Many people dream of being a writer. They have a vision in their minds about what the writer’s lifestyle is like. As someone who has been earning a full-time income as a writer for six years, the writer’s life can be incredible. But, it can also be frustrating, heartbreaking, and oppressive.
One question that almost everyone wants to know is how much can you really make as a writer?
Labels and Statistics
The good news is that there is no limit to what you can make as a writer. J.K. Rowling is a billionaire writer. You know of several millionaire writers, such as Stephen King. But, the bad news is that most writers don’t make very much. Ultra-rich writers are just as rare, if not more so, than lottery winners.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average writer earns $55,420 per year. This sounds like a livable wage. But, once you dive into the statistics, the numbers are gruesome.
First, this number is an average. One or two writers making six-figures could easily shift the average up, and most writers would be making less than the $55,420.
Another issue with this number is what it means to be a writer. Freelance writers and independent authors are dramatically undercounted in surveys such as those conducted by government agencies.
Many of the participants in the survey gave self-identified as writers. This means they are likely full-time writers. Many part-time writers would not put writer down as their occupation on their taxes or on a wage survey.
This means that the actual average amount a writer earns is far below the $55,420.
One study estimated that the average writer earns around $0.17 per word. That means to make $55,420 a year, a writer would have to write at least 326,000 words a year. But, again this is an average. The majority of writers are making less than $0.17 per word.
If you are only $0.05 per word, you would need to write over 1 million words just to make $55,420.
Most writers are making less than $20,000 a year from their writing.
But, you don’t want to be an average writer anyway, do you?
Writing is an exciting profession because you get to make up the rules for how your job is structured. You don’t have to be average. You can create opportunities for yourself, if you’re willing to learn and work hard.
Types of Writing
There are many different types of writing. Some of the most common writing paths include:
· Freelance copywriting
· Freelance journalism or magazine writing
· Writing for online platforms based on clicks, reads, and interactions
· Self-published author
· Traditionally-published author
You don’t even have to stick with a single path. You can create a writing career with several different sources of income. I currently make most of my writing income from freelancing. I make a comfortable full-time living with part-time hours. In many ways, “I’ve made it”. But, I’m still growing as a writer. I’m creating new sources of income so that I don’t have to rely on working with clients as much. My business is evolving.
There are thousands of writers that make full time incomes as bloggers and self-published authors. Some of the happiest and most financially successful writers I know have a mix of three or four different sources of writing income.
Looking at the numbers, the average freelancer, the average blogger, and the average author make far less than the $55,420 a year that writers who are mostly employed by someone else make.
Does that mean you can’t make a comfortable living from your writing?
It means that you have to do things differently than the way average writers do things.
I am not a top tier writer in terms of natural talent. I love writing. I have worked hard to improve my writing skills. But, the reason I have become a successful writer has less to do with my writing talent and more to do with the way I approach my writing business.
Making a living as a writer requires you to either be talented, hard-working, and lucky or it requires you to be hard-working and willing to learn how to run a business.
I am a writer. But, I make money because I run a writing business. I’m the only one that works in my business. But, I follow basic business principles, I consider marketing, administrative work, and accounts payable as part of my primary workload. I do much more than just write.
Factors that Determine Your Pay as a Writer
No matter what type of writer you are, two factors determine how much you earn:
1. How many words you write
2. How much you get paid per word
If you’re a freelancer, this equation is straightforward. The more words you sell to clients or magazines, the more money you make each month.
If you are an author, this equation is harder to see. But, it works just the same. You are getting paid a royalty for each book of yours that people buy. The more books people buy, the more you are making per word. The more books you have available for purchase, the more chances there are of people buying your work.
If you write on websites like Medium or Hub Pages for income, you are getting paid the more people read your work. The more work you have available out in the world, the more you can make.
One of the best examples of this on Medium is Shannon Ashley.
There are two ways available to writers to increase their income: get paid more per word and write more words.
Some types of writing make it easier than others to control how much you make per word.
What Average Writers Do & How You Can Do Better
Average writers complain a lot about how little they make, how hard writing is, and how little time they have to write.
Writing is hard. But, nobody cares. Your job as a professional writer, no matter what type of writing you do, isn’t to write something you’re enamored with. Your job is to write something people want to read.
Average writers focus on themselves. Successful writers focus on the readers.
Average writers are always waiting for their big break. They are stuck in a hopeless place that Dr. Seuss describes as:
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
— Oh, the Places You’ll Go, page 18
Successful writers aren’t waiting to be discovered. They are working. They are writing. Writers on Medium have gotten the attention of literary agents who saw their body of work. I have gained clients who first read my work on this site.
Successful writers are pitching, making their own luck, and forging their own careers. They aren’t waiting.
Average writers feel entitled. They think their work should speak for itself.
Successful writers understand how to appeal to an audience. They write work that a specific type of person loves to read.
Average writers are afraid of selling out. Successful writers demand to be paid for their work.
Understanding Your True Values
How much can you make as a writer? The sky’s the limit. But, before you start planning your future mansion, consider what your true values are.
My primary value is freedom. I don’t want to be at anyone else’s beck and call. I want to set my own work hours. I want unlimited vacation time. I want the freedom to watch my children grow up. I want to make mud pies and watch dance recitals.
I make a full-time living working part-time hours. If I wanted to make more, I could work more. I could write more. But, I care more about my freedom than I do about my income.
Your values may be different. But, the glorious part about being a writer is you are free to create a career that delivers a livable income, and that fits your values.
If you are willing to work hard, have a decent command of grammar and story, and have empathy for your readers, you can make $60,000, $80,000, or more than $100,000 from your home as a writer, even if you never get an agent or sign a book deal. You can start earning in this range in as little as a year or two. For most people, it takes closer to three or four years because they can’t work full-time as a writer at first due to their financial circumstances.
But, if you want a good living as a writer, you have the power to make it happen.
Boosting Your Earnings
How do make more than $50,000 in a year as a writer? Your journey will be different from mine. But, there are a few things that work for almost everyone to boost income:
1. Get in the mindset that you are a professional
2. Demand to be paid a fair rate for your work.
3. Get feedback from real people about your work. Write for clients, pitch to magazine editors, try and sell your work.
4. Listen to constructive feedback and get better.
5. Never give up.
6. Consistently publish your work.
7. Never give up.
8. Experiment with new income streams.
9. Never give up.
Your growth as a writer in terms of skill and income will not be linear. The harder you work, the faster you will improve. Many self-published writers aren’t making a full-time income from their books until their sixth or seventh book. Many writers on Medium have hundreds of locked posts before they ever break the four-figure a month mark.
Many bloggers aren’t earning a full-time income for three or more years. But, with writing, once you have a critical mass of work, your chances of a dramatic breakthrough increase substantially. However, it’s impossible to predict when that moment of critical mass will be reached.
You just have to keep putting in the work.
Making a good, or even great, living as a writer doesn’t have to be a dream. But, success won’t happen overnight. Your success story will be different from mine, or from anyone else’s.
But, you can make it as a writer. Get out of the waiting place, start forging your own successful writing career, and never stop moving forward!