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:
- A ProBlogger.com 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.
- 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?