It’s hard to find income reports from freelancers specializing in the book niche, especially ghostwriters. So, last year I started posting income reports in the hopes of providing some encouragement to those thinking of entering this field. It is, in fact, possible to feed and clothe yourself running your own book-focused business if you’re willing to work hard to get yourself started. I also want you to know that my monthly earnings are still on the lower side of what is possible in this business once you really establish yourself in the field.
In order to meet my income goal for 2018, I need to average $2,500 a month, and I’m happy to say that January was a success, as I surpassed that number. It was a super busy month thanks to landing a brand new ghostwriting project in which I will be helping the client rewrite select portions of his manuscript (You can read more about that job in How I Landed a $7,500 Ghostwriting Project). I also had work from a client I connected with back in October. Based on her budgeting needs, we had arranged that the project wouldn’t start until January. That project is also rewriting, but on a much smaller scale. My task was to go through the short manuscript and adjust the tone so that the tween narrators of this tween self-help book sounded more age-appropriate, without losing the guidance and intelligence of the original content. Past clients also reached out for small tasks here and there, too, keeping me on my toes. (If you want to learn more about how to build your own network and have jobs come to you, read How to Establish and Maintain a Strong Freelance Network.)
Here’s January’s breakdown. The chart below is from my invoicing and accounting software, FreshBooks.
(Want to learn more about Freshbooks? Read my review.)
January Gross Income: $3,161
I’ll break down where everything came from in just a moment.
January Business Expenses: $525
This is much higher than it’s been in the past, but I have a feeling this will become the new norm for the year.
January Net Income: $2,636
This is before I put 20% into savings in preparation for taxes. This is a good practice so you aren’t forced to cough up cash you don’t have during tax season (to learn how my taxes went last year, read my post on Filing Taxes as a Full-Time Freelancer). However, I’m not taking it out of the net income calculations because I still have that money, just not in my checking.
This month, the vast majority of my income came from book ghostwriting. I actually had zero editing clients this past month, which is highly unusual. In the past, editing has always made up at least 50% of my income, but last year I took steps to attract and find more ghostwriting work, as that pays higher, and it seems to be working. Definitely not giving up editing, though (sneak peek: I have plenty in February); I enjoy it too much.
That brand new fiction client, for whom I’m reworking portions of his novel, is a super fun gig, but it’s definitely dominating most of my time. Nothing wrong with that, as the client is paying fairly and the genre is YA fantasy, so it’s right up my alley. He got in touch in the first week of January, we negotiated for a week or so, and then the rest of the month was spent on familiarizing myself with the novel (plot, characters, all that good stuff) by doing a read through. Then I worked up a master plan for how we would tackle the project. If you’ve never done this before, but you find yourself in a similar situation, realize that you’re going to need a whole lot of back and forth with the client in the beginning. I had a substantial document full of questions for the client at the end of my read through, and then we went back and forth discussing them for a few days afterward. You need to know the ins and outs of the story and fully understand the client’s vision for the book in order to do that client and his/her book justice. Juggling all the various parts of the story and figuring out your gameplan for what needs to be reworked and how you’re going to do it is the hardest part of a rewriting project (or any book ghostwriting gig, really), in my opinion. Once it’s out of the way, you get to immerse yourself in the book’s world and just write. That’s what February and March will be for.
(Don’t know what ghostwriting is? You can learn more in two previous posts: Ghostwriting 101 and 10 Things You May Not Know About Ghostwriting.)
My other ghostwriting/rewriting project was super interesting, and I feel it made me flex and strengthen my ghosting muscles. This was a nonfiction project, and the book was already in solid shape. It had already been published and received a few awards and good reviews, but the client wanted to release a new, updated edition, and she felt she wanted to enhance the language and overall tone of the manuscript. One of the reasons she picked me was that after viewing her provided sample, I suggested that instead of just improving sentence flow here and there, that the factor missing from the tone was that her tween narrators sounded a bit too much like a school teacher. She loved the idea of reworking their narration to sound more tween-like, and the work, though rather small in scope, required me to really dig deep and evaluate the language closely. I had a whole lot of fun doing it, and the client was very pleased when I delivered it at the end of the month. Woo-hoo!
My other two sources of income were my old review ghostwriting gig and my tutoring job. They are what I call my “cushion” jobs. They provide weekly or biweekly work on a regular basis, so I always count on a few extra hundred bucks from them no matter what else is going on in the month. However, as of writing this report in February, I’ve put a postponement on receiving new review assignments because I’m too swamped with higher paying work.
Okay, let’s get back to numbers.
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
This is the down payments of both ghostwriting projects. I billed for the final payment of the nonfiction project, but not until the last day of January, so I did not receive that payment in January.
This came from my tutoring gig and two sets of short product review assignments. I still thoroughly enjoy the tutoring work, but I will probably drop the review client entirely at some point this year. I’m holding off until my baby comes in April. The reviews are very easy work, so I may want to hold onto that job for the first few months of motherhood, taking assignments for a few extra bucks here and there while I’m taking a step back from larger projects to adjust to life with a newborn.
WHAT DID I SPEND MONEY ON?
