The Truth Behind Writing Success in 2023
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” – Mark Twain
Can I tell you the truth?
Most advice about writing is b.s.
You’re not going to make “six figures in six weeks.” Ain’t gonna happen. Anyone promising to make you wealthy overnight is pulling the wool over your eyes.
You can, however, make a living writing. You can build an audience of thousands of fans who appreciate your work. It’s more than possible. But lets temper expectations a bit and talk about what it truly takes to succeed. No rose-colored glasses and Youtube videos with Lamborghinis, OK?
I’ve had what I consider modest success and I’m on the way to greater achievements. Today, I’m going to share everything I know from personal experience on taking your writing from a hobby and turning it into a real side project/career.
This is Obvious But I Have to Say It
I feel like I should put a disclaimer above every blog post I write that says, “the following strategies will not work if you don’t try them.”
I’m not sure if I can solve the problem of inaction. It’s so deep and internal for some people. They genuinely believe they’re trying when they’re not.
Taking someone’s advice, twisting it until it’s unrecognizable, and following your own erroneous version of what you were told isn’t trying — it’s arrogance.
Why? Becuase if you knew what you were doing you wouldn’t need advice, right?
I wasn’t able to grow my own writing career until I humbled myself and followed directions. If I read a post or took a class I simply did what I was told without questioning it too much. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to add my own twist to the advice. But I stopped myself, because I know I didn’t know more than the person teaching me.
So what about you? Are you ready to be the grasshopper?
Key to Writing Success # 1 – Audience
Some of the most successful bands in the world aren’t mainstream icons. In fact, you’ve never heard of many of them. A key to their success is the fact you don’t know about them. They have their own tribe, a cult following, a group of people who know their work inside and out.
This should be your goal when it comes to your own audience.
The landscape is fickle. Every day 1,000 new writers pop up wanting to start their own blogs, write their own books, and share their own messages.
It almost seems too daunting to really give it a go. Afterall, how are you going to stand out?
When you realize the goal isn’t to make everyone your biggest fan, you realize there’s more than enough space for you in your niche.
The entrepreneur Kevin Kelly says if you have 1,000 people who love your work so much they’ll buy anything you make, you’ll be able to make a living for the rest of your life.
Look at the number 1,000 compared to the population. If there are around 7 billion people in the world, you need about .00005 percent to be die-hard fans. That sounds doable, right? I like using this reference because, with the internet, you literally do have access to 7 billion people. And viewing audience building from that frame makes it seem much more achievable. I’ve come across people I’ve never heard of before who have their own dedicated tribes in supposedly crowded fields. I keep coming across them. Bottom line — there’s enough space on the internet for writers who actually try hard.
The 3 Step Method to Building Your Fan Base
You can build an audience for your writing without having to be on podcasts, or run ads, or do SEO.
Most of the tips and tricks for building your audience are either useless or too advanced.
Right now, you’re trying to get started.
I promise you if you do these three things you will begin to see your audience grow.
Step 1 – Start a Blog and Sign Up for an Email Marketing Software
I’ve gone over the reasons why you need a blog multiple times, but here’s a quick recap.
- You need a home base on the internet – You need a place you have control over. If you rely solely on other platforms — like Facebook or Medium — you’re subject to their terms and conditions.
- Conversions – When you have your own website, you can offer readers the opportunity to join your email list.
- Professionalism – Would you trust a business that didn’t have a website? Why would your business be any different?
In addition to a blog, you need an email marketing software to collect emails and send them.
I use Converkit.
If you sign up for Convertkit through this link, I’ll give you a free 30 minute consultation on building your email list. Just send an email to email@example.com when you’ve signed up.
Once you set both up, move to the next step.
Step 2 – Create a Lead Magnet
A lead magnet gives your reader an incentive to join your email list.
For my website, I’ve created multiple guides I offer in exchange for an email. In your case, you want to create something related to the subject you write about.
For example, let’s say you write about mindfulness and meditation.
Some lead magnets you could provide are:
- Breathing techniques checklist
- A guided meditation audio
- Morning stretches and poses to start your day
Once you create your lead magnet you need a way to deliver it.
I use a combination of landing pages and pop-ups to both receive emails and offer my incentive.
If I’m writing a guest post, I’ll create a dedicated landing page with the offer on it. If I want to offer the incentive from my site, I connect it to a pop up using the Sumo plugin.
For detailed explanations on set up, you can read this guide.
Step 3 – Write posts on popular websites and link to your lead magnet
I created a 4,000-word guide on guest posting and wrote another piece on finding sucess with Medium. Both discuss the wash, rinse, and repeat formula I’ve used to take my email list from zero to thousands.
All you need to do is:
- Find popular sites with high traffic to post on
- Write amazing posts for their site
- Link back to your landing page at the end of each post
- Share on social media
That’s it. The guides go into depth on how to find places to post, pitch them, and write quality work people want to read, but the overarching theme is to avoid the “build it and they will come,” mentality. If you just post on your blog, nothing will happen.
Key to Writing Success # 2 – Influence
Audience and influence are closely related, but they’re a bit different.
See, if you build an audience of people who aren’t interested in your work, it’s the same as having no audience.
