In the past month, I’ve made more money from my writing than the previous 4.5 years combined.
In 54-ish months, I made a grand total of $40ish dollars. I miraculously sold a few cheap eBooks, and…that was it.
I was profoundly frustrated — I was spending hundreds of hours writing hundreds of posts that got virtually 0 views, 0 followers, and made just enough to buy a Ring Pop every once in a while.
But in the past 8 months, everything changed. Now, I’m earning income from so many income streams I sometimes forget where it all comes from. I’m not saying that to brag — I marvel that I’m actually making a living as a writer. I still can’t believe it sometimes.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did for 54 months. Here are the 4 best ways to earn income writing in 2018.
1. Amazon Affiliate Links
I’m amazed how few writers are doing this.
In about 90 seconds, you can register with Amazon’s affiliate program (just insert your bank and tax information because Amazon deposits your earnings directly into your bank).
After that, you can paste links to any product on Amazon, and get anywhere from a 3% — 10% cut if anyone buys the product from your link.
Here’s an example of my earnings:
This is how much I’ve earned this year so far (top left). I exclusively link to books I quote in my articles, and I average about $100/month or so. Books aren’t that expensive, so I don’t earn a lot, relatively speaking (but it’s a lot if you only earned $40 in your first 4 years!).
Another example: uber-successful entrepreneur Tim Ferriss sends out a weekly email with his “favorite purchase of the week.” Sometimes it’s a nutrition bar, sometimes it’s expensive workout equipment. A growing email list is an excellent audience for those links.
With Amazon affiliate links, you get a cut from everything. They’re simple, subtle, unobtrusive, and very lucrative if done right.
2. Paid Medium Posts
If you haven’t heard by now that you can earn money posting articles on Medium, you’ve been living under a rock.
Once you become a Medium member ($5/month subscription), you’re eligible to post “members-only stories,” which can earn income.
Medium releases monthly reports to paying members about this income. This past month, they informed me 56% of writers who posted a “members-only” story made money (an average of $58 dollars) — over half of writers made money! One author made over $1,100 dollars from a single article.
Medium is the only platform on the Internet right now that allows anyone to sign up, post an article, and get paid earnings immediately.
I actually don’t post a lot of members-only articles, but here’s what I earned last month from a single article I wrote:
You might not start off getting hundreds of dollars for a single post. But one of my first paid posts earned over $450. From a single post!
Some friends of mine like Tom Kuegler and Niklas Goeke are making substantially more than I am through writing many members-only posts per month. Study those guys and see what they do. I promise you, they know what they’re doing.
3. Automated Online Courses
Online courses are great. Automated online courses are even better.
When you subscribe to my email list, you’re sent to a page that automatically plays a video pitching my $28 online course. I get about 1–3 sales per day (sometimes 5–6). The course is self-led, which means I’ve removed myself from the process — the definition of passive income.
Here’s a screenshot of the income for that particular course from the past few months. I wake up every morning and almost always see an increase. There’s nothing quite like waking up and seeing you made a few hundred bucks while you slept.
Author Derek Sivers once said, “What is obvious to you is amazing to others.” If you can give people an easy-to-understand solution to a problem they have, they’ll pay for you for it. If you can automate it, you’re miles ahead of the game.
If you’re like me, it’s the technical part that scares you. But actually plugging in the content to an online course is the easy part! If you already have the content, you’re over half done.
I’ve found that I don’t prioritize coaching as much as others; I prefer teaching larger groups in class-and-course settings. However, 1-on-1 (and group) coaching is an extremely common and popular way to make money as a writer.
Here’s the most important truth I’ve learned about coaching:
People aren’t paying you for coaching, they’re paying you for a result.
If you can get people the result they want — a bigger email list, more views, a book deal, how to get from “A” to “B” — you can charge practically whatever you want. These results are priceless.
Some writers I know charge $200 for a coaching package; others charge $2,000. If you can provide the results your clients want, you can charge whatever you’d like.
Getting clients isn’t that difficult, either. An easy way is to simply let your readers know:
- In your Call to Action (at the end of your articles)
- In emails to your subscribers
- At the end of a webinar/training
My friend Tom Kuegler observed that perhaps 30–40% of webinar signups actually attend the webinar, and 20–30% of attendees might buy the product. If you only get 50 signups and offer a $200 coaching package, that could be about 3 clients.
The 3 Worst Ways to Earn Income Writing in 2018
There are lots of ways to earn income as a writer, but in 5 years of writing, these are the 3 absolute worst and ineffective ways I’ve found to earn income.
1. Write books
The ultimate dream of many writers doesn’t come with a lot of money.
Prolific author James Altucher has written nearly 20 books. In his most recent, Choose Yourself, he confirmed that actual book deals didn’t make him a lot of money. He explained he earned about $50,000 total from one of his best-selling books — nothing to scoff at, but no fortune, either.
