I’ll never forget the thrill of being paid for my first opinion piece on Yahoo! I’d been writing for years and had a few articles published in magazines and anthologies, but I had never received cold, hard cash for my words before. It felt amazing.

When I saw a friend of mine writing for YCN, I decided to follow her lead. It wasn’t long before I was accepted as a writer, and I began making a few bucks every month. At the time, it seemed like a fortune, and I couldn’t believe I could make money doing something I loved.

When Yahoo! shut down the contributor network, I signed up for Elance (now Upwork) and began making a decent living out of writing as a freelance writer for hire.

From Freelance Writer to Self-Published Author

Living the Writer’s Dream

Having hated working in offices, it was a big improvement being able to pay the bills doing something I loved. I was lucky I was able to attract clients who I enjoyed working with and who came back to me time and again, and it was a relief to be free from the politics that came with office life.

I write both fiction and non-fiction for my clients, and I love both types of work.

For the non-fiction side of things, I tend to focus on business writing, so I learned a lot about marketing and promotion by putting together articles and websites for clients on top of the marketing qualifications I already hold.

However, it was the fiction aspect of my career that really got me thinking. On the one hand, it was amazing to be paid to create stories. I love using my imagination to come up with original concepts, and my clients let me have free rein to write whatever I want within their chosen genre or niche. I view these assignments as paid opportunities to practice and improve my beloved craft. It couldn’t be a better career path for me.

On the other hand, after a while, I began to resent giving my clients my brilliant ideas. Sure, I was making a guaranteed amount of money for my work instead of slaving over something to submit to publishers who might never pick it up or self-publishing to languish at the bottom of the sales charts. But after a while, I questioned why I was letting someone else enjoy the benefits of my hard work.

Why I Decided to Write My Own Novels

I’ve always been able to command above-average pay for my writing, but the lightbulb moment came when I renegotiated my fee with a regular client. I write YA fiction for him, and the price he agreed to pay me was much, much higher than the market rate on Upwork.

This got me thinking. However much my client was paying me, he must be making at least that amount, if not twice as much. While I was getting a one-off fee, all the books I’d written for him (over 50 by now) would still be making him money every month after the initial rush of sales had died down. Even if it was only a dollar or two per book, it was good money essentially to do nothing.

Why wasn’t I doing what he was doing?

The Pitfalls of Self-Publishing

Having done my research, I knew it wasn’t as easy as it might seem to make money self-publishing my books. Most self-published authors don’t make anywhere near as much from their books as I do as a freelancer. I’ve seen varying figures, but it would be safe to say that most people who pay $100 on Upwork to get someone to write a book for them don’t make their money back. The majority of authors are lucky to sell ten copies of their book.

Could I risk the guaranteed income of a freelancer for the unknown future of a self-published author?

Learning Book Marketing

I decided that for all that I knew about marketing, I needed to learn from people who were proven successes in the Kindle market. I signed up for a couple of courses—Kindle Money Mastery and Kindle Fiction Empire—and devoured everything they had to offer. I learned a lot, and I also came to a few conclusions of my own.

Although the people behind the courses clearly knew what they were doing, it wasn’t as easy as they claimed to jump straight in and make four figures per book. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that they were innovators. It’s much, much easier to get ahead of the game when you’re starting at the front. One person using a new marketing technique is going to see great results. Two thousand people using exactly the same technique means that a new author following in their footsteps may just get lost in the crowd.

This doesn’t mean I think that the information taught in these courses was wrong or that those techniques won’t work, but it soon became pretty clear that I was going to have to revise my timescale and financial targets.

The second reason I believe success in self-publishing isn’t as easy as some of these courses suggest, is that the techniques the course authors used to get started strike me as outdated in the fast paced world of internet marketing.

Amazon is changing how the review system works all the time. For example, you used to be able to swap reviews with other authors. Amazon is putting a stop to this, so it’s much harder for authors to help each other out, even when they genuinely enjoy each other’s books.

