Being a Career Author. Do you have what it takes?

When we think of being a career author, what do we picture? Sitting in our pajamas all day with a pet at our feet, snacking and drinking coffee all day while we do what we love: write.

Untitled design

he’s loving all the royalties pouring in (taken from Canva)

We don’t often picture what it takes to get us there–we only dream we’re earning enough to pay our bills and buy a lovely writing retreat in the woods sans mosquitoes and flies.

In October, Written Word Media, the company that brings you Freebooksy and Bargainbooksy promo tools (both services I have used) put out an author survey. (You can read the whole survey here, but don’t forget to come back to the blog!) In this survey, indie authors weigh in on everything from how much they make to how much they pay for services.

They breakdown their survey into categories, and in similar fashion, I’ll breakdown my thoughts in this blog series.

To start us off, they brokedown the authors they surveyed into three categories:

  1. Emerging Authors
  2. 60kers
  3. 100kers
Marketing-Is-Hard-average number of books per author

graphic taken from the survey linked above

My views will be as an emerging author who, in total, in the three years since I’ve been publishing, has made less than 2,000 dollars.

This brings us to their first point, and the only one I’ll be covering today, though we do touch on their second point just a little as they are related.

The first point the survey goes into is the number of books you have your catalog matters to your income.

According to the survey, (stats are median):

  1. emerging authors have 6 books in their catalog
  2. 60kers have 22 and
  3. 100kers have 28

The numbers of books for those authors making some actual money look pretty intimidating. But I’ve blogged about this before: books are not necessarily full-length novels anymore.

The survey didn’t break down the length of these authors’ books, but I doubt that when we talk numbers of books published, that all of them are full-length novels of 70+ words.

I know this is also genre-specific. Romance in particular is a good genre for spin-off novellas, shorter-in-length prequels, and more. Look at the catalog of any bestselling romance author. When you find the print-length of their work, you’ll see some as few as 16 pages to as many as 400. Companion pieces and side stories of favorite secondary characters can be moneymakers, too, if your readers are invested in your characters (although I can understand using these projects as newsletter presents for your subscribers).

I’m not sure about other genres, and interestingly enough, this survey did not breakdown the authors by genre.

So if you’re thinking to make 100k a year from your writing that you need 28 or more full-length novels, that may not be true. Especially since the very definition of a full-length novel differs from person to person, genre to genre. I’ve seen 40,000 words described as full-length! If you can write 1,000 words a day, that’s only a little more than a month to produce a book. [How you can make a living writing short stories, novelettes, and novellas, and things like serials are out of the scope of this blog post.]

I wrote novellas for a little bit. On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton (what an atrocious name, blah) is made up of two novellas, and Summer Secrets, my experiment with erotica, is also made up of six novellas, packaged three in one book and three in another (plus an ebook box set of all six).  These are not in the genre I chose to make as my career, and I do not count them in my backlist (though writing them was fun and good practice). The six books I do count are full-length novels of 70k words or more, but in the series I’ll be releasing soon, there is room for a prequel and short stories about other characters that didn’t get their time to shine. Whether I’ll take the time to write them is a different matter.

What can you do?

  1. Add to your catalog. Obviously, the more books the better.
  2. Do your research. If your genre supports short(er) works, pepper in novellas and short stores if you like. Just keep in mind that if you’re in KU, you earn more in page reads for longer books (providing a reader reads the entire book) so you need to decide if it’s worth your time to write shorter pieces or if you should focus on writing full-length books.
  3. Plan a publishing schedule and stick with it. A friend of mine said the other day if he can’t write two books a year, he might as well forget it. I’m not sure how true that is. Jami Albright is famous in the indie community for publishing one book a year and she’s a 100k/year author. Now she has four books in her backlist, and she says she depends heavily on ads between releases. But she does it. Does that mean you can, too? That’s the nightmare of indie publishing. No two books are the same. Authors and their connections are different, and it could just be that people love her voice and what she writes about (romcoms).

Here’s Jami’s talk from the 20booksto50k conference in Las Vegas last month.

I’m of the mindset that if you want it bad enough two books a year is doable for most people, though I might just need a reality check. But it’s hard to argue with the math. 1,000 words a day for 200 out of 365 days a year, [no one can write every day] is 200,000 words. That’s a lot of words.

If you always see 28 books as an unclimbable mountain, you’ll never be able to make it to the top.

Next, the survey goes into how much time authors put into their writing. I’ll weigh in on that next time!

See you then!


end of blog post graphic

7 thoughts on “Being a Career Author. Do you have what it takes?

    • I did not. Time-wise and financially, I can go to only one conference a year. This year (in 2019) I went to a selling/marketing conference hosted by the sell more books show podcast (Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen). In 2020, I’ll be going to the career author summit with Jim, J. Thorn and Zach Bohannan. Joanna Penn and Lindsay Buroker will be there, along with Mark Leslie Lefebvre, and others, and I’m excited for that. 2021 is still open, so I could do Vegas, if I’m online and can purchase a ticket (they sell out fast, I hear) or do an RWA if it’s travel friendly. I have travel anxiety and I wouldn’t have tried NYC. So, lots to choose from! But I should make RWA a priority for the networking, etc. Do you go to RWA every year?

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  1. I understand the limited resource thing, which was why I went full-in with RWA this year. NY was a good experience for me, I felt I was ready for the networking and made the most of it. I follow the Sell More Books show, and heard about the Author Summit, but I am chair of our Chapter’s book contest and will be making the trip to CA this year to help present awards. RWA will be in TN I believe in 2021, so that may be a little more reasonable for you… I did get a lot out of it, but I recognize that I am still honing my craft. I planned on getting more involved in the marketing end of things once I had a little more backlist and my series was complete. I also would like to try the hybrid route, so am querying a series I will be working on in 2020.

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  2. Can’t be honing too much with the awards your books have won! 🙂 Good luck querying! I’ve drank the 20booksto50k Kool-Aid, so I’m going to see what I can do on my own. I’m starting a pen name to explore the first person present romances that are so popular right now. We’ll see where that takes me. I didn’t think I would like writing in it, but it’s surprisingly easy to fall into, and I’m enjoying the trilogy I’m writing. 🙂

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  3. Pingback: End of the Year, Where I’m at with my Wedding Quartet, and more. | Vania Margene Rheault

  4. Pingback: Being a Career Author. Do you have what it takes? Part 3 | Vania Margene Rheault

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