Make a Living as a Writer, Part 2


In my last post, we discussed “volume” as a key to being able to support yourself as a writer. Today we’ll talk about the second key: Variety.

A lot of people are wondering what I mean by this, because we’ve all had it pounded into us that we need to “brand” ourselves, we need to find a niche and write to a certain audience in order to build a following. That’s all true, especially for writers just getting established and trying to find their audience. Your best chance is to “specialize” so that each book continues to build your audience.

If you’re traditionally published, you also have an obligation to your publisher, not only to abide by the specifics of your contract and whatever the non-compete section says, but also to make sure you’re putting your energy into making those contracted books as successful as possible. This means writing them to the best of your ability (without so many distractions that you can’t do your best work) and it also means having the time and energy to devote to marketing.

But there are people who have found a way to make “writing” their full time living. How do they do it? 

It’s variety… as much as volume.

There are a number of ways writers can vary what they’re writing to increase their income potential. Here are some ideas:

1. Digitally self publish shorter works. If you’re a novelist, consider writing some non-competing short stories or novellas that come “in between” your novels and help prime readers for your next novel. Non-fiction writers can write shorter resources that stay with their brand yet don’t compete with their main books but instead, enhance them or expand upon them. (*See note below.)

2. Write in another genre, possibly under another name. If you’re publishing contemporary romance and you’ve written another series in the suspense genre, your publisher may not want to consider it because it’s “off brand.” However, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with no place to go. You may be able to independently publish, or you may find another publisher for that genre if you use a pseudonym.* Just be careful—like I said above, you have to make sure you have the time and energy to make each book the best it can be, and properly promote each one. This is easier said than done, and if you have an agent, it’s crucial you thoroughly discuss it.

3. Write something completely different. Many authors grow their income by writing articles for magazines and online journals, or by writing Bible studies or devotionals. Novelists can consider writing on non-fiction topics in their area of interest or expertise.

4. Look for work writing marketing copy or online copy. Many organizations need press releases, newsletters, website content, and other kinds of writing. Admittedly, this may not make you a great deal of money, but I know plenty of writers who supplement their incomes this way.

5. Consider work-for-hire or ghostwriting. This isn’t easy to break into, and may require that you do some work for little money until you prove yourself. But some people have a special talent for ghostwriting and can make a good living doing it.

It’s not very exciting or romantic… but most full time writers have to branch out in one way or another. They’re not spending all their time doing their favorite kind of writing.

To tell the truth, few people are cut out for this kind of writing life, the kind that involves “piecing together” a living from a variety of different writing-related income sources. You have to be pretty scrappy (or well-connected) to make it happen. In the end, you may conclude that the day job is just fine, thank-you-very-much.

Have you considered various kinds of writing to reach the goal of being a full-time writer? Does it sound like something you’d want to do?

*P.S. If you have traditional publishing contracts, there may be restrictions on your ability to self-publish. Talk with your agent before proceeding.



Two keys to making a living as a writer: Volume and Variety. Click to Tweet.

Are you ready to piece together a living through different kinds of writing? Click to Tweet.

The day job is looking better & better! Truth on making a living as a writer. Click to Tweet.

The second key to making a living as a writer: VARIETY. Click to Tweet.



Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Salon – I’m a Self-Publishing Failure (an April Fool’s post) Chuck Wendig – When Self-Publishing Is Just Screaming Into The Void Rachelle Gardner – Making a Living as a Writer – Part One Rachelle Gardner – Making a Living as a Writer – Part Two […]

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  3. Madison Johns on March 28, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    I find this very challenging. I’m an independant author and I have struggled with variety. I first wrote a cozy mystery and then wrote a romance novella. I have had the worse time selling the novella. Romance can’t be dead. I don’t believe that for a minute. All everyone tells me they want is another in the series. I hate the thought of being stuck with writing about the same characters all the time. As a writer I want variety! I love creating new characters, but I also need to find my audience.

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  7. Adam Porter (@AtlasProWriter) on March 26, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Variety can be challenging, but it is a terrific way to grow as a writer. In a given day – let’s take today, for example – I will work on a novel, a nonfiction book, a travel story, marketing copy, social media development, a news piece, ghostwriting, a video script…and whatever else hits my inbox.

    Each of these jobs requires a different approach and style of writing. Becoming proficient at each of these formats is challenging, but, for me, the reward has been the opportunity to provide for my family so my bride can live her dream of being home with our kids.

    And there’s the priceless benefit, for me, of being able to work from home. Two results that make all the work well worth it.

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  10. Cynthia Washburn on March 23, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    People have different financial needs at different times in their life. I think it would be difficult to substitute a well paid professional job in another area with a writing career but some people are stay at home parents with a supporting spouse or semi-retired or on disability. You can also spend a fair amount of money supporting a full time job — commuting to and from, etc.

