When pursuing any kind of creative career, money is always a concern. If not for you, then probably at least for friends or relatives. There’s nothing more exhausting than answering the question, “So, how are you going to make money doing that?” over and over again.
While the starving artist persona may seem romantic for a while, bunking up with roommates and living paycheck to paycheck can lose its appeal after a while. It is possible to make a decent living as a writer, but you have to do your research to find the right opportunities to do so.
If you understand how writers can make money, then you can start to figure out how much you can make as a writer and put your financial concerns – and those of your well-meaning loved ones – to rest.
How Do Writers Make Money?
One of the best things about choosing a career in writing is that there are many different routes you can take. Whether you want to spread your love of the craft to others as a teacher or are looking for a 9-to-5 with a steady paycheck, there are multiple paths open to you.
Of course, the job (or jobs) you decide to pursue will influence how and how much money you make as a writer. To give you a general idea of how this plays out, here are four popular writing career paths and how they generate income.
1. Technical or Marketing-Related Writing Jobs
Your high school English teacher wasn’t lying when they told you that writing is a valuable skill no matter what industry you want to end up in. If you’re adept at stringing together artful or clever words and phrases, there are many positions in marketing and technical writing that you can pursue.
Most of the time, these are regular 9-to-5 jobs like any other. You may have to go into an office, and will likely receive regular paychecks and employee benefits like millions of other people.
The specifics of how much you can make as a technical or marketing writer will depend on the industry you’re in, the size of the company you work for, your experience level, and other factors. However, according to Glassdoor, these types of jobs often pay between $55,000 and $75,000 per year.
2. Freelance Writing
Of course, many people pursue creative careers because they don’t like the idea of working your standard office job. If you fall into this category, you might consider freelancing as an alternative.
The benefits of working as a freelance writer are that you get to make your hours and pick which gigs you take on. You also have the opportunity to infuse a lot of variety into your work, which keeps things interesting.
However, your income will also be less predictable. There are plenty of freelancers who bring in steady cash flows, but the key to this is being able to continuously find new clients, which is harder than it sounds.
Online marketplaces such as Upwork and Fiverr can help, but take a portion of your revenue. If you can find a client who needs recurring work, they can become a somewhat reliable source of income (but not as reliable as a traditional job).
Freelancers are typically paid per gig. As a writer, you can choose whether to charge per word or per hour. When it comes to how much money freelance writers make, Glassdoor says that average annual income is $52,000. However, it doesn’t specify how many hours you might have to work to rake in that amount.
Teaching is a fairly common career path for writers. Depending on your own education, you could teach English at the high school level, or pursue a career as a university professor.
To teach high school English, you typically need a Master degree and a license for your state. This can be an extremely reliable and predictable job, and according to Glassdoor, typically involves a salary around $46,000 per year.
Higher education is trickier. There aren’t many full time positions available, which might leave you stuck adjuncting. This means limited hours, no benefits, and no guarantee that you’ll be asked back from one term to the next.
Adjuncting pays per class, which could result in an income of less that $20,000 per year, unless you’re willing to teach at multiple schools. If you do manage to land a coveted full-time position, you’ll probably be looking at a salary between $55,000 and $65,000 per year.
4. Book Deals
Many writers aspire to authorship. There is money to be made in writing books, but you typically have to put in a lot of time – years, even – before you see a single penny.
If you’re willing to put in the work, you can make a highly rewarding career for yourself. However, the way authors make money is a bit more complicated than just getting a check every two weeks.
When you start trying to publish your book, you (or your agent) will have to sell it to a publisher. They will give you an advance, which is an estimate of how much money they think your book will make once it’s in stores.
After you get your advance, you won’t make any more money on your book unless it sells enough copies to “earn it out”. At that point, you’ll start receiving royalties, which are a small percentage of each book sale.
If you never earn out your advance (which is not uncommon), you don’t have to give the money back. You’ll get to keep that amount no matter what. However, if you don’t earn out your advances repeatedly, it can make it harder to convince publishers to pick up future books.
It’s difficult estimate how much a typical advance is, because many factors can influence the amount. It could be as little as $5,000 or rise up into the six figure range.
How Much Money Do Writers Make?
The short answer is, “it depends.”
Are you willing to work an office job and write manuals or marketing copy? Would you ever consider teaching high school English? If so, you can land a steady job and earn a salary in the range of $50,000 – $75,000 per year.
If you’d rather teach in higher education, become your own boss and freelance, or exclusively write books, your income is going to be less predictable. While it’s entirely possible to earn a living doing any of these, it’s harder to estimate what your annual income might be.
Plus, you might also consider mixing and matching different income streams. You can freelance and adjunct at the same time, or work on your book each morning before you head to your day job. With these scenarios, it’s even more difficult to guess exactly what your income might look like.
There’s no definitive answer to the question, “How much money do writers make?”. The problem isn’t that it’s impossible to make a living as a writer, but that there are many different paths you can take to do so. Each requires some give and take when it comes to freedom and flexibility as well as predictability and stability.
The choice is up to you and there’s no wrong answer. Here’s a quick recap of the different writing jobs we explored in this post, and a summary of how they make money:
- Technical or marketing-related writing jobs: These are typically 9-to-5 office jobs that pay around $55,000 – $75,000 per year according to Glassdoor.
- Freelance writing: Your freelance income will vary widely depending on how many jobs you take and the type of clients you work with. Statistics suggest full-time freelance writers make around $52,000 per year.
- Teaching: High school English teachers make around $46,000 per year according to Glassdoor. If you can land a full-time position at a university, you could make a higher salary. However, you’re more likely to get stuck adjuncting, which often pays less that $20,000 per year.
- Book deals: If you’re able to land a book deal, you’ll be paid an advance. If your book sells enough copies to earn out your advance, you’ll also receive royalties. An advance for a first-time author could be as little as $5,000 or as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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Featured Image Credit: Unsplash.