How to Make Money as a Writer
Table of Contents
Nowadays, when it comes to making money, being a writer can be frustrating.
Oftentimes, you work your ass off brainstorming a project, writing it, rewriting it, rewriting it again, and promoting the finished product--and in return, you get pennies, or nothing at all, as a reward for your hard work.
For you, maybe this is a blog post you spent 11 hours writing that was only read by 3 people (2 of them being your parents).
Maybe this is the copy for a landing page your freelance client needs done ASAP that they end up not even using.
Or maybe this is a book you’ve spent years of your life writing, and when you’ve finally finished it, you have to BEG people to spend the price of a couple pumpkin spice lattes to buy the book.
I get it. I was right there with you.
In fact, I spent over a year and a half of my life writing over 30 blog posts — in total, exceeding over 60,000 words — and didn’t get paid a cent.
It was only a year and a half later, once I had established myself as a competent writer by leveraging platforms like Medium and LinkedIn as well as contributing to blogs like Social Media Explorer, that I FINALLY got paid a whopping $15 for an 800-word article.
And yes, you did read all of those numbers correctly.
Now — before you exit out of this article in frustration — I don’t tell you this to get you discouraged. Instead, I’m writing this detailed guide to show you the tools and tips I wish I’d have known when I first started my writing journey.
Because, you see, today I charge anywhere from $70-$120 per hour to write even the most basic of blog posts for clients.
I’ve gotten paid as much as $600 for an article that took me an hour and a half to write.
And my calendar is always booked. Week after week. Month after month.
The good news is this: my momentous shift didn’t take decades of me doing grunt work to get up to that price point. In fact, all the dominoes fell into place in less than a month.
Over the past 10 months, I’ve gone from billing $10 per hour as a writer to $30 to $50 to where I’m at today.
I truly believe that you, the reader, can end up with the same exact results (hopefully, even better) if you apply the game-plan I’m going to share with you today.
Here’s even better news: there really has NEVER been a better time to be a writer. No bullshit.
While it’s true the days of Great Gatsby parties might be over for the time being, there really hasn’t been a better time to be a writer.
Why, you ask?
Simple: the demand for content has never been higher, and SOMEONE needs to write and create all that content.
With nearly 6,000 Tweets being published every second and over 60 million Instagram photos being posted every single day, companies need to create content to keep up with their competitors. And lots of it.
From the ad copy within your favorite podcasts to the scripts for the popular YouTube talk shows to ebooks to blog posts and more — someone has to write it, and almost no one is doing it for free.
With all that being said, want to know how you can capitalize on this demand and keep the money rolling in as a writer today? Then let’s get started.
3 Indispensable Mindset Shifts
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, you’ll first need to activate three mindset shifts when it comes to making money as a writer in today’s marketplace.
The reason for this is simple, the whole damn game has changed — it’s 2018 and yet most writers are still trying to make money the way Ernest Hemingway did.
Yet, by activating these mindset shifts and by fully embracing the landscape has shifted, you’ll set the stage for everything else to fall into place.
Here they are…
Mindset Shift #1
To make the most money you can as a writer today, you need to begin thinking of your writing less like the final product or offering, and more like the vehicle to showcase your knowledge & expertise in a specific area.
Here’s what I mean by this, and it may be hard for some of you to hear (I know it was for me): nowadays, unless you’ve built a massive following on social media, on your blog or somewhere else, it’s going to be very tough to make a substantial amount of money selling stories or poems online.
The market is just SO saturated with content, making it harder than ever to break through the noise.
Now, this isn’t to say you should ever stop writing fiction or poetry or any other creative projects (hell, I still work on my screenplays ever single Saturday & Sunday evening).
What I mean here is you shouldn’t expect these styles of writing to make you a lot of money in today’s marketplace.
Instead, you should think of your ability to write as a gift to enable you to put your knowledge on a specific topic on full display.
Maybe this is your extensive digital marketing knowledge.
Maybe this is your extensive blockchain programming knowledge.
