You might have been writing as a hobby for years. You have a blog and submit articles to various publications without getting paid or for very little money. And you've been toying with the idea of starting a career as a professional writer.
The time has never been right. Who knows, it might never be right in the future. So, should you wait for the "right time"?
In these strange time where businesses are collapsing and startups stagnating, is it still a good time to start a career in publishing? If it's not, when will be a good time? When the pandemic is over? Or perhaps when there's a vaccine, and the economy starts picking up again.
More questions. Should you throw yourself in at the deep end as a full-timer? Or should you begin as a freelance or part-time writer? What are the pros and cons? Should you keep a day job or a side hustle, just in case?
I made the leap a few years ago, and I've got insights to share. I've had to work out how to keep moving forward through hurdles, illnesses, and a global pandemic.
What worked for me may not be suitable for you - but here are the things I think every aspiring writer should consider before they take the plunge.
The Five "Readinesses"
Turning Writing From a Hobby Into a Career
If you could be better off doing something else, whether emotionally, financially or otherwise, then writing and publishing might not be your best option, especially since it's not the easiest career in the world. Writing is a skill that you must hone continuously to keep it up to par and for you to be competitive enough to win assignments or to get published anywhere.
Being a professional writer is like continuously running back-to-back marathons instead of just a couple of short-distanced sprints. Unless you're really passionate, you may end up burning out after just a few short years.
This said, most, if not all, professional writers believe that they can't live without writing; spilling out their thoughts and ideas onto the laptop screen is something they need to do. Myself included.
Writing suits my communication style better than a lot of other mediums. Writing ideas allows me to digest, discern, and register information in far more detail than I could through speech. It's safe to say that I'll continue writing and publishing throughout my lifetime.
Turn Your Expertise Into a Career
You don't need to have an academic degree or decades of experience in a profession to write something publishable. Let's say you've been fostering pets, like dogs or cats, for several years and have tons of tips to share on how to take care of them. If you start collecting all of your knowledge together, expanding on it as you go, you may find that you have enough for a book! Once you've got your content figured out, you can turn some of your chapters into short articles about specific topics.
Maybe you have got tons of professional experience. You might have worked professionally as a psychologist and learnt loads about how the human mind works. People are always looking for the next brilliant self-help book or inspiring motivational guide. Again, you could expand this into writing articles for magazines, or writing guest posts on popular psychology blogs.
Whatever your hobby or expertise - start by gathering your knowledge together to work outwhere you could focus for publication.
Turn Your Research Skills Into a Writing Career
Even if they're an expert in several subjects, professional writers often need to accept assignments on topics they have limited knowledge about. As a professional writer, it's your commitment to deliver the best you can.
You trust your research abilities because you're experienced in both digging information in libraries and by interviewing sources - there's no piece of information you couldn't find! If this is the case, you could take a research led approach to writing and take on topics that are new to you. This will help you to bulk out your assignment list when jobs that match your knowledge are scarce.
Be Ready To Learn How to Market Yourself
If you're going solo as a freelance writer, most likely you'd need to make sure you'd be able to make a decent living from this new career. For this, you need to be creative and strategic in locating and gaining new clients. You'll need to be comfortable aggressively marketing your writing services to start with.
A way to diversify income in the writing business is by earning residual income, which is also called "passive income." In this digital age, having several ebooks, audiobooks, and automated online courses that continuously earn royalties are all good options.
You can select to self-publish or have your works published by third-party publishers. As self-publishing has gained an almost equal standing at the moment, it's definitely a serious option to earn additional income.
Working From Home
Writing is one of the many professions that you can do remotely and independently. Writers are known for their solitary vocation, which explains why lots of us are introverts!
Remote working has become mainstream in recent times as more organisations change how they work. This means that in-house writers, such as technical writers, staff writers, and corporate writers can now work from home.
This translates to an unprecedented opportunity for reaching employers that weren't reachable before. For instance, now you can work (remotely) for out-of-town and out-of-state organisations as "on-site" writers without being on-site at all.
The thing is, working from home peacefully may sound too good to be true, as home is where distractions are plenty. Making sure that you have a designated workspace at home is crucial. If you know you'll struggle to find uninterrupted time to write, you might struggle when first starting out.
Writing As a Flexible Career
If you could work 100% remotely without having to attend face-to-face meetings, including interviews with sources and conferences, any opportunity to break into this industry would be too precious to pass. You'll have built a job that is flexible and works where you do - meaning that you can continue with it even after this unusual time has passed.
Start by sending out writing portfolio, samples, and resume or CV to your existing network. Starting within this closer circle is a good idea as you could capitalise on long-term relationships to ease the process. Another option is to approach your LinkedIn connections.
I prefer to approach this period of uncertainty as an opportunity to reflect on my past and present career and to execute novel ideas that would work in any condition. For instance, if you haven't done so already, be more aggressive in marketing online writing or content marketing services. If you have some web design skills, combine it with digital marketing and content copywriting to create something groundbreaking.
Full-Time or Part-Time
When you've just started out in your writing career, you'll need to begin wherever you can. If you're lucky, you'd be receiving enough assignments to afford to quit your day job and start earning a full-time income. However, most new writers must accept the fact that their personal brands and networks aren't strong enough to bring in this much work, which often translates to a part-time workload.
Realistically, if the writing income isn't sufficient for a decent living, you might need to supplement with other sources. Depending on the opportunities and interests, you may have to branch out in related side hustles, such as affiliate marketing, online teaching, and self publishing.
These three side hustles are ideal for professional writers as you can re-purpose some of your content into new formats that will serve as unique sources of income. Affiliate marketing, for instance, should come naturally to writers as it involves writing blog posts and attracting organic traffic with SEO (Search Engine Optimised) articles. Online teaching is also a possible side hustle as it requires writing course modules and web presentations with delivery mostly in written format.
Self-publishing is another feasible option as it only requires you to write short ebooks, which can be anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 words, on topics of your choice. Today's digital publishing platforms are flexible and fair in royalty payments. The only catch is you'd need to do your own marketing.
Good news is, freebie marketing channels, like BookFunnel, ClickFunnels, and ProlificWorks (formerly Instafreebie), allow your ebooks to be distributed for free to thousands of readers for their email addresses. Such tools weren't available several years ago, which is a game changer. Also, with the help of thousands of book bloggers on the web, you can now have an army of book enthusiasts and reader reviewers who are eager to speak out about exciting and promising new books.
Writing professionally can be a lucrative way to make a living. With the right entrepreneurial and creative spirit, you can turn your passion into a fully fledged business.