Wherever you look, you’ll see tons of words: on product packing, in your mobile banking app, or across billboards in town. Behind those are amazing people like yourself.
Wondering how to become a writer and get paid for your craft?
This guide covers:
- Popular writing careers
- Average writer salaries
- Ways to sell your own writing
- In-demand writing jobs
…and step-by-step instructions for breaking into the writing industry.
Types of Writing Careers
Writers get paid for their words, and many industries need them.
Here are popular types of writing you can do.
Creative Writing vs. Nonfiction Writing
Creative writing includes prose and poetry writing. Fiction writers invent worlds, populate them with characters, and artfully build a compelling narrative using various canons of storytelling and poetics.
Nonfiction writing is a broader category featuring all written materials that are not based on a fictional storyline. Nonfiction writers can specialize in biographies or memoirs, create instructional materials, or use their writing skills to create business communication and marketing materials.
Nonfiction writing has three subcategories:
- Academic writing. Producing scientific research articles and creating various instructional materials — textbooks, curriculums, instruction manuals, and other types of educational workbooks.
- Journalism. Writing timely, accurate reporting of recent facts, events, and ideas. You can specialize in investigative reporting or write personal essays, have a regular column, or switch between different beats.
- Business writing. This niche has the widest subset of jobs, ranging from copywriting and blogging to proposal writing and grant writing. Business writers create various content for the industry they work in.
Overall, beginning writers have no shortage of career options today.
Popular Types of Writing Careers
- Advertising copywriter
- Health writer
- News writer
- SEO writer
- Technical writer
- UX writer
- Content marketing specialist
- Medical writer
- Resume writer
How Much Money Does a Writer Make?
As in any other profession, compensation for writers varies by industry, seniority level, and area of expertise.
In the publishing industry, authors make money from advances and royalties. Authors receive an average advance of $49,360, based on “Publishing Paid Me” spreadsheet data.
Royalty rates vary depending on the publishing method.
Self-published authors retain up to 70% royalty per book sold. In traditional publishing, authors get 5%-8% royalties on paperbacks, 15% on hardcovers, and 20% on eBooks.
Compensation for professional writers, working full-time, part-time, or freelance writing varies a lot by profession.
Here are median salaries for full-time writing careers as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Technical writer salary: $78,060
- News reporters and journalists: $49,300
- Public relations specialists: $62,810
- Editors: $63,400
How to Become a Writer in 2023: 6 Step-Guide
If you want to seriously pursue writing as a career, here’s how to get started.
1. Decide on Your Writing Niche
You have many writing careers to choose from. But too many choices breed decision paralysis.
To narrow down your options, ask yourself: do you want to primarily do nonfiction or fiction writing?
You can always do both and change niches later on. But you have to channel your efforts into one lane to make progress faster.
Next, think about a narrower writing specialty, also known as your niche.
A writing niche is your area of expertise, where you are familiar with the subject matter, content requirements, and popular formats.
Each type of writing — medical, UX, or technical writing — requires knowledge of the industry's best practices. For example, technical writers need to know the industry jargon, have a sharp, instructional tone of voice, and understand technical documentation formatting requirements. You can develop these skills both on the job or via formal training.
You can select your writing niche based on:
- Type of writing. Journalism, academic, fiction, or industry-specific.
- Content format. Blog posts, emails, web copy, eBook, business reports.
- Industry. Law, marketing, healthcare, retail, etc.
- Your background. Personal or professional. For example, as an accountant, you can work with finance brands.
By selecting a writing niche, you concentrate your effort on understanding the market better. This helps you develop the right knowledge and skill set, do better work — and earn more money eventually.
What Type of Writing Makes the Most Money?
Specialized writing, requiring niche expertise, pays the best.
For example, entry-level UX writers earn a median salary of $90,000, and senior professionals earn north of $150K.
Medical writers have a median pay of $95,609 annually. Content strategists, in turn, earn $102,989/year on average.
Fiction writing can be lucrative as well as you have no earning cap. Popular authors receive six-figure advances per book (plus royalties).
For example, Hanya Yanagihara, fashion editor and published author, received a $1 million advance on her third book. Elizabeth Gilbert got $200,000 for the cult Eat, Pray, Love novel.
At the same time, popular self-published authors can also make it big.
Former lawyer, L.J. Ross, sold over 4.5 million copies of her first novel via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. She now earns a comfortable living from 19 other self-published novels.
But not every writer is as successful. More often, budding writers don’t make a bank from fiction alone.
Many also hold a day job, writing or non-writing, to pay the bills.
The publishing world is hugely competitive. Careers in business writing or journalism offer better job security and more stable income.Want more? Read more about how to make money from writing.
