In this blog series we’ve been going through a survey by Written Word Media, and what it takes to be a career author. They surveyed authors who are emerging authors, authors who make 60k and authors who make 100k from their writing.
I went through their points as an emerging author who has six books in her library and I make less than $2,000 a year from my books. They went through how much authors spend in editing and covers. It’s no surprise that they found authors who put out quality books make more money.
They went through how they marketed, with easy and affordable promo sites heading the list.
They surveyed authors about being wide or exclusive and found it didn’t matter – authors still need to take time to build a readership no matter where they publish.
They also went into the time authors write, which not surprisingly, revealed at 60kers and 100kers spent the most time writing. In that blog post I tried to hammer in to the emerging authors that to make the leap from emerging author to 60ker, you still need to put in the writing work, no matter how many hours you put into your day job or how tired you are. Career money requires career time.
There are some variables as to why some authors make more than others, and the bonus material revealed some of these differences.
But first if you were curious about the amount of money an Emerging Author makes, take a look:
The difference between the emerging author and the 60ker. It’s quite a leap to be sure. If you’re single, you don’t need to make 60k to support yourself. At least in my area, you can get by okay on $30,000 a year. You’re not living in the lap of luxury, but a nice two-bedroom apartment with its own washer and dryer runs about $700/month. As an emerging author, even if I made an extra $300 a month, that’s a car payment on a newer car I desperately need. You can take a look at the graphic to check how much an emerging author makes.
Now for some of the reasons why one author would make more than another:
- Audiobooks. While audio is on the rise and it’s easier than ever to hire a narrator and get your audiobook out into the world, there’s no point in spending the money if the e-book isn’t selling. It makes sense to invest in audio if your book takes off, but if it doesn’t, there’s no point in spending the money to make an audio version. So while audio is a great supplement for 60kers and 100kers, they were already selling books and the audio is a complement to their library. Also, when audio finally fits into your publishing plan, indies now have their shit together and release the paperback, ebook, and audio all at the same time.
- Genre differences. I’m surprised they didn’t add this to the original survey because the genre you choose to write in is really important. As you can see by the graphics, authors made the most writing commercial fiction. Romance took the lead, and mystery, science fiction, and fantasy follow closely behind.
Children’s books are a hard sell as they depend heavily on print, bookstore and library sales.
Young adult is broken into lots of sub genres like fantasy and romance, and broken down further into sub sub genres like coming of age, new adult, or college. I don’t see many indies right now writing plain YA like Five Feet Apart or The Fault in Our Stars. They tend to lean more toward dystopian or fantasy like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter. At least, that’s what I get from seeing what others on Twitter are writing about. (Agents turned authors are the ones writing vanilla YA like Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments. Maybe because they have their fingers on the pulse of the market and they’ll write what sells. Who knows.) If you look at indie romance YA, they tend to lean toward paranormal or urban fantasy. Paranormal Academy is hot right now and that usually includes a younger MC. It’s difficult to completely separate the genres, especially since indies like to mash as many genres together as possible.
And with Amazon allowing you to choose 10 categories for your books, there’s a lot of space to move around.
We can all agree that while you can make money writing nonfiction, it’s a lot different than writing fiction and it takes a different set of skills to market it. Authors like Bryan Cohen who wrote How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis, Mark Leslie Lefebvre who wrote Killing it on Kobo, and Brian Meeks who wrote Mastering Amazon Descriptions, all have solid foothold in the indie community and pretty much have a built-in audience. They’ve been a part of the indie community for many many years, and they have the platform required to succeed.
In my experience many indies who venture into non-fiction write creative nonfiction also called memoir. Let’s face it. Everyone’s life is hard. I could write a book about how I survived my divorce, but that wasn’t anything special. I just joined the 50% of other American couples who also have divorced. Hardly book worthy. Unless you have something super special to say, it will be difficult to be the next Michelle Obama.
Most emerging authors have no platform, and that’s what you need to get a nonfiction book off the ground.
When you’re an indie, it makes a difference what you choose to write, and, not only that, what you keep writing. Genre-hopping has never done an emerging author any favors, either, something I am finding out subgenre-hopping under my contemporary romance umbrella. From what I can see, the most successful indies stay within the same sub-genre like Aidy Award and her curvy girls or Alex Lidell’s academy books. Even Jami Albright writes romcoms and makes a killing with her Runaway Bride trope.