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  12. Anna Labno on March 23, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    And I didn’t mention that another job can help you pay for conferences. I try to attend at least one or two per year.
    I did envy other writers who write full time, but I’m happy where I am.

  13. Anna Labno on March 23, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    In a way, I’m happy that I have a full time job outside my home. I’m not stressed to make money only from writing. I can work on my breakout novel in the meantime. I don’t have to write what I don’t want.
    Yes, I can’t write fast and produce a lot. But I rather publish something that I like than have something out there that I’m not really happy with. I wouldn’t like to be forced to do writing that would put me to sleep.
    But I was thinking writing for magazines and journals. I have short stories to tell. And I love to share what I know.

  14. Teri Brown on March 23, 2013 at 7:14 AM

    I write YA (Harper Collins)and adult (S&S)fiction. I am also considering some independent publishing and historical New Adult. My brand is still evolving, but deals with detailed historicals for all genres… I’m unlikely to step out of this for another year or so as I want to build a following. I also write NF for magazines on occasion. Its a living but its not easy! Lots of juggling of deadlines and promotion.

  15. Elizabeth Saunders on March 22, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    I’ve been incorporating variety like this the last couple of years: freelance journalism, copyediting, and recently, research. I don’t know if I have the energy to be this scrappy! I’m learning to throttle back on unpaid things like blogging, so I can actually finish my book.

  16. Rosanne Dingli on March 22, 2013 at 10:10 PM

    I have been doing exactly this with some success since 1985, and am here to say it’s very possible, but far from easy. There are dozens of us who live this way – it’s not possible for all novelists to live by their fiction alone, so they need to diversify.

  17. Dan Erickson on March 22, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    Great post. Variety is a wonderful thing. I need to do something completely different this summer. Probably a short e-book.

  18. Dan Erickson on March 22, 2013 at 8:34 PM

    Great post, Rachelle. I started as a songwriter, then went to college and learned how to write essays, then worked in radio and learned how to write copy, then started teaching and learned how to write reports. Now I’m focusing on fiction and poetry, but I make a point to do exactly what you’re saying – variety.

  19. Jim Gullo on March 22, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    You forgot to mention another critical key to success: Marry well!

    Not only in terms of having a spouse who can financially support your writing jones, but having a spouse who is willing to ride through the vagaries of a writer’s income and creative ups and downs.

    • Terrance Leon Austin on March 22, 2013 at 6:36 PM

      I agree Jim.

    • Rosanne Dingli on March 22, 2013 at 10:14 PM

      A supportive spouse can be a miraculous addition to the trimuvirate of hard work, dedication, persistence and thick skin. Oh – that’s four! Not only financial, but also morale-boosting support can be so inspirational. And the occasional offer to put dinner on, drive the kids, feed the cat or bring in the washing is also like gold. But you don’t have to actually MARRY this wonderful person!!

  20. Veronica Sicoe on March 22, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    I’ve definitely considered your number 1, and that’s likely the approach I’ll take. 🙂

    Great post.

  21. James Scott Bell on March 22, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Well, I’ve found the new digital universe allows variety of genre, too. that thought last year, and since then zombie legal thrillers, vigilante nuns, 1950s L.A. boxing stories, a new stand alone suspense and a couple of books on writing have followed, all cross-pollinating. The “brand” is me. The genres are distinguished by cover design.

    For hybrid authors, this is time for a good strategy meeting with agent and publisher. The publishers who are going to survive are those who see the benefits of a wide ranging strategy. The writer who is going to thrive will be laying that foundation now.

    • Elizabeth Saunders on March 22, 2013 at 11:35 PM

      I like that idea! – You as the brand, with different cover styles for different genres.

      • Andrew Man on March 23, 2013 at 6:55 AM

        Good idea – which I have used having different front covers for the same book!
        It means using two publishers, but different covers are can attract different genders in different markets – (US/UK). Best is it enables different pricing, but maybe you can only do this as an Indie author?

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  23. Jeanne T on March 22, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    As much as I’d love to be a full-time writer, your posts show how much is required of one following this route. At this season of my life, I probably couldn’t do it. 🙂 I so appreciate all the ideas you give though, like looking at publishing an ebook between other books to up reader interest. Of course, it would help to get a book published first. 🙂

    Thanks, Rachelle.