Interviews With Writers Who’ve Done It
We interview writers from all fields and ask them how to get where they’re.
- How to Become a Technical Content Producer
- How to Become a Sportswriter
- How to Become a Freelance Content Writer
- How to Become a Published Author
- How to Become a Freelance Writer
- How to Become a Psychology Writer
- How to Become a Creative Content Writer
- How To Become a Freelance Journalist
- How To Become a Sustainability Copywriter
- How to Become a Freelance B2B SaaS Copywriter
- How to Become a B2B SaaS Technology Writer
- How To Become a Health Writer
2. Practice Writing Every Day
Good writing isn’t just talent — it's tradecraft.
You need to continuously practice your ‘technical’ writing skills — sentence structure, narrative flow, tone of voice — and build your core skills to advance your career.
A good writer has:
- Impeccable grammar
- Rich vocabulary
- Strong research skills
- Adaptable tone of voice
- Editorial and fact-checking skills
- Interviewing skills
- Business acumen (in their niche)
Perhaps, you were taught some of those skills at high school or as part of your bachelor's degree. But theory alone isn’t enough to produce good writing. You also need regular practice.
As Stephen King says:
“Sometimes you have to go on [with writing] when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
The point of writing regularly is to build your writing muscle. The ability to produce good writing even when you are not inspired, face writer’s block, or battle your impostor syndrome.
That’s called professionalism.
To help you get to this stage, try these simple writing exercises.
Practice free writing. Block 20-30 minutes each morning or evening to put down just about any ideas on paper. Don’t sweat about making it perfect. Try to use a tone you’d want to assume in your writing.
Transcribe others. To develop a distinctive voice, fit for the type of writing you do, rewrite content from authors you admire. This can be a top-performing copywriting ad or a reported article. The point of this exercise is to internalize the other writer’s syntax, cadence, and ton — and absorb it into your writing.
Start a (micro)blog. If you want to specialize in online writing, which is most writing these days, start your blog. You can publish short posts on LinkedIn, Medium, or Typeshare. That’s an easy way to create several writing samples and start building a personal brand as a writer.
3. Fill In the Gaps in Education
Do you absolutely need to have a writing degree to make it big? No.
Many writers obtained unrelated associate degrees or never even went to college. Instead, they relentlessly practiced their craft.
Formal education can accelerate your writing career in the early days, especially if you’ve developed some industry connections in school. You also get to study literature, learn copy-editing basics, develop fact-checking skills, plus…expand your vocabulary and improve your grammar.
But you can also develop marketable writing skills at your own pace and on a much smaller dime.
These are some of the best ways to learn more about writing.
Books. Pick up several books on writing to grasp the basics of building a good story, doing reported writing, and writing at a good pace.
Online courses. You can find free courses on Coursera, edX, and Udemy (including those from top universities).
Alternatively, you can invest in an authored online course from a successful writer. Copyhackers and Copybloggger have two highly sought-after writer certification programs.
Writing communities offer a great way to network and bounce ideas with peers. You can get your pressing questions answered, plus receive feedback on your work.
Some communities are free (and less structured) e.g. Female Freelance Writers or Writers Unite! Others are paid and offer carefully curated information and original content such as The Copywriter Club or Workfrom Slack group.
Mentorships and apprenticeships. Some pros offer personalized mentorship services to aspiring writers, where they share tips for building a successful career. Less often, experienced writers hire and train apprentices. Oftentimes, by subcontracting their client work to you and coaching you on the quality standards. Freelance writer Kaleigh Moore discusses these arrangements in greater detail.
Short-term academic programs. If you want to get a professional credential and mingle with academic advisors, you have many MFA programs at a four-figure price tag.
4. Start Writing Part-Time
To become a writer, you don’t need to go all-in immediately.
Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic:
“I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”
Gilbert herself lived by that principle. Despite writing short stories and pitching book deals most of her adult life, she also held another job until Eat, Pray, Love became a roaring success.
Many other talented writers also began their careers in other niches:
- David Ogilvy, Father of Advertising, used to train as a chef and sell cooking stoves.
- Aaron Orendorff, pro copywriter and former Editor-in-Chief at Shopify, was once a pastor.
- Sally Rooney, the first great millennial author, used to be a professional debate participant.
Writing part-time is a safe way to start your professional career (unless you already have a job offer at your desk).
You can give yourself time to find your niche, create a small portfolio, and make yourself more employable by developing complementary skills.
Below are some of the most in-demand skills for writers (apart from writing).
Fact-checking. Verifying facts and data; investigating sources and claims. Requires accuracy and attention to detail.
