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make money as a writer, technical writer, nonfiction writer,
travel writer, sports writer
22 Ways to Make Money as a
By, Steve Schwarzman
When most people think of writers, they think of fiction writers
struggling to produce great novels. Most writers
make a living in various sorts of business, technical, and
nonfiction writing. So here are 22
ways to make money as a writer...and for more information on
each of these writing fields, visit the
Technical writing is great for writers who have good technical
aptitude. Technical writers these days are often software
documentation writers, but many are writers documenting hardware
(anything from washing machines to aircraft carriers), medical
and pharmaceutical products, and other technical subjects.
Of course, you need more than just writing skills to be a good
tech writer. You've also got to be able to learn technical
material by reading engineering documents (specs in the software
business), talk with SMEs (that's Subject Matter Experts), and
work with the actual product (unless it's a nuclear warhead or
something similar!). Your goal is to acquire a thorough
knowledge of the product so you can then turn around and explain
it in your document.
Technical editing is related to technical writing. It's the
editing of technical documents, and requires not only skill in
editing, but also an understanding of the technical subject
matter so that you can identify possible errors in intelligent
queries to the author.
Document management is the processes and systems of managing an
organization's documents. Sounds a little dry, perhaps, but in
industries like pharmaceuticals, for example, it's absolutely
crucial for an organization to have rigorous systems in place to
track their documents through the writing, editing, and
submission process. You don't really want your drug company to
lose the patient information sheet on someone's individual hard
drive, do you?
Medical writing includes a variety of fields: writing about
pharmaceuticals, medical products, medicine and its specialties,
and others. Often medical writing, in addition to its scientific
nature, requires attention to regulatory or other requirements
that writers need to know.
Scientific writing is a subset of technical writing. Probably a
plurality of tech writers today work in the software industry,
producing either programmer or user documentation. Science
writers, however, are typically a little closer to pure
research, whether working with researchers in various fields of
scientific endeavor to bring their articles to publication,
writing documents required for regulatory approval, or perhaps
grant proposals for scientific research.
Instructional design (ID for those in the know) is the design of
learning. (For lay people, that's the design of training, except
trainers like to focus on the learners, not themselves.) It's by
all means a field in its own right, yet there is some crossover
especially between technical writing and ID. The training world
has moved in recent years from CBT (computer-based training) to
WBT (web-based training) to e-learning (also written elearning),
online learning, and distance learning.
Usability and Interface Design
Usability for web sites and software programs refers to the
ability of the intended users to intuitively navigate through
the functions and achieve whatever their missions might be.
Interface design is the art and science of creating usable web
sites and software.
If you want to get published and make money in books or
magazines, nonfiction is almost always the way to go. Sure,
every now and then you read about a success in fiction such as
Harry Potter, but nonfiction writers usually succeed far more
than fiction writers.
Marketing Communication (Marcom)
Marketing writing - that is, writing in a marketing frame of
mind, not marketing your own writing - is, like technical
writing, among the sorts of writing that allow for a regular
paycheck. And there are those who would say it suits would-be
fiction writers, too, though we will venture no opinion on the
Writing Advertising Copy (Copywriting)
Writing advertising copy is another writing job that actually
pays regularly, like marketing communication and technical
writing. If you really want to write and get paid for it, that's
hard to beat.
Public Relations (PR) Writing
Writing PR - public relations - is the art of disseminating
information to the media so that they print or broadcast your
copy for free (unlike advertising copywriting or marketing
communication). And yes, it's also a writing job that actually
Proposal writing is another form of persuasive writing, like
marketing communication or advertising writing. Perhaps the main
difference is in its structure. Like the others, proposal
writing is writing in order to sell, but the structure of
proposals can be quite precise. Proposals for multimillion
dollar software systems, for example, can be hundreds of pages
long, with an exacting structure determined by the authors of
the RFP (Request for Proposal).