You need influence with your own audience and influence in your space to be a successful writer. Well, how do you go about doing that? Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
If you write your truth, people will respond to it. If you’re bullshitting, people will be able to tell.
I use marketing techniques to try to make my writing more appealing, but I never let marketing cloud my message. When I think you need encouragement, I’ll encourage you. When I think I need to be blunt with you, I won’t pull any punches.
Your job as a writer is to share your vision of the world. You’re unique, but you also have a ton in common with other people. The common ground between your uniqueness and the traits you share with others makes your message relatable and remarkable at the same time.
Lead Your Tribe
Writing does three things — educate, entertain, or inspire.
Your job is to lead your audience to one of these three outcomes.
How do you do this? By showing up often. The more you write and share with your audience, the more you can gauge their responses.
Even now, I’ll write posts that don’t go over as well as I’d hoped, but it’s another step closer to creating the message you want and/or need to hear.
You will probably have to write at least 100 blog posts to get a feel for your voice. Once you have a feel for your voice, it’ll sound familiar to your readers. They’ll know what they can expect from you and the ones who enjoy your voice will stay. Really, one of the biggest differentiators you have is your own style.
Key #3 – Income
Most writers make zero dollars. It’s not because they’re incapable of doing it. It has nothing to do with talent or skill.
If you don’t get parts one and two right, the money will never come.
Yan Girard, author and top writer on Medium, discusses this fact in his post on the difference between the short game and the long game.
Here’s a quote from the post:
The short game is when you write a book, put it on Amazon and expect people who’ve never heard of you to buy it.
Or when you make an online course and put it on Udemy.
But the problem is that millions of other people do the exact same thing.
Millions of other people put their stuff on Amazon, Udemy or Skillshare [replace with any other platform out there, like Elance, Fiverr, etc].
And when you put your stuff on some of these platforms you’ll be competing with everybody else who’s competing with everybody else.
You’ll be competing with everybody else who’s playing the short game.
So what happens when you’re in such a tough competition?
You’ll end up losing.
In 99.99% of the cases.
The irony of shortcuts is the fact they always make the process harder. Trying to skip the hard parts thrusts you into the teeth of competition. Pardon the quasi-sexist terminology, but an analogy for standing out online is something like talking to the most beautiful girl in the room. The most beautiful woman in the room doesn’t get approached because she intimidates most men. Counterintuitively, she’s more approachable because she doesn’t get hit on as often as women men consider more attainable. The long game puts you at the top. There’s way more room at the top.
You can’t skip the hard parts. I wrote for a year before I got my first email subscriber because I didn’t even know email lists were a thing. Then, when I learned about building a list, I had the writing habit and motivation to do it. Only after I built a list and demonstrated my knowledge over and over again did I make any money.
That being said, here are the only ways to make money with your writing know of:
Write a Book
The people who tell you self-publishing doesn’t work don’t know what they’re talking about. I haven’t yet made a six-figure income from writing books (let’s talk again in 2018!), but I’ve made a five-figure one. Again, this is where having your own audience and playing the long game comes in. Yes, if you have no audience and self-publish a book on Amazon, it will be hard to succeed, but if you’re patient and launch your book with an audience to back it, the possibilities are endless. I know many authors who make a full time living solely through books. It takes a penchant for writing often — many have more than a dozen books out — but once you build a catalog to support you, the sales pile on top of one another.
If you’re knowledgeable about a certain topic, you can freelance blog for other companies. While it isn’t a major income stream for me, I do freelance blog to supplement my income. Freelancing is perhaps the most straightforward way to earn a living with writing. There are countless numbers of business who need copy and blog posts written for them.
The same rules we’ve discussed apply to your freelance business — stay the course, demonstrate your expertise, and build your tribe.
Some great resources on freelancing are:
Offer Services or Products
This subject deserves a 2,000-word post of its own, but if you’ve built an audience of people who trust your knowledge, they’ll be willing to pay for it. You can create a course, launch a coaching program, or start a membership site.
Again, these are goals that won’t work well if you’re shortsighted about it. Pay attention to the way your audience responds to your work, send out surveys, track which posts are most popular. That’ll cue you into what they want and need.
In my case, I developed a coaching program for aspiring writers because there are so many steps between starting and accomplishing something worthwhile. I’ve found people need accountability more than anything else. I simply use the knowledge and experienced I’ve gained and transfer it to someone else.
The Bottom Line
Look, I’m not going to lie to you.
Is the blogosphere crowded? Yes. The good news, though? 99 percent of them will quit. This is a game of outlasting the competition, not necessarily being better than them.
Will you struggle along the way? Oh god yeah. But, remember, if you want to make income with your writing, you have a business. Just because your business is an artistic one doesn’t mean it lacks the perils that come with entrepreneurship.
Can you succeed? Yes. Unless you genuinely suck at writing (which I highly doubt you do), practice and patience are all you need. You’ll have to learn a long list of skills — email marketing, copywriting, tech, writing consistently, networking, hustle, just to name a few — but once you learn them, they’re yours.
If someone told me, in the beginning, everything I had to learn along the way, I don’t know if I would’ve started. So for now, don’t even think about the distant future. Put your ass in the chair and write something today, because I bet that’s where you need to start.