This month, my expenses came from my Publisher’s Marketplace membership, the small fee FreshBooks takes on each paid invoice, Stripe payment fees, and Reedsy’s “finder’s fee.” I landed both new clients via Reedsy. Those clients approached me for work thanks to the platform; I did not go looking for them. Reedsy is fast becoming a prominent place for clients to search for book ghostwriters, and the Reedsy staff will direct clients to appropriate ghosts should clients ask for guidance. In exchange for this connection-making, Reedsy charges 10%. Is it ideal? No, but based on the number of job opportunities that come my way via the site without any “hunting” effort on my end, I personally see it as a worthwhile business expense. Even with the percentage taken, this was my highest grossing month as a freelancer, so to say I’m happy would be an understatement.
AM I ON THE RIGHT TRACK TO MEET MY 2018 GOALS?
GOAL 1: ANNUAL GROSS INCOME OF $30,000
Last year I did not meet my old income goal of $25,000, but I’m still aiming higher this year. $30,000 is what I would charge for a full-length (75,000 word), from-scratch ghostwriting project that required research and/or phone interviews with the client, and an outline crafted before beginning. It’s also around what my husband made at his 9-5 in 2018, so I think doubling our income is a good goal now that we have a baby on the way.
You know what I made last January? $1,016. Sometimes it’s good to look back. You can read that income report here.
GOAL 2: SHIFT PURPLEINKPEN’S FOCUS TO MANUSCRIPTS 100%
At the beginning of 2017, books were making up about 70% of my income. I set a goal to shift the focus at least to some degree last year, and by the last 3 months of 2017, I’d shifted it to around 90%. By the end of this year, I’m going to drop both of my lingering non-book related gigs. It will probably be later in the year, at least for the tutoring gig, but by December 2018, I want to be so slammed with book work that I couldn’t even fit anything else in if I wanted to.
GOAL 3: Land One Book Ghostwriting Gig with a Payout of $15,000 or more
Ever since raising my rates back in early 2017, I have only landed smaller scope rewriting projects. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed all those jobs, but I would love to land one full-length, from-scratch ghostwriting project. $15,000 is the average of what I would charge for a 50,000 word book that did not require research and already had a basic outline provided by the client. That’s also half of my income goal from one project, so I think this is a tangible and worthwhile goal.
GOAL 4: Self-publish print copies of my novel, Arcamira
I wrote this novel when I was 14. I began revisiting it 2016, doing some major reworking to bring it closer to my current skill level, and I posted the reworked chapters in installments as a series on Channillo. The book has since placed in five Channillo Awards, snagging top spot in two, all based on reader/user feedback. However, I have given that reworked version to my mentor for beta reading, and he is almost done with it. After that, I’ll be applying his suggestions, and then I want to self-publish it by the end of the year. I think self-publishing is my best option since technically the manuscript has already been published elsewhere, and I’ve already received money from it, so I’m not sure a publisher would be okay with taking it on. Plus, after a decade, I’m just ready to get the thing out there.
IT IS POSSIBLE!
I hope this has been helpful. I hope it’s convinced you that this career path isn’t a pipe dream. I’m not a veteran, best-selling ghostwriter commanding $1 per word rates (yes, those rates and even higher are out there and attainable with hard work!). I started this right out of college with no “real world” experience, sweet samples, or any sort of clue, but I have come a long way in the past three years. It takes time to build credibility in this niche, but with dedication, it can become very lucrative. You also don’t have to start out naively charging a few hundred per book, like I did. I look forward to the day a book I collaborate on reaches the best-seller list and my website boasts rates of $1+ per word, but for now, I’m grateful for what I’ve already achieved.
If you’re interested in this niche, I hope I’ve given you some ideas on avenues to explore. If you aren’t looking to get into the manuscript business, but you’re starting out as a freelance writer or editor of any sort, I hope I’ve been able to assure you that freelancing isn’t a fairytale only achieved by people with tons of free time or years and years of experience in a lucrative 9-5 field.
Please feel free to connect in the comments if you have any questions or if you have any awesome stories about how you’re making a living as a freelancer. Are you on track to meet your 2018 business goals? Are you working toward landing that first “big break” gig? Did you kick this month’s butt and make more than ever before? I’d love to hear about all of it. Thanks for reading!
4 thoughts on “How I Write and Edit Books for a Living: January 2018 Income Report”
A really great month Hannah. It seems that every month you’re taking steps towards exactly where you want to be, which is great. It’s always encouraging to see someone who’s making it work. I think it’s a really good idea to keep the smaller projects for the time being to fit around the baby. It will be nice to have some simple work that comes to you, that you don’t have to pitch for.
Not much going on here in the way of earning money at the moment. I’m putting my website together which is time-consuming, firstly because I’m not brilliant at technology and secondly because I need to write samples as I don’t have much suitable published stuff. I’ve read and re-read your post on building a website, it’s honestly been so helpful. I’m using the website builder that you went with, and gradually getting to know how it works. I’m looking at lots of helpful little videos as well on how to do things. Made a contact form yesterday! Which is pretty much a triumph for me.
Thank you, Claire! And best wishes on the website. So glad to hear my post is helping. You’ve got this! Feel free to send me a link either here or via email once you’ve finished it. I’d love to take a peek.
Thanks Hannah, will do.