It’s so common it has become a cliche: “want to earn some extra money? Start freelance writing! It’s easy! You can do it in your free time and earn tons of cash!” Many assume that writing is an easy way to earn money because it requires virtually no startup capital or investment. If you have a laptop and can string a few words together into a coherent sentence then you’re good to go.
Here’s the truth: you can earn money this way but you won’t earn much. The “string a few words together” types rarely make it past the low paying content mills or sites like UpWork. If you’re okay with that, read no further! If, however, you want to earn a real living by doing real writing, or if you want to learn how books are made and how to bring in a full-time income using words, keep reading.
You Don’t Have to Write Every Day
When you’re just starting out, it is a good idea to do at least a little bit of writing each day. The key, however, is that this writing should not carry weight. You don’t have to work on a novel or an article pitch. Set up an anonymous blog. Write in a journal. Just find a space where you can express yourself without a ton of pressure to be perfect. Use this time to develop your voice and to figure out which times of day and which styles of writing best suit you. This is ground work that every writer must do if they want to be able to earn a living from their work.
You Need a Website
In today’s writing market, you need to build your audience first. Publishers–be they book, periodical, whatever–want to know that you can make them money. The best way to do this is with a dedicated, loyal, and preferably large audience already in place ready to read whatever you put out there.
Another important reason to have a website and to build an audience first is that you can monetize that site and your audience independently. Some people earn enough they find that they don’t need or even want to go the corporate publishing route. Thanks to Google Ads, affiliate programs through sites like Amazon, etc., and crowdfunding platforms like Patreon–you can bring in some great money just by being yourself and doing the work you want to do.
What Earns The Most Money?
This is going to largely depend on you. A novel can, on occasion, bring in a six figure paycheck for an author but that rarely happens for newbies (or even the very well established). Here are some of the ways you can build your audience and get paid for it.
Content Mills: These are a fine place to get your start–particularly if you can find one that gives you a byline. The trick is to not become trapped within their system. Use these mills to get used to working on a deadline and to bring in a bit of extra cash here and there.
Guest Posting: Guest posting is a fantastic way to start building your list of clips. Many sites even pay their guest posters (the pay is not often great but it is better than you’ll get in a content mill). Guest posting allows you to tap into another person’s established audience and, hopefully, convince some of them to follow you to your own site.
Create Your Own Products: If you’re having a hard time getting a “legitimate” publication or website to pick up your essays, short fiction, articles, poems, whatever, collect some of them together and publish them independently online. The Kindle Singles program is one great option for this. You can also offer your own downloads or use a print on demand service.
What matters is that you are disciplined and you remember that writing is a job. If you work at it every day and market yourself well, you could be earning a nice living sooner than you might think!