Interviewing and transcription. Ability to interview subject matter experts (SMEs) and sources, then transcribe their input to incorporate into your writing.
Target audience research. Requires basic market research skills and experience in working with primary and secondary data sources to create audience segments for marketing.
Search engine optimization (SEO) includes knowledge of keyword research techniques and on-page SEO best practices — related to content structure, keyword placements, interlinking, and so on.
Content strategy. Creation of frameworks and systematic approaches to content production based on the set marketing goals. Requires knowledge of content marketing.
Editorial planning. Content and editorial calendar development and ongoing maintenance. Helps you ensure that you are producing the right content and publishing it at the right time.
Content management system (CMS) knowledge. Familiarity with WordPress, Webflow, or Squarespace CMS interfaces. Basic HTML/CSS skills are a plus.
Email marketing. Familiarity with different types of email marketing emails. Newsletters, promo sequences, transactional emails, onboarding emails, and so on.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO). User research, heatmap session analysis, and other types of investigations and improvements performed to optimize conversion rates.
Social media marketing. Visual and written content creation for popular social media networks. Copy performance analysis and optimization for higher click-through rates.
Line editing and copy-editing. The first means editing for clarity, lengths, and grammar. The second is checking the text for accuracy and consistency.
Set some basic writing goals for each month. Divide them into three groups:
- Income: target earnings cap.
- Education: training or knowledge you want to get.
- Client outreach: number of pitches or job applications to make.
Then block time to work on each. Prioritize gigs that would help you develop new skills rather than do the same work repeatedly.
Should Writers Work for Free?
It’s something you need to decide for yourself.
By publishing your writing as a guest post or magazine submission, you can land your first byline and build your credibility as a writer.
But doing bigger client projects for free devalues your qualifications and often leads to a lifecycle of poorly paid work. Writing is a job and therefore entitles you to compensation.
5. Find Paid Writing Opportunities
As a professional writer, you have plenty of options.
At the basic level, writing jobs can be:
The first two usually come with an official employment contract, fixed annual salary, and extra benefits or perks.
Contract-based and freelance jobs assume self-employment. You are hired as an independent contractor, meaning you get to set your rates (mostly), but also pay income taxes and social security contributions.
You can also double as a freelance writer on the side while having a regular job. That’s a good way to supplement your income and progressively transition to full-time freelancing (which often pays more!).
Also, full-time in-house roles may be hard to get as a newbie. So you can try to combine writing internships with gig-based work to build out your portfolio first.
Where to Find Writing Jobs?
Job boards like Best Writing Jobs curate full-time and freelance jobs. You can also check industry-specific job boards like Mediabistro (for marketing and copywriting jobs) or Journalism Jobs.
Freelance writer platforms. Instead of joining general platforms like Upwork, look into writer-specific talent networks such as ClearVoice, Contra, or Skyword.
LinkedIn is an easy way to connect with employers directly through networking, apply for relevant jobs (based on your profile data), and list your freelance services on your profile.
Online writing communities are a great way to connect with peers, plus receive a fresh scoop on possible jobs and leads from others. Peak Freelance, Superpath, and Freelance Writers Den are the best.
Where to Publish Your Writing?
Online and print media. You can pitch individual publishers, follow editors on Twitter and respond to posted calls, or use Pitch Whiz to get centralized updates.
Trade journals specialize in industry content for B2B decision-makers. They accept reported articles, interviews, educational and informational content from experienced writers. Muck Rack has a great guide for pitching trade editors.
Literary journals and almanacs publish short stories, personal essays, and narrated pieces across all genres, from love writing to sci-fi.
Most have monthly or quarterly calls for submission. Book Fox has a list of top 100 literary magazines to pitch.
Self-publish via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). You can publish fiction and non-fiction eBooks yourself using the KDP platform from Amazon.
6. Work on Your Brand
To become a writer, you need to publicly present yourself as one.
In other words: develop a personal brand, a promotion strategy for cultivating a certain perception of yourself. So that when people look up you online, they can understand what type of writing you do and what makes you a pro in it.
The main elements of your personal brand are the following.
Portfolio or personal website. A place where you communicate your niche, curate your clips (writing samples) and explain what services you provide. Clippings.me lets you create a simple portfolio website for free. Webflow is a more advanced builder to try out.
Social media accounts. LinkedIn and Twitter, for example, the two platforms where people can connect with you and chat up on things. Follow Kat Boogard on Twitter for tips on freelancing or Liz Willits for advice on LinkedIn branding for writers.
Online appearances. These range from bylined posts to personal blog posts and podcast appearances. Think of these as “breadcrumbs” you leave for potential clients to hire you. Copyhacker’s guide explains how to build your personal brand using guest appearances.