Maybe this is your musical ability.
Whatever it is, your ability to effectively communicate with words can reel people in so they can hire you to tell them about this knowledge, in the form of:
Paid speaking engagements
Freelance ghostwriting on the topic
Selling online courses or gated content
The list goes on and on.
Yet, the main thing to remember here is you always have to be learning. The more knowledgeable and well-rounded you are as a person or thought leader, the more work you’ll be able to charge clients for.
Mindset Shift #2
You’re worth more than you think you are.
Okay okay, I know this sounds corny, but let me tell you a quick story to illustrate the power of increasing your rates.
Just a little over a year ago, I was talking with one of my friends who runs a very successful paid social media advertising agency.
We somehow got onto the topic of clients being late on payments, ghosting us, etc. This was beginning to take a toll on me. I would work day in, day out for clients who didn’t really value my work or respect my time — all for less money than I was worth.
I felt like a damn hamster caught in the wheel.
Without hesitation, my friend told me the solution he used to rid himself of the same problem — doubling your rates.
I’ll be honest, at first, I didn’t really believe it would work. I was worried my current clients would get scared away and head for the hills if I told them I was doubling my costs.
He then explained the genius behind the move — by doubling your rates, both parties win. For one, you’ll get more money for doing the same amount of work you’re already doing.
Secondly, you’ll begin to weed out the clients who don’t respect your time or see the value in your craft.
Thirdly, remember that perception is reality. There’s a reason why shirts at Ross cost $15 and those at Gucci cost $1,500 — the quality is better. By being cheap, you’re intrinsically sending a message to all potential clients that your work isn’t as good or of the same quality as those who charge much higher rates.
Lastly, by getting paid what you’re worth, you’re creating an “unspoken contract” between you and the client, where you’ll perform your very best and give the project your full attention because you’re getting paid what you should be getting paid. This is so important because, let’s be real, what writer ACTUALLY puts their absolute best foot forward into a project when they’re getting paid $5 to do it? None that are any good at their craft.
I was sold. I loved the idea and decided to take my friend’s idea a step further and triple my rates overnight — from $30/hr to $90/hr.
Sure enough, business started booming, the penny-pinching clients began to disappear and be replaced with those who valued my services. Plus, I was happier than ever before.
If you’re in a similar position, as a freelancer or other type of writer, double your rates tonight and see what happens. Just do it. Trust me.
There’s a very good chance that by taking the leap, it’ll make all the difference.
Mindset Shift #3
Don’t wait around for others to reach out to you.
Despite common belief, not every speaker you see on stage, bestselling author or ghostwriter who just landed a six figure deal was SO great that all the clients and coordinators came searching for them.
In fact, more often than you may think, it’s the opposite way around.
Most authors send out dozens, if not hundreds, of query letters before getting accepted by an agent — for me, the number of 27, which included 26 rejections.
Many successful freelance writers block out a couple hours every single week to send out cold emails, proposals or DMs to try and land more gigs.
Starting to see a pattern here?
If you’re ready to get started, know that it’s going to take a lot of groundwork and rejection to get to where you want to be.
Be proactive, don’t wait around for the “right opportunity” to present itself. Be relentless in your networking and self promotion. It’ll take you further than you might’ve ever thought possible.
The 3-Step Master Plan
Step 1: Learn the Craft
First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way: in today’s marketplace, the two most lucrative ways to make money as a writer are through copywriting and through ghostwriting, either as a freelancer or an agency.
Here are the definitions of the two, in case you were unfamiliar.
Copywriting: the act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing.
Ghostwriting: the act of writing literary or journalistic works, speeches, or other texts that are officially credited to another person as the author.
Side Note: If the writing gigs you’re looking for is different than one of these two styles of writing, you can still make money, but it’ll more than likely be through typical monetization techniques content creators use (advertising, selling merch, paid partnerships, etc.).
We’ll start with copywriting. As with everything, the best way to learn the craft of copywriting is by doing it.
