When most people think of writers, they think of fiction writers struggling to produce great novels. With the exception of those very few writers who make bestseller lists, far more writers make a living in various sorts of business, technical, and nonfiction writing than in any other writing job. So here are 22 ways to make money as a writer.
Technical writing is great for writers who have good technical aptitude. Technical writers these days are often software documentation writers, but many are writers documenting hardware (anything from washing machines to aircraft carriers), medical and pharmaceutical products, and other technical subjects.
Of course, you need more than just writing skills to be a good tech writer. You’ve also got to be able to learn technical material by reading engineering documents (specs in the software business), talk with SMEs (that’s Subject Matter Experts), and work with the actual product (unless it’s a nuclear warhead or something similar!). Your goal is to acquire a thorough knowledge of the product so you can then turn around and explain it in your document.
Technical editing is related to technical writing. It’s the editing of technical documents, and requires not only skill in editing, but also an understanding of the technical subject matter so that you can identify possible errors in intelligent queries to the author.
Document management is the processes and systems of managing an organization’s documents. Sounds a little dry, perhaps, but in industries like pharmaceuticals, for example, it’s absolutely crucial for an organization to have rigorous systems in place to track their documents through the writing, editing, and submission process. You don’t really want your drug company to lose the patient information sheet on someone’s individual hard drive, do you?
Medical writing includes a variety of fields: writing about pharmaceuticals, medical products, medicine and its specialties, and others. Often medical writing, in addition to its scientific nature, requires attention to regulatory or other requirements that writers need to know.
Scientific writing is a subset of technical writing. Probably a plurality of tech writers today work in the software industry, producing either programmer or user documentation. Science writers, however, are typically a little closer to pure research, whether working with researchers in various fields of scientific endeavor to bring their articles to publication, writing documents required for regulatory approval, or perhaps grant proposals for scientific research.
Instructional design (ID for those in the know) is the design of learning. (For lay people, that’s the design of training, except trainers like to focus on the learners, not themselves.) It’s by all means a field in its own right, yet there is some crossover especially between technical writing and ID. The training world has moved in recent years from CBT (computer-based training) to WBT (web-based training) to e-learning (also written elearning), online learning, and distance learning.
Usability and Interface Design
Usability for web sites and software programs refers to the ability of the intended users to intuitively navigate through the functions and achieve whatever their missions might be. Interface design is the art and science of creating usable web sites and software.
If you want to get published and make money in books or magazines, nonfiction is almost always the way to go. Sure, every now and then you read about a success in fiction such as Harry Potter, but nonfiction writers usually succeed far more than fiction writers.
Marketing Communication (Marcom)
Marketing writing – that is, writing in a marketing frame of mind, not marketing your own writing – is, like technical writing, among the sorts of writing that allow for a regular paycheck. And there are those who would say it suits would-be fiction writers, too, though we will venture no opinion on the subject!
Writing Advertising Copy (Copywriting)
Writing advertising copy is another writing job that actually pays regularly, like marketing communication and technical writing. If you really want to write and get paid for it, that’s hard to beat.
Public Relations (PR) Writing
Writing PR – public relations – is the art of disseminating information to the media so that they print or broadcast your copy for free (unlike advertising copywriting or marketing communication). And yes, it’s also a writing job that actually pays regularly.
Proposal writing is another form of persuasive writing, like marketing communication or advertising writing. Perhaps the main difference is in its structure. Like the others, proposal writing is writing in order to sell, but the structure of proposals can be quite precise. Proposals for multimillion dollar software systems, for example, can be hundreds of pages long, with an exacting structure determined by the authors of the RFP (Request for Proposal).
Grant writing is a specific form of proposal writing. Perhaps the main difference is in its audience: as we see it, anyway, proposals are mostly for business, while grants are mostly for nonprofits, for research, and related activities. But we admit the lines can be gray.
Journalism and News Writing
You’re at a party. Someone asks what you do. You say you’re a writer. Most likely, your interlocutor will think you write novels. But the second choice is probably that you’re a journalist. Journalism, whether print (in newspapers, magazines, trade journals), in broadcast media (television and radio), or online really comes down to getting the story and telling it well. And while most journalists are not rich, journalism is one of those writing jobs that do actually pay on a regular basis.
For many people, a sports writer is someone like Oscar in The Odd Couple – loveable but messy. Doubtless there are sports writers like that, though the ones we know aren’t. What people who write about sports have in common, of course, is a love for sports and a love for writing.
If you love travel and love writing, what could be better than writing about travel and getting paid for it as a travel writer? Visit far-away places or write about your own place – people love to read about places they’ve been to and places they haven’t, so there is a market out there for your travel writing.
Perhaps the best stories are true stories of people’s lives, namely biographies. Biographies used to be of famous people only, but it seems these days that more and more people of various backgrounds merit biographies, and someone has to write those books.
To write a book, you need to have an idea and be able to convey it. To translate, you need to understand someone else’s ideas in one language and be able to convey them to other people in another language. Translation means (unobtrusively) getting inside the minds of the author and the reader. Translators are also interpreters, because they translate the ideas of the author, not just the words. If you are good at figuring out what other people mean, and if you have the requisite skills in both the source language and, even more important, in the target language, you could be a good translator. Of course, you also have to be a good writer before you can be a translator.
So you want to be a writer? A good way to start is with writing articles for magazines. This is true if your goal is to be a freelance writer and also if you are a writer of virtually any other kind: there’s nothing like having “clips” – published articles – to bolster your writing portfolio (even if they’re in the Journal of Left-Handed Bowling Techniques).
Of course, one of the good things about magazine writing is that there are multitudes of magazines out there that constitute paying markets for writers. Another is that most magazine writing is freelance, allowing you to write on your own time. There are staff writing jobs at larger magazines, and even small publications have part-time editors.
Newsletters have been around for a long time, and writing newsletters (or writing for newsletters) can be a good way for writers with a message to make some money. Newsletters, whether paper or electronic, typically have a very tight subject focus, and each edition is relatively short.
Freelance writers don’t get rich quick. However – and this is good enough – you can make a nice income if you identify market niches that work for you. You can also supplement your income with the occasional freelance article. And if you do have a day job, there’s nothing like having published articles, or even books, on your resume to show that you are an expert in your field. Finally, freelance writing may land you a job as a journalist.
There’s another kind of freelance writing besides the common notion of a creative wordsmith toiling at night in a cloud of cigarette smoke or whatever. Many writers make a very regular, very decent living as technical or marcom or advertising writers, moving from contract to contract. And yes, some of them also work on writing fiction in the night.
In the old days, self-publishing meant you couldn’t find a real publisher to take your manuscript. While that may still be true in some cases, times have changed. For some, self-publishing is a way to make money. This is especially true when you know the precise market niche your book will fill, and it makes economic sense for you to be both author and self-publisher. Self-publishing is also an option when you have a pet project on a very specific subject that may not warrant the attention of a trade publisher, but will interest enough people for you to have a go at it as a self-publisher.
These 22 ideas can help you make money as a writer, whether you have dreams of one day publishing a novel or just like getting paid to write.