If you want to make a living writing, there are basically two business models you can follow:
- Get paid to write (services)
- Get people to buy things you’ve written (products)
Let’s break these down.
- Get paid to write — this includes work-for-hire and contracting services like ghost writing, professional blogging, copywriting, content marketing, business writing, technical writing, writing for licensed properties (e.g., getting paid to write Star Wars or Doctor Who novels), etc. You can get paid quite well for these types of writing, and you should, because once you’ve turned in a work-for-hire piece, you no longer own the copyright and it’s the only money you’ll ever see for that work. The biggest pro of this type of writing is that you can parlay it into a steady source of income.
- Get people to buy things you’ve written — this includes your own intellectual property and content: articles you license to publications, books (including e-books, paper and hardbacks, audio books, international translations, etc.), online courses, paid subscription content, your own monetized blog, etc. You don’t get paid much, if anything, up front for these, and typically the price point is relatively low, but you can monetize and sell them over and over again to multiple people and keep making money on them in perpetuity. The down side of this model is that you have to keep selling and marketing to potential readers and buyers. There’s generally more hustle involved in this model, but you have far more creative control over what you write.
(Selling articles to publications blurs the lines a bit, since you’re both asking someone to pay you to write content [service], but you don’t sell the writing itself, you only sell a license [product] to publish it while you retain the ownership rights, which allows you to turn around and re-sell the article to markets that purchase secondary publication rights to previously published articles. This is great, because it allows you to get paid more than once for a single article.)
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The good news is, you don’t have to pick one model and stick to it. Most successful full-time writers put together some combination of both models, as well as branching out to writing-adjacent revenue streams like podcasting, YouTube, public speaking, coaching, courses, and webinars.
Let Your Values Lead You
Which type (or types) of writing makes up the backbone of your career, and which are simply additional revenue streams, will depend largely on your values, needs and lifestyle goals, and will likely evolve over time as your interests and priorities change.
For example, I’ve always been far more interested in creating my own content than writing for other people, and my passion has always been to write novels and fiction. But I’m downright allergic to the hustle involved in marketing and promoting my novels.
So I rely on freelance writing to pay the bills. I’ve carved out a comfortable niche in business-to-consumer content marketing. This allows me to divide my time between freelance and fiction writing, have total creative control over my fiction instead of trying to game the market, release books at my own pace, and then move onto the next book instead of spending valuable writing time on elaborate book marketing campaigns.
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This arrangement suits me. Freedom, flexibility and creative control are far more important to me than becoming a rich and famous novelist, and I get to spend my days doing what I do best and get paid what I need to live. I also enjoy a certain amount of job security in the form of multiple income streams that include multiple content marketing clients, book and audiobook royalties, and revenue from sources like Medium and the occasional article I manage to sell.
But it took a few years to get here. In the beginning, my writing career more or less followed the same road map that countless other career writers have followed before me. It’s a generalized route, but it’s one that works, so I’m sharing it with you today.
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There’s no one right way to become a full-time writer, and many different ways you can get there.
Road Map to Your Writing Career
- Just start writing. Post it somewhere. Get feedback. Start building your platform and gathering pieces you can use in your portfolio.
- Start pitching places where you want your work to appear. Hone and perfect your pitch. Keep building your portfolio.
- Start planning and getting organized. Decide what kind of writer you want to be. Choose your niche(s), define your ideal reader or client, and strategize the best ways to reach them.
- Evolve your platform and portfolio accordingly. Narrow your pitches to markets or clients that fit your preferred niche or ideal client. Build a body of work in those areas.
- Set up your business. Get a website. Make your portfolio public. Market your services. Reach out to potential clients.
- Set specific goals and outline strategies to get there. Focus on quality of clients and assignments over quantity, always aiming for better paying work that takes up less of your time and energy.
- Create intellectual property (IP) assets (i.e., products) to diversify your income and grow your business. Give yourself a raise and more time by shifting the focus from services to products.
Of course, this isn’t a direct, linear path — just a general outline. There’s bound to be overlap between stages, and you might skip some steps entirely, or find yourself circling back to some steps again and again.
Need a nudge to get started? I have a challenge for you: write something and post it somewhere. Start a blog, post to your account here on Medium, submit to a publication here, submit a guest post to a blog you follow — these are just a few ideas to get you started. If you accept my challenge, comment below with a link to what you’ve written.
I’ll sign off now with a benediction: may your words flow freely, may you find favor with managing editors, and may your pursuit of a living income never drain the joy from doing what you do best.
A modified version of this article originally appeared in The Working Writer on Substack.
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance content marketing writer and indie author as well as an avid pet blogger. In addition to a number of both traditionally published and self-published novels and short stories, she’s also the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. Learn more about her books and writing at JeanMarieBauhaus.com, where she’s on a Quixotic quest to bring back the personal blog.