Many of us who get started in writing dream of publishing the Great American Novel. We go to college thinking that we will learn how to write like expert authors, and we study literature night and day.
We hope for our chance to publish that influential work that will change lives, inspire hearts, and establish our work as foundational in the literary world.
And, of course, we want to make some money.
I went to college to get a creative writing degree, and when I approached one of my professors about writing fiction full time, she told me something that has stuck with me ever since.
"Don’t do it for the money. Do it for the love of the art."
I know what she was getting at. Obviously, you need to have a love of writing if you want to do it for a living. But I can’t exactly pay rent with a short story. I need to get paid for that writing.
In today’s online world, building a career as a publisher isn’t as far-fetched as it once was. Thanks to companies like Amazon, Apple, and Kobo, authors today can create their own works and publish them directly, selling to readers and building up a career independently.
But just because you can do that, doesn’t mean that it’s profitable. Thousands upon thousands of authors struggle to make any sort of significant income from their fiction.
That fact has given self-publishing a bad reputation among many authors.
How to Tell Good Advice from Bad
Unfortunately, because everyone has a voice online today, there are some inaccurate statements often being distributed as truth.
One of them is that fiction writing is not profitable.
Here’s how it works: an author decides to publish their own book. They work really hard to write what they feel is the perfect book and self-publish it on Amazon. They even try to do a little bit of marketing to boost the sales of the book.
But after six months of trying, they are unable to turn a profit. This discourages them, and they become angry. It looks so easy. If everyone else seems to be able to do it, why can't I?
So they run around telling anyone who will listen that it’s impossible to make money online publishing your fiction. They say that those who are successful must have some sort of edge, like a larger advertising budget or industry connections. They believe that there is some trick to it that is not available to the general public.
Because they spread their story around, more people see it and think that there is no money in publishing fiction.
But that’s not the case. While that particular author is not lying about their own experience, they are passing it off as if it is the experience of everyone else.
Negativity Is Everywhere Online
For example, my main source of revenue is as a copywriter. I have been doing this job for over a decade. Because of this, I am often bombarded with Facebook Ads for courses designed to teach people how to run a copywriting business.
Last year, I came across another one of those ads. When I clicked to look in the comments, which I often do, I saw at least one writer posting at great length about how it was impossible to make money as a copywriter and the course had to be a scam.
Why? Because, in their experience, to be a successful copywriter meant either taking on as many low-paying jobs as possible, or by tapping into industry connections that you build from working in an agency for a long period of time. To them, you needed a marketing degree and in-house experience if you wanted to make it as a copywriter in any way, shape, or form.
I normally don’t engage with these sorts of people, but I didn’t want inaccurate information being fed to people who are looking to learn more about copywriting. And the truth is, it’s entirely possible to make good money as a freelance copywriter without those credentials or that experience.
I’m currently wrapping up my fourth six-figure year since I started copywriting. And even a few of those years that I didn’t reach six figures, I made pretty good money.
No marketing degree. Never worked in an agency.
I don’t tell that story to brag about how well I’m doing as a copywriter. After all, this article is about making money publishing fiction. But I tell it to illustrate the idea that just because one person had a bad experience, doesn’t mean that you will. It’s entirely possible that people who fail just have bad luck, or they focus their efforts on the wrong things.
Whenever I need a little bit of encouragement on my journey to become a full-time author, I head right to the 20Booksto50K Facebook group.
Operated and maintained by several very successful independent authors, this Facebook group is dedicated to teaching authors how to build a profitable publishing career.
You might be surprised to hear that there are many authors that are already making a full-time income by publishing their fiction. In fact, I can count dozens of authors in this group that are making six figures every year.
You actually don’t even know who any of them are, because they aren’t household names. But that’s beside the point. They demonstrate the truth that many authors can make a full-time living online if they put in the work.
I would love to share with you the names of some of these authors, but this Facebook group is private and very tightly moderated. I don’t want to get kicked out because it is an excellent resource for any author looking to build a full-time income (there are over 44,000 members at time of writing).
I tell you this so that you can feel confident that this is possible. The authors in this group are open and honest about their successes and their struggles, including screenshots of their earnings and detailed breakdowns of their strategies.
