Today’s post is inspired by this video via the Dave Ramsey show:
As a quick disclaimer, I realize not everyone can make money doing what they’re passionate about.
With that aside, let’s get to the post.
Passion AND write-to-market writers can suffer from a loss of income.
The vision that the marketing gurus will sell writers is that writing to market is a secure way of making money. This is a myth. Does it happen to some writers? Of course, it does. However, writers have also made money writing books they are passionate about. I know this because I’m one of them. Granted, the amount of money I’ve been making has decreased since 2015, but I’m fortunate to still make something. And guess what? Recently, I read a book where an author who embraces the writing-to-market approach is making less money, too.
What does this mean?
It means that regardless of whether you write for passion or write to market, you do NOT have a secure source of income.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that writers who embrace passion over writing to market understand this better because the expectation when writing for passion is that you might not make money. The expectation when writing to market is that you will make money. And just because you can market well, it doesn’t mean you’ll always be raking in the money. I’ve come across writers who have plugged in the tried-and-true marketing strategies outlined by the indie community, and sadly, they didn’t make much money. That’s why so many writers end up disillusioned and quit.
Also, don’t assume that if you manage to make good money writing stuff to market you’ll be happy. What if you pick something you don’t like just because it’s popular? What if that paid off, but now you’re hating it? What if this is your only source of income? What if you end up feeling trapped?
I know of an author who writes a genre she absolutely hates. You see, early on, she decided to pick a genre she didn’t care for because it was hot. This was due to the “write to market” advice she received. The advice worked. She’s making a living at it. But the thing is, she HATES writing now. She cries because she is trapped. Now, I don’t know if she would have been able to build up a following and make a living if she had written in a genre she enjoys. No one can know that because we can’t go back in time to find out. She wishes she could write something else but is too afraid to do so since it’s hard to start over. She feels that the stuff she is writing now is “secure”. So she is determined to keep on with it.
I sympathize with her plight, but I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. There’s nothing worse than having a soul-sucking job that makes you miserable. If you are tempted to write something you hate, I urge you to carefully think it over. Remember, job security is a myth.
Changes in the indie publishing landscape will impact income potential.
In writing, you’re going to have obstacles, regardless of whether you’re writing for passion or writing to market.
First, you’re dealing with the fact that it’s harder to get visibility because the amount of books available exceeds the amount of people who will buy them. This is a simple supply and demand issue. The higher the supply, the lower the demand. That will impact the price of things. This is why books are cheap. There are so many of them. Authors can argue about the price of books all they want, but I took Economics in high school and college, and no amount of arguing is going to change reality. Unfortunately, even with competitive pricing, you’re still going to have trouble finding an audience because of all the books out there.
Second, you have a lot of marketing savvy writers out there who know what they’re doing. You can’t just put your book up and expect people to find it. You have to work to get noticed. That makes it harder to sit back and let the money just roll on in. I get the frustration. I don’t have a great marketing personality. I understand why writers have trouble in the marketing area. Unfortunately, with an ever-increasing supply of books, marketing is important to your income potential. I’m not saying that marketing will magically do the job, but it has to be something you’re doing. Gone are the “gold rush” days of indie publishing when getting noticed was easy. (Yeah, I miss those days a lot, but what are you doing to do? You can’t rewind the clock.)
Also, there are unexpected factors that come into play. Readers who used to have discretionary income are finding their budgets tightening up due to the impact Covid has had worldwide. People have lost their jobs. There are businesses that have shut down. This is going to affect how much people can spend on books. I think this is going to propel more people to embrace subscription reading services. As a result, I think we’re going to see more subscription reading services in the future.
I don’t see how any of the wide retailers can require exclusivity because Amazon’s market presence is so great. Kobo has already started a subscription plan with Kobo Plus. How long will it be before Apple, Google Play, and Barnes & Noble do it? I dread this day, but I’m afraid it’s inevitable. People are used to paying a flat rate for unlimited content now from places like Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, Pureflix, Kindle Unlimited, Kobo Plus, and so on. We are in an environment where people have gotten used to a subscription plan for access to whatever is available. Some writers will end up having to take a cut in pay in order to have their books included in these plans. There’s no way a retailer is going to be able to pay a 70% royalty rate on a book that gets read in a subscription program.
Regardless of what you write, this is going to impact income. Sure, you can have your own website and sell books directly. That is something I recommend anyway, but even so, the bulk of readers prefer to buy books from their retailer. Most don’t want to go to a different site, download the file, and then upload it to their device. It’s a pain. I don’t like doing it, either. I’ve only gone through the hassle one time. This was an author I personally enjoyed a lot and this author only had the book on that one personal website. If this author had been on my preferred retailer, I would have bought the book from the retailer. If I (an author myself) am reluctant to go outside of my preferred retailer for a book, then think of how many readers will be reluctant to do it.
After reading all of that, you might think I’m a gloomy person. I don’t consider myself to be gloomy. I see myself as a realist. Job security in general is a myth. No one can promise that if you do something, your books will sell. There are too many variables at play. I only listed a couple of them. In writing, you’re going to have your good months and your bad months. Knowing your writing income isn’t secure will help buffer you from anything that is going to come your way. Hopefully, it’ll prompt you to save money. You want to have a cushion to fall back on should things fall apart. Be optimistic but also be wise.
Beware of your stress level
The last thing I want to address is the issue of stress because if you don’t watch your stress levels, it’s going to have a negative impact on your health and your relationships. In order to come back against a job loss of any sort, you need to be in good health and be in a good emotional place.
