What If You Had to Make a Full-Time Income from Writing Tomorrow?

A defensive entrepreneurship plan for writers and authors

The robots are coming. So are self-driving cars. Neuralink advances towards its goal to mesh human brains with AI. Scientists struggle to keep ahead of viruses, as we all struggle to minimize pandemic mayhem in our lives. The internet and mobile technology is bringing information and opportunity to billions of the world’s poorest people who rightfully want their piece of the pie and have motivation in spades to claim it. Environmental crises mount. Political upheavals and gut-punches to democracy tear at the international balance of power, not to mention individual societies. The Final Frontier is buzzing with space tourism, asteroid mining, and hints at alien life and a bounty of Earth-like planets.

In other words, if you think the last couple years have been disruptive, there’s more to come. I’m a bit of a reckless optimist, so even in the face of daunting challenges, my brain homes in on the possibilities and the bright sides. But disruptive is disruptive. And one of the biggest disruptions for most individuals would be losing a job or a major income stream, an unexpected interruption in the steady flow of cash coming their way. It would be nice if we could count on a UBI cushion — I’m an advocate — but my Plan B, C, and D never rest on what other people might do maybe some day.

Whatever more theoretical, secure place may exist down the road, it is likely not just around the corner. You may be a reluctant entrepreneur, but I take this space to remind you that should you ever need it, your book or your writing is a center of income, a launching pad for a side hustle, a means to make extra money. Consider it defensive entrepreneurship. Something on the back burner that can be moved front and center.

How does one begin monetizing their writing and its possibilities at this level? There are different routes for different people.

Two authors, hint, hint, I’ve worked with recently could make decent money by only doing high-paid speaking events ($500 to $5,000+ a pop) on their book’s topics — Children of the Kingdom: Bridging Genetics and Islam to Save the Children of Saudi Arabia and Buzz Ride: Driven to Disruption: Memoirs of an Uber Driver* — through speakers bureaus, with back-of-the-room sales and royalties being incidental.

Two other authors I’ve worked with have each given variations of their same program dozens of times over the last 14 (!) years, making money on more modest speaking fees ($100–$350 at a time), selling books, earning royalties, and getting side gigs from these side gigs. Grace DuMelle’s (Finding Your Chicago Ancestors) frequent book talks on genealogy topics easily connect her with ideal clients for her other business, Heartland Historical Research. Author and geriatric social worker Charles Billington (Wrigley Field’s Last World Series and Comiskey Park’s Last World Series*) is also a classical pianist. Many libraries and senior centers have hosted him for both his talks/booksignings on sports history as well as for concerts.

25 years ago, Ursula Bielski’s first book, Chicago Haunts*, was so popular, it led her to writing eight more books and founding a tour company, Chicago Hauntings. In addition to an active schedule of bus tours for tourists and schoolchildren, her company stages paranormal conferences and hosts overnight trips to haunted historical sites.

What I mostly want to get across is that I have observed dozens (hundreds?) of authors and writers over my career build up some degree of an income infrastructure around their writing and have discussed what works and doesn’t work with lots of them. If I had to do this, if it were my best option for making money fast, here are the steps I would take…

And, even if I didn’t need to make money fast, I might start putting a structure into place for this now — that’s the defensive part of defensive entrepreneurship. Having it ready if and when you need or want it.

For you:

  • Just for the *fun* of it, imagine that you’d have to indefinitely make a living from your book or writing while looking for a job or starting another business. How would you go about it? What would that look like? What activities would best lead to your accustomed pay grade?

  • Decide if you’re in a situation now that requires actively putting a defensive entrepreneurship plan into place. If you are, stay with me. Reread this article and add some of the tasks/readings to your schedule.

  • Even if you’re not immediately in need of an alternate income plan for getting by, keep in mind that creative, entrepreneurial thinking is a powerful tool for reaching your author or writing goals, which for just about everyone includes making more money from their work.

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