While I’ve often revealed at conferences and workshops where my money comes from—complete with pie charts—I’ve never laid out in writing, at this site, what my earnings looks like. It is perhaps an overdue look, since I reach more people through this blog than I do through speaking engagements.
My 3 key categories of earnings
Most of my income arises from three types of work:
- Consulting one-on-one with writers
- Teaching in-person and online
- Paid writing (newsletters, articles, books) and indirect income from free writing (advertising and affiliate income through my website and newsletter)
Since I started full-time freelancing in 2015, these categories have always remained central, although the mix and character of the work shifts.
What my top-line income looked like in 2016
Here’s what was happening in each of these categories.
- Online teaching (26%): This includes (1) multi-week workshops I was offering directly, (2) multi-week workshops I was offering by guest instructors (I kept a cut of registration fees), and (3) webinars I taught for other companies, such as Writer’s Digest. While it looks like a healthy percentage of my income, my profit margin was low on courses taught by others.
- Query-synopsis editing (24%): In 2016, I started attracting a steady stream of clients who were seeking help with their queries and synopses for submission to agents and editors.
- Consulting (17%): I do two types of consulting: book proposal consulting and one-on-one consulting. It’s all done on an hourly, flat-fee basis, trading money for time.
- Paid newsletter (12%): In late 2015, I launched a paid email newsletter (The Hot Sheet) with Porter Anderson. This was the first year we had a full year of subscription income, which we split down the middle after expenses. (The profit margin is excellent, about 90 percent.)
- Freelance writing (7%): This included varied opportunities, including features for Writer’s Digest magazine. I also initially counted The Great Courses income under this, because it literally required me to write 100,000 words in three months. (I had to write the script for the course, then deliver on camera.)
- Affiliate income (6%): I’m an Amazon affiliate and also started affiliate arrangements around 2016 with Teachable and Bluehost. I don’t work for this money; it’s passive income.
- Book sales (5%): This is all income from Publishing 101, which I self-published in late 2015.
- Conference speaking (3%): Some people think I get paid the big bucks for speaking. I do not. It represents the smallest of my revenue streams in 2016. But speaking (especially in person) is important for visibility and trust. It’s also critical for me to remain in touch with real writers’ everyday concerns, plus I get to hear and learn from other experts in the community.
If I combine these into my three main areas of income:
- 41% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
- 30% writing (affiliate income goes in here since it’s powered by my writing and blogging)
- 29% teaching and speaking
What my top-line income looked like in 2020
You’ll notice one big change here!
Here’s what was happening in each of these categories. And note that 2020 was the first full year that my husband joined the business as a full-time employee.
- Online teaching (48%): In fall 2019, I began hosting my own webinars because I now had someone who could help with post-production and customer service. Some webinars I teach myself and others feature guest instructors. This move proved fortunate when the pandemic rolled around. I keep 50 percent of the net for webinars taught by guest instructors. I still continue to teach for a range of organizations and companies, so that’s still included here as well.
- Query-synopsis editing (12%): I stopped taking on this work in the middle of 2020 to open up more room in my schedule for writing work. I still offer a query letter master class, though—that income now falls under online teaching.
- Consulting (16%): In 2020, I was still accepting one-on-one consulting clients and book proposal clients. In 2021, I now accept only book proposal clients in an ongoing effort to pull back some of my time for writing (or at least make consulting time more profitable).
- Paid newsletter (16%): I am now the full owner of The Hot Sheet. While this percentage doesn’t look much increased despite me now taking 100% of the net, it’s not because the subscriber base didn’t grow. Rather, it’s a reflection of how much the other areas of my business have grown—namely online teaching. Also, if this were a profits chart, not a top-line revenue chart, the paid newsletter would represent a bigger proportion of the pie.
- Book sales (3%): This is income from Publishing 101, my Great Course, and The Business of Being a Writer.
- Conference speaking (3%): This includes some virtual conferences and would’ve been more had it not been for the pandemic. (I’m not complaining, though! I needed to get off the travel wagon for a while.)
- Advertising (2%): I recently started accepting advertisers in Electric Speed, my free newsletter.
- Affiliate income (1%): Amazon has reduced its affiliate marketing payouts over time, and I’m more often linking to Bookshop—which simply doesn’t bring in as much income. (But one feels better linking to it.) I’ve also stopped actively engaging in or seeking affiliate marketing, not because I’m against it, but frankly I have a lot of other things I’d rather do.
If I combine these into my three main areas of income:
- 51% teaching and speaking
- 28% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
- 22% writing (advertising/affiliate goes here since it’s powered by my writing)
Yes, I realize this adds up to 101%. What can I say? My spreadsheet rounded things up.
What I’m most happy about is the downward trend in one-on-one work. I’ve always been fearful about walking away from consulting and editing. At the beginning it was my biggest category of earnings and it can be hard to turn down people who offer money upfront in exchange for time.
But as most entrepreneurs learn, there’s only so far you can go by selling your time for money. Plus, I’d rather devote more of my energies to writing work. The teaching and speaking is great and I don’t see giving that up—it tends to inform the writing as well.
Questions? Let me know in the comments.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.