How to (realistically) make six figures as a writer

How one author brings home six figures each year without a day job – and how you can, too.

How one author brings home six figures each year without a day job – and how you can, too.

 

Next steps to take to earn more money as a writer

  1. Write. Keep writing. When you finish a book, write another one. You get better at writing only by writing, not by reading or talking about writing.
  2. Hold hope. Your list of money-making writerly side hustles will look different than mine. I have skills that you might not have. You own talents that I don’t possess. Put together a bunch of side hustles, and you can make real grocery-buying money. I have friends who ghost-write, who teach essay-writing, and who proofread. Be inventive.
  3. Believe in yourself. If you write good books (even though that might take a while to accomplish), you’ll eventually make money when you sell them. While there is a glut of reading material available, I still believe that readers are always looking for their next favorite author (you).

And no matter what, no matter where you are on the writing ladder, it always comes down to the same thing. You just have to write. The most important part of your writing career is finishing the book or project you’re working on now. This is as true for me and you as it is for Meg Wolitzer or Jennifer Egan. Only when the project is done do you get to choose how you attempt to sell it.

And luckily, we live in the best time that’s ever existed for publishing. Our human ancestors have been around for 2 million years, painting their stories on cave walls. Modern man has been around for 200,000 years. Written language has only existed for 3,000 of those. The world wide web has only been around for 28 years, and e-publishing has only been a viable system for the last 11 years. The fact that, in 2 million years, you just happen to be living in the few that allow for mass distribution of your story? It’s incredible.

So we write our books. Then we get to do it all over again. New projects, new dreams, new opportunities for sales, not to mention opportunities for you to share how much money you make, to give other writers hope. Sharing these numbers isn’t easy. Sharing my income will always be stressful to me. I’m left with the same worries as everyone else: Will other writers think I’m a failure? Will they think I’m boastful? Will they think I’m unworthy? Will they think I’m a workaholic or that I’m lazy?

Hopefully, they’ll just know the truth. That writing is the best job in the universe, and that readers will always pay good money to read the truths we share with them.

So keep writing. Hold hope. Be transparent if you can, and shine.

Rachael Herron is the bestselling author of more than two dozen books. Her most recent book is Stolen Things, a 911 thriller ripped from the headlines (Penguin, 2019). She lives in Oakland and saves absolutely no money at all by making her own clothes.

 

This article originally appeared in our December 2019 issue.