Category Archives: Online Writing

The Reality About Making A Living Writing Online

Percentage of Income 2013-2014

Percentage of Income 2013-2014

Breakdown of Writing Derived Income 2013-2014

Breakdown of Writing Derived Income 2013-2014

In Australia it is tax time and I have just finished doing my Profit and Loss (P&L) for 2013-2014. I thought I would share some percentages with you to give you an idea of what it is really like to make a living as an online writer.

First of all, my writing work made up just 45% of my total income. Tutoring gave me 35% thanks to having a long term student awaiting sentencing filling in 6 hours a week, every week of term time. I made just 8% from my community college lecturing as in both colleges and all three courses I offer, there were few takers but that was par for the course for everyone and every course. 11% came from the sales of books online with 1% coming in from Adsense and the sale of some domain names and web sites I no longer wanted. Book sale income then has to be carved up further as many of the sales were for books I either pay 50% royalties on to the author or are part of a business I share with a partner in Ireland.

A breakdown of the writing income finds 15% was earned writing content for websites, 25% editing other people’s manuscripts and publishing them and the rest, 60% from ghostwriting. This was by far the big earner for me and I put that down to a couple of reasons. First of all I am building a solid reputation as a ghostwriter and have had most of my commissions awarded to me by referral. Secondly, they are long projects but ‘big ticket items’.

So what can you learn from this? It has not been an overnight success kind of thing. I have been building up my business since September 2009 when I went full-time into online writing. More than half of my income comes from related activities such as tutoring and lecturing with  actual sales of my writing (under my own name) making a percentage of just 11% of the total income. After paying withholding tax to the US government and copping the fees for the cashing of the cheques sent by Amazon, then paying the royalties to authors I publish and distribute for we are looking at maybe 5% at best. You could say 50% of my income is directly related to my online writing activities so the message is clear: either don’t give up your day job, budding authors, or make sure you have several irons in the fire.

Great News

The great news is my writing income has increased in both percentage of overall income and amount. What we need to take away from that is that I realised in January, after months of research and action in marketing my own novels, that I wasn’t going to make much money selling my own writing compared to writing for other people. Ghostwriting is far more lucrative as you get paid for what you write, not what people buy to read. The down side of that is your ego takes a hit when you see your book getting rave reviews but the client author is the one getting the kudos. Such is life, you can’t have it both ways. Well, you can. One book I wrote this past year that is doing great is ‘Sarah’s Child’ and I share the front cover with the author. It is his story, just written by me from info he supplied and fictionalised to keep everyone out of court. He has been doing a ton of promoting and pushing the book and while sales are good and steady, they will take a long time to recover what he has spent so far. This is one of the reasons I decided to shelve my own writing career as a novelist and focus on writing for pay, for other people.

While I am not about to disclose actual dollar amounts, the income earned was sufficient to allow me to travel to Malaysia and the Philippines to conduct research and collate information and experiences to update existing titles and to create new work, all of which generates income and so is tax deductible. My wife and five girls haven’t gone hungry, all the bills are paid but then we do live a modest lifestyle and within our means. Nett profit was 18% of Gross Income after all legitimate expenses have been deducted. 18% is not a bad profit margin, not brilliant, but not bad.

Nett Profit to Gross Income ratio 18%

Nett Profit to Gross Income ratio 18%

Find Your Niche

I have found my niche, something I advised you to do some years ago when I started this website and blog. Find your niche, specialise and stick at it. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Crowdsourcing Writing Work

I get a fair amount of work through a site called Basically it is a crowd source site where those who need work done post their job and choose from the people that bid for it. Sometimes you get the right person for the job and sometimes you pick a loser. I have been fortunate and of the jobs I have posted (translation mostly but some content creation) I have discovered some excellent writing talent, but also a couple of losers. I have also had a couple of ‘employers’ who really need to wake themselves up a bit as to their expectations and what have you.

Elance, ODesk and similar crowd sourcing sites are good but you do need to get established as the more jobs you do and the more positive feedback you get the more likely you are going to win the bid, even be invited to bid by the job poster. What you have to watch out for is not selling yourself too cheaply just to get some runs on the board and break the ‘seal’. I have begun to collect job ads that I find particularly representative of the exploitative mindset of some of the job posters who want the world for nothing. I will point out that when I was looking for a translation to German and Spanish of one of my texts I had a very limited budget. I was inundated with bids for Spanish but actually got a couple of indignant emails from German translators about how I was insulting them with my low budget. All I can say is ‘es tut mir leid! Ich hat kein gelt.’ (I’m very sorry but I have little money).