  24. Kathleen S. Allen on March 22, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    I agree that variety is key. I write in different genres under my real name, mainly YA and adult mysteries. I also teach as an adjunct instructor at a local college and was writing informational articles but gave it up to focus more on my “fun” writing. I have worked as an editor, an online instructor, a scorer for standardized testing, and as a computer game writer. I still have a day job that doesn’t involve writing and hope to give it up as soon as I find a full-time teaching job at a college. So, yes, variety is good along with volume. I just published my 14th book with a small press and my goal is to get to 25 in the next few years. I am revising my next one and still looking for an agent!

  25. Terrance Leon Austin on March 22, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Thanks Rachelle.
    Your post are very informative. Following on your blog post is a representation in itself. You help aspiring authors like me to learn certain aspects of the business. Thanks for your time and energy with your post. You are a blessing reaching all the way in Georgia. Thanks again.

  26. Isabel Thomas on March 22, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    I’m a full time writer, thanks to variety and volume! Before I was able to write full time, I worked as a commissioning editor for various publishers.

    A key point I’d add is – be a pleasure to work with. Publishing is a small industry, and people move around a lot. When an editor moves a new company, they will take their contacts book with them. Be quick, efficient, helpful, attentive to detail, and don’t let ego get in the way. See yourself as part of the wider publishing team, and be a great team member.

    • Jeanne T on March 22, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      You bring up some great points. Whether I ever work for a publisher in some capacity, or I am able to get magazine articles published, or work in some other writing format it’s good to be easy to work with. Keeping a “working as a team” mindset serves wherever I work. Thanks for the reminder.

    • lisa on March 23, 2013 at 10:10 AM

      Great points, I find them to be very true!

  27. Sue Harrison on March 22, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Wow, I love this post, Rachelle. It really makes me think. I’ve had a middle readers novel published in the past. It’s still in print with a small press. I wonder if I should approach them with the on-my-shelf middle readers novel that’s complete, but that I’ve not ever sent out to publishers. Hmmm.

    Meanwhile, I’ve found that writing for 2 online sources – a how-to writing blog and an online women’s magazine – has really increased the traffic flow to my website and blog.

  28. Erin on March 22, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    I disagree about marketing writing/online copy. I earn the bulk of my income from writing for web for companies. And I spend significantly less time writing for web than I do for books/articles/print.

    Great series, by the way! Questions I’ve been asking myself… thank you!

  29. Michael Seese on March 22, 2013 at 7:33 AM

    Not that I would presume I know better than folks in the industry, but logically, I would think writing in two genres — such as YA and literary fiction — could offer some benefits. For example, a parent goes to a bookstore to pick up my YA thriller for her son / daughter, and then sees my “grown-up” book and thinks, “Oh, I heard about this. I’ll check it out.”

  30. Ernie Zelinski on March 22, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    Yes, I tried expanding into different areas.

    I wrote an inspirational novel (also known as a parable or fable) several years ago called “Look Ma, Life’s Easy”. I ended up selling the foreign rights (Korean, Spanish, French, Russian, and Chinese) to publishers in five countries. The total profits I made from these rights was exactly $16,669.

    I still haven’t published an English print edition of “Look Ma, Life’s Easy” but I have done a Kindle edition. The Kindle edition has sold fewer than 100 copies.

    I have also tried other areas that are different than my core area and have had modest success at best.

    Variety is great if it works.

    I always come back to one of the most important books that I have ever read called “Living the 80/20 Way” by Richard Koch. It is subtitled “Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More”.

    Koch recommends that we look at what is bringing us the most success. He says that this is what we should focus on – because the success is likely no mistake.

    With this in mind, I think the best approach is to focus on what brings us the most success and once we are making a good living from our creative works (like I am now), we can expand into other areas just for the fun of it.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  31. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on March 22, 2013 at 1:54 AM

    Very timely post for me – I’m finishing up a nonfiction book, and about to start another.

    Just writing something completely different has been challenging, but I think a necessary step in the maturing process as a writer. It’s a return to fundamentals, where message is paramount, and atmosphere a necessary luxury.

    One thing I wonder – and would like to toss out there in case anyone feels like giving advice…

    The NF works should have a good platform for speaking engagement, and publishing them under a nom de plume (and appearing behind a podium with that n de p) would feel just flat weird.


    • Ernie Zelinski on March 22, 2013 at 7:07 AM

      I believe that Eben Pagan, who first published a PDF ebook called “Double Your Dating” under the alias David DeAngelo, uses his alias when conducting speeches and seminars related to dating and relationships.

      On the other hand, he uses his real name when conducting seminars and workshops related to time management, solo entrepreneurship, and internet marketing.

      As an aside, the little PDF ebook “Double Your Dating” is what got Eben Pagan started to his great success. Today he makes over $30 million a year from his books and seminars working from his home office and using only a few outsourced workers. Compare that to the company with 500 or 1,000 workers that boasts that it made $2 million in a year.