But first, you’ll need to have a grasp on the basics, so here’s a list my five favorite resources when it comes to getting started with copywriting:
1. Tutorial Tuesdays by Copyhackers
Tutorial Tuesdays is a free weekly webinar series taught by Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers. On a personal level, this series is how I stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of the new mediums copywriters have to master, whether that's Twitter Ads, website copy, sales emails or something else related.
Copyhackers does a great job with putting out high-quality, information-rich content that can serve as an encyclopedia on a number of copywriting topics--and that same attention to detail is reflected in Tutorial Tuesdays.
2. Len Smith's Udemy Course
Len Smith was a successful copywriter whose career spanned many decades. He put down all the lessons he learned over the years into a Udemy course called Copywriting secrets -- How to write copy that sells. This course, priced at $89.99, is actually what got me interested in copywriting, and where I first learned how to write captivating headlines. If you're looking to increase your open rates with stellar headline writing, this course has almost everything you need to know.
Another aspect of Len Smith's material that I like is that it's centered around B2B (business-to-business) copywriting as opposed to B2C (business-to-consumer). Because so many copywriting gigs are done for B2B companies, with white papers, case studies and more, knowing the fundamentals of the style is important.
3. The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman
When it comes to direct response marketing, there are few icons more accomplished than Joseph Sugarman, making him more than qualified to be the author selected to write Adweek's "bible" of copywriting. This book has become the all-encompassing textbook I refer to on a regular basis to address any and all questions I have with the fundamentals of copywriting (and the amount of notes I've scribbled in the margins proves that outright).
While this book, priced at $17.93, isn't tailored specifically for 2018, the principles and lessons laid out in the book can be universally applied across a wide variety of platforms, from email marketing to LinkedIn posts.
4. The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy
You may think sales letters are obsolete, but the truth is this style lives on in the form of sales emails, brochures and more, so mastering the principles of constructing unforgettable sales letters is worthwhile. By learning how to do so, you'll position yourself to see a spike in email open rates, click-through rates and ultimately conversions. When I told a mentor of mine I was launching an email newsletter, the only book he insisted I read was this one. Today, I still attribute nearly all my email marketing knowledge to Dan Kennedy.
If you have an email newsletter, then give Dan Kennedy's book a read. In paperback form, the book costs just $9.
5. Social Media Copywriting: How to Compose Text for 5 Different Channels by Hubspot
Social media copywriting is one of most relevant forms of copywriting in 2018. If you don't know how to write eye-catching microcopy in your social media posts, you could be missing out on an inconceivable amount of revenue.
While this resource above isn't exactly a course or a book, it is a thorough piece of pillar content that could be easily expanded into a full course. If you're looking to amp up your social media copywriting game, this post by Hubspot will be worth your time, and it's completely free. I required my "protege" to read this post when she first started with social media copywriting, and it got her up-to-speed quickly and efficiently.
By familiarizing yourself with these five resources, you’ll be able to craft killer copy in a variety of formats, whether on Facebook Ads, email newsletters, YouTube scripts or something else entirely.
But more importantly, you’ll be able to sell your copywriting services much more easily than you would have otherwise.
On the other hand, learning the craft of ghostwriting is much more difficult to teach for two reasons…
For one, being a great ghostwriter is closely tied with being a great writer, in general. Meaning, while you can certainly sharpen the skill through practice and learning various techniques, it’s almost something you were born with or not. For this reason, you can simplify the craft-learning process by doing what you would to become a better overall writer (taking grammar courses online, keeping a daily journal, etc.).
The second reason teaching the craft of ghostwriting is difficult is because you truly MUST do it in order to get better at it. Without sitting down with a client, listening to their musings and compiling it into a shareable narrative, time and time again, becoming a better ghostwriter will be next to impossible. It’s just that simple.
All that being said, on top of becoming a better writer, you can also study how to become better at interviewing along with asking insightful questions (Workable has written a solid piece on how to become a better interviewer, available here). If you can do these two things, you’ll have most of the tools you need to become a better ghostwriter.