Grant writing is a specific form of proposal writing. Perhaps
the main difference is in its audience: as we see it, anyway,
proposals are mostly for business, while grants are mostly for
nonprofits, for research, and related activities. But we admit
the lines can be gray.
Journalism and News Writing
You're at a party. Someone asks what you do. You say you're a
writer. Most likely, your interlocutor will think you write
novels. But the second choice is probably that you're a
journalist. Journalism, whether print (in newspapers, magazines,
trade journals), in broadcast media (television and radio), or
online really comes down to getting the story and telling it
well. And while most journalists are not rich, journalism is one
of those writing jobs that do actually pay on a regular basis.
For many people, a sports writer is someone like Oscar in The
Odd Couple - loveable but messy. Doubtless there are sports
writers like that, though the ones we know aren't. What people
who write about sports have in common, of course, is a love for
sports and a love for writing.
If you love travel and love writing, what could be better than
writing about travel and getting paid for it as a travel writer?
Visit far-away places or write about your own place - people
love to read about places they've been to and places they
haven't, so there is a market out there for your travel writing.
Perhaps the best stories are true stories of people's lives,
namely biographies. Biographies used to be of famous people
only, but it seems these days that more and more people of
various backgrounds merit biographies, and someone has to write
To write a book, you need to have an idea and be able to convey
it. To translate, you need to understand someone else's ideas in
one language and be able to convey them to other people in
another language. Translation means (unobtrusively) getting
inside the minds of the author and the reader. Translators are
also interpreters, because they translate the ideas of the
author, not just the words. If you are good at figuring out what
other people mean, and if you have the requisite skills in both
the source language and, even more important, in the target
language, you could be a good translator. Of course, you also
have to be a good writer before you can be a translator.
So you want to be a writer? A good way to start is with writing
articles for magazines. This is true if your goal is to be a
freelance writer and also if you are a writer of virtually any
other kind: there's nothing like having "clips" - published
articles - to bolster your writing portfolio (even if they're in
the Journal of Left-Handed Bowling Techniques).
Of course, one of the good things about magazine writing is that
there are multitudes of magazines out there that constitute
paying markets for writers. Another is that most magazine
writing is freelance, allowing you to write on your own time.
There are staff writing jobs at larger magazines, and even small
publications have part-time editors.
Newsletters have been around for a long time, and writing
newsletters (or writing for newsletters) can be a good way for
writers with a message to make some money. Newsletters, whether
paper or electronic, typically have a very tight subject focus,
and each edition is relatively short.
Freelance writers don't get rich quick. However - and this is
good enough - you can make a nice income if you identify market
niches that work for you. You can also supplement your income
with the occasional freelance article. And if you do have a day
job, there's nothing like having published articles, or even
books, on your resume to show that you are an expert in your
field. Finally, freelance writing may land you a job as a
There's another kind of freelance writing besides the common
notion of a creative wordsmith toiling at night in a cloud of
cigarette smoke or whatever. Many writers make a very regular,
very decent living as technical or marcom or advertising
writers, moving from contract to contract. And yes, some of them
also work on writing fiction in the night.
In the old days, self-publishing meant you couldn't find a real
publisher to take your manuscript. While that may still be true
in some cases, times have changed. For some, self-publishing is
a way to make money. This is especially true when you know the
precise market niche your book will fill, and it makes economic
sense for you to be both author and self-publisher.
Self-publishing is also an option when you have a pet project on
a very specific subject that may not warrant the attention of a
trade publisher, but will interest enough people for you to have
a go at it as a self-publisher.
These 22 ideas can help you make money as a writer, whether you
have dreams of one day publishing a novel or just like getting
paid to write. Want more information? You can find books on each
of the subjects mentioned in this article at the Writers Book Mall.
About the author:
Steve Schwarzman is a writer, editor, and translator. This article is adapted
from Writers Book Mall, a site that
offers books, software, and other resources for writers of all kinds.