So what’s the secret? How are these authors publishing fiction and living the dream of so many aspiring authors? Well, it comes down to several habits and tactics that nearly every single successful author employs.
Can you succeed without these? I’m not sure. There are some out there who have, but I am far more aware of authors that follow these steps to full-time success.
Have a Growth Mindset
If you can’t do this, you won’t be able to do anything else that I describe in this post.
Skepticism is easy. If you’ve never been successful before, it’s very tempting to assume that you never will be. Every single person, author or not, struggles with confidence and belief in themselves.
But you won’t do the work that you need to do or see the results you want to see if you don’t believe that they will happen.
This isn’t some kind of motivational speech. It’s just a simple fact. Our brains are wired to look for the things we focus on. If you go out for a drive and decide to look for red cars, it will feel like there are red cars everywhere. That’s because your brain is focusing on the red cars.
If you want to see success and see opportunity, you need to look for it. You need to believe that you’re going to find it.
Self-Publish Your Books
Most six-figure authors in the world today are self-publishing their books.
Yes, there are still traditionally published authors that are making a killing. Stephen King is not going to be self-publishing his books anytime soon.
But for the aspiring author that doesn’t have an audience yet, self-publishing is a no-brainer. You take on more of the responsibility of publishing, but you reap far more rewards.
For example, you can self-publish a book on Amazon and collect 70% of the sale price. If you are traditionally published, your share of the sale price might be closer to 10%.
But an increased royalty rate is only part of the benefits of self-publishing. By self-publishing your books, you get to direct the path that you want to take in your career.
You choose what kind of books you want to publish. You choose how to write them. You choose how much to charge for them. All of it is in your control.
Yes, this can be daunting. You get to enjoy the successes, but you also have to weather the failures. But successful authors relish this control, and they take full advantage of it.
Not only that, but it’s faster to release books. A traditionally published book can take years to reach the market. You can finish a book today and have it available for sale tomorrow. You may not actually want to do that, but it’s a possibility that is in your hands.
Learn the Ins and Outs of Book Marketing
Facebook ads. Amazon ads. BookBub ads.
Successful authors are familiar with these platforms. They may not use all three, but they take the time to at least learn about one of them and do it to the very best of their abilities.
Without any momentum behind you, it’s hard to get your book off the ground. One of the best ways to do this is by investing even a few dollars into advertising.
But paid ads are only part of your marketing. You will also be considering giveaways, list swaps, joint promotions, and other forms of marketing.
Every successful author knows about these strategies. They may not use all of them, but they are familiar with them and they know why they do or do not employ these strategies with their books.
Start Building Your Own Audience
If you ask any successful author what’s the first thing you should do when you are trying to get your publishing career off the ground, they will tell you to start an email list.
Why? Because it is far easier to keep selling to customers that you already have a relationship with than try to make new customers every time you publish a book.
You can’t have a career without an audience. There are lots of different ways to build an email list and many different ways you can nurture that list. But you need to have one.
Having your own audience ensures that every time you release a book, you know that you’re going to make sales right out of the gate. It takes time and effort, but it is well worth it in the end.
Keep Writing and Publishing
Finally, nearly every successful fiction author today is publishing as often as possible.
After building an email list, many successful authors will tell you to write a series of books. The best form of marketing for a book is your next book. The more books you have out, the greater your chances of success are.
And you can increase those chances by writing in a series. If you have five books out and they are all tied together in one series, readers are going to be far more likely to buy from you than if you just have one. A reader wants to know that they can invest their time in you, and by publishing multiple books, you demonstrate that they can.
It’s highly rare for someone to publish one book and hit it big. If you want to create a profitable income stream from your fiction writing, you better focus on publishing multiple books.
There are lots of different ways that you can tweak this advice. There are full-time authors that do not invest in paid advertising, for example.
But the principles are there. These are the habits that successful authors are using.
Writing fiction in 2020 and beyond is going to continue to evolve. There will be new opportunities and new avenues to explore. But the fundamentals of being a fiction writer won’t change.
You can make money writing fiction. It just takes work. Are you up to the challenge?