Back in college I took a class on the great works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Never had two more romantic figures entered my view.
Starving artists just trying to find a clean, well-lighted place to write. Parisian nights and Barcelona days. Champagne and cigarettes; war and women. My schoolgirl heart was enchantée, to say the least.
Fast forward 20+ years and the scene doesn’t look quite so picturesque. Today a whiff of cigarette smoke turns my stomach, and more than half a glass of champagne means one thing: heartburn.
As for the anxiety of not knowing where my next paycheck is coming from? Yeah, no thank you.
Perhaps you, like me, dream of making a living from your writing. Perhaps that’s why you’re following your dream of writing a book even though it seems, to some, like a completely impractical idea.
And yet you’re not sure how to get from here to there. “There” being “making enough money from my writing that I do not have to live in a garret and drink my dinner.”
That’s where I come in. My role as a book editor these past 20 years has afforded me the luxury of peeking behind the curtain at how authors actually do what they do. Including how they put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
The fact is, most authors don’t make the lion’s share of their income from advances and royalties. Making a living writing books is a rare privilege. It’s not impossible, but it’s hella uncommon. Most authors write books out of love, and make their money in other ways.
I want you to understand this fact, grieve about it, pound your fist into your pillow at the unfairness of it—and then get back up and keep walking the authorship road anyway.
Because it’s not impossible to make money as a writer of books. It just requires you to do other things, too.
Without further delay, here are the top five ways authors I know make money.
Top Five Ways Authors Make Money Writing Books
1: They teach what they’re writing about, or they teach writing.
Nonfiction authors teach in-person workshops or online courses in the same topic area covered by their book. This way they are able to go deeper with the material, and thus can charge hundreds (or thousands) of dollars more than the price of the book.
For example, a psychologist will teach a weekend relationship workshop, or a wellness guru will teach a 10-week online course in how to go vegan.
If you’ve ever seen a thought leader you love offering a free webinar—followed by a not-at-all-free eight-week course—that’s what we’re talking about here.
Writers of other genres, including fiction, memoir, poetry and childrens’ books may offer a weekend writing workshop or a three-month online writing program.
The function is the same: Teach what you love, only do it as a workshop instead of in book form so you can go deeper and charge more. It’s a tried and true way to make money as a writer, and something you should absolutely consider if you want to be an author for a living.
2: They work one-on-one with people.
It’s been about 40 years since the term “coaching” migrated out of the realm of sports and into the realm of….everything. These days you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a coach (or three!).
There’s life coaching, relationship coaching, health coaching, business coaching, sex coaching, parenting coaching, spiritual coaching and my personal favorite, book coaching!
What’s great for you as an author is that the idea of “coaching” has merged into the mainstream in such a way that lots of people know what it is. And many of them see its inherent value.
In a nutshell, coaching is where you put your expert one-on-one attention on an individual (or in some cases, a group) to help them navigate a particular area of need.
If you write memoir, you might offer “story coaching,” helping people get their painful and precious stories out of their hearts and onto the page.
If you write fiction, you might offer writing coaching—cheering other aspiring authors to the first-draft finish line.
If you survived cancer, you might offer emotional support and health tips to your clients. You see where I’m going with this!
We all crave one-on-one attention; a space where we can feel important and held. It’s a rare gift, and one that many of us are more than willing to pay (good) money for. I think this is why coaching has caught on like wildfire, and it’s why working with individuals is another way authors are making money these days.
3: They write for others.
Great writers are rare enough that we’re always in high demand. (Yes, I just shamelessly claimed the label “great writer” for myself, and if you’re a naturally excellent writer, you probably know it, too.)
This makes us fast, efficient partners for the world’s “idea people”: those folks who know what they want to write, but aren’t likely to get the writing accomplished without help.
Editing, book doctoring and full-throttle ghostwriting are all ways that authors make money at the same time they work on, publish and promote their own books.
If you’re a fast writer with above-average results, this may be a great option for you, too!
Note: If you’re already a ghostwriter with a handful of books under your belt and are interested in working with us at kn literary arts, you can apply HERE.
4: They start a business related to their book.
Once you know what you want to write, you can start asking yourself, “What kind of business might readers of my book want to patronize?”
Let’s say you’re the vegan health guru I mentioned above. Perhaps you want all of your readers to supplement their newly animal-free diet plan with chlorella, and you talk about it repeatedly in your book. What if you started sourcing and selling your favorite variety of the superfood?
That way your readers are getting something they need, and you’re getting the financial support you need in order to keep producing the useful content they’ve come to you for.
You might also create a service company, like I did! kn literary arts offers all the services a would-be author wants and needs, from idea consulting to coaching to editing to ghostwriting.
For some DIY readers of The Book You Were Born to Write, the book itself will be all they need. But others will (and do!) want one-on-one advice/services specific to their book and their journey.
So my book is a useful source of information for any and all aspiring authors. But it also becomes an entry point for those who want the expert guidance we offer. Even if just a select few ultimately patronize our business, my team and I still end up earning a living. (Huge thank you to our wonderful clients!! Couldn’t do this without you!!)
5: They speak professionally.
If your book is on the right topic, corporate speaking can be a great way to make money as an author. By “the right topic,” I mean a topic that is either directly geared toward a business audience or can be adjusted in that direction.
Here’s an example of the latter. My bestie, Nancy Levin, teaches about self-empowerment and learning to be brave in all areas of life. Recently she was hired to do a one-hour luncheon keynote speech for a group of HR managers. The topic she spoke about was “learning to be yourself at work.”
While Nance hasn’t written a book specifically about work life, the principles she teaches were easily to apply in that area. The speaking event was a huge success, and will likely lead to more opportunities.
Of course there are certain hurdles authors need to cross to break into speaking—including getting speaking experience under your belt. But if the thought of sharing your wisdom from the stage has sparkle for you, it’s worth pursuing. Start by contacting your local branch of the National Speaker’s Association, which is a great place to meet other speakers and build networks.
Book sales are just one way authors make money—and frequently, it’s not even the #1 way they do it.
This article has listed only the top five most common ways authors make money outside of book sales—there are many more! The goal is to find a method for sharing your wisdom that truly lights you up from the inside out.
None of these options is a “quick fix,” each takes time, energy, effort and persistence. But the results are worth it: Getting to be the author you dream of being, 365 days a year.
If you’d like help strategizing a plan for turning your book into a viable business, I’d love to talk to you one-on-one. Just schedule a call and let your matchmaker know you’d like to book a consultation with Kelly!