Making a Living Writing Fiction

When I went into my dashboard, I noticed the more people were searching for this topic than any other, so I thought I’d make a post about it.  😀

Is it possible?  Yes.  I didn’t always think so, and from the agents, editors, and traditionally published authors I’ve talked to, they didn’t think so either.  But if you self-publish, I think you have a good chance. 

Besides writing a good book, having a great cover, and polishing up your book the best you can, I have thought of some things that can help you get on the road to making a living.  (Note: good book, good cover, and polished content are entirely subjective and something the readers will ultimately have to decide through whether they are willing to buy your books or not.)

1. Ebooks Are Where the Money is At

Ebooks are the author’s best friend.  I don’t make anything substantial off my paperbacks.  Last year, I made $166 from them.  But I made $18,600 or so off ebooks.  This year, I have made a total of $35 off paperbacks so far.  But in ebooks, I’ve made $35,000.  So yes, definitely do ebooks.

2. Distribution

And I think it’s important to distribute.  Some authors will argue they don’t need Smashwords because the big sales come from Amazon and B&N which you can publish to yourself.  While Amazon and B&N are good portions of the pie, the fact remains they are just two slices of an entire pie.  Now, I publish to Amazon’s Kindle and use Smashwords for everything else.  Smashwords will send your books to B&N, Kobo, Diesel, Apple, and Sony.  (There’s a debate over whether or not you should do B&N through Smashwords or not, but that’s a moot point for this post.  I’m saying that you can at least tap into Kobo, Diesel, Apple, and Sony.)

I’ll tell you upfront the sales will come from Amazon first.  Maybe they do through B&N, too.  I don’t know since I don’t publish through PubIt.  But I do know Amazon is going to yield results sooner.  When I was bringing home between $1000 to $2000 a month at this time last year, I wasn’t bringing anything home from Smashwords, even though I put up my ebooks in both places at the same time.  Then in May 2010, I got my first payment from Smashwords which was $25. 

So the year progressed with Amazon being the larger portion of my income.  About $15,500 of last year’s income was from Amazon.  Then sales took off through the distribution channels at Smashwords, and in February of this year, I got a check for $9200 and my current balance for the first quarter at Smashwords is $13,700.  Meanwhile, Amazon US and Amazon UK (the UK store picked up suddenly in February) has brought me $12,200 so far this year.  (The amount from Amazon includes what I’ll get in May.)

So the first step to making a living writing fiction is to utilize ebooks and publish through Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. 

3.  Interact with people who read your books.

This exchange is as much for you as it is for them.  My books are a lot better ever since I’ve been communicating back and forth with people who read my books.  The reason they are better is because the feedback I’m getting are from people who are as interested in my books as I am. 

I can’t stress enough how important this interaction is, but I am surprised and dismayed, it’s something some authors take for granted.  They don’t want to ‘get too close’ to people who read their books, so they don’t answer their emails.  If the person is being rude, I say ignore him/her.  But if they’re being nice and complimenting you, at least thank them.  If you don’t open the door to communication, you could be missing out on some great opportunities to develop friendships with people who will be a tremendous source of encouragement.  You’ll also be missing out on discovering why people like your books so you know what is working and what isn’t.  And, as simple as it sounds, it’s easier to get excited about a book from someone you personally like.  So this is a win-win for everyone.

4.  Promotion

I wrote a 3000 word ebook dedicated to my tips on marketing for introverted writers, such as myself.  I’ll just post the link to it here rather than go in-depth on it here.  These are ideas that have worked for me.  You might find other things work better for you.

Speaking of which, I want to pass along a great podcast I recently listened to with Joanna Penn and LJ Sellers where some great marketing tips were brought up.

I have heard great things about Kindleboards.com, but I don’t get on there as much as I want due to helping to run the Self-Published Author’s Lounge which now has a forum as well.  But I will say the atmosphere over at the Kindleboards is highly supportive of self-published authors, and readers who hang out there are seeking out self-published books (for the most part), so this is a great way to promote.  Kindleboards let’s you feature your books in your signature, so you don’t even have to announce you have a book to get noticed.  😀  That is perfect for introverts like myself.  Some Amazon boards are good, but you should get a feel for them before you hop on.  Some of the boards are not enthusiastic about having writers mention their books.

