Making a Living as a Writer: How to Develop a Brand New Income Stream

In one of my earlier Making a Living posts, I talked about brainstorming a list of possible income streams (things you might be able to do to earn money). I shared my experience with starting to expand my copyediting income stream.

But, what if you’re realizing that a lot of the things you see other people doing, apparently for money, are things that you might be able to do, but you have no idea how to get started? I thought in this post, I’d lay out some general steps you can take to research income streams, no matter what they are. This can help you decide which income streams to focus on (you might learn that one just doesn’t pay enough or that another is too hard to break into predictably). And it can also help you actually get started.

Let’s say that you want to start an income stream of teaching in-person workshops to upper elementary school kids on how to write mystery stories. Note: This is NOT something I’ve ever done. I wanted to pick something I have no experience with, so that I can briefly walk you through the steps of how I would go about trying to start up this income stream for myself if I were interested in doing it. And to consider choosing this income stream, I’d assume that I (or anyone else) would have at the bare minimum a background in writing mystery stories. And possibly (but not necessarily) in teaching writing classes, either to kids or adults.

First, I would ask myself, do I know anybody who’s already doing it? I do not. If I did, however, I’d immediately email that person and see if she was willing for me to buy her lunch and pick her brain. I’d ask things like:

  • How did you get started?
  • How do you find customers?
  • What’s the biggest challenge?
  • What rates do you charge?
  • What tips can you give me?
  • Do you think there’s enough room in the marketplace for both of us to offer this locally?

My next step would be a Google search. I typed in:

minnesota mystery writing classes for kids

Here’s the results page I get from that search. As I read through the first few pages of results, I notice several organizations that appear to be offering something like this. Here are just a few.

  • The Loft Literary Center
  • Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead

I would follow those links and read up on what kind of classes they’re offering, and who’s teaching them. What kind of credentials do the teachers have? Can I compete? Does the same person teach at all of them? Is that person teaching for the age level I want to reach? Might my workshop complement hers?

I also notice that some listings are for library events and school enrichment programs.

After reading up on what’s already being offered, I would probably also search more broadly for “minnesota writing classes for kids” without “mystery,” because maybe some of the new possibilities that pop up then would be open to adding a mystery-writing workshop.

I would make a chart, something that had rows for venues/organizations and columns for url; phone number; instructor name; class title; audience age; length of class; where it meets; cost to student; fee to instructor; and anything else I felt was relevant.

I’d reach out to those instructors, if I hadn’t already spoken with someone doing this work, to see if I could meet with one of them (offering to pay their going rate for their time). I’d contact the various organizations to find out how to propose classes and how they structure their payment (per hour? per student? per class?). I’d fill in my chart as I talked to various people.

I’d search online for guides to how to do the work–in this case, how to actually run a fun writing workshop.

how to teach 5th graders to write mysteries

mystery

In that results page, I see lots of interesting possibilities. I would follow some links and choose some good resources and start brainstorming possible lessons.

If I found a link to a book or ebook that sounded like a really good resource on that specific topic, I’d buy it.

Even more importantly, I would arrange to go sit in on someone else’s session, in person! Contact an instructor and see if that’s OK. And then you’ll need to get permission from the venue/organization itself, too. If you can, watch two or three different teachers do it!

If nobody in your area teaches writing workshops to upper elementary kids (mysteries or otherwise), then see if you can find some videos online. Just search YouTube or Google (with videos clicked under the search box).

And find an enthusiastic 5th-grade teacher who loves teaching writing, and ask if you can observe and help out in her room a few times when she’s doing writing lessons. It can be amazing how long some things take and how short others do when working with kids, so seeing some experienced teachers in action is really crucial.

Next, volunteer to teach a workshop for free at your local library or local elementary school, for free, for your target audience. Start small. A one-time, one-hour workshop. Do not commit to a 12-week class! The whole idea is to dip your toe in and make sure you’re comfortable with the basics before you start charging for this. Repeat until you feel comfortable offering it elsewhere as a paid service.

Brainstorm where else you might be able to teach this. How about:

  • latchkey programs over the summer (I know ours offered special extra-fee programs with outside instructors)
  • through your local community ed or Parks and Rec department
  • to homeschool co-ops

Once you’ve done all your preliminary work, you need to decide if this is an income stream you really want to pursue. If so, then you want to:

  • set your rates
  • write up a great description of what you offer
  • put it in your website
  • make a prioritized list of all the groups you are going to approach about offering your services
  • get busy approaching people–they can’t hire you if they don’t know you exist

And there you have it. I’m not saying it’s easy. Some parts, like calling up people I don’t know, intimidate me. I prefer email, always, but it’s not always easy to get a response!

But like every job, making a living as a freelance writer is going to have aspects to it that are hard. Say to yourself, “I have a boss, and that boss has given me this research project to complete. So I need to get busy.” Of course, your boss is you, but, still…looking at it that way makes it a little easier for me:>)

So these steps are really the same for any income stream:

  • research the market for your service or product
  • talk to people already doing this work
  • find written resources/videos to guide you through learning how to do it (or learning how to do it better than you already can)
  • brainstorm all the possible places that might want to hire you
  • research those various markets to prioritize them from your most desired to least desired client
  • put together your basic offering, get it online, and start approaching clients

Along the way, you might discover you don’t want to pursue this income stream after all. Perhaps there’s just not enough demand for it. Or it sounded like more fun than it actually turns out to be. That’s fine–a totally valid outcome!

But if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to figure out what writing-related income streams there IS a market for in your area (or online) and which ones you do enjoy doing or make enough money from that they’re worth doing.

Good luck!

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About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Making a Living and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Making a Living as a Writer: How to Develop a Brand New Income Stream

  1. Good thoughts. One suggestion: Sometimes someone who lives in another location is more willing to share info if you won’t be in direct competition with that person.

    • Yeah, I thought about that, but…it’s so hard to get useful/relevant info from far-away people if it’s something that’s an in-person service, like teaching. For online, it doesn’t matter, of course. But, for example, when I talk with other writers who do school visits, their local market, methods of getting work, expectations of schools, amount of competition, etc., are completely different from here. I’m amazed at how different! But, your point is definitely valid. In this example of the mystery stories, it would work well to approach people who teach some OTHER writing topic to upper elementary students, like poetry or comic strips. Or to approach teachers at venues who teach a different audience. Like maybe someone who teaches craft workshops through community ed….

      Thanks for chiming in. It’s definitely something to consider!

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