Monday 17 September 2018

How do Writers Earn Money?

By Iola Goulton @iolagoulton

I recently came across an advertisement for a website offering a new way for writers to get paid for their work. Having observed the publishing industry for several years, my experience has been twofold:

  • There are more people claiming to have invented a "new way" than there are new ways.
  • Most of the "new ways" are ineffective or unethical.

Anyway, the advertisement got me thinking: how do writers earn money?

Selling Books

Selling books is the obvious source of income for published authors. However, that's one of the many things in life that's easy to say and much harder to do! (Check our archives for some of our previous posts on the topic). Selling books is made even harder by the continuing rise of internet piracy, which Narelle will discuss next week.

Publishing Articles

Many sites pay up front for contributions (but many more pay only in "exposure"). Payment isn't high, and can start from $5 for a 300-word blog post. If this interests you, I suggest checking out sites like Fiverr and Upwork. Just don't get caught up in something unethical, like writing $5 Amazon book reviews for books you haven't read ...


Writers don't actually earn money by blogging. But bloggers can monetise their blogs through advertising, affiliate income, and sponsorship.

The challenge here is traffic. No one is going to want to advertise on a blog no one visits, and many advertising networks won't even sign up bloggers with less than a specified number of page views (e.g. 10,000 page views per month, as measured by Google Analytics).


Most blog advertising is direct advertising. Some websites have enough traffic that they can actually sell their own advertising for a monthly fee (e.g. SBTB, who have 350,000+ page views a month on desktop alone). The advantage of this is you control the content that will appear on your site, and you set the fee so you know how much you'll get paid. The disadvantage for writers advertising on their own site is that you might only want to advertise your own products.

The more common blogger advertising model is to partner with an advertising network such as Google AdSense. Bloggers then provide a blank space which the advertiser fills, and the blogger can be paid on a pay per view (PPV), pay per click (PPC), or on actual sales. Payments will therefore vary depending on traffic and engagement.

I see two issues with using an advertising network:

  • With PPC and other click-through advertising, you're getting paid for taking people away from your website, not keeping them on your website. That's bad for your SEO, which rewards people visiting your site and staying there. It also doesn't say much for your writing if visitors would rather leave than read your content.
  • You don't control the advertisements that are appearing on your blog. 
Both points concern me, but the second concerns me most.

I visit a lot of book blogger sites where the ad spaces are advertising vanity presses (no doubt because Google sees a lot of writers visiting those sties). I'm against vanity presses, so there is no way I'd want advertisements for a product I despise on my site. I want to control what I advertise, which is why I stick with affiliate marketing. While bloggers can block certain categories of advertisers, those categories are broad (dating, drugs, games, sex).

And advertisers can still slip through the cracks. The site which prompted this post was clear that it did not accept adult content. But the first affiliate link I clicked took me to an advertisement for a famous lingerie brand, complete with a lingerie-clad model. The second link took me to a pirate video site. Again, not the products I want my brand to be associated with.

Affiliate Marketing

Organisations such as Amazon have affiliate programmes to encourage website owners and bloggers to advertise their products by providing a small percentage

I am an Amazon affiliate (which earns me around $10 a year—4% of a 99c books means a lot of people have to click through for me to earn enough to get paid!) I'm also an affiliate for several of the products and services I use in writing and blogging, such as CrowdFireMailChimp, SocialJukebox, StoryBlocks, Write! and the 5-Day Website Challenge (which is how I built my Christian Editing and Iola Goulton websites).

I'm also an affiliate for Draft2Digital, even though I don't use their services (yet). This is because I've seen them recommended by others, I've seen the work they do, and know I'll want to use them when the time comes. I also met a D2D representative at a recent conference, and was impressed by their writer-centric focus.

(Yes, all the above links are affiliate links, which means I'll earn a small commission if you buy something from one of those links, but you'll pay the same amount).

Do these schemes earn me a lot of money? No—less than $100 a year, but that's because I don't put a lot of effort into them. Some authors (e.g. Joanna Penn) earn substantial amounts through a combination of high traffic and promoting some high-value products and services. And some bloggers earn a full-time salary through affiliate income.


As with affiliate marketing, sponsorship is working directly with product or service providers. For example, I often get approached by service providers to review their products in exchange for a free pocket (sadly, none of them have yet offered actual money as well!). I don't usually accept these offers, as most of them aren't relevant to my audience (e.g. the quiz app that costs $209 per month).

If you're interested in chasing sponsorship dollars, you'll need an established site and audience, and you'll need to pitch to the brands you're interested in—don't rely on them finding you. I'd also caution writers to be careful about what brands they partner with, and make sure their values align with yours.

Speaking Engagements

Many writers are also speakers, speaking to writers at conferences or local writer groups, or speaking to readers at reader conventions, book clubs, and book signings. Children's authors may also speak in schools. Many of these engagements are unpaid or compensated only with a token gift. Other speaking opportunities are paid, but most are only an honorarium and don't cover the cost of the conference, let alone the associated travel and accommodation costs. Most writers speak as a way of enlarging their platform and giving back to the community, not as a form of income.

There is also the reverse: business professionals who write a book. For this group, a book is a sign of authority in their field, and earnings from the book are secondary to their earnings from their business. These authorities (some of whom do speak on writing or book marketing) are usually paid hundreds or thousands of dollars, as well as having all their expenses covered.

What have I missed? How else can writers earn money from their writing? Let me know in the comments!

About Iola Goulton

Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Unpronounceable Names (Iola is pronounced yo-la, not eye-ola and definitely not Lola).

Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, works as a freelance editor, and has recently introduced an Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter


  1. Hi Iola, this is a great, straight talking overview. Nobody should start off thinking the methods you've listed will be lucrative or easy, and I've tried most of them at some stage. My answer to your question of how do writers earn money is do some cleaning work on the side 😄

    1. That works!

      I was once asked how book reviewers make money. It's a similar answer - we have jobs. Most reviewers get free books (and the occasional Koorong voucher), but we make exactly nothing in cold hard cash.

  2. A few thoughts:
    What I have found works in selling my non-fiction to to have a specific area of 'expertise' to offer in my talks.
    I plan (when my life de-clutters a little) is to do the same for my fiction. I write novels which are Sri-Lanka linked - cross cultural. I plan to offer talks on Sri Lanka and my journey.
    For faith communities: I have experimented with 'The tea-makers daughter: my faith journey'
    For general audience I would like to develop a talk around Sri Lanka 'Sri Lankan tea party'

    1. Patricia, it sounds like you've got some great ideas.

  3. Excellent post, Iola. Thanks for sharing your insights with us.


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