5.  Write and publish more books

The more books you have, the better.  I’m not saying to rush through writing projects to get something out there, but the more books you can publish, the better your chances will be at making a living.  I have 18 romance titles right now, and I have three more romance titles planned for publication this year.  I also have one sci-fi thriller due out this year.  I just published one romance in February.  So I will publish a total of five books this year.  My average has been between four to five books a year.  I started writing romance back in Dec. 2007.  It’s now April 2011, and I have 18 romances under my belt.  That is part of why I’m currently making a living off my writing. 

Early on, you’ll probably need to spend a lot of time in promotion, but I think as you gain momentum in sales, you can spend more of that time in writing and let ads and word of mouth do the bulk of your promotion for you.  I’m now having to cut back on promotion because people want more books to read, and the only way I can do that is by spending more time writing.  I will add that part of my promotion is my first draft blog, and this is how I am able to promote while I write which (to me) is the perfect use of my time.  If you can manage it, I highly suggest a first draft blog.

6.  Pricing

I say price your book at whatever will make it sell the best.  Exposure is especially important early on.  I couldn’t maintain significant sales early on at the $2.99 price point, so I went to $0.99 and had a lot more success.  But if you can maintain great sales at $2.99, I say go for that price.  I will say this year, I have finally been able to publish new books at $2.99 and see good sales, so it’s taken me longer to get to the $2.99 point, but I’m finally there.  So that’s something else to keep in mind.  Just because you might not be able to sell at $2.99 today, it doesn’t mean all of your future books are doomed to hover at the $0.99 price point.  I use $2.99 only because JA Konrath has noted it’s the sweet spot and given his sales’ record, I will take his word for it.

7.  Patience

It might take a few years before you get there.  I got into ebooks in the spring of 2009.  (I was into vanity publishing back in 2002-early 2008 and made nothing.)  2008 is when I got a website and started blogging.  Early 2009 is when I found The Creative Penn  at http://www.thecreativepenn.com/.  (I do not remember how I found it; I just remember signing up for Author 2.0 in 2009.)  That is when I started getting into ebooks and finding better ideas on book promotion.  By then I had about nine romance titles done (not all published) and was working on my tenth. 

I did a lot of free reads and priced books at $0.99 on Amazon.  I didn’t start the first draft blog until October 2009, which was an idea I got from a podcast via The Creative Penn.  I started out with 20 to 30 hits from my friends who decided to amuse me.  😀  It took about six to eight months before that blog took off, which is about the same for every other blog I’ve been a part of.  It took time to get noticed.  So I’m just saying that it doesn’t always happen right away.  Be in it for the long haul.

I hope something I said in this post can be of some use to someone searching on ideas of how they can make money writing fiction.  😀

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 www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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10 Responses to Making a Living Writing Fiction

  1. Christina Busby says:

    wow!!!!!Nicely put. Now maybe people will actually take the advice.

    • If nothing else, maybe some authors who think they shouldn’t communicate with their readers will start thinking they should. I’m surprised by how many don’t want to answer their fan mail. I mean, this is fan mail! What’s so difficult about thanking people for being nice? LOL

  2. Christina Busby says:

    lollll I KNOW! You SHOCKED me when you actually responded back when I emailed you! I felt SOOOO SPECIAL! An author actually cared! 🙂

    • I still remember the authors who did and did not email me back, and it has colored my view of them. I really hope other authors will pay attention and start sending emails back.

      BTW, you are special. 😉

  3. Christina Busby says:

    lol Yah I HEAR you saying it, but not alot of others. I have basically one BEST FRIEND eva. I have known her since i was 12 and she loves me inside and out and KNOWS me inside and out. You are the only other true friend I have! lol.

    • I think of you as a true friend too. They’re hard to come by. Most people you know and get along with, but only the rare ones stick around through the good and bad and see us at our worst and still hold our hand. 😀

  4. Christina Busby says:

    amen. I tell you Lizzie knows EVERYTHING about me EXCEPT the fact that I read the kind of books that I read. Not even my husband knows that and if he did I would be asked to stop. Sighs. A girl has to have her romance novels lol

    • What’s wrong with romance novels?

      I had to go through the whole ‘you’re writing trash/porn’….’you’re not a real writer’….’you are embarrassing us’ thing, I managed through it. 😛

  5. Christina Busby says:

    LOL He dont like the “Porn” stuff! lollllllllllll even if they are married. lol rofl… He don’t ask, and i don’t tell! lol

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