No one is forced to bid for a job and maybe, like me, the job poster has been bitten in the past so they make the terms and conditions very specific. Fair enough but I think you can get too self-important here. I get the impression from some job posts the poster is still living in the colonial days of the Raj and thinks they are doing the writers from non-native speaking countries a favour. Then again, not all of these job posters are from the USA, many come from the countries they pitch their job posts at. Check it out for yourselves.

Self Publishing’s 287% Growth

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 8.58.45 PMThe American firm that controls the ISBN allocation, Bowker, reported that in 2012 there were more than 235,000 self-published titles, both print and eBooks in the USA. Of these, publishing services sites like CreateSpace, Smashwords, Lulu and Author Solutions handled most of the titles on behalf of independent authors. Fantastic! This is an increase year on year that comes in at 287% growth since 2006.

If you want to read a report on this self-publishing phenomena, specifically print -v-eBooks, you can buy a 7 page report from Bowker for, wait for it, US$199. I’ll pass. No doubt the big publishing firms can afford that but little independent publishers like me? I’ll spend the money marketing my backlist, thanks.


Charging More Is Working For Me

Funny thing how when you value your time and your talent more, others follow suit. Putting a higher value on my services was a major decision on my part. It has paid off, even if there was a short ‘bare patch’ with work being rather thin on the ground, so to speak. Now I am humming along steadily and have a ghost writing eBook 60% done and a stack of web content to produce for a good, long standing client. I won another contract but the client seemed to have trouble working out the time difference between here and the USA and has faded off the screen, for now. It happens. Usually for the best and if it happens this early on then that has to be a positive thing for both parties.

I still haven’t done anything with my novel but I have had a lot more lecturing work and some new tutoring clients. I am hoping to also get some time to look at my backlist and maybe push some of those titles before I have to upgrade the StreetWise Philippines series following our trip there next month. So basicaly I have never been busier and that is of course, a good thing. Next term I will be teaching a new, updated version of my ‘How To Make A Living Online’ Course. As you might note, I have dropped the ‘As An Online Writer’ part of the title as most attendees don’t want to be online writers as such and I have no doubt scared off a number of potential students. I will make it more generic to making a living online and should have full classes. Stay tuned for more updates!

Making Poetry Pay

My father told me the two best and worst jobs in the world were poet and philosopher. Best because if you love poetry or philosophy then you are doing what you love for your living. Worst because there aren’t too many openings for either vocation… at least not paying ones. If you teach either topic then you can earn a living at it but are you really living your dream or teaching someone else how to live theirs? Surely there is a set down curriculum you have to follow?

Writing can be like either of these occupations. We love it but the trick is to find a way to make money doing it.Unless you write novels that you want to write I guess you are always writing only what someone is prepared to pay for, and that is the way it is. I write a novel a year, or try to but I write what I want to write and not what an editor or publisher or agent believes will sell. I don’t write fiction for pay, I write it for fun and my own enjoyment first and the enjoyment of the reader second. I enjoy the process of crafting the novel, much as I enjoyed making my own boat, ‘The Karl-Heinz of Hemsendorf’ which I built, launched and sailed in the Philippines in 2003. I actually enjoyed making the boat far more than I imagined I would, but nobody paid me to do it and the same is true for my novels. They are not exactly on the New York Times Best-Seller list if only because I haven’t done the ton of work to promote them.

Instead I spend my non-novel writing time, my working time, working. Writing what people pay me to write for them. Writing non-fiction that people will pay to read. When I am not writing I am looking for writing work or making sure I am going to be paid for what I wrote. It is a business, a writing business and while I love it, it is nonetheless a commercial activity and must be managed as such. If I could get paid to write poetry then I would write more of it. I have a slim volume of poems (aren’t they all?) that one day I will publish, just to get them out there for posterity. Thinking about this blog has given me an idea about how to make poetry pay, albeit not a lot. Why not advertise on or that you will write a poem for $5? Keep it short, personal and what have you. I paid five bucks last year for a Welshman to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my 75 year old MumScreen Shot 2013-02-05 at 10.01.44 AM… in Welsh wearing a Welsh flag jockstrap and a bobbly woollen hat. Worth every penny! Why not a sonnet or a limerick or simply a stanza or two? Or, do as I do and write what you love to write in your own time and keep work time for writing what pays.

