The phrase “passive income” pisses a lot of people off.
There are so many arguments about what it is and how it works — especially amongst us writers.
But those who understand and proactively seek out new passive income sources have a much better time as writers.
Obviously passive income requires work. As writer Niharikaa Kaur Sodhi said: “Do active work before passive income.”
The point is once you do enough active work as a writer then your income starts to transition to passive if you’re smart about it.
The #1 reason writers fail to generate passive income
Writers love to complain.
To be fair, we’ve been treated like slaves since the dawn of time. Book publishers have ruled our lives and essentially become banks. They loan you money and then you pay it back with predatory interest. Music record labels are the same.
To top it off, book publishers expect us to do all the marketing and have our own audience. It’s no wonder the average writer is an angry mofo.
Somehow I’ve been able to transcend this typical writer persona.
(I’m not that smart either.) It recently hit me why that is. I’ve been able to generate passive income from writing because I have an active behavior toward doing the work.
Too many writers have passive behavior towards their work, then expect to earn passive income that requires upfront work to get it going.
Once this lightbulb goes off in your head everything becomes possible. When it does, here are the five passive income sources for writers.
1. Newsletter ads
Yes, writing a newsletter is active work.
Once it gets going though you can put ads in your newsletter and charge money for them. Two to three ads in a newsletter isn’t uncommon.
All you do is write the same newsletter you always do each week, except the income is automated.
As the reader base grows so, too, does the ad revenue.
If you want to turn this strategy truly passive, you can do what newsletter writer Matt D’AVella does and have a ghostwriter write it for you each week (although Alice Lemée who writes his newsletter isn’t exactly a ghost).
Ads are never going away. Writers can take advantage of them too.
2. Naughty reading subscriptions
You can charge a monthly subscription for your newsletter too. I know, I know … the newsletter writing isn’t passive.
But once you’re in the rhythm, writing a newsletter becomes passive work because it’s something you’d do regardless, even if you didn’t need the money. Why?
You’re a writer. You love writing.
Writing one piece a week to a list of paid subscribers is child’s play. Again, you can have someone else write it for you if you want to disappear for a year to live in the woods, smoke a corn cob pipe, and write a novel.
Paid newsletters aren’t going anywhere because social media algorithms are serving up more and more crap content.
So the trend is moving to newsletters to vaccinate against the bad content plague. Get on it.
3. The most slept on passive income source for writers in history
Let me speak solely to non-fiction writers for this one.
You write words on the internet. They’re probably non-fiction words. You educate people on different topics you love. You’ve been doing it formally or informally for some time.
What you are is a form of digital teacher whether you realize it or not.
Writing articles or tweet threads is one way to use those non-fiction writing skills — but it comes with the lowest pay.
Those same writing skills can be productized into online courses.
Before you gasp …. hear me out. Most online courses suck because the writers who created them don’t understand their job.
An online course needs to be more than an article or blog post.
- heavy curation of content/ideas
- homework that leads to results
- case studies
- and most importantly … for you to save them time by getting to the point and not taking 100 hours to teach them
A course is a piece of writing. Read that again.
I’ve released ten courses so far. You know how my courses start?
As nested dot points of writing inside the Roam Research App. Some creators turn those dot points into scripts they record in front of a camera.
Others, like me, use those nested dot points as a course outline. Then we riff while the camera is recording or in front of a live class, and deliver the educational content.
Once a course is created it can continue to make sales for a long time after with little to no extra effort.
Mindset shift: Writers are course creators by default.
4. Unconventional community memberships
The people who read your writing are either readers or members.
I turn my readers into members. They join my email list. Some even join my private community. And others join my paid community.
The point is readers want more than a one-night stand with your writing. Use CTAs to get readers to become members inside your community.
Then all you do is…
- Curate content for them
- Bring in special guests
- Help members connect with other readers (they might even build businesses together)
A community membership is an excellent source of passive income for writers. There is though some day-to-day community management work.
If you want this income source to be truly passive then you can outsource the community management to members you trust.
5. $20 eBooks
I wrote a few eBooks several years ago. They still earn me money and I’ve done zero active work on them since then.
There’s no reason a writer can’t write an eBook and make each chapter an article/story from their existing library of content and sell it online.
6. Youtube revenue share
My mate Dan Koe taught me this one.
Every article or story you write is also a Youtube script by default. Until I did parts of Ali Abdaal’s Youtube course, I didn’t realize 90% of Youtubers use scripts for their videos.
All they do is write a script, read it in front of a webcam, and record it.
When you post those videos on Youtube and build an audience, your videos can be monetized. For every ad featured in your video you get to share some of the money. Youtube is looking to increase our share too.
Long after a Youtube video is published it can continue to earn passive income. All writers should try this.
7. Writing royalties
This is similar to the previous point.
The difference is you can take writing from elsewhere and publish it again on writing platforms that pay royalties.
One option is Newsbreak. Another is Quora. Another is Vocal. And obviously there’s another option which I can’t name but you know what it is. More options are coming, too.
8. Affiliate links on a blog
When you write online it’s natural to link to books, products, services and resources. There’s no reason you can’t use affiliate links and get paid a commission for doing so.
Over time those articles with affiliate links can continue to rack up leads, and sales, and earn you some sweet, sweet passive income. It starts as active work and becomes passive work.
You could SEO a blog too and stuff it full of affiliate links. Plenty of writers do it but I’m not smart enough to.
9. The cheeky passive income source no writer talks about (but I will)
Let’s end on the final passive income source for writers that’s going to get me in trouble. Ohhhh wellll.
I don’t say this to brag, but I’ve made 7-figures from writing. I have secret I haven’t shared. As writers we earn money. If we don’t invest some or all of it, we must keep writing to earn more.
From day one I have funneled a large portion of the money I earn from writing into investments that generate passive income — stocks, crypto, real estate (you know the ones).
When I don’t write I still make money from these investments.
Lesson: writers who want to earn passive income also should become investors in financial assets.
Use these passive income ideas to start working less in the next 12 months. Your creativity will skyrocket when you do.
This article is for informational purposes only, it should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice. Consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.