Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Make Money Off Your Art: 3 Things You Absolutely Have to Do

When I was a kid, I dreamed of drawing cartoons like Garfield and The Far Side. As a teenager, I played music with a drummer-less band, which we cleverly named Decaf. In college, I fantasized about writing a book some day. But honestly, it just seemed too far-fetched.

How to Make a Living Off Your Art

No matter the age, I have always loved art, creativity, and making things out of nothing. But in each season of life, some adult or teacher or relative would see my love for all things creative and always say the same thing:

You can’t make a living off art. You’ll starve.

I believed them. After all, these were adults. So the first decade of my adult life was spent pursuing safer and more predictable paths. I worked in a call center as a telemarketer, then at a nonprofit as a marketing director. During that time, though, I kept feeling like I was missing something.

One day in my late twenties, I made the decision to become a writer. I didn’t know what writers did exactly, but I assumed one thing was that they wrote every day. So, I did that, starting a blog and publishing a new post every day for a year.

Each day, a few more people would read the blog and subscribe to it. By the end of that first year, I had built an audience of over 10,000 readers. A year later, I published two books, launched an online course, and quit my job after quintupling my income.

Since then, I’ve been writing books and running a creative business. Over the years, I’ve met many others who have done something similar. And the whole process has surprised me, because it flies right in the face of that well-meaning advice all those adults gave me years ago.

You actually can make money off art. Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of professional makers, writers, and creative entrepreneurs who are doing just that. And what I learned surprised me.

Turns out, there is an underground movement of creative professionals who are thriving in every respect of the word. And here are three lessons I learned from them, along with some practical steps for those who want to follow in their footsteps:

1. Join a scene (or create one)

Almost every person I interviewed told me that becoming an artist was a choice, not some talent they were born with. Part of this choice included joining a community of people who would encourage their creativity. For me, that meant going to conferences and coffee shops where other writers were gathering. It meant joining the scene.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Find a local place where people are already gathering where you could meet others in your niche or industry. If such a gathering doesn’t exist, create your own. Meetup.org is a great resource for finding and creating your own events.
  2. Choose one event, whether it’s a retreat or a seminar, that will help you find your people. An inspirational conference like the Tribe Conference might be a great start.

You either have to join a scene or create one. There is no escaping this. Of course, sometimes, the place where you live doesn’t have the opportunities you need to succeed, in which case you either have to go find the opportunity or create it right where you are. This was one reason why I created a conference. When the thing you need doesn’t exist, that often means you’re the one to create it.

2. Practice in public

Stephanie Halligan grew up wanting to make cartoons for a living. Then adulthood happened, and it wasn’t long before she was working a job she didn’t love to pay off $30,000 in student loans. Finally, she decided that she needed an outlet. She needed to get back to drawing.

So she started sharing small pieces of art every day on a blog called Art to Self, which were meant to be small letters of encouragement to herself. The eventual result was a community of fans who eventually started buying her work.

Here are a few practical tips on getting started:

  • Find a channel where you can share one piece of work every single day.
  • Start a blog or a YouTube Channel.
  • Get on Instagram or Snapchat. And share one small piece per day.

You can’t build an audience without sharing your work.

3. Always charge something

Melissa Dinwiddie loved calligraphy, hand-lettering, and other art forms. She made things for her friends for free but secretly wanted to make money off it. Still, she was afraid to charge for her work.

A friend finally forced Melissa to accept $20 for a small piece, because they both agreed that’s how much she would have paid for a similar piece at Target. And for here, this was just the beginning.

Today, Melissa is a full-time artist, teacher, and author.

Here’s how you can do something similar:

  1. Pick a small price that allows you to start charging for your work. Set a precedent of value.
  2. Then, from there, gradually raise your prices. This will create confidence in you and value in the market.
  3. Finally, you can charge what you’re worth once the demand is there.

Real artists don’t starve

What I learned from this little experiment, which eventually became a book, is that real artists don’t starve. At least, they don’t have to. The story of the Starving Artist is a myth.

Myths are stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world around us. When you tell yourself a story that artists must starve, you end up starving. But when you tell yourself another story, that real artists can thrive, that also becomes true.

So, it seems, the choice is yours.

Which of these steps can you take next? What is your best tip for new artists? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Cori Leigh Mann

    Great post Jeff! I needed this encouragement today! Point 3 about charging for our work resonated with me. I was like Melissa…shied away from charging for my work. Also believed like you did that artists starve! Happy the opposite is true and that we don’t have to! We can earn money from our work and developed skills. I’m now earning an income that is growing. Believe that I don’t have to starve to do what I love! Thanks for this post and all that you do to inspire others to flourish as creatives.

  • Jathan Maricelli

    “3. Always Charge Something”.

    Tim Grahl seems to disagree from a marketing standpoint. Time argues that EXPOSURE, early on, is better than a trickle of revenue. Therefore, he urges writers to give away free stuff to the point where it makes one uncomfortable.

    You also mention in your 12 Step Road Map that the 1K subscriber mark is when one should look to start earning income.

    Is there such a thing as charging too early, Jeff?

    • Emma Scheib

      I would also be interested in discussion around this. I’m reading Nick Stephenson’s stuff atm which suggests you put your first book up on Amazon for free! My first book will be ready before Christmas and I need to decide what to do with it.

      • Karen Clark

        I worked 12 years on my novel. Just as hard, if not harder, than the paid work at the same time. I occasionally give it away for free–the ebook version, that is.

  • Katharine

    When folks don’t want to pay what you charge, and they are actually, physically, really friends, then quote your price, and if they balk and want to offer less, then give it free. That embarrasses them and causes them to back off from embarrassment instead of falsely charging YOU with price gouging or something. Learned this from asking questions and finding out one truth: The money is not worth the friendship. Either they pay full price or they do not insult you by attempting to devalue your work.
    Or you can offer private scholarships, even to strangers, in cases of true, provable need.
    Or you can offer payment plans.
    But your work is worth what it’s worth. I accept cash, not insults.
    It’s hard. But it’s true.

    • Deanne Michelle Welsh

      I have a special rate for friends & family (for writing coaching). I tell them the full price, then I say, here is my special pricing for friends & family – which I am happy to offer you.

      • Katharine

        I like that. How does it work for you? Do they accept that?
        I offered to teach an hour-long course to a group 7 people for a friend for what I thought was a magnanimous price of $80, since she was a small business startup. I would be driving 2 hours to her place, too. She said it was too much and offered me $25. I just could not. I would have done it for free, but she offered to pay. It felt like being slapped.

  • Katharine

    So, Jeff….
    For a writer/couselor, would you consider public speaking a valid side venture? Or would that be just part of being a writer? And if so, what else would work in that field? Wondering how many hats I can manage to wear. 🙂

  • Great read. I have never heard of MeetUp.org, cool. Thanks, Jeff!

  • Steve Bennett

    Great Post Jeff!

  • Nick Neal

    I always find this website refreshing and uniquely positive in a sea of disgruntled writers. I come here on the days when being a creative who does not yet make money from their work feels impossible, but I also stop by on the days where I feel capable of anything. More and more the days of knowing my path will end in successful creative career. Jeff Goins site and books have certainly contributed to that change of mindset.

  • Class article! Almost inspired enough to do it all today, but I have this paper I have to hand in. Tomorrow for sure! 🙂

  • Cindy LouWho

    So appropriate!