UPDATED POST – This post was updated in November 2016 to remove three suggestions that are no longer viable money-making opportunities
There’s a really great scene in Sister Act 2 (don’t judge me – that movie’s freaking awesome) where Whoopi Goldberg’s character is telling a very young Lauryn Hill to follow her dreams, quoting a book by poet Rainer Maria Rilke that says “Don’t ask me if you’re a writer. Because I say, ‘If all you can think of in the morning when you get up is writing, then you’re a writer.'”
So whether you feel called to writing because of some deep-seated, internal need to communicate with the world and share ideas, or because you simply have the skills to write and want to get paid to do it – you’re a writer!
Of course, writing for the sake of writing isn’t what we’re after here. Even if you do want to change the world through the power of the written word, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to do your writing on a full stomach, in the comfort of your own home than it is if you’re living the starving artist lifestyle. Basically, you want to get paid!
So while the content of this site will primarily focus on writing web content as a way to make money (covered below under the “Makin’ a Living” section), I want to take a few minutes today to explore all of the different opportunities that exist out their to get paid to write. No matter what your goals, you can find a method of earning money as a writer that’ll work for you:
Low Hanging Fruit
Maybe you don’t want to be a full-time writer. Maybe you just want a few extra dollars each month to buy beer or shave a few years off your mortgage. If you want to translate your writing skills into a couple of extra dollars, consider the following low-cost, low-investment ideas for making money writing:
1. Respond to projects on Upwork, Guru or any of the other freelancer portal websites. Fair warning – these sites are pretty much a “race to the bottom”. You’re going to get beat up on price, and you’re going to be asked to go beyond the scope of the initial project. However, it can be a good way to build a portfolio and pick up regular clients.
To get started: Sign up for a professional profile on one or more of the sites listed above. Believe me – you’ll need the professional profile (not the free basic one), to be taken seriously at all on these sites. Then, start responding to postings and wait to get selected for your first assignment.
2. Publish your own works on Kindle, iBooks or other digital publishing website. Although some people do quite well with this method, most “Average Joe” writers will find that it takes significant effort in terms of researching, writing and promoting your books to gain any kind of traction with this method.
To get started: Check out The Write Life’s list of Kindle publishing resources for new authors on how to get started.
3. Write for community publications. Community newspapers and magazines are always looking for contributors – you would be too if you had to come up with new ideas to please a tiny readership with every edition that comes out! The stipend you’ll receive won’t be much, but you will get the added bonus of seeing your name in print.
To get started: Visit the website of each local publication in your area and navigate to the “Contact Us” page (if there isn’t a page that blatantly says “Get in touch with us here with story ideas”). Then, send an email to the editorial assistant to see if they accept submissions and what you have to do to have your work considered.
Makin’ a Living
So, you’ve dipped your toe in the waters of writing, and now you think you want to make a full time go of it? Consider the following ideas, all of which have the potential to provide a comfortable income for a hard-working writer:
4. Write website articles. Regularly updated content is a major ranking factor for SEO, but many website owners lack the time or interest to write their own articles. You can hire out to write general content for them (typically in 350-1,000 word blocks) that will be posted to their websites.
To get started: Publish a simple writer website and start applying for listings on sites like ProBlogger and BloggingPro. The ProBlogger site is, hands-down, one of the best sources of information I’ve found when it comes to paid blogging positions that actually pay a decent rate (compared with the nickels and dimes you’ll get on Guru and Elance…). I’ve picked up several clients through this site that have resulted in long term, well-paying projects.
5. Take a paid position as a writer. If you don’t want to go the self-employment route, be aware that there are tons of people out there who hire regular, full-time writers. Sure, there are newspapers and magazines, but there are also opportunities for writers in the creative industries (ad agencies, marketing firms, etc) and technical fields (engineering companies, medical equipment manufacturers and more).
