Most fiction authors struggle to earn income from their writing, let alone make a living!
Are fiction writers doomed to poverty?
I’ve worked with hundreds of fiction authors and taught thousands through our online courses for writers. Through years of experience as an author, publisher, and book marketing consultant, I’ve seen firsthand why most fiction writers struggle to ever earn considerable income from their work.
The market for fiction books is enormous—there is plenty of demand.
Not only is there a ton of demand for fiction from new authors, but you can actually compete head-to-head with the big publishers. Since most fiction books are now purchased online and in eBook format, the field has been leveled for self publishers and indie authors.
The truth is, it’s even easier for fiction authors to earn a full-time income from book royalties than for non-fiction authors.
Make Money Writing Fiction
Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned for fiction authors when it comes to earning a serious income.
Warning: If you’re just writing as a hobby and don’t plan to ever earn a living as a writer, don’t bother following these tips for fiction writers.
1. Write Daily
Nothing is more depressing than meeting an author who has written an unresearched standalone novel and wants to sell it and live off the royalties forever. Your chances of earning a full-time income with a single novel are astronomically small.
But an author who’s written dozens of books—now that’s someone I want to talk to!
Why? It’s not just because they’re more productive; they’re more fun to be around, too.
Anyone can write one book. But honestly, how good is a first-time novelist’s debut book going to be?
Probably not all that good, even after working with a developmental editor or two. The craft of writing a great novel is something that takes a lot of intentional practice and study to master.
Even the greatest writers started out writing poorly. The only way to write a truly great book is to write a lot of books (or practice rewriting the same book many, many times with feedback and advice from some great editors and writers).
Invest the time in learning how to become a better writer. And realize that practicing writing a lot is the only way you’re going to get there.
There is no shortcut to success. You have to practice writing obsessively if you want to become a great writer.
For writers who want to earn a serious full-time income, I recommend you practice writing a minimum of two hours a day.
By the way, that’s 14 hours a week for those of you who are used to a 5-day work week. There is no 5-day work week for a motivated author.
The mind takes no days off and neither should your writing, if you’re committed to your career.
You’re not going go earn a steady salary as a novelist, but it’s crucial that you work on your writing consistently if you want to earn a full-time income as an author.
If you act like a salaried writer who has to work every day come rain or shine, you’re more likely to end up earning serious royalties.
If you need some extra writing motivation, check out our 7 tips for staying productive and engaged in your work.
2. Read Daily
People ask me all the time, “How do I find more material to write?”
How can you call yourself a serious author if you’re not a serious reader?
You have to study those who have come before you, or you will find yourself constantly reinventing the wheel, discovering insights on your own that you should have learned years ago by studying and learning how to improve your writing skills.
All great athletes, artists, and entrepreneurs study others. You can’t do great creative work in isolation. You need to surround yourself with other great writers, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to simply read their work.
If you study great writers, you’re a lot more likely to learn the skills and glean the insights that will help your work stand out.
3. Write Mostly Novels (Not Short Fiction or Novellas)
Authors with single-title novellas tend to sell very few copies, even with heavy marketing support. For the vast majority of authors, it’s simply not worth spending money to market a single novella because your max realistic price point is $2.99 for a self-published novella, and even then you’re still competing with full-length novels from authors with huge backlists at that price point for an ebook.
Most novellas sell for 99 cents, and many are offered for free to help the author attract new readers to buy their other books.
It’s easier to win the lottery than it is to earn a full-time income writing a novella. Although you can get paid to write short short stories, the big money comes from publishing a novel that readers love (and especially a series of novels).
The real key for novelists is to have several novels in one series or a similar genre so that readers who love one of your books will buy the rest.
Consider any novellas you’ve written or plan to write as gravy on the side. They’re simply not real money-makers.
If you’ve never written a story longer than 50,000 words, you ought to make that your goal now. It’s hard to do a truly great story justice with less material, and readers are more likely to buy longer works of fiction.
If you write short books only, try writing longer books. Chances are you need to practice character development, plotting, and creating a richer story.
One other strategy you can try if you’re still exploring your genre and interests is to write several short stories and see which one sells the best. If you find readers are loving one of your short stories in particular, then you may want to write a full-length novel or series of books based on those characters.
This is a great way to try different things, experiment, and see what works before you invest the time to write a seven-book series in a genre that no one buys.
Readers will tell you what they want with their credit cards. If one of your books is selling 10x or 100x more copies than your others books, you should try to find out why and write more books related to your bestseller.
Don’t try to turn your poorest-selling books into your bestsellers. Build on your bestsellers and focus on writing books your readers are willing to pay more for.
If you only write long books and have never written a short story before, try writing a short story. Chances are you write too much description and long-winded prose. See if you can tighten it up and write something short yet impactful.
4. Write More, Edit Less
If you’re spending the vast majority of your writing time making edits, you’re doing it wrong. You’re probably a perfectionist, and that habit of getting stuck in editing and not producing new content will kill your career. The only way to grow and get better is to constantly produce new material.
Editing is certainly important, but you have to make sure you avoid the fate of authors who work on a single book for a decade with nothing to show for all that time and effort.
Don’t worry about whether your book is good or not at first. Just start writing. Once you have your first draft done, that’s when it’s time to start editing and revising your work.
After you’ve gone through enough self-editing (between 5 and 75 rounds of your own revisions), you’ll want to send your book either to beta readers or a professional editor next, depending on how you want to go about it.
We have a detailed guide on how to find a great book editor. We also have some highly trained and experienced editors we can recommend for you based on your particular genre or subgenre.
If you get stuck on a project, start writing a new book. Ask for help—seek out other successful writers or editors for feedback and advise.
You’ll get better over time if you just practice. If you don’t practice, you’ll never improve.
Become a Well-Paid Author
If this all makes sense and you’re looking to publish several full-length novels in a similar niche or genre—and you’re looking for a publishing company that understands how to create book marketing campaigns to help you earn a full-time income as an author—contact us here.
If you’re serious about earning a full-time income as an author, make sure you read these top articles for fiction writers:
- How to Write Better Fiction
- How and Why You Should Use Writing Prompts
- Writing Motivation: 7 Tips for Staying Productive
- How to Make Money Selling Poetry
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.