Where My Money Comes From

From Jane Friedman:

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.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG really likes Jane’s flexibility. She isn’t afraid to modify her work emphasis as market conditions and her personal desires change.

A handful of people stumble on a magic formula that works over and over again so long as they just keep repeating the same effort over and over again.

However, very few businesses are that predictable and unchanging over a long period of time.

Technology changes, what people want and are willing to pay for changes, etc., etc., etc.

For PG, this is one of the great weaknesses of the wash, rinse, repeat mindset of traditional publishing. They really, really want to keep doing things the way they did them before. Paying someone a few thousand dollars to run a social media promotion for a book is regarded as a big creative move (in an age where teens can become social media stars with a new angle and a new attitude and use their fame and followers to build a commercial business from scratch.

If you really don’t want to change, putting a new coat of paint on the old machine won’t fool anybody outside of your closed little world.

8 thoughts on “Where My Money Comes From”

  1. I’m especially grouchy this morning, so I’m going to accuse PG of being much too nice about this:

    [T]his is one of the great weaknesses of the wash, rinse, repeat mindset of [commercial] publishing. They really, really want to keep doing things the way they did them before.

    They want to keep doing things the way they did under the Copyright Act of 1909 and the Bankruptcy Act of 1898. And the New York common law of contracts, before the adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code or the Restatement (2d) of Conflicts of Laws or the Restatement (2d) of Property. And before the US became a member of the Berne Convention on Copyright. And before the fall of the Bretton Woods Agreement. And before fax machines, electronic mail, ACH deposits, and computerized sales reporting. And before the consolidation of distributors from hundreds to half a dozen.

    Would it surprise you a great deal to learn that the most-recent of the legal changes noted in the preceding paragraph occurred 33 years ago? And that the most-significant ones both occurred a full employment lifetime (43 years) ago? No? Then you’ve clearly been paying attention… good for you, not so good for your peace of mind.

    And they’re still “commercial” and not “traditional” publishers, because the truly “traditional” publishers are vanity presses, which are far, far worse.

  2. I note that Ms. Friedman’s income from writing was only 30% of the total in 2019, and fell to 22% in 2020 – even using the broadest possible definition of writing income.

    It seems disingenuous to describe her as a writer at all. By her own admission, she is a freelance editor/teacher/consultant who writes as a sideline, as a way of ‘repurposing the content’ (as they say) of her primary business. Few writers are so situated. For most of us, if we want to diversify our top-line income, that means taking a day job completely unrelated to writing. But nobody considers that something to brag about.

    • And who, exactly, is describing her as a “writer”? She’s not. The first line of her About Jane on her website reads: “Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers.” Then later under “What I Care About” she says: “I have a special interest in how the digital age is transforming writing careers, publishing, and storytelling. […]”

      I have no problem with what she does and how she chooses to describe it. And I’m frankly amazed that she’s so transparent about her income. So good for her.

    • I admit that personally I’m not sure how I’d feel about being taught by someone who wasn’t successful doing what I want to do.

      It is, however, possible to diversify your income based on your primary activity (writing fiction), it just looks different. Sharing worldbuilding background, selling cameos, live-writing, speaking engagements, serializing (Patreon, Substack), etc. Requires a lot of time and ability to experiment, though.

      • A little trickier to get good advice when you’re only interested in writing and marketing fiction. Many of the ideas don’t work.

        She’s known as a writer, or a writer’s advocate, or a writer’s teacher – at least in my categories – but it doesn’t look as if I should listen to her at all. I don’t need the income – I just want to leave the writing legacy.

        I’m actually glad to see this post. For that. Zero interest in all the writing sidelines.

      • I admit that personally I’m not sure how I’d feel about being taught by someone who wasn’t successful doing what I want to do.

        A reasonable point, but I think you’re missing something. There are some people who are just good at gathering information and communicating the key points to others in a digestible, helpful way. Jane doesn’t have to be a good or successful “writer” to be able to “transform writing careers.” (and BTW, I’m not biased for or against her; I disagree with her on her blog as many times as I agree)

        I’ll give you another example of this “maven” quality or ability: me. Back in the ’00s, I was one of the world’s top experts in digital imaging and printing for photography and art (I no longer am as I’m now focused on fiction writing 😉 For several years, I had the #1-selling How-To book worldwide on digital imaging and printing (exceeding mid-five-figures in units sold), and I had a very high-level consulting job on the subject for the world’s 4th largest corporation (HP). So I knew my stuff. Inside and out. But I wasn’t a successful artist or photographer. I just knew how to communicate what people wanted to know. I think Jane is maybe like that.

        Or, to take a line from PG, I could be wrong.

        • It’s why I couched my response the way I did. I’d have to evaluate them before I decided whether to trust them, but my instincts are ‘if they’re not in the trenches, be skeptical.’

          Or, I guess, to put it another way, I would be hesitant to follow the career advice of someone unless I wanted my career to end up looking like theirs.

        • A fair point. Keep in mind, too, that a practitioner may not be aware of all of the pitfalls and aspects of all of the craft, either. An obvious example is “negotiating contracts,” such as not understanding that an arbitration clause that selects the International Chamber of Commerce essentially means that “individuals need not apply for relief, because it’s a system designed for disputes over cargo shipments and costs a minimum of $20,000 to play.” Another one is “how to read a royalty or other licensing statement to see when you’re being ripped off.”

          None of this is to either accept or criticize Ms Friedman’s material; it’s only to point out that no “practitioner” knows everything, and that conversely some “nonpractitioners” have some valuable information/services/advice/whatever that’s relevant… and usually better than what the practitioners have to offer. (Let’s not get started too quickly on bashing conflicts of interest, out of respect for PG’s server load.)

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