“Income diversification” or “diverse income streams” are some of the fun buzzwords that personal finance wonks like to throw around. But what does it mean, and why is it important for writers?
Basically, income diversification means that you have more than one source of funds coming in. Most people simply have a 9-5 job as their source of income. There’s nothing wrong with that (at least until your company goes belly up and you no longer have a job). Many, many people manage to survive just fine with one job. But life for creatives is a little different. Unless you’re a household name raking in a boatload of money every time you put a project up for sale, your income is often sporadic and can fluctuate wildly.
The problem is compounded for writers and other creators because so many of the things we depend for money on are not within our control. Getting a ton of exposure on Wattpad? What if it folds tomorrow? Amazon changes its algorithms seemingly every day. If you’re getting exposure and reviews today, you may not be tomorrow. If you freelance, your clients may come and go, or their need for work may ebb and flow. (Heh. That rhymed. Maybe it’s time to look at poetry as a new source of income. Yeah. No.) That publishing contract you worked so hard to get may be cancelled if the published goes under or needs to cut expenses. It’s a wild world and you control very little of it.
This is why it’s important to have multiple ways to earn money from/in addition to your creative efforts. There’s a reason why the saying, “Don’t quit your day job,” exists. If your writing income goes down, you still have the money from your “real” job coming in. That’s great because it means you can eat every month!
But you don’t have to restrict yourself to a regular 9-5 job in order to protect yourself from the vagaries of being a writer. Income streams come in many forms. Yes, you can keep your full time job and write at night and on weekends. Or, if you can afford it, you can look at part-time work. Working evenings at Target or some other place can give you enough cushion to survive the lean times if your writing brings in enough money to cover most of your expenses. Side-hustles like driving for Uber, babysitting/housesitting, lawn care, or courier/delivery person can also provide some extra money to offset your writing. There are many ways to combo various jobs with your writing career so that you’re never in danger of sleeping under a bridge in a refrigerator box.
If you want to stick with writing-related income, there are tons of options with more opening up every day. You can freelance in the corporate sector. Write for blogs and websites, or print magazines. Take a part-time job with the local newspaper. Write scripts for presentations or TED talks. Edit or proofread for other authors. Teach extension courses on writing, or tutor kids so they can pass their English classes. Anything that involves words is pretty much fair game for income. You will have to hustle to find or create this kind of work, but it is possible to pick up all kinds of small writing jobs that can add up to decent money.
There are also other ways of creating income streams as a writer. If you’re traditionally published but don’t like relying solely on that income, self-publish some stuff on your own. (Just make sure it’s top quality so you don’t damage your brand with crap.) Repackage/rework some of your older stuff and sell it to new markets. Write in different genres or forms. Sci-fi may be your thing and it may be selling well today, but tastes change. If you also write mysteries, for example, you might be protected a bit from the loss of one market. (Pen names are great for producing work in multiple genres if you’re afraid that readers will get confused.) Writing fiction and non-fiction, or fiction and graphic novels can be a hedge against one market collapsing.
In the last few years, crowdfunding for creatives has become a thing. Sites like Patreon or Kickstarter allow your fans to contribute money so you can keep producing the work they love. (Patreon is better for funding ongoing work, while Kickstarter is better for funding single, large scale projects.) If you’re crafty, you can open a store on a site like Etsy and sell art or swag related to your writing. Again, these are platforms you don’t control so you can’t rely on them entirely, but they can give you a small income boost and a way to diversify yourself against one or more income streams drying up.
The point is this: Finances for writers are often tenuous, at best. There’s just too much turmoil in the creative world for most people to achieve financial security solely on the back of their creative work. Even if you’re doing well, it’s important to remember that you can lose that security in an instant if your primary income source dries up. Most writers are one client, one book contract, or one market collapse away from disaster. Protect yourself by diversifying your income. Yes, it will mean pulling longer hours and putting in more work (and hustling to create/find those lucrative side jobs), but it’s better than the alternative of sleeping in that refrigerator box.
(Photo courtesy of QuinceMedia)