Writers Worth: The $100K Myth

I was cruising a LinkedIn forum the other day when I happened upon a link to an article that made me so upset I wanted to scream at the author. The subject?

How she made $100K in her fledgling years of writing without breaking a sweat.

Bully for her, right? Only as I read through the article and through the writer’s website, I realized the claims didn’t match the rates or the hours she said she works. I’m talking a top rate of $50 an hour working half days.

By my calculator, that’s about $52K annually if she works every single day of the year. Not a bad haul, but not exactly $100K. So where’s the rest of it coming from? One can only speculate.

The problem with that article and claims like it is the authors make it sound ridiculously simple to earn that kind of money. They also frame that magical six-figure number as your Valhalla, the summit at which you can define yourself as a real writing success.

Such hogwash.

Here’s the truth about a six-figure income:

Making big money takes big work.

There is no magic bullet or easy path to your financial success no matter what number you’re setting as your goal. It takes studying how to do it and actually applying what you’ve learned consistently. Anything less than that isn’t going to net you much more than frustration and an empty bank account.

Why the claims the $100K authors make really bother me, though, is the self-promotion of it. They tell you “Look how much I’ve made!” and then give you something for free. Ah, but then they have your email, don’t they? And pretty soon, the pitch comes in — wouldn’t you like to learn from me how to earn this much money, too? So tempting because they’ve made it sound so darned easy….

I’ll save you the $200-500 it takes to get the answers — they made that money by charging people like you for their “secret.” Lots of people. Interestingly, the few $100K claims I’ve seen personally that have been tied to products or services have also been given with caveats — we made the money, but not all of it in the course of freelance writing.

Here’s the secret to making $100K — a solid business plan, a consistent marketing plan, and an ongoing dedication to connecting with clients and delivering the best you can deliver at a price that is right for you.

I remember one guy in particular about six years back touting the $120K annual income he’d made… at a content mill. He went on and on about how much he made and how he had ample time off. And he’d claimed to write some ridiculous number of “articles” every month.

Only, his numbers didn’t mesh. When I pressed him for an explanation, his math was suddenly a moving target. In order to “prove” his income, he replaced the $120K with a different number and suddenly his per-article rate had increased….further questioning resulted in more convoluted addition and multiplication from him and a giant headache for me.

That’s proof that while there are a few people out there who are delivering serious value based on actual experience — Peter Bowerman and Ed Gandia come to mind — there are far too many people over-promising and under-delivering.

How do you know the difference? Here are some ways to weed out the bad offers:

Insert skepticism. Maybe I’m a cynic at heart, but when I read the article in question, the self-promotion of it was so blatantly obvious. Even if this writer did earn that much, the freebie attached is what I call “bait.” You give up your email address for the freebie, and then the pitches start coming in. And these people are good at it — how else would they have gotten your email address out of you? Examine these “articles” and freebies carefully. Does it sound easy? Do the numbers given add up? Is there any signs of “I struggled like hell” truth in it? If not, run the other way.

Whip out the calculator. I did. The second the claim sounds a little off is when you should start paying closer attention to what’s being presented. First, is it even possible to earn that kind of money given the facts presented? Second, how much per hour would it take? Do the math. Sometimes, it’s the simplest BS litmus test available.

Ask the person directly. I say call them on their claims. You may be pleasantly surprised if they give you the missing details and it then adds up. Or you may uncover something that doesn’t sound right. How many hours did you work every day? What was the average price you charged per hour? Did you do other work on top of writing that may have contributed to your six-figure income?

Get feedback from other writers. Maybe someone knows this writer or has some other connection (they were coached by them or attended a class of theirs). Those are the people you want to ask questions of. Ask your fellow freelance writers if they know this person and what they make of the claims.

Be aware of paid testimonials. It’s a pathetic practice (and could be illegal, too), but there are people out there who have tons of testimonials, and most of them are paid. Get in touch with a number of the people offering the testimonial. Ask them if they were giving it freely or if there was some incentive offered in exchange for their endorsement.

Know that $100K isn’t everyone’s benchmark. There is no reason why you have to kill yourself (or pay someone to give you information) just to reach this arbitrary benchmark. That dollar amount does not define your success. If you’re making $20K, $40K, or any other amount and you’re running a business and paying your bills, you’re a successful writer. Stop worrying about what other people make and focus on your business. Do you ask your doctors how much they earn (and does that even matter if you trust them enough to care for you)? Do other professionals shout from the rooftops about their income levels? If they do, they’re selling you something, right?

