Bullish Q&A: Is Writing a Book a Good Side-Hustle?

Is writing a book a good side hustle?

I am curious as to whether or not writing a book is a good side line / additional income stream. Is it worth the effort, if I already have a high-stress, demanding day job? Is a 2 hour daily writing commitment, say over 2 years, going to cut it?


First thing – if you can write two hours a day for two years, you are a far greater woman than I. I can’t imagine writing that much, ever. I’ve probably never written two hours a day for more than two days in a row.

So that’s more than enough to write a book. It has often been noted that if you write a page a day, you’ll have a novel in a year. Does it take 2 hours to write 1 page? It depends.

But is a book a good sideline or additional income stream?

Not if the goal is to be a literary genius. But if the goal is to make money, maybe.

So, what kind of book are we talking about, here?

Literary fiction – The worst in terms of moneymaking potential. Well, except for poetry.

Erotic fiction – Well, dinosaur erotica is doing well in the Kindle store! If erotica is (or could be) your thing, 1) look up the list of most-searched keywords in the Kindle store, 2) write some short fiction that uses these keywords and have a cover made, 3) upload and sell on the Kindle store. (A Hint of Strangeness by Susan Isaacs, How You Play the Game: A Philosopher Plays Minecraft by Charlie Huenemann) You can google any of this– it’s very easy to get started, and costs nothing other than paying for someone to design a good cover (google “premade Kindle book covers”). Note: avoid making your promo text too dirty, or Amazon won’t let the story show up in search.

Other Kindle shorts – All of the above also applies to every other topic in the Kindle store. You can write 15 page ebooks on anything and upload them as per the above. Again, I don’t think anyone wants your literary work. But they very well might want “How to Get Hired as a Speaker for Student Groups at U.S. Universities” or something else very specific and informative. (Examples: Decisions: life and Death on Wall Street by Janet M Tavakoli, Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis)

Real, paper books based on clever ideas – Look, I have been quoted in a lot of these, because virtually all of my friends have written books. And none of them are rich from it, nor do they get recurring income. You want to make a website where people submit the best captions to your drawings of sloths, and then make it into a book? You want to compile a book of people’s worst Tindr experiences? I think a lot of these books get a small advance ($20K might sound like a lot, but not if you spend 6 months on the book) and never earn out the advance. People do these to launch careers, or get the frisson of being an author, or just because the idea is funny and cool, but this is not a good business plan.

Books based on your expertise – Sell a book (ebook, paper, audiobook, doesn’t matter) that teaches people how to make money, lose weight, flip houses, get laid, etc. If this is a topic that people will pay you to teach them in person and at seminars and conferences and in online courses, then of course people will buy a book teaching them the same information for less. But at this point, maybe a book is not the best way to get paid for your expertise – after all, $15 for a book isn’t much compared to $197 for an online class that rolls into a $97-a-year membership site. Also, of course, it helps to be an expert on something! If you build up expertise and a following of fans and buyers, a book can be one of the many things you sell to those followers. That said, please do not use this advice to build up some shit about manifesting miracles, or an astrology empire (women have fought hard for positions in STEM and I do not approve of women who shit on science), or a pyramid scheme of life coaches. The bullicorn does not approve. There is nothing wrong with going out, as a beginner, and learning something real, and then explaining it well to other beginners. Pick a real thing you would like to know about and then learn enough about it to write “The Quick-Start Guide to [progamming language / actual language / cuisine / sport / fashion thing / DIY thing].” A lot of people want a 15-page guide that promises to get them started on something in one day. Of course, then you can keep learning and keep writing.

In sum: trying to be the next J.K. Rowling or 50-Shades-of-Grey lady is not a business plan, and groveling before the (crumbling) publishing industry is not the best way to make money.

For a more replicable example of someone who does very well writing books, see Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA, which has sold in huge quantities in ebook, paper, and audio formats, all self-published by Kaufman (I saw him speak at a conference). This is recurring revenue – I’m sure Kaufman will keep publishing updated versions of this book as needed for a long time. Scour his website, and google him to see where he pops up – how has he been marketing this book? Guest posts, podcast interviews, paid ads? Study this.

I don’t know anything about you or what you might have expertise in, but if you have the discipline to put in 2 hours a day, try publishing short-form works on the Kindle store and experiment from there. Don’t go toil in solitude for two years on something you’re not sure anyone will want!

Also keep in mind that you’ll need to spend at least as much time marketing as writing, maybe more. Maybe Monday and Tuesday you write, Wednesday and Thursday you promote, and Friday you learn new tech and marketing stuff (as well as more about your area of expertise).

There’s your answer. Hmmn, maybe I should go take my own advice now…. 😉