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How to Make Money as a Writer Part One: Leads

Conventionally, modern business tells us that there are four factors you must consider if you want to grow a business.

But before we can even begin to look at them, we have to briefly address that balking sensation which many of you might have felt on reading the word ‘business’ in relation to what you do as a writer.

You might be writing purely for your own pleasure, or for the reading pleasure of a small circle of friends with whom you share your work and of whom you expect nothing but cooperation and praise, and that’s all well and good; you might be writing because of all the above and because you entertain the notion that one day you will be published and read more widely; and you might have the idea that your writing will eventually conquer the world, if only you could reach enough readers.

If you are writing purely for pleasure, then the notion that what you are doing has anything to do with the soiled world of commerce may be repulsive to you, or at best seem irrelevant. However, if you in any way have a conviction that what you are doing could or should lead to some kind of income in the short, medium or long term, then automatically you are connected to a set of ideas and principles which comes under the general term of ‘business’.

When you think of ‘business’, many of you probably imagine people in suits, tall office buildings, accountants, and possibly illegitimate wealth. But business here is defined as the operation of taking a product of some kind and acquiring customers for it. Even more fundamentally, ‘business’ is - or should be - simply about finding and filling needs. As a writer, you are either writing because of your own needs or to fulfil the needs of others. If others are included, a whole swathe of factors is implicitly involved.

Firstly, you have to find the right people; then you have to get enough of their attention; then you have to get a commitment from them; then you have to get an even greater commitment; and then you have to have them want even more. That’s how business works (when it is successful) and that’s how writers become successful in commercial terms.

Which brings us right back to the four factors you need to consider if you want to grow a business, including your writing career, along business lines. These are conventionally divided into the following:

1. Leads - where a lead is defined as ‘a potential customer or business opportunity’.

2. Customers - people who buy something.

3. Margin - the amount of money which could be considered as a profit on any given transaction.

4. Frequency - the number of times a product is purchased in a given length of time.

If a business wants to expand, it has to work on these four things. If it can double the number of leads, for example, and everything else stays constant, then its profits are likely to double; if it doubled the number of customers as well, then the profits would quadruple. Doubling all these factors would result in 16 times more profit.

In working with hundreds of writers all over the world, I find a certain degree of naivety when it comes to such matters - and that’s fair enough. Most writers are not ‘in it for the money’; the whole idea of transforming what they do - that precious, aesthetic act of transcribing what is in their heads into a story - into a plain commercial transaction is abhorrent to some. But if we look again at the four factors above from a purely writing standpoint, I think we will see that a writer is already engaged in at least two of them, without realising it.


Most writers I have spoken to tend to think that the process of becoming successful goes something like this:

‘Writer writes from the heart a piece of work which appeals to a huge number of people, who then rush to the shops and buy it. Word spreads until the work becomes even more widely known, at which point writer settles down to write more in what amounts to a pleasant semi-retirement.’

Some may be slightly more realistic about it, but that is still the general framework of what they believe and would like to have happen. And sometimes it does, which reinforces the dream. But that simple vision is missing a few pragmatic stages.

The first of these is what we can call ‘lead acquisition’. No matter what a writer writes, it is highly unlikely that it will have universal appeal - or, even if it does, that it will easily reach a large amount of people immediately upon release. It is far, far more likely that it will only be of interest to a much smaller group of people - those who have some predilection for the kind of material this writer is producing, who have purchased similar items in the past, or who are on the edges of those groups of people who are fascinated by such things. In other words, those people who are ‘leads’ where a lead is defined as a potential customer, someone who is interested in a specific product or service. Most writers don’t spend much time thinking about it like this, but the first people who are likely to buy a book are the ones who are interested in the general topics covered in that book, its genre, its style, even its format.

Young Adult readers will probably not be interested in a Western tale of revenge written in a late 19th century style; thriller addicts are not likely to be interested in a romance set in Regency times. So a writer’s leads are those people who have already, in one way or another, expressed an interest in the kinds of things a writer is writing about.

It sounds obvious, but it merits thinking about.

These people don’t just automatically click on a writer’s website and order a book - they have to be found. There is a step missing in most writers’ strategies, a vital step if they want commercial success - and that step is finding the leads. If a writer can find and cultivate leads, he or she has a starting base from which to grow. Double those leads and the income of the writer potentially doubles - but there are three other factors to consider alongside the lead to make sure that that is what happens.

Stay tuned to find out how this all fits together.

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