One of the first questions I get when people hear I’m a storyteller is: How do you make a living? So let me show you nine ways in which modern storytellers make money.
Most storytellers have multiple sources of income. Besides performing, they often also teach and create products they can sell, like a book, a video, or an audio recording. In addition, they consult and coach, applying their expertise in various fields like healthcare, business, and education.
This blog will expand on the various ways storytellers make a living. I have used many of these ways since 2015, earning my living as a professional storyteller. Where appropriate, I will share some examples from my own company.
When I am talking about storytelling, I am talking about oral storytelling. Old school, live, in front of a group of listeners. Not sure what that’s about? Check these blogs:
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1. Performances: getting paid to tell stories
First and foremost, storytellers tell stories.
In public, where everyone can come and listen. In theaters and on festivals, wherever people are willing to pay money to hear them tell stories.
But also in libraries, cultural centers, and at various open events where organizers hire them to tell stories.
However, a lot of storytelling happens also behind closed doors. For example, most of my performances are in primary schools. These events are not listed anywhere, and you cannot just walk in and listen.
Getting paid to tell stories has a lot to do with your ability to tell stories well and engage your audience. It has equally a lot to do with your social skills, marketing skills, and network. You will need to be both an artist and a creative entrepreneur.
2. Workshop & training: teaching storytelling
Almost all professional storytellers I know offer some workshops or courses. Some are open to the general public, and others are only in company.
While this is a great way to share your love of storytelling, it is also a great way to earn money.
I am one of the teachers at the most prominent Dutch storytelling school: de Vertelacademie. Two or three times a year, I teach a 4-day course in the basics of storytelling. While I love the enthusiasm and inspiration during the course, it is also a solid way to earn some income.
3. Books: books with stories & books about storytelling
You get paid for your time when you tell a story or give a storytelling workshop. So you need to be there and do the work.
With products, this is different. For example, you can write a book today and earn money from the royalties for a long time.
Apart from that, books are a great marketing instrument. People tend to look up to authors. Often listeners ask me where they can read the stories I tell. They assume that I’m also a writer.
One of the storytellers turned children book writers I like a lot is Aaron Shepard. He rewrote many old fairy tales and folktales and turned them into beautiful children’s books. Here you can see his children’s books (link to Amazon).
Besides turning stories into books, storytellers also love to write about storytelling. Of course!
4. Audio & video: iTunes, Patreon and Zoom
Are you old enough to remember listening to cassette tapes with stories? I am. Many older storytellers still sell CDs, but there are also a lot of new opportunities.
I see three ways in which storytellers have success with audio and video:
Audio-only stories they record and sell in iTunes and other digital online platforms.
Complete videos of stories being told behind a paywall, like Patreon. Stories being told generally don’t do well with a general audience on YouTube. They need a specific audience.
Example: Storyteller Priscilla Howe creates silly and soothing bedtime stories (link to Patreon).
💡 In general, you already need an audience to sell audio or video stories. People don’t buy these things out-of-the-blue.
Online paid storytelling events on Zoom. Oral storytelling has always been an event. However, it loses the unique interaction with the audience when it is turned into a book or recording. Many of these Zoom events did quite well in 2020 and 2021.
5. Digital downloads: courses, story collections and more
Many storytellers sell their courses online. Some of them choose to work with well-known course platforms, like Udemy or Skillshare.
Example: Intro to Storytelling: Wow Your Crowd (link to Udemy).
Others offer their courses and programs on their websites.
Example: Masterclass Personal Storytelling (link to Mezrab Storytelling School).
It’s also possible to offer a package with many different digital downloads. For example, I created a ‘Story Package’ in Dutch, filled with 18 stories, 7 audio recordings, and practical instructions on how to tell stories to children.
Example: Het Verhalenpakket (link to verhalenvertellen.nl).
6. Consulting: better storytelling in projects
There are a lot of great projects with lousy storytelling.
Whether it’s a community project, a theater production, or a public relations strategy, a storyteller can often make a big difference. It takes practice to see the story being told and the story behind it.
Every storyteller has their specializations. It does not make much sense to consult for IBM when mostly telling stories to toddlers.
Storytellers often forget that they can monetize their knowledge and experience. They agree to grab a coffee or give interviews to whoever asks and provide advice on the phone for free.
7. Coaching: helping individuals tell a story with impact
Storytellers often coach people involved in public speaking. Some situations in which storytellers can add value:
- storytelllers can coach you in preparing for a big presentation, TED-talk-style
- storytellers can help you find the right tone for a complicated board room discussion
- storytellers can help you tell a deeply emotional personal story
- storytellers can coach you and point out your strength en the areas where they see opportunities for growth
I offer this coaching as an online service. Contact me with a straightforward question when you are interested in working on your story or storytelling skills.
8. Writing: ghostwriter, textwriter, columnist
There are significant differences between oral storytelling and writing, but also many similarities. Both call for the skill to spot interesting stories and the craft of giving them words that others can relate to.
Not every storyteller is a good writer. Without an audience to keep them in check, storytellers can easily ramble on. Less is often more.
9. Applied storytelling: business, healthcare, education
Often, storytellers have a background in another profession before they start telling stories. Some were actors, others teachers.
Many storytellers make good money by combining their background with their expertise in storytelling.
For example, I worked six years as a primary school teacher. It makes me well suited to provide workshops and training to other teachers. I know their world with its happy moments and unique challenges.
How much money do storytellers make?
The salary of professional storytellers is comparable to that of actors, teachers, and other middle-class professionals. However, there is a big difference in what good storytellers earn, mainly because they differ in their ability to market themselves.
Is it difficult to make your living as a storyteller?
There are very few people who can make their living as professional storytellers. To make money as a storyteller, you need to develop good storytelling skills, good social skills, and good marketing skills.
How long does it take to make money as a storyteller?
One of my mentors advised me to take five years to go from amateur storyteller to professional storyteller. He was right. It took me that long to quit my job and become a full-time storyteller. His advice is what I share with everybody who thinks they can build the network they need in one year.
Photo credits: Pixabay
💡 Once a month, I send out an email with new writings on storytelling and fairy tales.