I recently read two books by writers who focus on writing to market. I don’t know if these authors know each other, but I was surprised by how much they stressed over either losing money or not making more. For them, the bottom line really is money. They didn’t come out and say this, but by the way they wrote, I could tell they were stressed out over how well (or not well) their books were selling. These are authors that make a lot of money. We’re talking serious six-figures here, like at least half a million a year. And something to note was that even though they are making all of this money, they are not satisfied. It’s always about making “more and more”. That’s why any month that yields less than what they expect freaks them out. Is that how you want to spend your time? Writing and marketing with such fervor that you’re in a constant state of stress over what is happening to your bottom line?
That’s not how I want to spend my time. I might not have made what they did, but I was in that exact same stressed-out state in 2016 and 2017. I was a mess. Money does NOT bring peace, and it does NOT bring happiness. Sometimes it brings misery in ways you don’t expect. I don’t think these two authors realize what is happening to them. I didn’t back then until I hit serious burn out. After I made the switch to writing for passion, I’ve had dry spells, but I never sat down and cried for hours because I was so stressed out over trying to make more money. Thank God I’m no longer in that trap.
Writing can be fun. It can be something that brings you a lot of joy. It’s all in how you look at it. I am all for making money. If you can make money doing something you love, you should be doing it. I’m very luck in that I still make something. It’s a tremendous blessing. But I realize this job is not secure. Who knows if I’ll end up taking a job outside the home in the next year, or two years, or more? I have no idea what the future will bring. That’s why I’m trying to make the most of this time while I have it. My goal is to get as many books out as I can while this season in my life is here.
So really, the question I’m asking you is this: how do you want to spend your time? We don’t get to live forever in this particular life. I’m 46. My mom died at 48. That has made me aware of the brevity of life. You can spend your time being miserable writing stuff you hate, or you can spend your time writing stuff you love. It’s really up to you. But this whole thing of writing something because it’s a secure source of income is a myth. My advice is to get beyond the myth. Look at things realistically. Consider how you want to spend your time. I know people who have lived a long time and are miserable. My mom might have died at 48, but she was happy. In my opinion, she lived a more fulfilled life. It’s not the number of our years that matter; it’s what we did with those years.
At the end of your life, you are going to be left with the books you wrote. What kind of books do you want to see in your catalogue when you look back on what you did? I can already tell you that books I wrote for passion are my favorite ones. Give me passion any day of the week over misery and stress.
I shudder to think that subscription services will be the only way to enjoy books in the future. That thought actually scares me. I like to to buy the books I read. I want to own my books and be able to read them over and over because they are mine and on my shelf. Whether it’s my iPad or bookcases in my home I have a LOT of books and consider reading one of the best forms of entertainment. I have over 500 books on my iPad just from Apple and even if I spent an average of $5 a book over the last 10 years that’s a bargain in yearly entertainment. Even every book In my Kindle app from Amazon has been bought and paid for. An Author should always be paid a fair price for their hard work. That’s at least the way I like to go.
Thanks for writing
I think people will still be able to buy books. The retailers will probably adopt Amazon’s strategy, which is to allow people to buy books but flash that “Read for Free” button right under the Kindle Unlimited option.
I buy books for the same reasons you do. I like being able to pick them up and read them again, and I like to support authors. After thinking over how things are for authors, I buy songs on iTunes. I also quit Netflix and Hulu. I’m not sure what their terms are like for the filmmakers, but I prefer to buy or at least pay a rental fee on the video. And like you, I’ve built up my collection over the years. 😀
I don’t begrudge any author who is in a subscription program. I still buy their books. Some authors refuse to buy anything in KU out of protest to the KU program itself, but I feel that punishes the author who might not be able to make money on the other retailers. I know one in particular who has tried being wide for years before she gave up and went into KU because it’s the only way she can make money. She makes it off the page reads, not from selling the books. I’m lucky in that I don’t need to be in KU. Most authors would prefer to be on the wide retailers but feel trapped in KU. My heart goes out to them. Every time I think of going into KU, I just can’t do it. I hate being exclusive to one retailer. I like the freedom of being all over the place. I think exclusivity is something that depends on someone’s comfort level. I’ll take the cut in pay first, and I have taken the cut over the years. But I don’t regret it. I’m a lot happier with the ability to do whatever I want with my books any time I want to do it.
Wow. I never realized how complicated it all was. Does pre-ordering a book help an author? Sometimes I forget to do that, but if it’s helpful then I will be more conscious of remembering. Thanks for writing.
I know. It’s crazy how much is involved with everything. All I want to do is write and have fun. (I’m sure most authors feel that way.) Regarding pre-orders, the only place that matters is Apple because they will add up the pre-orders on the day that a book comes out as if the book sold on that day. It has helped me get on their bestseller’s list in Historical Romance a few times in the past.
You’re very kind to think of us authors. 😀 If you forget to get the pre-order, that’s okay. We’re just happy people want to read our books.
Or, your life has taken an unusual turn and you can’t write until your life settles down. Unexpected illness in the family takes a toll and you barely have time to breathe. That’s where I am at today and I probably will not have a book out until the summer of 2022 because of this. God has been by my side but it’s been the most rough time in my life. God bless and keep writing for passion, Ruth.
Illness and death definitely affects one’s ability to write. I’ll pray for you.