Lastly, if you’d like to learn more about how to become a ghostwriter from scratch, The Write Life has a terrific article on the topic, which you can read here.
Step 2: Build Your Personal Brand
For the writers who are reading this who are also rolling their eyes at the idea of creating a personal brand, hear me out for a second.
As annoying as you may think it is to publish Tweets on a regular basis or to write long-form LinkedIn posts, the benefits to doing so are well worth the tedium.
Why? Simple: by building a strong personal brand, you’ll be able to increase the rates you charge for writing projects by leaps and bounds.
This is a huge point to keep in mind, so be sure and take note of it. A personal brand can truly mean the difference between you charging $50/hour for your writing services or $100/hour. Plain and simple.
I know this because it happened to me. The reason I’ve been able to charge over $100/hr for my services is ONLY because I’ve put in the work to build my brand through publishing columns in Forbes and Inc. Magazine, speaking at some of the largest marketing conferences in the world, and being interviewed on the top podcasts in my industry.
If I hadn’t have done this work, it would’ve taken me YEARS to build up the street cred, knowledge and social proofing to have the guts to charge $100/hour.
Additionally, at the end of the day, if a personal brand does nothing else, it builds trust in potential clients that you are knowledgeable and passionate about the work you do. All of which plays in your favor when it comes to making moolah as a writer.
So, the next logical question here is HOW to build a personal brand?
There are a lot of ways to answer this, but I’ll let you know what worked for me and the clients we’ve helped along the way.
Pick a niche.
Pick a platform(s)--these are typically social media platforms.
Follow your Personal Branding Doctrine.
This three-step process is tailored specifically to the over-saturated world we live in when it comes to creating content online. Without a razor sharp focus, or niche, it will be difficult for audiences to remember what it is you “do”.
Back when the internet was new, the process could’ve stopped here. Having a niche and creating content about that niche was enough. Today though, because of the level of competition, you have to take it a step further by not only picking a niche, but picking which social media platform, or platforms, you’ll focus your time and energy into.
This is why Copy Buffs has developed the Personal Branding Doctrine. This statement is meant to be your guiding light when it comes to making decisions and becoming a thought leader in the online world. Here it is:
I want to become the go-to authority on [insert your niche here] on [insert your social media platform(s) of choice here].
For instance, when I started writing marketing articles online, my Personal Branding Doctrine was the following:
I want to become the go-to authority on social media and content marketing, on Medium.
By following this three-step formula, a couple of awesome things start to happen.
For one, your doctrine makes your business decisions BINARY. Every article you publish, Tweet you compose or video you create is either getting you closer or further from your ultimate personal branding goal--making it easy to cut out the things that won’t help you in the long run.
Additionally, it essentially eliminates your competition. You’re no longer competing with everyone on the internet who’s involved in your niche. Instead, you’re only competing with those on Instagram or Facebook or YouTube involved in your niche.
From here, you’ll be able to more easily land paid speaking engagements, podcast interviews, book deals and other things--all of which can allow you to increase your rates as a writer. Why? Because you’re no longer just a writer, you’re an established, credible expert on a topic, and experts can charge the big bucks.
Side Note: If you’re interested in learning how to land your first paid speaking gig, check out this article I wrote for Inc. Magazine on the topic here.
Step 3: Be Proactive
I’ll let you in on a little secret: even the top freelance writers and agencies out there send out dozens, if not hundreds, of sales emails or messages to potential clients every single month.
Yep, you read that right. No matter how big you get, you’ll always need to set aside some time to find leads, send out the emails, follow up and connect in hopes of closing the deal. It’s a reality of this industry.
Because of this, once you have followed the steps laid out in this article--activating the three mindset shifts, learning the craft and developing a personal brand--you’ll now need to find people who are in need of your services.
There are a couple ways to do this, one of which is by using platforms like Upwork to make outreach easier, but I discuss that later on in this guide, so we’ll hold off on that for now.
