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Many people dream of writing a novel and escaping the humdrum 9-5. But there are other, more immediate, ways to make money from writing. Perhaps not fame and fortune, but real money and the satisfaction of doing something you love.
I should know. I started writing occasional articles for magazines when I was running my computer games company back in the late nineties and I ended up becoming a full-time freelance journalist and then running my own marketing agency.
Many businesses - and all writers - need a proofreader. It takes a rare combination of ruthless attention to detail and tact to do the job. To find out more read this interview with one of my proofreaders, Sarah Bee.
Blog and news ghosting
Companies use news feeds and blogs to give flavour and variety to static corporate websites. They can also help with search engine optimisation. However, companies often struggle to keep these feeds updated with relevant copy and this is an opportunity for outsourcing. You’ll need to combine a detailed understanding of the subject matter with good writing skills.
Writing articles for newspapers and magazines is probably the most direct route to earning money for your words. It worked for me. Check out my (long but detailed) article on how to be a freelance journalist.
In my three-year career as a blogger, both here and on GolfHotelWhiskey.com (The free online magazine and airport guide for pilots), I’ve made less than £500 from advertising and Amazon affiliate revenue. That said, I have been very reticent about advertising and my experiments with it have generally been uninspiring. Other people make much more. The prerequisite is a successful and popular blog.
If spending days in the library and online helping writers fact check their work or helping novelists develop their books, becoming a researcher could be for you.
Writing for the web
Websites need content and many web development agencies struggle to write good stuff for their clients. Sites like Copify and Upwork are good places to start selling your services.
Write a novel
My friend Stuart wrote several novels while working full-time as a GP. Neville Shute came back from a day designing airplanes and wrote 'On The Beach' and other great novels. It is possible. Read Steven King’s On Writing for more tips about getting started. I heard that the average advance for a first novel in the UK is about £2,000 but popular authors with a following and a line of books can earn much more.
Write an e-book
Thanks to the internet, you can be your own publisher. I read My Own Kind of Freedom which is a professionally-written novel in the Serenity/Firefly universe and I paid for it. Lane Wallace has just published an aviation-inspired self-help book called Surviving Uncertainty and Seth Godin has a whole thing of turning e-books into published purple cows. You can use e-books and free-books to build your reputation, practice your skills and create a loyal audience. You can charge a small fee for them or ask for donations but beware, vanity publishers will charge you to do something you can do for yourself.
Here are a few tips that will help you get started whichever route you follow:
Marketing is importantRead my 27 proven freelance marketing tips.
Fake it till you make itAt first, you might have to work for free to establish your credibility. Make sure that you get something else if you don’t get money: reputation, retain copyright, prominent by-lines, linkbacks etc. Charge as much as you can, as early as you can. In many cases, if you're going to write for nothing, at least write for yourself.
Your obvious is your talentStart with what you know and people close to you. Perhaps you can offer proofreading or web copywriting to your existing employer, for example?
Get a mentorSee my article: how to ask someone to be your mentor.
Develop your craftThe only way to be a good writer/researcher/proofreader is to do it regularly and to keep working on your skills.
Try freelance sitesServices like Guru.com and Elance.com can be very useful ways of getting paid freelance writing business.
Learn to work from homeSee: How to work from home.