Writing Course Done, What’s Next?

I finished the new writing course on schedule and delivered it to my client. Right now it is in treatment or pre-production or whatever they call it when they start making videos and doing voice overs and stuff. As soon as it is released I’ll let you know. We have already had several inquiries from interested parties which is very encouraging. So what’s next?

Regardless of the fact I teach this eWriting stuff, I still like to learn as much as I can about our craft and am forever looking for new sources of fresh and interesting information. I have found one, ‘The Freelance Writer’s Den’. This great resource is headed by Carol Tice, who you can glean a great deal from for free by signing up for her Make A Living Writing courses and blog. Carol puts out a ton of good stuff for you to gain from but of course, that isn’t how she pays her bills. Carol has the aforementioned subscription site, ‘The Freelance Writer’s Den’ and charges $25 a month, cancel any time, no obligation. For the $25 you get a lot of great information and value with monthly events and webinars featuring very knowledgeable experts in the game.

Why pay when there is so much free stuff online? Good question but keep in mind two things. First of all you get what you pay for and second, there is a lot of free rubbish and misinformation online too. If I were to charge a subscription for this site and get a ton of members I could afford to provide far more info than I already do. I could pay writers to contribute content… like Carol does. I could have guest experts giving webinars and writing blogs… like Carol does. Free only gets you so far. When you invest your money as well as your time you tend to appreciate the information more and actually apply it. How often have you read some great advice on a free site but then never done anything to apply it to your business or life? And the net result is you stay exactly where you were when you read this life changing advice, right?

I will add some links to Carol’s site where you can sign up but in the meantime, surf on in and have a good read. It is worth your time to check it out.

New Writing Course

I have just signed off on a deal to develop a new, exciting online writing course for a US client. It will be built on my existing ‘Eat Your Words – How To Make A Living Writing Online’ course that has been presented at several community colleges and online since 2010. It is also offered as an online distance learning course and in expanded form with Rainbow Writers.

This new course is being developed for a client who I have written eBooks and web content for in the past. He will own the course and market it but I will be available for counselling and additional tutorials on an ongoing basis. what will set this course apart will be the focus on online writing as a source of regular income. Most courses are either for people looking to monetize web sites or write novels and other creative pieces like short stories. This course will teach writing skills, web skills and business skills, bringing the three areas together to produce a writer who can operate effectively online.


Interlocking Circles

I had the pleasure today to attend the book launch of ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Described as a ‘pyschothriller set in a dystopian future’, it has a lot of levels within the narrative that, while aimed at teen aged readers, will resonate with readers of all ages. Ambelin is an attractive, intelligent and well-educated woman who ‘got lucky’ and had the book accepted by her publisher, Walker Books, with a sample first chapter and a synopsis. They were the first publishers she approached so some might say she is the exception that proves the rule you need to send out dozens of query letters to agents and be ready for rejection after rejection.

The thing is, Ambelin wrote a book for a specific readership and then approached a publisher that specialises in that market. Just as importantly, she wrote a great book with a super premise and wrote it well. All her ducks were lined up in a row, something most authors fail to do, then blame the publishing industry and the market and the government and everyone else but themselves.

The launch was a friendly, casual affair but none the less professional and well supported by the publisher with the General Manager and three or four of the key people in sales and marketing there to help out. The level of support given to this book was on show with several high quality printed pieces and other bumf. This is continued on the web site with a YouTube clip and other supporting media. While they wouldn’t say how large the print run is, I was assured it is significant, probably over 10,000 copies and that is a lot for an Australian book and more so for a first novel  in YA, or Young Adult.

All in all, the launch confirmed my belief that the secret in  selling books is to have a good book that has a market and then getting a publisher who will get behind the author. The author then has to get with the program and put in the hard yards and time and effort, just as Ambelin was doing at this launch. She also does seminars and workshops for young writers and uses her book as a teaching tool.

