The way to make money as an author is by first NOT making money—volunteering is the secret to your longevity as an author, writer, editor and/or teaching artist.
By doing so, you’ll gain the 3 C’s: CONFIDENCE, COMPETENCE and COMPORTMENT, plus you’ll get people to show up. If you don’t have readers or an audience, you’ll never make money as literary artist.
Tip #1 Blogging
While you’re writing your novel, memoir or poetry—which don’t generate any immediate income—you can convert your writing/editing skills/workshop leadership roles into paid opportunities through your blog so you can gain writing clients, editing clients and invitations to book clubs, speaking gigs, conferences, retreats and more! If you don’t use blogging as your personal author platform, no one will know you exist. Blogging will grant you the expert status to create your own writing career story.
I’ve been blogging for 10 years and it’s a lot of fun connecting with my regular commenters, moderating fights on double spaced vs. one space after a period, having folks get to know me—putting my 2014 Christmas letter on my blog, writing about my favorite HBO shows with a writers’ eye, all the while letting my inner geek shine through.
Blogging opens you up to opportunities—even if you haven’t written your first book yet. It gets you lubricated—sets you on a path of accountability and it makes you more comfortable with visibility. Learn how to blog by typing “learn how to blog” in the search box on YouTube.
Tip #2 Low Wage Writing Gigs
It’s smart to “almost” volunteer when you’re a new writer. A decade ago got a job writing computer/security/tattoos/body piercing articles for 4 cents a word for Webman—I never met the guy and he reluctantly gave me the job while I mopped the kitchen floor and chatted with him on the phone. All of the 5 articles were due on Sunday night and at first he’d yell at me if I didn’t do a good job using SEO. He was the one who taught me about PayPal, Wikipedia, formatting your words properly; Webman and this job truly lubricated my writing muscles and I started to think about what’s in it for the reader. And I paid off my Belk card with this gig! But when I was ready to ask for more money and have more time to write, I sent him a resignation and he sent me a recommendation. Good stuff.
Tip #3 Workshops
Giving paid workshops is a wonderful way to support your income, but you do need to start somewhere. No one is going to attend your workshops if you haven’t earned your expert status (see Tip #1 Blogging above).
Back 12 years ago (pre-social media) I was a Raleigh Jaycee and decided to put on a project called “Writing Creatively” to bring fellow Jaycees and an author together. I found an author through my contacts at the NC Writers’ Network, found her a venue for a book reading and then rounded up my fellow Jaycees at the meetings, and through email and phone calls. I did the same thing for my author friend Rhonda who HATED dealing with the minutia of workshops/attendance/follow-up. After helping Rhonda I then decided I could host and facilitate my own free creative writing workshops—and I’ve been going strong ever since. I’ve taught writing workshops through Meredith College, Raleigh Parks and Rec, OLLI/Encore at NC State and Duke, Duke Continuing Ed Studies and now Wake Tech.
Tip #4 Editing and other volunteer roles
Back in Spring 2005 my friend Jane voluntold (yes, it’s a real word) me to join the board of Carolina Wren Press in Durham—it sounded like a great opportunity for a new writer like myself so I said yes. A few months in, we helped on a novel contest—150 book-length entries in Post Office mail box tubs that wouldn’t quit! Nearing the deadline, I stayed up till 3 or 4 in the morning reading through manuscripts, hoping to find the next Lee Smith. This was my editing boot camp and I realized format follows content—meaning if you write in crayons your writing will suck. If you can’t serve on an arts agency/literary board, volunteer to judge literary contests or volunteer to critique manuscripts at a magazine either local or online—serve on a board of directors of an arts agency/board.
Tip #5 Write Well
If you can’t write well, no one will want to spend their good money on you. Learn the basics of the craft if you’re unsure. Attend conferences, like the NC Writers’ Network Spring/Summer Residency/Fall Conferences. Join a writing critique group. Attend open mics, submit your work to contests/publications and network with other writers in your community. Or you can hire me as your writing coach.
To this day I still volunteer and by doing so I contribute to my community while finding ideal editing and workshop clients.
As you get more experienced and get paid, you still want to volunteer and earn prestige volunteer spots like serving on boards and committees where your voice has a direct impact on the arts and the community—if I hadn’t volunteered all of those years I wouldn’t be now serving on the NC Writers’ Network Board and be in a position to help many more writers succeed.
Note: Thank you so much to TheLadders.com for inspiring this blog post. The Ladders is a comprehensive career resource for professionals that takes pride in helping people in diverse demographics with their career no matter what the field.