Can you realistically make a living as a writer?

Mary Demuth cropped lisbon smaller I spent a good deal of time talking with a friend of mine who’s in an ancillary business alongside Christian writers at the recent Christian Book Expo. He said he’s diversifying in this economy, stressing it’s the only way to stay solvent and successful. That got me thinking about my last year of writing, and how I’ve tried to beef up my monthly income. Has my own experiment with diversification worked? Read on.

First thing I did was revamp my website and create a store. Selling books from my site hasn’t generated bucket loads of moolah, but it’s always fun to make a few bucks here and there. I use Click and Ship at with the post office’s free flat rate envelopes to ship. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

I also created products on my site: 150 downloadable conversation starters to use around the dinner table and a nonfiction proposal tutorial. Those both took up front time, but since they’re e-products, they’re essentially “free” income to me. Author Randy Ingermanson calls this passive income–you can make money as you sleep. Plus, both those products are beneficial, to families and to writers. I’m currently working on another major product with some writing friends.

In addition, I spent time learning how to become a better speaker. I’m thankful for the mentoring I received at Wildfire Marketing. (They also helped me with branding, my website, the products, and so much more.) Because of their feedback, I was able to greatly improve my ability to communicate, streamline my speaking process (in terms of getting gigs), and charge higher fees.

In the spirit of diversificaiton, I also write articles. This month, I have an article in Focus on the Family magazine entitled “Under Ghana’s Sky” about my now-13-year-old son’s quest to provide water for a village in Ghana. I’ve finally broken into Writer’s Digest and The Writer, which took several years. My next goal is to write for one of the biggies like Family Circle or O. (One can dream!)

I do write books, and those advances help the bottom line. But my goal is to earn out those advances, so I’m working on new marketing ideas, and experimenting with social networking. I have seen great response so far with Twitter and Facebook, though it’s hard to measure actual sales. That’s the kind of work that you can’t quantify, and it’s frustrating not to be paid for doing it, but that’s the nature of the beast, I suppose.

And last, I mentor writers at The Writing Spa. This has been a great avenue of steadier income, plus I have the privilege of teaching others. I’m toying around with doing seminars/workshops where I live, where four or five writers come in for a weekend intensive, but haven’t fleshed that out yet.

So there you have my own experiment at diversification. I’m getting closer at making a living, but not quite there yet. It’s taken me a good eight years to get to this place. How about you? Would you mind answering the following questions in the comment section?

  • What are you doing to create income as you write?
  • What has helped?
  • What has bombed?
  • Do you feel it’s possible to make a living wage as a writer?
  • Is there anything I’ve missed? (I know writing for corporations is a viable, lucrative option, for instance.)

25 Ways to Promote and Stay Sane

Traveling, promotion and marketing always take far more time than you think it will. When I had three books release in one year (which made for a hectic year before in terms of writing), I got very, very tired doing all that promotion (and I did it from France for the most part). But in some ways it was beneficial to be in another country because when I did travel, I got a lot done at one time.

My family is a priority for me, so I try to stagger my time away.

But the best thing you can do now is strategize. Believe me, the marketing/publicity machine will take you by surprise. Having a plan in place beforehand will greatly benefit you. Here are 25 tips:

  1. Decide how many out of state visits you’ll do in a year, then stick to it.
  2. Winnow out non-paying jobs (speaking-wise) to maximize time.
  3. Try to cluster your speaking all at once.
  4. If you’re going somewhere anyway, query local churches and radio stations and bookstores to book several venues.
  5. Consider using part of your advance to hire a publicity person. A good publicist is worth his/her weight in gold (or these days, gas!). They do all the hard work for you—finding media outlets, scheduling appearances and interviews, and garnering reviews and articles. Although I know I COULD do these things, I simply don’t have the time to do them. I do have time for interviews of course, but all the behind the scenes stuff overwhelms me.
  6. Consider hiring a personal assistant part time (5-10 hours a week) to help you with marketing and publicity.
  7. Have an accountability prayer team who keeps you honest about the time you’re spending away from your family.
  8. Each publicity/media opportunity that comes your way, pray that the Lord would use your words to touch many. Don’t think of it as a time to perform or do shameless promotion of your book, but as a chance to further the Kingdom of God.
  9. Enlist the help of your spouse and kids to do promotion (sending out books, database entry, etc.) so they feel ownership in what you do.
  10. Ask your family for permission if you take a far-away opportunity to speak.
  11. In the initial stages of your speaking career (if you have one), you’ll usually say yes a lot to low-paying, far-away venues. But as you improve and charge higher fees, really consider the cost benefit analysis of your time. I can write a sellable article or two in the time it would take me to speak. So I’m more careful of my time, and speak less (more strategically).
  12. Consider paying for a housecleaner (same rationale as above…I can write enough to pay a housekeeper several times over in the time it would take to clean my house). This frees me up to do more writing or promotion.
  13. Try to create a window of time when your book releases where you can solely concentrate on its promotion. It’s hard to do, but will be rewarding. That one-month launch window closes quickly.
  14. Organize your calendar well. Be sure you place family obligations, bills to pay, medical appointments, EVERYTHING, on one master calendar. Otherwise you may book yourself on a day your child is in a school play.
  15. Pray. Ask the Lord to order your days.
  16. Take Sabbath. If you go-go-go, you’ll quickly burn out. Take a day out of the week to rejuvenate.
  17. Remember the tyranny of the urgent. Instead, create goals for your career, including marketing and publicity, and stick to those when the urgent things come up.
  18. And yet, be interruptible.
  19. Consider giving some of your time away as a sacrifice. I write and speak for free on occasion, when I sense the Lord leading me to do so.
  20. Keep a marketing idea file on your desktop. When you find a great idea, copy and paste it there. When your next book comes out, you’ll have a whole arsenal of ideas to promote it.
  21. Remember the power of the web. Right now is the best time if you don’t have a book out to concentrate on creating a strong web presence. Write a monthly newsletter and begin to amass subscribers. Create a blog that gets read.
  22. Keep a list of all your media contacts in a database. When a book comes out, you can send an e-blast to those entities, letting them know you’ve got a new title out.
  23. Network now. Make friends with media professionals, publishers, people in the industry.
  24. Consider introducing yourself whenever you’re in a bookstore as an author or potential author.
  25. If you are building a speaking career, let your circle of friends and family know. Sometimes the coolest speaking opportunities come through relational connections like this. Your network can also help you connect with pertinent media and marketing people.