Jane Friedman is a writing and publishing guru.
Yes, the guru moniker is used with too much abandon these days, but Friedman’s laudable credentials, practical books and excellent website have earned her the title in my book.
If you get nothing else from this article other than an introduction to Jane Friedman and her work, I’ve done my job.
That said, the inspiration for this article stems from Friedman’s most recent release, The Business of Being a Writer, a fantastic primer for any writer looking to take their writing from a personal hobby to a possible business.
Or maybe you’d just like to earn coffee money. That’s OK too.
In the book, Friedman presents dozens of options for your consideration as you look at what you write and how you could turn that into some form of income.
Your art and your commerce can, in fact, commingle.
Before we dive into the major areas of making money from your writing, I have to relay one hard truth. Friedman brings it up, and my professional experience has borne it out.
As she writes, “Very few people can make a living solely by writing and publishing books.”
Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write and sell your books. It means that “this one pursuit should not constitute one’s entire business model.”
And this is why you should make yourself aware of the many different ways we as writers in the 21st century can turn a buck from turning out words.
Write your books. Sell hundreds — millions — of copies. But don’t begin your career by banking your future on that collective dream of every first-time author.
If you want a career in writing, think wide and think long.
As Friedman encourages us, “It remains possible to make a decent living from writing if you’re willing to pay attention to how the business works, devise a business model tailored to your goals, and adapt as needed.”
Think wide about your writing
If you’re at least a year or two into taking your writing seriously, you likely have a type of writing you enjoy. Maybe it’s short stories, or poetry, or freelance writing, or fiction.
Whatever puts fire to the kindling of your writing life, keep doing that.
By all means, leverage your writing strengths and experience. Don’t negate your gift in the pursuit of income.
If you want to create and maintain a financial foundation for your future as a writer, you will need to think wide. In other words, you need to think beyond what you currently do as a writer. You need to continue honing your craft, but you should open your mind to the possibilities of peripheral writing and writing-related work.
Ask yourself, “What other writing work could I do that both encourages me to write and provides compensation?”
If nothing immediately springs to mind, let’s consider seven ways you can monetize your writing, using Business as our guide.
Note: Business goes into further detail about each of these paths, and Friedman’s website has even more information. I’ve also listed useful articles and books to help you get started along any of these pathways.
1. Traditional publishing
For many authors, traditional publishing is the pinnacle achievement, the bucket-list Mt. Everest they need to climb.
But, as Friedman writes, “Most authors will earn little, or at least nothing close to a living wage, from their books…Industry insiders estimate that 70 percent of authors do not earn out their advance.”
Maybe don’t try to climb this mountain first.
But if you must:
- Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published, by Jane Friedman
Rupi Kaur. Andy Weir. E. L. James.
You may know these names because they have all enjoyed wild success as a result of their self-published books.
But they are the exceptions, not the rules.
The brutal numbers of self-publishing report the real story:
- More than a million books were self-published in 2017.
- “A new title is published on Kindle every three to five minutes.”
- “As of March 2018 there are over six million [Kindle] titles available in the U.S.”
Again, write your books. Publish them yourself. Work on your platform and your marketing.
Whatever you do, don’t believe the lie that anyone will “just find” your self-published book once it’s released. You cannot “just write” your book and “just hope” it will do well.
You must apprentice yourself to the craft of writing first, to the means of self-publishing second, and to the necessity of platform and marketing third.
Even then, you might just recoup your investment — which is a great start to your business of being a writer.
To enjoy a sustainable living through self-publishing, you’ll need strategy and purpose, and, honestly, a good amount of luck.
Do self-publish. Don’t only self-publish.
- Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book, by Jane Friedman
- Should You Self-Publish Your Book? 5 Essential Questions to Help You Decide, by Blake Atwood
3. Freelance writing
Heed Friedman’s warning when it comes to freelance writing: “It now takes considerable experience and expertise to land paying work at a traditional print publication, and I don’t recommend it as a first line of attack. New writers will do better to look to online-only publication.”
However, pitching articles to websites is an excellent way to bolster both your experience and your expertise. In time, you might also augment your income.
