When we think about becoming an author, our minds may go to those at the top in our field—Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Brené Brown. They sell books by the thousands and make a handsome living from their craft by selling books. For the rest of us, lacking the big advances and generous royalties of big publishing deals, we are left to fend for ourselves. Of course, we can wallow in envy or create a plan to make money as a writer.
First, let’s start with the most obvious route.
There are many things you control to increase your chances of success, including a well-written/well-edited book, a professional book cover, and sold at a price and location, online or off, where readers will most likely buy it.
Additionally, you can sell more books by spending time and, ideally, some money to get your book in front of more readers. Each of these ways will require some effort on your part to build your brand as an author and credibility as a writer. It is likely that none will be a magic bullet to greater sales, but consistent engagement will build your fan base for this book and the next.
- Build your email list by offering something of value to your reader.
- Expand your social media presence to engage your fans.
- Use paid advertising on Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
- Engage in a public relations campaign with a press release and outreach to journalists and influencers.
- Give your book away pre- and post-publication to generate reviews and buzz.
- Post your book on book review sites.
- Set up a table at book fairs.
- Do author talks.
- Get into local bookstores.
- Partner with other authors to do a joint promotion.
- Write the next book—nothing sells a book like another one, especially in a series.
- Among many, many other tactics.
For some authors, selling books is all they want to do. That’s perfectly fine. But, with a relatively low profit margin per book, you have to sell a lot of books to make it as a full-time author. Fortunately, there are many other ways to make money as a writer. Your book will serve as a living business card for the work you do.
Here are other avenues to make money as a writer.
If you are proficient at editing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s book, sales copy, technical journals, and the like, editing may be your path. While there are no specific qualifications to hang your shingle, an English degree, prior editing experience, and ability to spot a typo a mile away, or comments from various members of your critique group praising your unique ability to resolve an issue in a manuscript may signal that editing is a good fit for you. You can specialize in one or two genres or in developmental editing versus proofreading. You can practice on a fellow writer or two before you officially start if you are unsure.
You can serve as a coach or consultant either for other writers or in your field of expertise. Whether through single sessions or long-term commitments, you can use your experience to help others achieve their goals. Again, there are no requirements to become a coach or consultant in most cases; traits like being well-organized and a compassionate listener with the ability to synthesize information may help you be more successful.
If your knowledge lends itself, developing and selling courses is a great way to extend your knowledge and expand your bank account. If you create multiple video-based courses, you can choose course platforms, like Thinkific or Teachable. You own your material and control the site. Other platforms, like Udemy, offer the benefits of a shared hosting platform but also present drawbacks. One-off webinars bring in revenue without having to pre-produce all of the content. In-person workshops at libraries or arts organizations or college adjunct positions are all ways to bring your knowledge to the community. Maybe you can help others make money as a writer.
Many authors see their future in speaking. Fortunately, your book is a necessary first step in becoming a likely candidate for a speaking gig. Whether you’re hoping for local opportunities at Rotary Clubs, networking groups, or fundraising galas, or eying national or global notoriety, learning and practicing the craft is essential for your success. Join a local Toastmasters group or hire a speaking coach to help hone your message and develop your style on stage. Seek out opportunities through speakers bureaus (there are many) and research the pros and cons of each.
Similar to a course, creating a membership group allows you to offer programming to members in a particular niche market. The difference is the program is scheduled and paid for monthly by its members at a lower cost than a standalone course. Because the price point is initially lower than a course, it provides a lower barrier to entry and will likely entice a higher membership. It also provides recurring revenue throughout the year. While membership can be in the form of a Facebook Group, it can also be a monthly newsletter, a new chapter of a book, a performance, or something else. Subscription models have gained popularity with streaming services and food delivery services but have been around for a long time—think Book of the Month Club.
Sell other products
While sales of your book are paramount, you can also consider selling products related to writing or your book. Mugs, posters, and notebooks are natural offshoots of the life of writers or you can sell other products related to your book topic. Products can be sold from your website or sites like Etsy, Amazon, or Shopify. Like books, less expensive products will carry a lower profit. Look to other products that span different price points and profit margins to maximize your efforts.
Affiliate marketing is when a company pays you for referrals and/or purchases of its products or services through a personalized link from your website, email, or social media channel. Many companies have affiliate programs, and there are websites set up solely to connect you to these opportunities. One of the largest affiliate programs is Amazon Affiliates. Participants get a very small percentage of the purchase price of the product. Other programs, like Grammarly and ProWritingAid, are more generous due to the nature of recurring purchases. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, and, as you can see, it is important to inform users of their use to maintain transparency and trust with your readers.
Regular jobs related to books
If running a business isn’t the way to go for you, consider getting a regular part-time job. Look to libraries, bookstores, or arts organizations and surround yourself with books, readers, and otherwise creative people. While it may not provide the flexibility of the other options, it may provide the stability you need to keep writing your next book.
This list is by no means inclusive. What’s clear are the many ways to make money as a writer. And you don’t have to do all of them. Pick 1 or 2 to start and gradually add more as your passion for the business grows, and you can see a clear path forward. Any of the above you choose comes with an opportunity cost. If you choose one, you have less time for another. Carefully consider which of these activities provides the short- and long-term benefits you hope to achieve. As with any business, growth may take a little time and a lot of perseverance. Find joy in the process. Serve people, and your writing business will serve you.