There is No Golden Ticket
You’ve written the next international best-seller. Your job’s finished, right? You can sit back, relax and count the checks rolling in. Right?
Writing can be a hobby, or it can be a job. It can also be a career, and a lucrative one, if you’re persistent and fortunate enough to become successful. It is possible to make a living writing novels, but as with any job, authors who seek to solely support themselves with their writing should prepare themselves for the reality of what writing for a living means.
It means work.
Know Your Market
It’s not enough to write a good book. That good book also has to be put in front of an editor who will love it enough to take the book to marketing, to make an offer on it, and to promote it to the people within the publishing house who will then (hopefully) become so excited about it they’ll in turn go out and promote your book to the folks who buy the books for stores. Ideally, those people will be excited enough to hand-sell the book to customers, who in turn will become so eager to read your book they’ll actually shell out their money to purchase it. So, your first task after writing the best book you can? Get it in front of an editor who will buy it, or an agent who will do the same job for you.
How to do that? Research your market. Find out who’s buying what you’re writing. If you’re unagented, make sure you’re submitting to publishers who take unagented submissions. If you’re submitting to agents, be certain they represent the kind of material you’ve written. Prepare your submissions according to their guidelines and submit what they want, how they want it. Half the battle in getting your submission read by an editor or agent is simply following instructions. Don’t give them reason to reject you before they’ve even read a word of your book.
It’s Not Enough to Write the Book
You wrote the book. You sold the book. Now it’s time to sit back and wait for the money to roll in, right? Absolutely not. Since the process of acquiring an agent and selling to a publisher can often take months, if not years, it’s not enough to write the book. You have to write another. And another. Finish a book, take a bit of a break to recharge, start another. There are writers who make enough money off one incredibly successful book – but they don’t have careers. If you want to make a living with your writing, you need to write more than one book. Often, publishers want to build an author, not simply one title. Make sure you have something to give them when they ask for more.
It’s Not Enough to Sell the Book
Your book’s hit the shelves and you have several others finished, maybe even a few more contracted. Now’s the time to sit back and let the checks roll in, right?
Of course not. Now’s the time to promote yourself and your books. Use your time, money and efforts wisely. Target your reading audience the way you did your agent and editor. How are you going to reach the people who will read your book? Is there a genre-specific review publication in which you can purchase advertising? Romantic Times Book Reviews, for example, features stories, articles, reviews and advertising at reasonable rates for authors, and is read by thousands of readers eager to learn about new authors. The internet overflows with blogs, newsgroups and social networking sites devoted to fans of certain genres. Find which are focused on the type of books you’re writing. Get to know the people there, become a part of the community. Drive-by promotion is never effective and can, in fact, turn people off your books.
Your publisher, if you’re lucky, will also be promoting your books, but remember – you’re one of hundreds of authors. Your book is one of thousands. The person to whom your book is most important is you. Don’t rely on your publisher to do all the work. Get the word out about your book.
Set Realistic Expectations
Some people’s “living” is other folks’ chump change. Take a good, hard look at your lifestyle and expenses. The money you earn from writing novels comes irregularly, but often in big chunks. Make sure you’re disciplined enough to take that check for several thousand dollars and set aside what you’ll need to live on until the next check comes. If you’re published with a reputable traditional publisher, you’ll be paid an advance that might be issued to you in increments and can even mean waiting until the book’s been published (which can be years after you sign the contract) before you get your final payment. Royalties are usually issued every six months and might never be issued at all if your book doesn’t earn any. Royalties from e-published books can be earned immediately upon publication, but may be paid every month, every six months or every quarter, and there is unlikely to be any money paid up front in advance. Don’t forget about expenses and taxes, which you’ll probably have to pay quarterly yourself, as they’re not usually withheld.
So, can an author earn a living writing novels? Absolutely. As with any career, there’s no one true way, no Golden Ticket, no secret handshake that’s going to make it happen, but if you’re prepared to work hard and face the challenges, it’s entirely possible to earn a living doing what you love.