It’s time we all faced a certain, somewhat deflating fact: no matter how you slice it, making a full-time living from writing books isn’t an easy thing to do these days. In fact, for most of us, it may be close to impossible.
Kameron Hurley wrote a great post that delivered some cold hard truth on the matter. Although you should read it in full, I’ll give you the CliffNotes version to help move things along:
- Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, the average book doesn’t sell all that well in its lifetime
- Your book has to be in the right place at the right time to gain traction (I’ll add in that some of these variables you can control, but luck is still a factor.)
- No matter how bad things suck, keep working on the things in your control. “Level up your craft.”
- Don’t quit your day job. (For more on this, I highly, highly recommend this Austin Kleon post.)
In a well-crafted response to Hurley’s post, Chuck Wendig gives some honest insights and helpful advice to combat this grim reality. Essentially, you’ve got to spread the wealth. There will be good times and there will be bad. During the good times, prepare to weather the bad.
Depending on who you ask, it’s the best of times and the worst of times right now. One day, indie authors are outselling traditionals on Amazon . The next, ebook sales are falling. Blah blah blah. No one’s sure if the sky is falling or raining dollar bills. As far as I can tell, success differs from author to author.
One thing for sure is this: more people are publishing books than ever before. We’re all fighting like rabid alley rats for a piece of the pie. The semi good news is we’re all getting some, albeit most are getting crumbs and crust. More people than ever are making money selling books but the majority aren’t making enough to march into the office and tell their boss to take this job and shove it.
Unfortunately, it’s a long, slow build for most of us. But the good news is, it is possible, especially if you’re willing to think outside the box and be smart about your income streams.
So how do you make money as an author these days?
- Build a direct line of communication with your readers (mailing lists)
- Be wary of going exclusive with one ebook seller. If you do, have a backup plan ready in case they change the rules.
- Learn how to market (before you turn up your nose, there’s literally a bajillion different ways to do this, so SOMETHING is bound to work for you)
- If you’re a fiction author and your series isn’t selling, consider starting another.
- Consider other ways you can make money writing. All writing builds on itself to make you a better writer, even if it isn’t glamorous. As Author Origins interviewee, Justin Sloan, said: “ If all you want to do is write novels, it’s much more of a gamble, and perfectly fine if you are okay with your writing being more of a hobby until it one day hopefully takes off.
- In the words of the SPP guys: Write. Publish. Repeat. A bigger catalog makes it easier for new people to find you. Once they find you, there’s more for them to buy.
Thing is, ebooks don’t really have a shelf life. And, as far as I care to look into the foreseeable future, they aren’t going anywhere, even if their popularity ebbs and flows. When I read that a digital-only book will sell less than 250 copies in its lifetime, I can’t help but scoff a little. How can you predict the lifetime sales of something that lasts forever? Sure, the grid might go down, but in that case, you’re going to be more worried about collecting canned corn and fighting off zombies than selling books.
In the meantime take some sick, twisted comfort knowing we’re all in the same boat and keep your eyes open for other opportunities. You never know where a gold mine might be hiding.
Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.