Mystery, too, is seeing more segregation with subgenres, and authors who choose to write run-of-the-mill detectives might always want to stay with that, only moving the setting to other states, different police departments, and other tragic backstories.
Indies do like to go their own way, though, and I like to write the stories I like to write as well. Hopefully we can all find a happy medium between writing what we want in writing what sells.
- The last point they went into was if the authors had a job outside of their writing. It’s not surprising emerging authors worked. Bills need to be paid somehow. The problem with needing to work is that sometimes your day job is so emotionally draining you don’t have any emotional energy left to write. I’m lucky that I can write and read at my job and that it isn’t emotionally draining. But I do trade that luxury with a lower wage and only because I have help paying bills can I continue to do so. I’m working hard to write as fast as I can to build my backlist so I can eventually hop from emerging author to 60ker. Eventually the sacrifices I’m making to put so much time into my writing will pay off. I’ll make sure it does.
Even though they did add some additional data, they did leave out some other variables that I find are important in making an author successful.
- Newsletter. The survey mentions newletter swaps saying that swaps aren’t an effective marketing tool. But that’s only swaps. Swapping implies an author has one to begin with, and I’m willing to bet there is a large gap between emerging authors who don’t have a newsletter and the 100kers that do.
- The cost of ads. While the survey did go into how authors promoted their books, it’s not often authors reveal how much they’re spending on ads. If you make $50,000 a year but you’re spending $10,000 in ads you’re still doing well obviously, but the amount that author is claiming to have made is a bit deceiving. Bryan Cohen, when he does his mini ads courses, says any profit is good profit. At the core that is true. But if you have to babysit your ads so you make $2.00 for every $1.75 you spend, at some point you have to decide if you’d be better off writing. Ad creation takes time, especially when you need to take the time to write (or learn how to write) catchy ad copy. If you start a newsletter and add the link and call to action in the back of your books and pay for a promotion now and then, you may find that a bit easier, and a little less terrifying, than learning an ad platform and watching your ads like a hawk so overnight you suddenly aren’t $50 in the hole because people hated your blurb.
- Writing in a series. I hate to keep harping on this, but this is also another component that the survey didn’t go into. Readers like series. They get invested in the outcome. They fall in love with the characters they follow through all the books. 60kers and 100kers know that and they capitalize on it. Emerging authors write what they want, and that isn’t always a series. But I would’ve liked the survey to ask its authors how many emerging authors versus how many 100kers write series. I doubt I would be surprised by the answer.
- Frequent publishing. The survey didn’t go into how often authors publish. It stands to reason that the faster you put out books, the faster you can make money. But emerging authors have a hard time with timely output. They have their jobs. They are probably still learning craft and the critique partner/beta-reading stages they go through slow them down. Besides Jami Albright, I haven’t heard of an author who is not prolific making $60-$100,000 a year. And she admits she has to rely heavily on ads and other marketing techniques between releases. She knows her limits and embraces them. But you have to wonder if she could write more than one book a year, what that would do for her bottom line. I write as fast as I can, but I am not 100% confident in my ability. So the beta-reading stage slows me down as well, as does making sure of consistency and wanting no potholes in my stories. Maybe one day I won’t need so much reassurance. But I’d rather do it right the first time than pay for my haste with bad reviews.
In conclusion, the money is out there. There are different paths to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But whether anyone wants to admit it or not, some paths are easier than others. Write commercial genres. Publish quality work. Publish often. Start a newsletter. Use promos like Freebooksy and Bargainbooksy to promote your work.
If you’re not doing these things, success may take longer to come. We all make mistakes and maybe telling your story the way you want to tell it is more important to you than money. That’s cool too, but be honest. Writing the story you want, with no editing, using a cover that’s not professional, and tweeting it out day after day won’t earn you any sales. So no whining when it doesn’t.
Thank you for joining me in this blog series where we broke down the Written Word Media Survey and the bonus material they later released. I hope the information given can steer you in the right direction to a productive and lucrative writing career.
Thanks for reading!