The Royalties from My First Self-Published Book

I researched all the possible niches I might like to write in and eventually settled on paranormal romance. I’ve written a lot of romance for clients, and putting a paranormal twist on things makes the creative process even more fun. One of the advantages for me is that this genre supports novellas, and my goal is to release a 20k novella every two weeks and quickly grow my writing portfolio.

Although there are other niches I’m interested in, readers in those genres prefer longer books, and if I’m going to replace my freelance income, I need to build a reliable income stream first before branching out.

I launched my first book, Running Bear, in August 2016. Funnily enough, it didn’t make me $1,000 overnight. In fact, it barely registered on Amazon’s sales rankings.

This was understandable. If nobody knows your book exists, nobody’s going to buy it, especially when there are thousands of others competing for attention.

So I followed the first piece of advice others in self-publishing tend to give you: ask friends and family for reviews.

Reviewing the Book Review Process

Now, I don’t mean any disrespect to my friends and family, who are all lovely, but it is surprisingly difficult to get people to post reviews, even when they’re supposed to be supportive of you!

I had a lot of people say they would be happy to review my book. Most of them even bought Running Bear, so they could be a verified purchaser. However, hardly any of them left a review, and the biggest piece of advice that came from both the courses I did is that good reviews are key if you want people to buy your book.

It was time for stage two in getting more reviews for my book: Facebook.

Now I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It has a massive membership, but its algorithms have an annoying habit of hiding things from you, even when you’ve specifically requested to see them, so I find it limited as a marketing tool.

What’s more, although there are plenty of groups out there supposedly aimed at readers, when I joined them, it soon became clear that they were filled with nothing but hopeful self-published authors linking their books for people to buy without ever being interested in reading anyone else’s. I even went to Fiverr.com and paid for people to put my book up on various FB groups, and I didn’t receive a single sale for my money.

Clearly, I needed to cast my net farther.

Looking Elsewhere for Book Reviews

I started hunting around for bloggers I could contact to review my book. I looked for online forums where I could talk about my book. I started thinking long term and joined Goodreads groups, so I could connect with readers who might decide to read my books in the future once they’d been talking to me for a while.

It’s taken a lot of time and effort, but I currently have five reviews with more due over the next few days, and I’m noticing that the more energy I put in, the better the response I get. I’ve been offering free review copies of Running Bear, and I’ve had people join my mailing list by following the link in the book. They’ve even gone on to buy my second book, Loving Bear, without being asked.

Although these might seem like small victories, it proves to me that what I’m doing works and has potential to achieve my goals, albeit over a longer timeframe than I initially anticipated. Although my sales figures aren’t all that impressive, my research suggests I’m doing above average for this stage of my self-publishing career, and sales are heading in the right direction.

My Advice for Aspiring Writers and Self-Publishers

It’s still early days, but if things continue the way they have been, I’m confident that in 2017, I’ll be a full-time, self-published author, with my freelance days behind me.

If you’re a writer, and you want to go the self-publishing route, I’d suggest:

  • Don’t just write what you love. Write what will sell. Some categories on Amazon are more popular than others. If you pour your heart and soul into a book but it’s on a subject nobody wants to read about, don’t expect to make any money from it.
  • Be the best you can be. I used freelancing to improve as a writer. If you want to get serious about selling books, you need to make sure you’re putting out the very best product you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to get an editor to look over your work before you publish it.
  • Have a marketing strategy. Even authors who are signed to major publishing houses are expected to get involved in their own marketing. As a self-published author, marketing is even more important because if you don’t do it, no one else will. You have to be willing to tell people how great your book is. You can’t expect them to discover it for themselves.
  • Be prepared to wait. Although there are plenty of stories of overnight successes, realistically, most of us are going to have to work hard for a few weeks or even months before we start seeing the results we want. Don’t worry. If you’ve done your research and you’re marketing effectively, you will get there.
  • Have fun! I write because it’s what I love to do. If I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn’t want to do it—and readers can tell if you’re passionate about your work. If you enjoy yourself, your readers will, too, and they’ll come back to you time and again every time you publish a new book.