Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore how to diversify your income and future-proof your creative career. But first, why is this so important?
I’ve attended a lot of writing groups in my life. In one session, I remember a guest author saying that she didn’t know a single author who made a living solely off of their books.
At the time, I was determined to be the exception. Sometimes I still daydream about living entirely off of book sales. But book sales are incredibly fickle. They can change wildly from one month to the next, and sometimes books fall out of favor entirely. Most authors don’t make a living from book sales alone until they’ve got a backlist with five, ten, twenty books. Even then, sales can dry up if you’re not constantly producing new work.
So what’s an author to do? How can you make a living while you work on books one through five? How can you ensure that you’ll still have an income if one of your books or series falls out of favor? What can you do to make sure that your creative career lasts a lifetime? You can diversify your income.
What is income diversification?
Diversifying your income is exactly what it sounds like: the process of creating multiple income streams. These income streams can come from anywhere, including a day job or rental property. For the purposes of this article, however, I’m going to focus on income streams related to writing.
How to diversify the income from each book
One of the greatest things about being an author is that one book can create several streams of income. You’ve probably already even got two of them set up: ebook sales and print book sales. You might even have audiobook sales as a third income stream. With a little creativity, you can multiply these into dozens of income streams for a single book.
Here’s a quick list of potential income streams that can be developed from a single book:
- Merch sales
- Sales of foreign publication and translation rights
- Licensing of your world and/or characters for a game
- Sales of adaptation rights for a film or play
- Limited/special editions
- A monthly subscription that shares worldbuilding/character details, short stories related to your book(s), deleted scenes, etc.
As you can see, there are almost endless possibilities to earn income from a single novel or series. However, in order to see success with these income streams, you’ll need to already have some success with your books and/or an agent. This means that at the beginning of your author career, you can build an income more quickly by using your writing and writing-related skills to make income in other ways.
Income opportunities for writers
Making a living as a fiction author is incredibly difficult, but there are many other ways to use writing and editing skills to make money. If you’ve taught yourself other publishing-related skills such as graphic design, formatting, social media management, or podcast and/or video creation, you can find even more opportunities.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of alternative ways to make money with your writing, editing, and publishing skills:
- Book editor. This tends to be the first thing authors consider when seeking alternative forms of income. After all, you get to read lots of neat books, and every time you edit a book you learn something you can apply to your own writing. Editing also offers the built-in benefit of networking with authors who may also be able to support you in your author career. You can provide developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, or all three. Learn more about becoming a book editor.
- Story consultant. A story consultant is someone who meets with people who have a rough idea for a book (or show/play/movie/game) and helps them transform their rough ideas into compelling story outlines. In some cases, this service is part of a developmental editing package.
- Blog writer. Blogs are the core marketing tool for a lot of businesses, especially companies that provide B2B (business to business) products or services, and there are more well-paid opportunities for bloggers every year. However, most of these opportunities aren’t related to publishing or fiction. If you want to make a decent income as a blogger, you’ll need to find another niche (or three) you’re interested in writing about. Learn how to become a freelance blogger.
- Copywriter. Copy is any text meant to encourage viewers to interact with a brand, service, or product in some way. More specifically, the term “copywriter” is usually used to describe someone who writes sales text, such as the product descriptions on a website.
- Ghostwriter. A ghostwriter creates content that will be published under the name of another person or company. There are lots of ghostwriting jobs in various genres including romance, science fiction/fantasy, memoir, and autobiography.
- Book formatter. If you’ve formatted your own books and you’re comfortable with the process, consider offering formatting services to other authors.
- Transcriptionist. You can offer transcription services to podcast hosts and YouTube channels. Learn more about becoming a transcriptionist.
- Educator. Another great way to capitalize on your writing, editing, and publishing skills is to develop workbooks, workshops, and/or online video courses. You can teach things related to writing/publishing or anything else you have significant knowledge of.
As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities for people with excellent written communication skills. There are thousands of opportunities within every one of the categories listed above, and whole categories of writing jobs that I haven’t listed.
You may also want to consider some non-writing income streams:
- Virtual assistant. If you’re comfortable managing inboxes, spreadsheets, and calendars, virtual assistant work may be a great way to diversify your income. You may even be able to get a job working for another author, and learn some things about publishing in the process.
- Art seller. If you create digital art, paintings, sculpture, jewelry, or any other kind of craft, you can sell them online. Many creators do this through Etsy, but there are other ecommerce site builders like Ecwid.
- Website tester. You can get paid to explore websites, completing a specified series of actions, and share your opinions on the process. And you don’t need any experience with web design or coding; these sites are looking for a genuine user experience. You can find this type of work on UserTesting.com.
Again, these are only a few of the options out there; the internet can provide endless ways to earn money, if you’re willing to put in the research.
How to choose the right income stream(s) to develop
The variety of ways to build an income around writing can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. What type of work will you enjoy enough to continue doing it for a significant period of time? What type of work best fits with your current schedule and lifestyle?
Here’s a quick visualization exercise to help you determine the best way(s) to diversify your income:
- Choose one of the income streams listed above (book-related or otherwise) and close your eyes.
- Imagine yourself doing this type of work. How does it feel? Are you excited about it? Does it come naturally to you? Does it seem at least as interesting, fulfilling, or flexible than your current work?
- If this type of work seems fulfilling, read 1-3 articles on how to build that income stream. How much time do you need to set up this income stream? How much time do you need to devote to this work to make a reasonable amount of money? Can you fit this around your current schedule? If not, are you willing to sacrifice other parts of your schedule to make this work?
Repeat this with each income stream on the list until you find one that feels right for both your personality and your lifestyle.
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