You don’t have to get each element perfect immediately. Treat personal branding as a work in progress.
Start with a simple portfolio website to organize your clips. Refresh your LinkedIn profile and connect with more people in the industry.
Block some time to strategize your positioning as a writer.
To do so, answer these questions:
- What industries do you want to work with the most?
- Which size of the company is ideal for you?
- What type of writing services do you excel at?
- What makes you more competitive than others in this space?
Then summarize all of the above into a short professional statement.
For example, Marijana Kay positions herself as a “Freelance writer for SaaS & marketing brands, specializing in long-form, actionable blog content.”
Copywriter Kira Hug is a conversion copywriter for businesses who are “ready to own who you are — the good, the bad, the surprising.”
Source: Kira Hug.
Your positioning statement helps you communicate who you are and what type of work you like.
Also, by narrowing down to a specific niche, you can quickly develop an acute skillset and become an in-demand writer with a glowing reputation.
Conclusion: Where Do I Start as a Writer?
To start writing for a living, you should first decide on your niche, and the type of writing you want to (mostly) specialize in. Then work on creating your first writing samples.
First, mimic what other writers in your industry are doing. Pay attention to copy structure, formatting, titles and subheads, tone of voice, the pace of the narrative, and story flow. Try creating content in a similar style.
At the same time, learn extra skills. If you want to specialize in online writing, learn about SEO and content marketing. There are plenty of online courses and industry blogs with in-depth content.
Once you have some working samples, look for part-time gigs. If you can afford to, sign up as an intern or apprentice to get some on-the-job training from others (but likely no pay). Alternatively, look for entry-level freelance jobs, offering guidance and instructions to new writers.
To become a better writer, always ask for feedback on your work and try to improve each time.
Fill in the knowledge gaps and learn new things about the industry you are covering. To be a well-paid writer, you need to have an open, curious mind, passion for learning, and dedication to constant self-improvement.
FAQs About Becoming a Writer
Here are answers to several other questions new writers have.
Can you become a writer without a degree?
Yes, absolutely. Formal education in a relevant field is helpful, especially at the early stages of your career. But it becomes less of a factor as you gain real-life work experience.
Published authors like Ray Bradbury and William Faulkner and many professional business writers became successful without a degree.
What is the difference between a copywriter and a content writer?
Copywriters specialize in persuasive and promotional copy (printed ads, landing pages, sales copy). Content writers create informational, educational, or entertainment content (blog posts, articles, news reports).
While both try to speak to a target audience in the most appealing way, copywriting attempts to encourage concrete action. Content helps develop familiarity and affinity towards the brand that publishes it.
How do I start freelance writing with no experience?
Create a set of writing samples. These don’t have to be commissioned pieces for clients.
You can write personal blog posts, landing page samples, or short-reported pieces in your niche. Then show these to clients as a sample of what you could do for them.
Most clients are interested in your skills, not your resume. So focus on building out a small portfolio in your niche first.
What kind of careers involve writing?
Nearly every job these days involves a lot of writing — from emails to meeting notes and team reports. But if you want to primarily do writing, look into careers in content marketing, communications, PR, or journalism.
Do writers have day jobs?
Yes, many authors and freelance writers also have day jobs. In fact, it’s better to keep a day job as a published (or unpublished) author instead of living from one advance to another. Likewise, many people grow a writing business on the side and switch to it full-time when they reach a certain level of income.
Where can I sell my writing?
You can sell your creative writing to literary magazines, anthology publishers, almanacs, and individual magazines. Online platforms like Medium and Narratively also pay writers per story or per number of views. Also, you can sell non-fiction writing to print and online magazines, newspapers, and blogs. Many have open calls for submissions. You can (and should!) also connect with individual editors and pitch them your ideas.
How do authors get paid?
Authors get paid in two ways — via advances on books and through royalties. Publishers offer signed-on writers an advance to help them complete their books. Then pay out a percentage of each copy sold. Self-published authors make money from royalties only. But they get to keep a bigger percentage.
Are professional writers in demand?
Absolutely! The demand for online content writers, in particular, surged as businesses shifted to online marketing over the past 18 months. Also, writers are actively employed by tech firms to provide copy for new and current products. Between 2020 and 2030, the employment of writers and authors is projected to grow by 9%.
How do beginner writers make money?
New writers often end up working for ‘content mills’ — platforms that pay peanuts for an unreasonable volume of work. Some also sign up for popular freelance marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, and PeoplePerHour.
Again, these don’t always offer great pay. A better way to make money is to apply for freelance writing jobs directly or build relationships with clients online — via LinkedIn, niche communities, or social media. In this case, you can name and negotiate your rates.