To get started: Browse the classified ad listings in your area, both online and offline. Build a list of companies that hire full-time writers and keep an eye on their websites for new positions as they open up.
6. Freelance for offline companies. Besides companies that hire full-time writers, there are plenty of businesses that need occasional writing work done, but don’t have the budget to keep a writer on the payroll. Typically, you’ll work for them on “one-off” projects in just about any industry you can think of.
To get started: Get a copy of The Well Fed Writer from your local library and read it cover to cover. Then, go to www.WritersWeekly.com and sign up for their value-packed weekly freelance writing newsletter.
7. Look for alternative writing jobs. When you hear the word “writer”, you probably think books. If you’re at all digitally savvy, you might think blogger, but for most people, “writer” has pretty defined connotations. But what about the speech writers who find work on the campaign trail? Or the sitcom writers who put words in celebrity’s mouths once a week? Or even the video game dialog writers who get paid to bring their digital characters to life? Don’t forget about these fun alternatives when trying to make money as a writer.
To get started: Determine what specific kind of writing you want to do, and then start hustling. You’ll want to build a portfolio and start making whatever personal connections you can with people inside the industry.
Cream of the Crop
Yes, it’s absolutely possible to make a living as a writer – but it doesn’t have to stop there! With these opportunities, you aren’t just earning a living – you’re doing well enough for yourself to get your relatives gossiping at holiday get togethers about how you simply *must* be doing something besides writing to be driving that kind of car…
8. Learn copywriting. In the writing community, there’s really no arguing with the fact that copywriters are number one on the totem pole. A good long form sales letter can command $1,000-$5,000; a really good sales letter from a writer with a proven record can bring in as much as $30,000-$50,000 a pop.
To get started: If you don’t already know how to write a good long form sales letter, you’ll need to improve your technique before you start charging big bucks. Develop your style by reading swipe files from great, well-respected copywriters and then get feedback on your attempts from the Copywriters Forum on the Warrior Forum.
9. Traditional book publishing. It’s a damn competitive industry, but if you have the skills, the connections and the self-promotion ability to get noticed, traditional book publishing can still pay well and offer fun perks, like paid travel and royalty payments.
To get started: You’ll need an agent and a well-crafted book proposal. Search your community guides for any writer’s workshops or writing fairs coming up, as these are often the best places to get feedback on your work and make connections within the book publishing industry.
10. Launch a popular blog. Okay, obviously this one is easier said than done, but quite frankly, if you want a “cream of the crop” income, you’re going to be putting in a lot of work as a writer. If you want to make money as a blogger, the keys to being successful are choosing a good niche with lots of demand for information and paid products, and getting your site in front of as many people as possible.
To get started: Pick a topic you’re passionate about in a niche where people are willing to spend money. Target specific keyword phrases to get your site ranked in the SERPs and offer good information, as well as opportunities to buy from you.
11. Become a high-level consultant. In the previous section, we talked about writing for offline companies, which – in most cases – is a very “middle of the road” income opportunity. However, if you have extra skills or extensive experience in a particular field, you can often charge much, much more for your writing and consulting services. For example, if you have experience in offline sales or marketing, you can sell your services to a company not as a writer, but as a creative consultant who can help with branding and ideation as well as writing.
To get started: Either have special skills that an industry will pay well for or get to work developing them. Then, connect with people in that industry in your area and network with decision makers to introduce your unique services.
12. Take it to Hollywood, baby! One way to earn big bucks as a writer is to get a script purchased and produced into a movie. Obviously, this path isn’t going to work out for everybody, but if it does, you’ll be set for life. For example, even though the thriller “The Panic Room” did so-so at the box office, its screenwriter – David Koepp – walked away with $3 million for his efforts.
To get started: Hone your craft by studying pop culture trends and actually developing screenplays. Find an agent who will represent your work and start pitching the hell out of as many Hollywood insiders as you can get access to.
Have I missed anything? If you’ve got another way to make money as a working writer, share your advice below in the comments!