I recently signed my first book deal. It feels amazing. I’m going to be a published author!
But I’ve learned that an average cut from traditionally-published books is only about 10% — 15%. Even with a modest advance, that’s not a lot. Self-publishing can be more lucrative, but even selling 10,000 books (a monumental feat for most new writers) at $10 will only give you around $50,000 after taxes, royalties, and cuts from places like Amazon.
A top-tier, high-quality book takes a long time to write; some of the best full-time authors I follow can only publish 1 book per year.
Writing books obviously isn’t a bad idea. But in terms of earning income, they’re one of the least viable options.
The most important truth I’ve learned about books is that they’re a platform to earn income from other projects — related online courses, coaching, and seminars, etc.
My dad, bless his heart, still asks me why I don’t have any banner ads or other advertisements on my blog or in my articles.
Ads used to work (if only a little). But not anymore.
I hate ads. I hate them. I never click on them, ever. Most people don’t, either.
Ads work like most affiliate links do — if a reader clicks on the ad and buys the product, you get a little cut.
But hardly anyone reads blogs anymore. Unless you have an enormous readership for your personal blog (I’m talking about 10,000+ views/day), ads aren’t going to earn you any noticeable income.
Readers today are only satisfied with high-caliber, top-quality content that provides immense value. Then, when you build enough trust with them (what Gary Vaynerchuk calls “jab, jab, jab, right hook”), you can pitch them a product.
But ads don’t work anymore. No one wants them, no one clicks them, and the income you earn is minuscule while you repel readers with ugly advertisements.
3. SEO and Paid Links
SEO is dead.
Some writers may fight me on this, and I’d love to discuss it. But I worked for an SEO boutique firm for a year after college, and even in 2013 SEO was sinking. Trying to game Google and Facebook for viewers and scrollers simply isn’t a viable option anymore.
Google is constantly advancing their already-Zodiac-level algorithms to provide only the most relevant value for users, and paying more isn’t helping your ads get more clicks anymore.
Same for Facebook; they’ve openly stated they’re moving away from updates from “companies” and more from friends and family on your newsfeed.
If you can write amazing, incredible content full of value that people will read, Google will heavily favor you more than mediocre writers’ advertisements — even if their wallet is bigger than yours.
Don’t focus on gaming the system; focus on writing better.
Bonus: Other Dubious Strategies To Be Wary Of
1. Asking for Tips
I’m not including Patreon in this; although I’ve heard mixed reviews of it, I know some writers are making decent income asking for donations through Patreon.
What I am talking about is gimmicky pitches like “buy me a coffee!” or “donate $5 towards my hosting fees!”
Perhaps these strategies work, but what I’ve seen isn’t encouraging. I’ve seen writers with well over 100,000 followers who experimented with a “buy me a coffee” tipping strategy, but their public records of the donations showed only a handful of coffees per month.
You’d do better to focus on other income streams.
2. Pitching Sponsors
A lot of writers are wisely expanding into other mediums — video and vlogging are becoming more popular than ever.
But a huge mistake many writers make is trying to secure sponsors for their work.
For over 4 years, I pitched every big-name website out there — Forbes, Fast Company, Huffington Post, CNN, Business Insider, you name it. I even pitched small-to-mid-level bloggers, podcasters, authors, and writers to offer my guest posts.
No one ever responded.
But in the past 6 months, I’ve been featured on these enormous sites. I post regularly to CNBC, Thought Catalog, Thrive Global, etc. My articles on Business Insider have been translated into several languages. I’ve been invited to speak on podcasts, at conferences, and in writer summits.
It’s simple: I invested a ton of effort, time, and money into becoming an elite writer. Then, everyone came to me.
The truth is, no one wants your pitches. Instead, you should, as Steve Martin famously said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
In the words of author and CEO Russel Brunson:
“Once a buyer, always a buyer.”
Brunson went on to say that there are only 2 reasons a buyer will stop buying from you:
- You offend them
- You stop selling them stuff
If you can provide immense value for a reasonable price, you’ll get customers.
But to get customers, you need to invest in yourself and focus on the right strategies. Writing has changed in the past decade; ads don’t work anymore. SEO isn’t a viable option.
Better to focus on learning tools like online course creation and unobtrusive affiliate links instead of putting in another year on your unfinished manuscript you’ve never shown anyone, hoping for an instant best-seller and big paycheck someday.
I spent over 4 years toiling in online mediocrity. My writing wasn’t good, but I wasn’t willing to invest in myself to get better. I didn’t learn new skills. I stuck to the “traditional” ways of making money online, which got me nowhere.
You don’t have to waste 4 years like I did.