Another way to land paid gigs as a copywriter or ghostwriter is by contacting PR agencies, SEO agencies and content marketing agencies in your area or niche.
Why, you ask? Well, these companies are ALWAYS in need of high-quality writers to flesh out content for their clients, whether that’s with press releases, blog posts or something else related.
Be the writer who reaches out to potential clients in their DMs.
Be the writer who sends 30 cold emails per week.
Be the writer who hustles and meets tons of people at industry events.
These are the writers who never go hungry. These are the writers who “win” when it comes to charging more for the amazing work we all do.
The Hottest Platforms & Opportunitie$ For Writers
Now, let’s dive into which platforms can help you land more paid writing gigs...
When it comes to freelancing platforms, Upwork is the “Google” or “Uber”, while its competitors are the “Bing” or “Lyft”. The company recently went public, highlighting how well they’re doing across the board.
Here at Copy Buffs, Upwork is also where we regularly attain clients. Some of them turn into long-term partners while others are quick one-off projects.
Nonetheless, if you’re trying to make money as a writer, Upwork is definitely a worthwhile investment.
On that note, here’s how I made my first $10,000 on Upwork…
a.) Create a stellar profile.
In order to land clients, you’ve got to have a professional profile that separates you from the pack. I always recommend filling in your portfolio section with AT LEAST 3 past examples of your work.
Be sure to flex your muscles here — include publications you’ve been published on, how much money you’ve made for previous clients, how long you’ve been in business and more.
Most importantly, have a video! I’ve received so much positive feedback from clients who said they chose me as a freelancer because they felt like they knew me better by watching the video embedded in my Upwork profile. Within the video, tell your visitors what you specialize in, why you love writing and more.
Facetime goes a long way, and one of the easiest ways to get it is by having a video.
b.) In the beginning, do work for cheap.
Because the Upwork algorithm and potential clients rely so heavily on reading through previous work history and feedback for freelancers, to get the ball rolling, you’ll need to do a couple projects for a low price.
From the beginning, make it clear to the client they must give you a positive review (if satisfied with your work, of course) in exchange for a lower price — whether that’s $20 for a blog post or something different.
Take it from me, once you have successfully completed even just ONE job on Upwork, landing more gigs becomes a thousand times easier.
It took me months and months of getting rejected by client after client before I finally bit the bullet, did work for cheap, got excellent feedback, and began reeling in project after project.
c.) Always ask for positive feedback.
You need feedback to be ranked as a Top Rated Freelancer, Rising Talent Freelancer and to show up higher in Upwork search results.
Because of this, treat feedback on Upwork like small businesses treat Yelp reviews — ask clients for them. You can even offer incentives if you’d like to get creative.
d.) Close open-ended and inactive accounts.
Accounts with clients that have been inactive or open-ended for a long time will hurt your freelancer rating on Upwork. Be sure to close all of your accounts once they are successfully completed to keep your rank high.
e.) Know that it takes time.
Getting a lot of money from Upwork is like rolling a snowball. It’ll take a lot of time and hard work to initially get momentum, but once you do, it all gets easier.
Keep your head up and continue sending out proposals during your free time — like everything else, it’s all a numbers game.
If you’re looking for a way to break through all the noise online when it comes to writing, then Medium could be the thing that takes you from zero to infinity.
Medium is exactly where I got my start in addition to a number of other writers who now have book deals in the works like Sarah Cooper, Benjamin P. Hardy and many many more.
The platform was created by Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Blogger, so his track record speaks for itself. It’s often been dubbed the “YouTube for Writers” by the social media marketing community.
Here’s the easiest way to start gaining traction today:
a.) Get on a publication
I usually don’t like to speak in absolutes, but for this rule I always do because it’s a non-negotiable rule for success on Medium:
Unless you’re Bono, Oprah or Barack Obama, you NEED to get published on a publication if you want to find success on Medium.
Here’s how to do it.
To see a list of the top publications on all of Medium, visit this site here: www.toppub.xyz.