To wit: I first pitched The Write Life in late 2014 for the article that eventually became About to Respond to a Negative Review of Your Book? Read This First. I pitched my next article a few months later. I pitched a column three years later. Now readers contact me about editing because they’ve seen these articles.
In other words, freelance writing has cross-promotional benefits to all of your other writing.
And just think about when someone googles you: if you’ve written for dozens of known websites, you just might own the front page for your name — a definite boon for any author.
- How to Become a Freelance Writer: A Newbie’s Guide to Earn Money Writing, by Jamie Cattanach
- The Freelance Writer’s Pitch Checklist, by The Write Life
- 3 Real-World Examples of Freelance Writing Pitches That Sold, by Lisa Rowan
Friedman writes, “It may take a very long time before you see a direct connection between your blogging and your monthly or annual income.”
If you’re not consistently and strategically producing quality content, your blogging may not be earning the results you’re hoping for, whether that’s newsletter signups, page views, or affiliate income.
But, if you think long and ensure there’s a method to your online madness, your blog can become a significant contributor to your bottom line.
It’s worked for Jane Friedman, as it has for many other known entities you likely follow. After you’re introduced to their work in some way and you see how consistently they produce worthwhile content, you involuntarily begin to expect their regular content.
In other words, you become a fan.
And in the writing world, you need fans.
- How to Start Blogging: A Definitive Guide for Authors, by Jane Friedman
- How to Start a Blog (to Make Money or Otherwise), by Amy Lynn Andrews
- How to Start a Blog, by Susan Shain
- How to Start a Great Blog (The Definitive Guide), by Joel Runyon at Impossible
5. Editing and related writing services
As a freelance editor, I wanted to place this choice first — but I know that editors are wired differently.
If you find yourself more engaged in your critique group when discussing what works and what doesn’t about someone else’s story, you might be a developmental editor in waiting.
If you have a negative physical reaction to an improper your instead of you’re, you might be a copy editor.
If you’re good at pretending to write in someone else’s voice, you might be a ghostwriter.
All of these writing-related services are valuable and needed today, but — as seems to be the case with every point on this list — establishing yourself in any of these areas requires patience, education, and, yes, learning how to sell yourself.
For what it’s worth, a majority of my income as a freelancer has stemmed from copyediting, developmental editing, and ghostwriting.
- What Editors Do, by Peter Gonna
- Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers, by Scott Norton
- Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs, and More, by Kelly James-Enger
If you have a few years of experience and the capability to form coherent sentences out loud and in public, your knowledge and insight can help other writers.
As an introvert, I challenged myself in 2017 to increase my freelance profile by seeking speaking engagements and teaching opportunities. It was one of the best things I did for my job that year.
Disclosure: my speaking engagements and teaching opportunities did not directly lead to increased income. But the relationships I formed with other area writers were worth far more than income. Plus, they can now refer me to people in their circles, and I can refer them.
When you overcome your fears, you might be amazed at what kinds of doors open to you, either in the immediate future or years down the road.
For what it’s worth: speaking and teaching seldom pay well — or at all. This is one area where I would encourage you to pursue them for the benefit of exposure.
However, in time, as you accrue experience as a speaker or teacher, you will be able to ask for payment. Or you can channel your newfound confidence into an online class or podcast.
- How Writers Can Overcome Their Fear of Public Speaking, by Jane Friedman
- Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, by Joanna Penn
7. Publishing career
If you really want to go all-in and you live in or near a town or city with a publisher, literary agency, or other writing-related business, apply for a job there.
What better way to understand the business than to be in the business.
Jessica Strawser, the erstwhile editorial director of Writer’s Digest, comes to mind. After leaving her full-time post with the magazine after a decade, she released her first novel to critical acclaim. She’s since released two more.
Which makes me think she probably learned a thing or two during her tenure with the magazine.
That magazine, by the way, once employed another writer who’s now making her living from everything we’ve just discussed.
Jane Friedman was once the publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest.
I’d say she’s learned a thing or two as well — and we are all the beneficiaries.
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