An email I received this morning read in part,
“Since you are an established writer and a columnist for many websites, and I am new to this, do you have any suggestions as to how I can get published and/or more exposure on other websites? I’m also curious as to how conservative writers have been successful in supporting themselves and being able to write full time.
Again, thank you for your wonderful and patriotic writings and the good work you are doing in relating the conservative and the Christian message. I would appreciate any suggestions or help that you could offer me.” — Kristia Cavere
I get a variation of this question on almost a daily basis, either from fledgling bloggers, or people who find out that I’m a professional blogger and ask something like, “Bloggin’? How do you make money doing that?”
So, I wanted to give a brief, basic, explanation of how you do make money doing this.
1) You need to have talent, discipline, a strong work ethic, and persistence. Just to give you a general idea of my timeline.
1998: I start writing on the web.
2001: I start writing about politics on the web.
2005: I first went full time, involuntarily, on Right Wing News.
Mid 2006: I did my first column for Human Events.
Feb 2007: I did my first column for Townhall.
This isn’t going to sound very humble, but it’s honest: I’m very, very good at what I do. Right Wing News is one of the bigger conservative blogs. Over the last five weeks, I have pumped a top-5-for-the-day column on Townhall 5 consecutive times — and 3 times, my column has been top-5-for-the-week in either “views” or “forwards” despite the fact that I am competing against people like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Charles Krauthammer, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Mike Adams, George Will, etc., etc.. Yet, look how long it has taken me to move along that timeline.
Point being, even if you are good, it will probably take you a very long time to make it work — unless you get lucky or are already famous for some reason and therefore get opportunities — that Joe Smoes like me aren’t going to be offered.
2) Let me also be very honest about something else: this is an over-saturated field. There is an abundance of talented, conservative writers out there competing for eyeballs and most of the successful people in this business aren’t interested in helping them along. Moreover, the famous people that are interested in helping out fledgling conservative writers have so many people competing for their attention, that it’s difficult to get them to help you.
3) Because of #2, when an opportunity comes your way, you need to jump on it — hard. Moreover, you need to make your own opportunities. Be willing to do crapwork, things nobody else is willing to do, and take a few chances. Ask and ask again for things.
Just to give you one example of that: here’s how I got started with Human Events and Townhall.
Rob Bluey, who was then the editor of Human Events, was interested in having some bloggers write for them. He asked me if I’d like to write something for them sometime. My response was, “Absolutely, how about every week? I’d like a regular column.” He said, “Yes,” I jumped onboard with them and I had a regular column at one of the most prestigious conservative publications.
Later on, for a variety of reasons, I decided I wanted to move over to Townhall. So, I wrote them and told them that. I had a contact who was there at the time put in a good word for me. I offered to do whatever day they happened to have open. They agreed, and that’s how I got a Townhall column.
However, not every door that cracks open produces a great opportunity. For example, out of the blue, I had a very famous person from outside of politics write me a very nice thank you note for something I wrote about him. I was immensely flattered, wrote him back a very nice email — and asked him for an interview. He politely turned me down for the interview.
Along the same lines, people ask me all the time: how do you get all those interviews with famous conservatives? My answer is always the same: I ask.
What people don’t see is all the people I ask for interviews who never respond and the people who agree to interviews and then don’t do it and the people I ask who end up saying, “yes,” on the 5th time I asked them two years after the first time I contacted them.
Point being: When the door opens a crack, jump through it. When a genuine opportunity is presented to you, take it. But, sometimes you won’t make it through the door. If so, give it another shot a little later.
4) Another little thing to keep in mind: I don’t make a ton of money — yet. If I were married and had kids, I’d either have to figure out a way to make more doing this or get a day job. Moreover, I can tell you definitively that I could move to D.C. and make twice what I make right now working as a consultant or in a think tank — but, I like what I do. I like not having a boss, getting up when I want to get up, going to bed when I want to go to bed, and generally doing my own thing.
Put another way, if you don’t love writing so much that you’d do it for free, you’ll probably never stick around long enough to make money at it.
5) You’ve heard people say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Well, there is a lot of truth to that. I know more conservative bloggers than anybody else. I invite talented people to write for me all the time. I write influential conservatives and say hello. I try to maneuver myself into a position where I can help people out. I try to keep my fingers in all sorts of different projects, from Rightroots, to Slatecard, to Twitter, to consulting — and I do favors for people all the time.
Part of that is because I like being involved in things and genuinely enjoy helping people and part of it’s because the people whose backs you scratch today, may be the people who are scratching your back tomorrow. I can’t tell you how many times I have helped somebody out, somebody who wasn’t in a position to do anything for me at the time, and then later, things changed, and they were in a position to do something for me.
Put another way: meet a lot of people and treat them right. Not only is it a nice thing to do, you may be surprised at how often it pays off for you.
6) Here’s another piece of advice I’ve been giving people lately: since the blogosphere/columnist field is so over-saturated, I’d suggest finding a popular niche that nobody else is filling and being the best at it. That’s what I tried to do with Right Wing Video and Conservative Grapevine.
Why a niche? Because if you try to do a general blog, you’re going toe-to-toe with people who are not only very good, but people who have been around for years honing their craft and building up name recognition.
If you go against that advice and write general material, at least be distinctive, be unique. There’s no market for one more person writing about whatever the latest stories on the Drudge Report happen to be today.
7) Everybody laughs at the South Park “Underpants Gnomes” philosophy of business.
Phase 1: Collect Underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit!
Meanwhile, if you replace “collect underpants” with “get eyeballs,” that was my philosophy when I started blogging — and it still is.
Most people, myself included, who are unhappy with how much money they’re making have a simple problem: they don’t have enough traffic.
Sure, there are things you can do to maximize your revenue, but most people who complain about what they’re making, again, myself included, just don’t have enough people reading them.
That being said, it’s not hard to maximize your revenue. Take 30 minutes and look around at other blogs. What ad companies are they using? Should you be using them as well? Write them and ask. Go to the Conservative Hive at Blogads and see what other people are charging. Are you charging half of what the people around you are charging? Then maybe you should be charging more. It’s not really rocket science. Most of the people who aren’t making anywhere near what they should be given their traffic are doing so because they put no effort into it, they ask no questions, and they don’t take advice.
8) Summing it all up for the average person: to be a full time columnist/blogger, you’re going to have to be very good and work very hard, for a very long time. Then, if you pursue opportunities, meet the right people, and keep on fighting, after much frustration and effort, you may be able to go full time as a blogger/columnist.