To get published on a publication, first search a publication for their particular submission guidelines. If they don’t have a document dedicated to outlining their guidelines, then dig up the email address or Twitter handle and send the editor a link to your completed draft for the article you want published.
If the editors don’t get back to you in a reasonable time frame (~one week), then move on to another publication. Don’t get discouraged here. Oftentimes, it takes a few tries.
To avoid overlapping on being on multiple publications , give the editors a deadline for getting back to you with a “yes” or “no”. If they don’t, then pursue other publications.
Once you get published once on a publication, it’s MUCH easier to get published again because you’re able to automatically submit a draft of an article to that respective publication for review — and get sent directly to your editor’s inbox.
b.) Continue Writing Great Content
This is an obvious one, but it’s always surprising to me just how much bad content is put out there online. If you want to get big on Medium, you should be writing at least 2–3 top notch articles per month.
c.) Network with Top Writers
Private Notes are one of the most badass features you can use on Medium, yet they’re totally underutilized. If you’re trying to get in touch with a writer, then leave them a thoughtful comment as a Private Note on their article.
Tell them what you found most interesting in their article.
Let them know how you plan to apply this information in your own life.
I’ll let you in on a little secret…I’ve never NOT responded to a Private Note left on my articles. They are used far less often than you’d expect and a direct line of communication to the writer’s inbox.
Additionally, the way Medium’s algorithm works is if Top Writers engage with your content by Clapping or commenting on it, your article will be boosted and is much more likely to be shown to the members of that author’s audience.
If you’re looking for a bright, new opportunity when it comes to monetizing your content as a writer, look no further than Steemit.
Steemit is a lot like if Medium, Reddit and blockchain had a baby…if that’s confusing to you, don’t worry — it was to us too. Just take a minute or two to peruse the platform and you’ll get the gist of it.
If you think your writing seems like a good fit for the platform, then go for it.
Unlike other social media networks though, you aren’t able to automatically sign up. Instead, you’ll be put on a waiting list and will be contacted via email once you’re accepted into the community as a content creator.
From there, begin creating blog posts and publishing them. Depending on the amount of up-votes your content receives, you get paid.
Keep in mind, because this platform is so new, it’s almost like the “Wild West” for writers, where few rules have been ironed out thus far. Give it a go for yourself — you just might yourself swimming in the Benjamins before you know it ;)
The “Magic Formula” For Identifying High-Paying Writing Trends
Want to know how myself and the Copy Buffs team consistently land high-paying writing gigs?
The answer is within this simple rule we live and die by:
If something is complicated to understand, someone will pay you a lot of money to write about it.
It’s just that simple.
Think about some of the highest paying writing jobs you’ve seen posted online, whether they’re an in-house position or a freelance job — what do they usually entail? Here are some guesses.
Technical know-how of AI, robotics, etc.
The ability to speak “legalese”
Knowledge of the real estate industry
Marketing and business knowledge
If something is difficult to understand, whether because it’s a new technology or just plain complex, you can charge more for writing on those topics because of supply and demand.
In the same way that not many writers are great engineers, not many engineers are great writers, allowing you to be a commodity if you’re knowledgeable on areas most writers aren’t.
Some of the highest ticket writing contracts we’ve landed in the past year have been for the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, medical technology industry as well as ghostwriting about business tips for C-level executives--all of which fall into the category of “difficult to understand”.
Once you see this pattern and capitalize on it, you’ll be in a position to cash in big-time.
We get it. Trying to make money as a writer today is tough.
Luckily though, there really has never been a better time to be a writer, and if you’re creative and driven enough, there’s PLENTY of cash to be made.
By following the blueprint laid out in this guide we’ve created for all you scrappy writers out there, you’ll be ten steps ahead of your competition. Guaranteed.
Thanks for reading and best of luck on your journey! Be sure to connect with us and let us know how everything is going.
Also, if you found value in this guide, please leave a comment down below and share it with a fellow writer who would enjoy it.