask… what’s the deal about the short story regarding the “disease that stops people from killing each other”? I loved this article, but when I got to the point where you mentioned this, you got me!!!

  13. Excellent article, Steve!
    Especially I like tip#3 “Write first, sell later”. Couldn’t agree more. That prevents money loss and other problems.

  14. Doug Oliver says:

    I’m a totally blind writer that wants to be able to write what I want without having to send things through the mail and not have to pay and simply get paid. is there any good sights that I can accomplish this

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