When we start writing, we have no idea where we want to go with that. We write because we like to write. We enjoy the process and we continue with it.
Then comes a time when writing takes over our lives.
We want nothing more but to write. Our job becomes a liability. We want to quit as soon as possible so that we can devote more time to writing.
We convince ourselves that we can make an income from writing. If only we can devote more time to it, build a following, write that book, write an article a day, start a newsletter… we will be able to make a living from it.
But it is not that easy.
Making a living from writing takes more effort than making a living from selling insurance policies (or door-to-door selling or network marketing or selling used cars or becoming a real estate agent — take your pick).
Because we don’t know what our end game is.
We take writing as a generic profession, as a GP (General Practitioner), whereas it is a specialization.
There are different fields in writing and each one requires a different strategy to succeed. Not knowing that from the beginning not only makes it harder to succeed but takes much longer and causes so much heartache and frustration that many people give up after a few years, never to come back.
I divide writers into three categories:
- Hobby writers
- Freelance writers
- Passion writers
Hobby writers are the ones who like to write for personal satisfaction. They might write poems, short stories, or even articles in magazines (online or physical). They might write a book, maybe more than one. It could be fiction or non-fiction. But they have no intention to make a living from their writing.
They had a story to tell, and when they have told it, they are satisfied if they have been able to publish it and send it out in the world, even better.
With some stroke of luck, hobby writers might be able to make a lot of money with a single book or an article, even without much marketing. Such examples are rare, but they do happen.
Hobby writers treat writing as a way to communicate their feelings (poems), their stories(memoir or biography) and messages (articles or a book).
They are usually not stressed about their writing and very satisfied with their output.
If you are a hobby writer, enjoy your writing and don’t get caught up in the whirlwind of building a following or starting a newsletter. Keep in mind you are not in it for money.
Freelance writers make a living from their writing and sometimes are well paid and at the top of their trade.
Many professional writers are in the paid form of writing where it becomes a job — many journalists, content writers, ghostwriters and copywriters fall in this category.
They may or may not have proper qualifications in writing. To them, writing provides not only personal but also professional satisfaction. They might start in one category and move on to others.
They become professionals to work in the field they love but soon get caught in the vortex of a trading time with money. They get busy with delivering other people’s projects while their own projects get sidelined.
Their end game is to get some big bucks for ghost writing or big clients for content writing. Many journalists are going into paid newsletter arena where they fulfill a particular need of a group or a community with their writing skills.
Passion writers write what they are passionate about, whether it is content, fiction, or non-fiction.
They are successful because they keep evaluating where they are going. They not only know what they want to write but also what the market wants.
If they are content writers, they know they are writing to inspire or to educate. They know to make a living with content writing, they need a healthy mailing list and courses to sell. They start small, but by consistently providing value to their readers, they make a name for themselves. These writers often become entrepreneurs.
That is the end game for them. They will build some business from their writing. It could be a publishing company or self-development organization or marketing agency.
If they are fiction writers, they write genre fiction. Genre fiction has populist appeal and it sells well. Traditionally genres are romance, mystery, thriller, horror, fantasy, historical, and children’s books. But new genres are being added all the time. Genre readers follow their writers and read everything they write.
The end game for fiction writers writes is to write series. Their readers are ready to buy their next book because they are invested in the story. The imaginary universe the fantasy and sci-fi writers create are money spinners. Think J K Rowling, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Dean Coontz, Dean Wesley Smith. These are just a few well-known names. Many other not-so-well-known writers are making six to seven-figure incomes. These writers become brands in themselves.
These are the writers of non-fiction books. They pick a niche and become experts in that. They write books in that niche and take speaking engagements. Sometimes just a single book becomes such a bestseller that they can build their whole business around it (think James Clear’s Atomic Habits). Other times they release series such as Rober Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad series.
The end game for non-fiction writers is the speaking engagements. They charge premium rates to speak at premium conferences and may have a whole business behind their book.
What is your end game?
Do you write for personal satisfaction, or do you want to make a living with your writing?
Do you want to build a business around your niche, or do you want to create a fictional universe?
Figure out what your end game is and then choose your path to get there.