These days, due to the ease of self-publishing, you can write what you want and still have it published, but does that mean you will make money from writing. Prior to the electronic reading revolution, you could still write whatever you wanted, but if you wanted it published, you’d better hope that what you wanted to write was whatever the publishing houses wanted. The trouble now is that you can write what you want and publish it, but that doesn’t mean that anyone will buy it.
Are your expectations realistic?
The days of indie authors making a living on the back of free and 99c ebooks is pretty much over. Authors who entered the game after 2012 can’t expect to join those who made it big when the ebook market was new, but some blogs and many books and courses still give the impression that it’s easy to make money as a self-publisher. Because of this, expectations rise and disappointments follow in their wake.
Yes, some do make a living from writing fiction, but most don’t. And those who do write mainstream fiction in the best selling categories, write a lot of books (3-4 a year) and consistently market their books.
Do you notice how many authors are now teaching others, running courses and workshops, or selling books on self-publishing? Why are they doing that? Because there’s more money in that for them than selling fiction. My best selling book is my book on writing, and I suspect authors with books on publishing and marketing will find that it’s the same for them. The fiction market is just so crowded, and the number of people reading literature is in decline (apart from a surge in reading during the covid-19 lockdowns). I expect this is because people have so many other forms of entertainment from which to choose.
But don’t let that stop you writing! Do write, not because you might be one of those whose books do sell well, but because you’re inspired to write. Just keep your expectations realistic.
Writing the book is only the first step; once written, if you want others to read it, your book has to be published and then marketed, and that’s the bit most authors don’t like much. We’d rather just keep on writing. But these days, even if you’re traditionally published, you need to do some marketing yourself. If you’re self-published, you’ve put up the money for editing and covers, and you’ll want to get your money back at least, but unless you manage to write a best seller, getting the money back will take time, and some may never cover their costs.
Not covering costs or making money doesn’t mean a book is bad, it just means it’s not selling enough copies, and sales and quality are two different things. One does not indicate the other. Not only is marketing a tricky game but your book may only have a small readership. If your book appeals only to a niche market (like metaphysical fiction) or doesn’t quite fit into one genre or is otherwise unusual, it will be difficult to sell in large numbers. This is why traditional publishers won’t pick up such a books; it’s why they stick to the same old tried-and-true styles and genres. Anything outside of the tried-and-true is unlikely to sell well enough for the publisher to make a profit. And the same will be true for you if you pay to publish the book yourself.
Your book can be brilliant, can be way ahead of its time or have a unique and important perspective on the world, but if you can’t convince people that they’ll get something of value out of your book, or if it isn’t a topic, theme or story that will interest large numbers of readers, then no amount of marketing will help.
But don’t despair, because once you find your voice – your unique style and perspective – then even if your book is for a niche market only, you can build up a base of readers who will faithfully read every book you write. The trick is to write lots of books, because when readers find a book they like, they tend to read more from that author. I covered costs after my fourth book. Two of my books haven’t yet covered their costs – even though they are probably my best works – but then I haven’t marketed them at all. Two others covered costs without much effort on my part because they appealed to people within communities of which I was already a part. Only one covered costs in its first year. I sell one or two books a month without me doing anything to market them apart from having an online presence.
But I don’t care how many books I sell because I’m not trying to be a full time author. I like editing and publishing other people’s books and I wouldn’t want to give that up.
The bottom line is that writing is not worth the time if you’re counting the minutes and expecting to be paid for it. But we don’t write for the money; we write because we’re inspired to do so. We write because we enjoy it, and when we don’t enjoy it anymore, we stop.
Writing as a hobby – don’t give up your day job
I think the way to treat the business of writing and publishing is as a hobby.
Why? Because with a hobby you spend money and don’t expect to get it back.
That doesn’t mean you don’t produce a professional product though. And it doesn’t mean that you do no marketing at all, because having some kind of author platform is part of being an author. It’s part of the hobby. Just as having a good quality set of golf clubs and having quality snow gear is part of golfing and skiing.
Golfers save up to buy the best quality clubs. Riders buy good horses. Authors spend money on good editors and cover designers because that’s what’s involved in the hobby. Doing it on the cheap won’t get you a good product, so you won’t get the satisfaction of a job well done.
If you’re running a business, you can’t keep running at a loss unless you have income from somewhere else to cover those losses. And in a normal business, you’d get out of that game and find something else, but if you look at writing as a hobby, then if you happen to make some money out of it, that’s a bonus. And if you don’t cover costs, it doesn’t matter, because you did it; you wrote and published that book, and you did it well.
You’ll not be looking to give up your day job, though, not unless your books do start selling well enough. And they can, if you write books with a potentially large readership and you manage to market consistently.
Getting your book in front of potential readers without the hard sell
It used to be that authors would write several books before they got a publishing deal. Many wrote several books and never got a deal. Some got a deal with their first book but didn’t sell enough books for publishers to take a risk with another book, and a few became best sellers. It’s still the same, but now instead of the publishing houses being the gatekeepers between books and readers, it’s visibility that determines potential book sales.
We have to get our book in front of those who might buy it, those who might enjoy it. It’s no good having a thriller highly visible to a romance readership!
The low-key way to get your book in front of those who might enjoy it is as follows:
- Know what people will get out of reading your book. What problem does it solve for them? This is what you talk about;
- Decide what kind of people will get the most out of your book;
- Find out where they hang out;
- Go there and interact with people – become part of the group, someone people know and trust;
- Mention that you’ve written a book – without spamming;
- Maintain a consistent and valuable presence in these groups, and occasionally mention your book(s).
This works in both social media and physical groups. If the people you write for are people like you, or people who share similar interests to you, then this should be an enjoyable social activity that doesn’t feel at all like book marketing. If you don’t enjoy it. Don’t do it. And don’t look at it as book marketing, don’t make that your purpose for being in those groups, look at it as a social interaction.
If those who might want to read your book don’t see it, you might as well have not published it at all.
Just write. Write what you want and write it from your heart. That way you’ll get satisfaction from your writing that doesn’t depend on financial or any other external form of return. You’ll talk about your book when it’s out, of course, and you will sell some books, but think of huge sales as a bonus, not as the main purpose for writing your book.
Huge sales come from other people talking about your book, and whether or not they talk about it, or what they say about it, is out of your hands. So just write the best book you can. Study the craft, get professional help and keep the inspiration going until it’s published. Then do whatever book marketing strategies you can manage and that you enjoy enough to sustain over the long term.
Alternatively, you could find out what kind of books are presently selling well and write that kind of book, but will that give you the same satisfaction? Will that make your heart sing? What if your book still doesn’t sell well? There are no guarantees.
In a nutshell, my advice is not to write with the aim of making money, but to write because you’re inspired to write. Think of it as a hobby, and do it well so you can be proud of what you produce.
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