3 Techniques You Can Use to Become a Profitable Writer
I didn’t start writing for money. I did it because it was the one thing in my life that gave me a level of passion I never felt before. But once I decided I wanted to do it for a living, I realized I needed to make money.
So, I went through the tumultuous journey of learning how to make a living writing. I’m not one to sugarcoat. It’s hard. You have to treat writing like a business, and building a business is hard.
Most writers fail for the same reason most business owners fail. They romanticize their work too much. Yes, you should write for love, I know I do. But love doesn’t pay your bills or help you escape your 9 to 5 job to do what you love.
Jeff Goins has an amazing saying about the way to think about writing:
You make money so that you can make more art
Your artistic license increases when you have financial flexibility. Take care of your bottom line and you’re free to write whatever you want. Here are some techniques you can use to do just that.
Decide Which Type of Writer You Want To Be
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki has sold more than 32 million copies. In the book, he talks about an exchange he had with a young woman who wanted to become a best-selling author.
She had an MFA degree and took her craft seriously. She expected to hear techniques for becoming the best writer possible. Instead, Robert gave her advice on marketing, promoting, and selling her work. The young woman rejected his advice.
He had this to say in response. “It’s called best-selling author, not best-writing author.” If you want to make money with your writing, you need to understand that it’s a product just like any other.
Some of the best-selling authors might not technically be the best writers, but they’ve built huge followings over time that help them make money. Embrace a marketing and sales mindset to go with the craftsmanship attitude.
Some ideas and strategies to consider are:
- Building a tribe – You need to build a tribe of loyal fans who specifically love your writing. This means finding a way to keep communicating with your fans like building an email list. Specifically, you always want to have a call to action at the end of each post you write (if allowed).
- Pay attention to packaging – From writing headlines that people want to click to writing books with catchy titles and covers, you must understand that quality doesn’t matter if no one actually reads your work. You have to find a way to make it enticing.
- Become a shameless promoter – If you have writing you want to share and writing products you want people to buy, err on the side of being more aggressive. When I launched my third book, I sent three times the number of emails to my list than the launch for my second book. The sales were much higher. You might turn some people off, but often those people were never going to buy in the first place.
You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It Too
Josh Spector once said:
You can write for yourself or you can write for an audience, but you can’t do both.
This doesn’t mean you can’t write stories about your life and share your personal experiences, but you must make sure you’re writing stuff someone other than you wants to read. Read that sentence again.
If you think of writing like a business, you’ll understand that there are different markets for different types of writing. You can choose to write in an unprofitable market, but don’t get upset if you don’t make much money from your writing. You can choose to focus on what you want to write over what audiences want, but don’t get upset when you hear crickets when you hit publish.
If you choose to take an audience-driven approach first, you can find the intersection between what people want to read and what you want to write. Find out where the readers are, what they want to read, and choose a topic that matches your tastes.
No, this doesn’t mean you have to write self-improvement listicles to make a living. There is a broad range of topics you can write about and styles you can use. Read this article where I talk about the top blogging niches for more guidance. You can go in different directions. The only wrong direction is choosing to write solely based on what you think is interesting.
Some techniques to create audience-driven content:
- Market research – If you’re going to write a book, go on Amazon and see if there are already similar book ideas out there. If you’re going to publish your work on a certain platform or website, see what type of articles and topics get the most traction.
- Audience research – Readers often give you the exact blueprint for what to write. Often, I’ll look in the comments of blog posts to see the common patterns — questions they ask, insights they share, even complaints they make. You can use these insights to create a profile of your ideal reader, too.
- Take responsibility – If your writing isn’t getting the traction you want, never blame the audience. I see so many writers who say things like “they just don’t get it.” In reality, it’s the writer who’s the delusional one.
Take the Counterintuitive Route to Profitable Writing
This is going to sound contradictory, but to make money writing, start by not focusing on money at all. This is also another insight I learned from Kiyosaki:
“Work to learn, not for money.”
In most businesses, you tend to break even or lose money in your first few years. This is because you’re building a foundation for the business that will pay off huge down the road — skills, potential customer base, a network.
I didn’t make a dime for the first few years of my writing career. I just focused on getting good at the craft, building my tribe, and trying to learn what works.
Then, in the fourth year of my writing career, I made more money in a single year than any other year of my life by far. Had I looked at my writing like an employee would, I would’ve quit because I was earning zero wages for my work.
You make money in writing through exponential growth. At first, you’re an absolute nobody. But your skills and your reach both compound like interest in an investing account. Down the road, you’ll reap much higher rewards for the same level of effort.
Pretty much every successful writer I know has been on the same path. At first, they worked for nothing. Later, they reaped the rewards.
Some ideas to adopt the work to learn attitude are:
- Work for exposure – In the beginning, when you have no audience, your main focus is building your tribe. You can make money along the way, sure, but in the beginning, it makes sense to trade your time for access to new readers.
- Practice in public – When you’re just getting started, your writing isn’t good. It’s not worth reading yet. You should still publish it anyway because you need to get used to exposing your work to the public. Use your small or non-existent audience to your advantage and practice with less pressure. Trust me, as you get bigger, the pressure only grows.
- Think like an investor – A smart investor doesn’t care about the balance of their portfolio in the first few weeks or months of adding to it. Hell, they don’t even care about the first few years. They know that time does most of the work. Just get it in your head that this is going to be a long-term journey. If you can’t do that, you’ll fail.
You can choose whatever route you want. Some writers hate my approach to writing. Many think people who teach writing in this formulaic fashion are full of it. Fine with me.
I create art. I write quality and I’d stack myself up with an “artistic” writer any day. Going about your writing like a business owner, like a professional, leads to quality and artistic genius.
Why? Because professionals actually do the work. Nine times out of ten, those that claim artistic integrity are just self-centered and lazy. They don’t want to do what’s required to make a living from their writing. Are you? The answer to that question will determine how your writing career pans out.