Making a living as a writer was much harder just two decades ago. If you couldn’t land a copywriting job or find a publisher that liked your manuscript, you were probably out of luck.
The internet has since dismantled these barriers. These days, there are dozens of ways for writers to make money, none of which require a boss or literary agent. Can’t get a book deal? Launch a newsletter, start a blog or teach a writing course instead. The only tools you need are an internet connection and the ability to communicate ideas clearly.
Three writers in particular have profited handsomely from this opportunity. Let’s break down how they’re each making over $1 million a year in this new era.
1. Ben Thompson
Ben Thompson is the sole writer behind Stratechery, a four-times-a-week newsletter that covers the latest developments in Silicon Valley in exhaustive detail (it’s not unusual for an edition to span over 4,000 words). It’s currently the most popular newsletter in the industry, boasting an impressive subscriber base that includes venture capitalists, tech executives and government officials.
Thompson, whose resume includes engineering at Apple and Microsoft, started blogging under the Stratechery brand in 2013. In 2014, he transformed the blog into a paid subscription — currently priced at $12/month or $120/year. All subscriptions also come with access to Dithering, a podcast he hosts with Daring Fireball’s John Gruber.
While Thompson hasn’t provided updates on Stratechery’s numbers since 2015, when he hit 2,000 subscribers and $200,000 a year in revenue, Andreas Stegmann recently wrote a fantastic analysis on why it’s on track do $3.2 million in revenue this year (based on an estimated 20,000–30,000 subscribers).
Why is Stratechery so popular? Aside from the fact that Thompson is a compelling thinker, no one can rival the depth of analysis he provides. Whether it’s the latest outlook on Apple, social media’s battles with Congress, or antitrust politics, Thompson somehow always has a knowledgeable take no matter what the topic is. His understanding of the industry is simply unmatched, which makes his writing a must-read for anyone in the industry.
2. Michelle Schroeder-Gardner
In 2011, a recent college grad named Michelle Schroeder-Gardner started a little blog called Making Sense of Cents. Her original intentions were simply to chronicle her journey to paying off $40,000 of student debt. Fast forward nine years and the blog has become bigger than she could ever imagine. As of her last public income report, Making Sense of Cents was making over $1.5 million a year.
Her first posts used a conversational millennial tone to discuss topics like savings accounts and using coupons to save on groceries. Over time, she broadened her coverage to include everything she could learn about making money online. The more she wrote, the more her site became a resource to thousands of millennials also looking to pay off debt and achieve financial freedom.
What kept readers coming back, however, was her transparency. Every month she published a public income report detailing how much the blog was making. Side note: transparency is an excellent content strategy no matter what you’re building because it gets your audience invested in your progress.
Through a meticulous commitment to SEO, guest blogging and Pinterest marketing, Making Sense of Cents grew like a weed. Its steady of influx of web traffic enabled Schroeder-Gardner to monetize through four main channels: affiliate links, sponsored posts, display advertising and courses.
Thanks to the nature of these channels, the blog makes money on autopilot. Schroeder-Gardner could decide to never touch the site again, and it would still generate cash for years on end. Nevertheless, she continues to blog several times a week.
3. Ray Edwards
Scroll down rayedwards.com’s “About” page and you’ll find glowing reviews from impressive entrepreneurs like Michael Hyatt, Pat Flynn and Amy Porterfield. These endorsements are no accident. Ray Edwards is one of the most revered direct response copywriters on the internet, and his track record backs it up.
Edwards started his career writing ads for radio. When the arrival of the internet crippled the radio industry, he pivoted and became a freelance copywriter. His client history since then has been nothing short of spectacular, spanning multiple New York Times best sellers and A-list names like Tony Robbins.
After building an illustrious career writing for others, Edwards has shifted his focus to marketing his own brand at rayedwards.com, where he’s built a loyal following. He now sells his own products, which include direct copywriting courses, coaching sessions and workshops.
In 2017, Edwards published a break down of how he generated $1.2 million in revenue in the prior year. Despite his success with rayedwards.com, he continues to take on freelance clients, where he charges a minimum of $150,000 per engagement, limited to four clients per year (a casual $600,000/year in freelance revenue).
The Tie That Binds
Notice what these multimillionaire writers have in common? In each case, they are their own agent, publisher and distributor. The internet has made it so that you no longer need to wait for a third-party company or agency to accept your work. You now have the power to go directly to your audience through newsletters, websites and social media.
So, whether your end goal is to sell a book, run ads on your blog, or sell your own course, build an audience first. Find a platform you’re comfortable with and learn how the algorithm works (Medium is an excellent choice for writers, but Twitter or even Instagram can be just as effective). Then, start writing.
If your content carries value, you will eventually find a tribe of readers. Once you’ve succeeded, your monetization options are endless. But as with every internet business, building your audience is priority number one. Without it, there is no path forward.
Writers are living in exciting times thanks to the internet. The traditional forms of distribution become less relevant every day. Take advantage of the new paradigm and go make some money.