Can You Make Decent Money at Writing Fiction?

A year ago at this time, I was saying ‘don’t quit your day job’ because a report back in the 1970s (can’t find it online right now) that said a successful author makes the same as a McDonald’s worker.  Then I attended the Heart of America Christian Writer’s Network conference last November and heard from the writers, editors and agents there that they shouldn’t expect to support themselves off their fiction books.   So that, and other research, led me to the conclusion that it’s darn near impossible to make decent money off writing fiction, whether you self-publish or not.

However… (and this is good news)….

I am now going to say it is very possible.

However…(and I must add this disclaimer)…

It will not happen right away.

I base this new information off my personal experience, reading posts and books from other self-published authors (yep, self-published…as in they never even published with a traditional publisher ever…more good news for us), and from this article by Dean Wesley Smith (you can also buy it on the kindle store for $0.99 which will help support his work).

What I Made (as an example to prove my point) 

So, this year I have made $15279.28 off Amazon’s Kindle US,  $24.24 off Amazon’s Kindle UK store, $2860.50 (and currently have $3073.34 in my balance I haven’t been paid yet) at Smashwords, and $166.95 at CreateSpace.  I also made about $70 via the books I published years ago through vanity presses (iUniverse which is really pathetic considering how much I brought via my taking my work and paying nothing at all to publish it). 

Quick side note: between 2002 and early 2008, I spent a total of about $10,000 into publishing books through vanity presses and this year I made $70, which is the most I’ve ever made.  This is why I say vanity presses suck.  You want to drain money?  You want to NOT make a living at writing fiction, go through the vanity presses. 

Back to the topic…

So what I’ve brought in this year is $21,403.72 (excluding the measly $70).   Last year, I think I brought in about $200.  I don’t expect the numbers to drastically jump next year, but I do hope to make more than $21,400.  Right now, this is not enough for me and my family to live on so husband continues to work while I play the role of stay-at-home mom who ‘sits in front of the TV and eats bon bons all day’.  Seriously, I rarely ever watch TV.  It drains my productive time.  😀 

Now for how I think fiction writers (even those with those traditional publishing contracts under their belts) can eventually make a living off writing fiction:

1. Patience.  The first book isn’t likely to sell enough to make you decent money.  I started serious book promotion back around March 2008, and it took me this long to get to where I’m at.  I started with no hits on any of my blogs and only family members and friends checked out my website.  So you’ll have to be in this for the long haul.  It’s a grass-roots effort.

2.  Publish More Books.  I have 18 romance books (which are my main income stream).  Of those 18, I published 8 this year (one was a short story and four were novellas).  So only three were full-length novels.  Next year, I hope to publish three more full-length novels as Ruth Ann Nordin and three books (two novellas and one full-length) and one short story under my pen name through a small publisher.  This is why I’m hoping to make more money next year.  Whenever I publish a book, the sales on the others get a good boost.  So you may not be selling much of your current book right now, but when you get another book out there, you’ll probably pick up more sales on that first one.  That’s good news. 

3. Give something away for free.  It can be a short story, the first draft of your work in progress on your blog, a novella, or even a full-length story.  Why do I say this?  Because this is how you attract people to you.  Put it up on Smashwords and opt in for premium distribution with that freebie.  To date, you can’t do this with Amazon’s Kindle but that will probably change in the upcoming year or two.  Do your best when you write it because it represents you to the world. 

But, don’t make the same mistake I did and post everything for free.  That will be another post for another day, but I kick myself for not valuing myself enough to charge for 90% of my work.  And don’t do $0.99 for every book.  Do it for one as a promotional tool, but don’t do it for all the books.  I lost a lot of money this year because I made those two mistakes.  I sold about 90,000 books over the past two years, and about 50,000 were freebies off of Barnes & Noble and Sony (never mind what I gave away at Smashwords).  I thought it was 40,000 books, but when I went back, I realized it was more than half my total sales.  Frustration and anger don’t even begin to describe what I feel, and this is frustration and anger at myself for not taking valuing myself enough.  So I self-publish?  So the scum of the earth think self-published work is crap?  That doesn’t mean my books are craptastic.  I’m afraid as self-published authors we tend to undervalue ourselves and our work, and people out there pick up on that on a subconscious level.  But I’ll discuss this more in a post in the future.

4.  Branch out.  Don’t limit yourself to one place.  Sure, Amazon’s a giant, but why stay huddled in the Kindle Store when you have other options available to you?  Not everyone shops on Amazon, and I made a most of my total sales (a little over 60,000 books through Smashwords because of their distribution channels; true 50,000 were freebies but the other 10,000 wasn’t).  Then you can do paperbacks through CreateSpace.  Don’t buy their packages.  Do the pdf file and cover yourself or pay someone to do it.  You’ll save money in the long run, and book covers don’t have to be expensive.  I use a Word 2007 program to save the document to a pdf file and pay about $10 for a picture on or, insert a title and my name and I’m done.  So my total expense was about $10.  I did opt to pay the $39 to lower my paperback price, but that’s optional.  So yes, you can make a paperback on the cheap.  I have a software program I spent $200 on, and it was the best $200 I ever spent because it gives me professional looking covers.  You don’t need a cover artist to do this for you.  *runs and hides before cover artists all over the globe throw a tomato at me*

5.  Ebook!  This is where you’ll make money, so definitely do ebooks.  Paperbacks and audio are optional, but you’ll make your real money in ebooks.  Look at how much I made in ebooks off Amazon Kindle and Smashwords vs. CreateSpace?  The difference is laughable.  People whining about paperbacks being soooo great because they are superior are not authors who are trying to make a living off their writing, and chances are these paperback only lovers will never buy a self-published book.  So why cater to them?  Cater to your market.  Ebooks are a self-published author’s best friend.  And they cost absolutely nothing to publish.

6.  Social networks are not for selling books but for establishing relationships with your readers.  I know.  This probably upsets people to hear, but you have to remember something important:  people who already bought your book and liked it just might tell their family and friends about you.  Sure, mention you have a book and any new book coming out.  Share your first draft posts (this really works great) and share your cover ideas and ask for feedback, but most of all, share yourself as a person.  Too often, authors forget that their readers are people, not customers who are only there to buy their book.  I can’t stand it when all authors do is plug their work.  No need to go on and on about your books.  A couple of times is more than enough for us to ‘get it’.  Anything after that and we tune you out or hide you.  I’ve hidden a couple of authors on my FB page for this reason.  My point is, be a person first.  The interest in your work will follow.

So those are my tips for setting yourself up to eventually making decent money off your fiction writing. 

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to or check out
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2 Responses to Can You Make Decent Money at Writing Fiction?

  1. So many websites discourage author’s from “being people”. I know when I first started looking into the whole agent/publishing thing I ran across an entire forum thread ticking off everything you should remove from your profile(s) including anything political, and even down to bands you liked because this might ‘offend” a potential agent/buyer. By the time you were done you couldn’t have had more personality than a toothbrush.

    • I think authors who embrace their preferences attract more readers in the long run. I guess traditional publishing houses don’t like it because they’re afraid it’ll effect sales, but I’ve found the more ‘obnoxiously opinionated’ I am, the more of a loyal fan base I attract. LOL It works great for a self-published author.

      I should add the disclaimer that I don’t advise authors to be rude or nasty toward any person or group. Ranting is one thing. Tearing someone down is another.

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