How to Make $100,000 a Year as a Writer

By Dave Trottier

Thousands of writers have earned and do earn six figures annually, including Yours Truly.  Why not you? 

My primary purpose is to help you accomplish just that—earn a six-figure writing income.  A secondary purpose is to help you create a writing career, to make a living, to sell what you write.  If you are serious about any of these goals, then read what follows carefully and take the necessary steps to achieve your financial goals. 

I will refer to The Freelance Writer’s Bible often.  There’s a tremendous amount of useful information in that book, which is why it’s endorsed by dozens of professional writers.  All page references are to that book.

 Our focus will be on those writing areas that are potentially the most lucrative, including the following:

  • Copywriting
  • Book writing (non-fiction, fiction, children’s books)
  • Scriptwriting for business
  • Screenwriting for motion pictures and TV
  • Self-publishing and entrepreneurial writing
  • Other: columns, ghosting, technical, and more

Don’t dismiss any of these writing areas without first learning about each. 

To all writers, I recommend you read (or at least review) pages 3-84 (of The Freelance Writer’s Bible) to find your writing soul, create a mission statement, overcome fears, learn how to think like a working writer, and discover the true nature of creativity, among other things.

COPYWRITING

Copy refers to the actual words in ads, brochures and other marketing collateral. This may be the most stable writing area, and it’s certainly one of the most profitable.  Most anyone with moderate to good writing talent and some gumption can succeed at some level in this arena. 

Start-up costs are next to nothing for a copywriting business, and it only takes about a year before you are an independent, freelance writer, making a reasonably steady income.  Some writers accomplish that in less time.   This is where I got my start as a working writer.

Step 1.  Set up your business.   See pages 87-92.  (All page references are to The Freelance Writer’s Bible.)  On page 92, you’ll find a guideline as to what you can charge clients for your work. 

Step 2Understand the nature of copywriting and the particular areas that are of interest to you.  Writing copy for brochures pays well and may be one of the less difficult areas to break into.   Newsletters and print advertising copy are other "break in" areas to consider.  Read pages 102-111 for specific information on copywriting opportunities.  

Step 3Create credibility in the eyes of prospective clients.  See the bottom of page 93 and the top of page 94 for specific ways to get off to a fast start.

Step 4.  Find and keep clients.  Study all of pages 93-99, which includes 20 ways to attract clients.  One of the keys to a successful freelance business is to cultivate relationships.  You mainly do that by doing good work for your clients.  The word spreads in such situations.  Notice in the pages referred to how you can build your business using other businesses, such as ad agencies.  This is fun! 

Don’t forget to keep track of clients and contacts, and use the Project Plan and Action Plan forms provided on pages 216-222.

Step 5.  Get paid.  See pages 100-101 for information on this crucial topic.  Don’t miss my advice on how to double your profits on page 122.       

Step 6.  Make your dream come true with the help of a strategic marketing plan.  This is really Step 1, but you cannot adequately accomplish this step without having read the material referred to in Steps 1-5.  See pages 195-222 for direction.  A specific strategic marketing plan empowers you; the process of creating it helps you see precisely what you can accomplish.  Keep in mind that obstacles will appear and that your plan will need to be adapted and even changed as you persevere on your journey to a fulfilling writing career. 

On pages 234-241 you’ll see an actual strategic marketing plan used by a student of mine to create an income of over $100,000 a year.

SCRIPTWRITING FOR BUSINESS

In my seminars, I find that this is one opportunity that most writers haven’t considered.  It’s an arena full of opportunity plus it’s very gratifying.

Step 1.  Set up your business.  See pages 87-91.  (All page references are to The Freelance Writer’s Bible.)

Step 2.  Find work.  This area is closely related to copywriting, which we’ve already discussed.  Consider reviewing pages 93-99 for specific direction on how to find clients.  In addition, read pages 112-114 which focuses on finding scriptwriting projects that you can write and be paid for. 

Step 3.  Write the script.  Pages 114-116 explain the process normally used in business and education to write a script, including the two formatting styles most often used.

Step 4.  Get paid.  See page 117 for the typical compensation contract, and page 122 for advice on how to multiply your profits as a business writer.

Step 5.  Make your dream come true with the help of a strategic marketing plan.  This is actually Step 1.  See pages 195-222 for direction.  A specific strategic marketing plan empowers you; the process of creating it helps you see precisely what you can accomplish.  Keep in mind that obstacles will appear and that your plan will need to be adapted and even changed as you persevere on your journey to a fulfilling writing career.  On pages 234-241 you’ll see an actual strategic marketing plan used by a student of mine to create an income of over $100,000 a year.

SCREENWRITING AND TV WRITING

Hollywood.  Dreams are made and dreams are dashes to pieces.  You need two things to succeed here: 1) One or more superb screenplays and 2) timing.  You are not in control of the timing, but you are in control of the writing and marketing.  You may not find immediate success, but the rewards for your perseverance are bountiful.

Step 1.  Write a screenplay.  Whether you want to break into television or the movies, the first step is the same—write a dynamite 90-120 page screenplay that has strong concept and marketing elements.  For information on how to write, format, and sell a screenplay, read the classic, highly-acclaimed Screenwriter’s Bible.

Step 2.  Pitch and play.  Pitching comes in two forms: writing a query letter or orally pitching to producers and agents.  

If you want to break into the movies, your query or oral pitch, if successful, will find you a producer who wants to buy your script or (more likely) who wants to hire you to write his or her idea into a script.  This is called a development deal.  If you pitched to an agent (rather than a producer), the agent will find you a producer.  See pages 145-148 in The Freelance Writer’s Bible.

