5 Author Side Hustle Ideas
Publishing books doesn’t have to be expensive. While some authors spend $3,000 per project, others create a similar product for only $200. The beauty of this industry is that it gives similar opportunities to everyone who wants to see a book in their hands. Growing a long-term publishing business, however, is a different matter. Advertising can cost a lot of money. So can hiring a professional cover designer. And while both can help you to reach more readers and earn a living from your writing, no author is guaranteed to make a profit.
Yet you have to pay to play the game. Few authors become big names without taking this risk. There are outliers who stumble into piles of cash without even getting an editor, but they don’t stay ahead on luck for long. For most writers, becoming profitable is a long game accompanied by a steep learning curve. According to Written Word Media’s author income report, those who turn over more than $100,000 in royalties typically have 28 books in their backlist. By that point, you should be profitable but getting there can require some creative budgeting, especially if you don’t have a high-flying day job or family money.
So how can you generate extra income to make this dream happen? Authors from the community have been known to sell cars, get second jobs or even sell plasma! Don’t worry, though. You don’t literally need to bleed for your art. There are other income streams you can tap into that overlap with skills you have learned as an indie author. Perform well enough at them and they can raise money to pay for the writing essentials, cover marketing costs and even supplement your income as you phase out a day job. Read on to find out a few tried-and-tested author side hustles.
Editing and Proofreading
An author has the sort of career that gets lumped in with professional athletes, actors and singers. It’s seen as glamorous. Lots of people want to become one, and millions try, but not many enjoy enough success to do it forever. It takes hard work, planning and luck to hit that level. It can feel chaotic, but the ambition of getting there often takes young, aspiring writers on a familiar path. Many get a writing-related degree or take classes. Those skills, once learned, can be rented out on a freelance basis.
According to Reedsy, one of the world’s biggest marketplaces for freelance publishing professionals, proofreaders on the site charge an average rate of $0.01 per word. That’s $800 for an 80,000-word novel. And editors charge between $0.017 and $0.024 per word, depending on whether they’re doing a copy edit or a developmental edit. For 80,000 words, that’s between $1,360 and $1,960. And that’s the average. Some editors make more, doing a flexible job they love. One good editing job could pay for your own edit, a cover or marking costs. Or it could pay the mortgage while you offboard yourself from the day job.
Commissioning a professional designer is up there with hiring an editor on the list of factors that provide the biggest impact on author success. Unlike editing, though, not a lot of writers have the artistic eye or experience necessary to make a professional cover that holds its own against bestsellers in its genre. It is possible to gain these skills – SPF even offers a course on the subject run by cover design extraordinaire Stuart Bache – but not every author wants to go through that learning curve. That’s where you come into the equation.
If you have design experience and you understand how to create a cover that sells to its intended readership, then designing covers can offer you a lucrative extra income stream. There are various ways to get into it. You could join Fiver, 99Designs or Reedsy, or you could create your own website and attract clients through word of mouth by helping out a few authors you know on Facebook. It takes time to gain a good reputation, but a professional can command anywhere between $199 and $999 per cover! Plus, you can sell pre-made covers that get rejected by customers who paid for multiple concepts as an additional income stream for little extra effort. Pre-mades go for around $99 to authors looking for a cheap alternative to a custom design. That’s not a bad bonus for work that would otherwise be stored in a rejects folder.
As an author, you likely have a good command of the written word and are used to researching topics to flesh out chapters. These are transferrable skills you can call upon as a freelance copywriter. Freelancers often get income from a range of clients, all of whom need content for websites, print media, books, blogs or even packaging. This means the work is flexible and can be done around your ideal book-writing times. If you have specialist knowledge like law, computer science or medicine, you can even draw on those skills to emphasise your credibility and charge higher fees for content that requires this in-depth knowledge.
Getting copywriting work isn’t easy at first. You have to pitch to publications when you get started. Providing you do a good job, however, that work will lead to repeat business and will flesh out your portfolio, which will improve your hit rate for new pitches. Over time, this effort will build momentum and generate money that you can invest in your books. How you charge will depend on the nature of each job and client. Some freelancers charge per hour or day, others per word or project. It’s entirely flexible, as is the income, which can grow to dizzying figures if you work hard and smart. Part-time freelance copywriters can make $20,000 a year – and outliers can sometimes bring in six figures!
An old joke in academia asks the question, “How do you make money as a writer?” The answer? “Write what you love and teach to make a living.” We all now know that’s not true. There are midlist indies making multi-five and even six figures a year. But you can use teaching opportunities to bolster your income in the early days while you’re still growing your fan base. Traditionally, most authors get into teaching by working at a school or university, but there’s no need to sigh at the prospect of yet another day job.
Given the internet’s capabilities and the growing demand for self-help learning, teaching opportunities keep expanding. If you want, you can teach students creative writing or author business skills in person, but there are other options. Using the internet, you can choose to present on screen if that complements your teaching style, or even share slides, coaching students one at a time or in classes of several hundred. Depending on your preferences and audience size, you could also sell pre-recorded courses for passive income. Your physical location and schedule no longer pose an issue because the internet allows you to earn money teaching online in whatever way suits your personality and goals.
After publishing a book yourself, you might have banked a catalogue of skills that you’ve mastered in readiness but aren’t yet in a position to use yourself without a big backlist. Creating metadata spreadsheets, keyword scraping, scheduling social media posts and organising book promotions are all examples of tasks the typical author can handle. The challenge for you might not be keeping a book riding high in the charts but writing a bestseller in the first place. Meanwhile, other authors might publish more frequently but not have enough free time or enthusiasm to optimise their metadata or tell their fans about older novels. That’s where you can help them.
PA work usually happens as a day job with set office hours. As a VA, however, you can enjoy all of the benefits with few of the rules. For example, you are free to stabilise VA income by managing several clients at once. Many authors don’t have enough ongoing work to pay a full-time salary anyway, so this is the norm in the industry. You can work on client projects whenever you want, unless they’re up against a deadline or have given you a time-sensitive task. That means that you can fill unused pockets of your day with billable tasks that you can do with your eyes closed. Then you can spend your optimum working hours writing your books and making your own author dream a reality.
It is possible to break out as an indie author on a shoestring budget, but having extra cash to invest makes it easier to build momentum. For many authors, that means creating side hustles to cover costs. Long term, once you’ve grown a reputation, you may even find that you enjoy them enough to make them fully-fledged author income streams. Instead of fuelling your dream, they add variety and become a part of it you enjoy forever.
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