Writers, how do you respond to freelance writers who openly proclaim their income?
How often have you seen books or courses linked to these claims?
What advice can you give other writers on how to separate fact from fiction?

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Comments

  • Paula May 21, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Rule #1: Never trust a writer when it comes to math.

    I've seen several of these hucksters out there who are earning far more from selling gullible writers their courses, webinars or mentorships than they earn from actual writing. And why do I bet a big part of their "core curriculum" involves how to make money by doing the same thing? Where, exactly, does the writing come into play?

    Reply
  • Lori Widmer May 21, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Hilarious! Good rule, Paula.

    Then we have to address the issue of whether they should be making a buck teaching others how to make this much money. I say yes. Still, I want someone who's made this claim give ample proof that they've done it and are qualified to teach me (for a fee) how to replicate it.

    It's one thing to learn something new from someone who's done it. It's wholly another thing to be duped into buying knowledge that the person may not possess.

    Reply
  • Anne Wayman May 21, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    Hucksters out there? You bet. And a surprising number of folks who can't do simple arithmetic, even with a calculator.

    Success means many more things to me than money.

    Reply
  • Paula May 21, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Amen, Anne. To me, success is more about happiness and less about money. As long as I can pay my bills by doing something I love, I consider that success.

    Reply
  • Ashley May 21, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    100% true is that 100K isn't everyone's benchmark. I count myself successful based partly on my income, but also the fact that I can make that money within the hours and other personal constraints I have (and enjoy) in my life. For some people it's all about the money — and that's fine, if that's your goal. I have several goals, all of which have been met. Which, of course, means that I need to raise the bar, right? 🙂

    Also, I recently interviewed someone who uses his Classical Studies education toward his mathematics field. His story is incredible, and something he said resonated with me, and made me slightly ashamed that I've given up on being good at math. I was actually really good at math in school, and my dad (who is an engineer) said many times that I should have been an engineer (although he hasn't said it since I've been successful in my writing career!) But math is a muscle that I haven't flexed in a while, so I've lost much of that ability.

    Reply
  • Dawn M. May 22, 2015 at 1:30 am

    Thank you for saying this out loud, Lori! I cringe when I see those claims. As you shared, there's no magic bullet or "secret formula" for making a six-figure income as a freelance writer. Working up to that will take a lot of hard work–pure and simple. And like you shared, who says $100K is the definition of "successful"?

    Reply
  • Alicia Rades May 26, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I don't have much to contribute to this conversation, but I did want to let you know that I really enjoyed this article. It's definitely something new writers looking for a quick buck need to understand.

    Reply
  • Michelle March 21, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    THANK YOU for calling out this bull! If I have to see one more “how I made six figures as a freelancer writer!” post, I’m going to puke. It’s literally always connected to an expensive informational product, which right there tells you this person couldn’t have been paying their bills as smoothly as they would have liked or they wouldn’t be cobbling together these pie in the sky, pipe dream info products to sell. I’m looking for real world business tips, and I have to wade through arbitrary “success” stories of some outlier who duped a rube into shelling out $600 for a 500 word blog post.

    I wish more people would be honest about life as a writer. Over here in the trenches, the income fluctuates and you’re probably going to have to make sacrifices for your lifestyle. I’ve gotten better at knowing when to eat beans at home instead of going out for beef, for instance. Luxury cruises don’t interest me. I don’t need four kids and a big house. If I wanted those things, I’d be clocking something like 60 hours per week. This life takes tons of persistence, hard work, marketing and wisdom. But that doesn’t sell a pricey seminar as well, does it?

    Reply
    • lwidmer March 22, 2017 at 9:19 am

      Michelle, I love you. LOL You’re welcome. The problem I see with the $100K declarations, books, courses, blah blah, is that it sets an expectation that, if not met, makes the writer feel like a failure. Hey, you can make $30K a year and be successful because you’re still making a profit writing.

      You’re so right — income does fluctuate almost constantly. Today I have $6K coming in when tomorrow, that might be $2K. Or nothing. It evens out if you keep marketing, but there are no guarantees of luxury lifestyles, best sellers, or steady income.

      You’re right — reality doesn’t sell very well. 😉

      Reply
    • lwidmer March 22, 2017 at 9:24 am

      And this right here: “…which right there tells you this person couldn’t have been paying their bills as smoothly as they would have liked or they wouldn’t be cobbling together these pie in the sky, pipe dream info products to sell.”

      Amen, sister. Amen.

      Reply