Want to know the secret to making money writing what you love? Try a paid writing gig in a specialized field to build up your street cred.
by Justin Draeger
Ask most people why they want to be writers, and one of the most likely responses will revolve around some sort of fantasy about how writers live and work. Writers set their own hours, work from home, the coffee shop, or Italy and generate passive income by selling multiple copies of their work…right?
Sure! But only for a small, select group of successful writers.
The majority of writers languish away at producing their masterpieces, only to have them go unnoticed by journalists, publishers and (most importantly) the public. There are approximately 175,000 books published annually in the U.S. alone, which means a book is published about every three minutes.
That’s not a signal of a robust marketplace (publishers admit they publish too many books). The problem for would-be writers is that everyone is reading the same 25 books. Books like The 4-Hour Work Week, The Total Money Makeover, and Freakonomics have been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for ages.
In Play Money, Julian Dibbell chronicles his experiences in trying to earn the same amount of wealth in virtual games that he earned as a writer. His goal? To make at least $40,000 per year. I tip my hat to any freelance writers making $40,000 per year. But after insurance, retirement savings, business and research expenses and day-to-day living expenses, $40,000 a year doesn’t amount to whole heck of a lot.
Writers, take hope! There is another way to make money as a writer: Find a full-time, paid writing job in a very specialized field.
Companies, advocacy groups, nonprofits, lobbyists, government agencies, trade publications and all sorts of other groups need strong writers. The more specialized your writing, the more valuable you become, and that means higher pay. The longer you continue writing on a particular subject, the more authoritative your writing becomes, increasing your value even further.
But what if your full-time writing gig isn’t what you really want to be writing about? No worries; once you add “published” to your resume, you’ll have a much easier time securing freelance jobs on topics that interest you.
I began working as a full-time writer nearly two years ago on federal student aid issues for a national nonprofit. Since that time, I’ve been able to leverage that experience into paid freelance work that has nothing to do with federal student aid. My income from freelance writing is on target to increase by 40 percent this year. Successful writing builds on itself.
The downside of using this method is that most of your freelancing writing will be done in off-business hours, which means you’ll need to set aside dreams of setting your own hours and working whenever and wherever you please—at least for now.
The upside is that your odds of getting published and recognized increase as you find more opportunities to flex your writing muscles.