If you want to break into series television, your will most likely need an agent who can connect you with the producer.  The producer will want to see your motion picture screenplay to see if you can create characters from scratch; he or she will also want to see a couple of sample TV scripts.  If all goes well, you will be asked to pitch episode ideas, and if hired, you will be placed on staff.   Once you are established, you will have what might be the most secure and lucrative writing position in Hollywood.  See pages 148-149.

Of course, there are other ways to break in and build a career as a screenwriter or TV writer.  See my MuseLetter article Hollywood’s Back Door.

Step 3.  Make your dream come true with the help of a strategic marketing plan.  Refer to Steps 1 and 2 first, and then create this before doing Steps 1 and 2.  See pages 195-224 for direction.  A specific strategic marketing plan empowers you; the process of creating it helps you see precisely what you can accomplish.  Keep in mind that obstacles will appear and that your plan will need to be adapted and even changed as you persevere on your journey to a fulfilling writing career.

BOOKS

Whether you write a novel, children’s book, or non-fiction book, the goal is to get a deal with a large publisher.   Generally, the process is faster for a non-fiction book than for a novel.

Step 1.  Set a foundation or platform from which you can market your book.  One way to do that is to publish a couple of articles (see pages 123-136) and/or short stories (see pages 140-141) in national or regional publications.  This will create credibility in your writing and publishing ability.

Step 2.  Conduct your marketing research.  Before you write a page, make sure there is a market for your work.  You do want to make six figures, right?  If you want to write a non-fiction, see what has been written on the same topic.  Why will your book be better?  Who is going to buy your book?

Step 3.  Write the book proposal.   Don’t write the book yet.  My advice is to "sell it before you write it."  See pages 150-162; those pages include a sample book proposal for a non-fiction book.  If you want to write and sell a novel, see pages 162-166.

Step 4.  Market the proposal.  Although you don’t need an agent to secure a book contract, it helps to get one.  See pages 166-168 for direction.  In some cases, you may need to write a query letter before you can submit a book proposal to a publisher or agent.  See pages 128-136 for querying examples.  

Agents are seldom used to sell children’s books.   If writing for children is your game, see pages 168-172 for guidance. 

Step 5.  Write the book, once you get the go-ahead from the agent or publisher.  The higher the advance and larger the "lay down," the better your chances for success.  See pages 165-166.

Step 6.  Promote the book.  This includes book signings, book tours, interviews, a possible web site, and other promotional activities.  See pages 151-152 and 159-160.  You will get other ideas while reading pages 172-192.

Step 7.  Make your dream come true with the help of a strategic marketing plan.  This is really Step 1.  See pages 195-224 for direction.  A specific strategic marketing plan empowers you; the process of creating it helps you see precisely what you can accomplish.  Keep in mind that obstacles will appear and that your plan will need to be adapted and even changed as you persevere on your journey to a fulfilling writing career.

SELF-PUBLISHING & ENTREPRENEURIAL WRITING

Virtually all writing areas require little-to-no investment in terms of money.  This area will require a little money and some risk (although I’ll show you how to lower your risk), but the rewards can be huge.   Many writers who want a publishing contract begin by self-publishing their book, establishing a track record, and then making a deal with a publisher.  That’s exactly what I did with The Screenwriter’s Bible.  It’s a self-publishing success story.  Let’s go through the steps.

Step 1.  Identify a market and a need.  I realize that in some cases, the book or report might already be written.  In that case, identify the market your book best fits and the needs that your book meets.   Some books, like novels, may be aimed at a general audience.  See pages 173-174 and 183-185.

Step 2.  Outline the book.  You need a good idea of the content before taking the next step

Step 3.  Plan the marketing and test the waters.   Before you invest a lot of time and money in writing and printing the book, try to get an idea of its marketing potential with a test.  See pages 172-176, especially pages 174-176; also, pages 195-224

Step 4.  Write and print the book.  You will need to get an ISBN number, permissions for quotes, and other enhancements.   Remember, you are now acting as a publisher.  See pages 177-179

Step 5.  Implement your marketing plan.  Distribute the book.  Bookstores are just one avenue.  Pages 179-192 will give you ideas.

Step 5.  Spin-offs.  This is where the fun really begins!  At this stage, you identify other media (including e-books; see pages 187-188) and other markets for your content.  This is where financial empires are built; examples include Robert Allen (real estate books and reports), Richard Paul Evans (feel good novels), and Jeffrey Lant (marketing books and reports).  See pages 179-192 for guidance on how to build your empire using a variety of media to distribute your content to a variety of markets.

COLUMNS

Syndication.  That’s where the money is in newspaper columns.  Let’s say you get paid $50 to write a column for a newspaper.  That’s peanuts.  But if that column appears in 100 newspapers...and it’s weekly.  Let’s see, that’s a quarter million dollars.  To learn how to build to that, see pages 137-140.

MAKING A STEADY INCOME

There’s no such a thing as a consistent, steady income in the writing business, but some areas come closer than others.  The following writing arenas are most likely to provide you with a "steady income" once you have your footing: copywriting, scriptwriting for business, screenwriting for the indie, cable, and alternative markets, TV/cable series writing, children’s books, columns, technical writing, article writing, self publishing and entrepreneurial writing.   Many writers finance their major novel or screenwriting project by working in some of the other writing areas listed above in this section and below in the next.

OTHER WRITING OPPORTUNITIES

The Freelance Writer’s Bible also includes specific guidance in the areas of ghost writing, technical writing, greeting cards, magazine articles, stories, and more.

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