One thing that struck a chord with me was an anecdote Ambelin related bout her grandfather. He said a white farmer once painted a whitewash circle around his homestead and a whitewash circle around the camp of the local indigenous people and said you stay in your circle and I’ll stay in mine. This old gent said how he should have made the circles bigger so there was a place where the two interlocked; a place where black and white could both sit and talk about things, understand each other better. ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ has a lot to say about some major issues. There are several themes running through this novel that educates as well as entertains, thrills and involves the reader. It is fast paced, Ambelin cut some 25,000 words at the suggestion of her editor to keep that pacing throughout the story. It is a story of a very strong, determined girl set in a future that has parallels with our own Australian past and even our present and immediate future. It isn’t available as an eBook but you can download a sample chapter and get a nice taste of something worth finishing. Great work Ambelin and well done Walker Books.

Going Global

So when do you go global? One might consider oneself already global, given the international nature of the world wide web. But are you global, or glocal? You can connect with people all over the world and with programs such as Google Translate and Babel Fish you can read foreign web pages, albeit with dodgy translations that can easily lose the plot and the intent of the content! Or you can stick to English s the new lingua franca of the internet.

Alternatively, you can translate your work into foreign languages. I have done the first title in my back list and now offer ‘Hilda Hopkins, El Asesinato que Ella Trejio’ to the Spanish reading world. In time it will be an eBook as well as the pocket size paperback it is now. It will also be released as a dual language reader, with English on the left page and Spanish text on the right. All those 50 something ladies looking to retire to Malaga, or Costa Rica, Panama or wherever will have something more interesting to read as they learn the local lingo than ‘see Spot run’ in Espaniol!

It is not overly expensive to crowd source your translation. I was lucky to find a superb translator in Maria Nalus of Bogota, Columbia. She made sure I could follow the Spanish text by leaving in the page numbers where they correspond to the English version. Made it easy to figure out and format for print. Not sure how it will go for .epub, I envisage issues! Maria might have someone who can help with that layout problem for  a reasonable sum. Now I am extra fortunate in that Maria is also a marketing professional and she will help sell these Spanish editions in that neck of the woods. I hope to offer the books in Hindi for the Indian market also and have a top writer, Poormina, working on the same book as I write. That will be a challenge as the script is very different but it will be a good test for Russian, Arabic and Chinese (Mandarin) editions. If I get Portuguese, French and German editions happening that lot plus the original English editions will cover half the population of the world! Anyone else will be either able to read one of those languages or not in a position to buy books anyway.

The dual reader versions are the real jewel in the crown. So many people want to learn English and these books will help them. Not just the Hilda Hopkins series of tongue in cheek crime thrillers, but my own novels, short story collections and the work of the Rorschach School, four volumes worth already and counting. Plus we have a wealth of writing published on The Word Shop and I invite non-English speaking writers to contribute and share their work.

The beauty of this is that it is a doable project, in fact it is already being done! We are at a time and place in the history of mankind where we have far more capability than ever before. As electronic writers, we can do so much to bring the world together, make it a better place and share so much of the richness mankind has to offer. I don’t see it as an exaggeration to say that if we understood each other better, if we could communicate with each other more easily, then we would find more reasons to be friends than excuses to be enemies. All of us, as writers, have the ability to make such a difference and it behooves us to try. I’m just one 50 year old bloke in a garage office in a low socio-economic suburb in a far flung antipodean city, yet I can reach out and touch the world. I have true power because I believe I do. What do you believe you can do?

Scams Sites Go Android

I was doing some research for an article I am writing on scam writing sites and I thought I would check You Tube out. I came across this amazing clip, well kind of creepy, really. It is a computer generated talking head singing the praises of This site makes out they have all these great writing jobs you can go after when really all your money buys is a collated list of work already advertised and accessible for free elsewhere. Yes one might argue they save time but only if they source jobs from more than one location. The point is, they use slippery terms to give the impression they have the work, it pays very well and you can get it just by joining them.

Well, they don’t have any work, most of the jobs you can go for are competitive and low end and you still have to compete with everyone else on Elance and oDesk and similar sites. Where’s the value in that? So why use a CGI? Why? Because then nobody can drag the person telling the lies into court, can they? What is sad are other clips where naive young do-gooders think they are doing the world a favour by saying it all looks pretty good to them. Yes, it would, sonny, you haven’t been out in the big bad world long enough to know better. You grew up on that teat they call the internet and think you know the dangers, but do you?

A lot of people, too  many, seem to think if it is online and there is a web site and YouTube clips and a Facebook Like icon to click on it must be legitimate. Look, just because you are decent and law abiding doesn’t mean everyone is like you.