To Make a Living as a Writer, Be More Than a Writer

January 19, 2012

It is NOT a pipe dream, the idea of making a living as a writer.

Lots of people do it successfully.

But here’s the secret: you have to be more than a writer.

You have to be an expert on a topic or a creator or an entrepreneur or a salesman — or maybe a combination of several of those. Writing may be your core skill, but how you use it is what will make your living.

Take, for example, how I pay my rent. My income comes from three main sources: helping small businesses and startups with social media, creating and selling digital guides and courses, and writing the occasional freelance journalism assignment.

That first category, social media consulting, might not seem like it qualifies as making a living as a writer, but writing is the core skill for the job. I’m good at turning information into status updates or tweets that people want to read. And a large part of why that works is because I’m a quality writer.

Except. If I was only a writer, I’d never make a living that way. On top of my writing skills, I have to be knowledgeable about social media and understand how to communicate ideas in an interesting way. (Thank you, journalism.)

And selling my eguides? Sure, the bulk of the work is in writing them, but I also have to sell the product. Which means I need to be a salesman, and I need to know how to create a community — this blog — so people will actually buy what I’m creating. Even if I only wanted to write (which I don’t), being a writer simply isn’t enough.

One more example: becoming an author. Too many could-be authors shun the idea of self-promotion, saying they just want to write. Which is fine — if you’re not hoping to make any money off your books (in which case no publisher would buy them). If you want this to be your job, if you want writing to support you, you have to be more than a writer.

How are YOU more than a writer?

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13 Replies to “To Make a Living as a Writer, Be More Than a Writer”

  • Shae says:

    Great article. There are plenty of fantastic writers who don’t have the skills to market themselves (or other skills required to generate an income) and those that do should consider themselves fortunate. The process can make some people uncomfortable. However to achieve any dream or passion, you do need to self-promote but the core of this is really just letting others know ‘what you do’. I think if you keep it in this simple context it does become less overwhelming. If you don’t inform or let the right people know what you do or have been doing, then nobody is going to know about the great work you’ve accomplished. And that would be a great shame!

  • Andrea says:

    Love it!

    You just gave the kind writer/social media version of “Always Be Closing.”

    Writers have to Always Be Closing on themselves! 🙂

    At 3:20 in:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-AXTx4PcKI

  • I agree about finding your niche. Too many blogs fail, because the creator can’t find their focus.

  • Fantastic post and spot on! This is why I never regret all the years I spent in the business world. It’s not dream-deferred but rather dream-in-training. Now I can put all those skills to work for my writing career.

  • Thank you for this post. I am new to “writing” after learning to enjoy it through blogging. I am trying to figure out it I can do this for a living after my kids grow up.

  • Dee Dee says:

    I completely agree with everything you have said here. I have a full-time writing partner and I feel like we hit the jackpot because our backgrounds are in fundraising and public relations so we mix well, but we also do things that the other person doesn’t always find ‘fun’. I’ll be sharing this post with him right now!

  • Aw you just crushed the dreams of my 20-something self! Joking, but seriously when I was in my 20’s, I believed – like all my literature homies – that my passion would draw the masses.
    Now I’m 30 and know better – or at least am trying to learn better.

  • Kerstin says:

    I’m glad you featured this post from your archives on your Facebook page, otherwise I would have missed it!
    I agree – just writing won’t do. I have written several books and the royalties are not enough to live off, which is why I added consulting to my portfolio as well. I help small businesses tell their stories, so their customers know what they have to offer – so it’s writing at the core for sure, but with more value added for the customer!

  • NOAEfame says:

    You are so right but sometimes what one writes about may depend on who they are going to sell to. Alexis , now that you have known me at least, should I go and start content writing? How can I fit in that World? . How can I get you to comment and tell me what I need to do in my blog?

  • Great advice Alexis. I work in an advertising agency by day and am building my own brand online through blogging. It has been important for me to keep an open mind about what my work might look like and the possible revenue streams.

    Thanks,
    Raki

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