Writing Professionally: Top 10 Tips to Make It Happen
Writing fiction for a living. That’s the dream of many writers, but if you’ve put any books on the market, you might be wondering whether it is only a dream. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, in the era known as the Kindle gold rush, some ambitious writers made their first fortune by selling books on the Kindle store with minimal effort. Unfortunately, the market flooded with new writers all trying to cash in, and these days it’s harder to make it.
Is it possible to make a living from your writing—especially after the Kindle Gold Rush?
The answer is a resounding yes. It will take work and strategy. Even those authors who hit it off early on had the foresight to pursue self-publishing in a world that insisted that traditional was the only way. You’ll need to get used to working against the grain and perhaps disobeying a lot of what you have previously understood as solid writing advice while sticking to less appealing conventions.
Yes, you can make it.
So what’s the formula?
The bad news here is that there isn’t any magic formula for success. Everyone does it differently, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You need to know yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses when finding a strategy that could work for you. That being said, it’s important to form a strategy before diving in. Most self-published authors fail because they put their books on the market with no defined goal or desired outcome.
Here are some tips if you want to turn your writing into a full-time occupation.
1. Set your goal.
Establish that this is about profit—not following your dreams, not writing out that story that’s been eating your soul. Those are great motivations, but they won’t put bread on the table. If your most important goal is being able to quit your job and earn everything from your writing, then don’t waste your time on the experimental monologues you doodle on your margin notes. They might be entertaining, but if they weren’t written to sell, you’ll be cheating yourself out of an audience.
2. Get a backlist.
There’s no good way around this, but readers will have more faith in you if you have other books out. You can start with a few series or independent books that you publish, possibly with a lower budget and less marketing. Until your first few books are out, it will be hard for you to keep readers active while you’re scrambling to write other books. A backlist will also give you good practice at writing and at keeping up a publishing schedule, but without the commitment of diving in all at once.
3. Don’t quit your day job—at least not yet.
Self-publishing is expensive, especially when you’re just getting started. You can expect that for your first few years of publishing, you’ll spend far more than you earn. The bright side of this is not to be too discouraged if your early books don’t sell well. Self-publishing is a skill, and it will take time to get to a position where your writing can sustain itself or you.
4. Just spend the money.
Whether it’s a cover, an editing job, or a quality cross-promotion. Invest in the quality and presentation of your book, and you’ll get far more readers. Your cover is a critical part of publishing, so don’t trust it to amateur skill.
5. Give yourself time.
We’ve all heard the miracle stories of authors who got rich off of their first book, but for most, it takes 2-5 years to get established. You’ll need to think far ahead of the game to get it. This means that for the first few years of your publishing, you’ll be setting up more than actually starting another profession. You might even want to pace your work deliberately and plan out what future books you’ll write early.
6. Write to market.
This might mean plotting or writing in a different genre than your ideal, but it will make sales much easier. Note that writing to market doesn’t mean selling your soul and jotting down whatever genre appears to be the best selling. The most lucrative genres are usually the underserved genres that many writers haven’t considered. Try to find the overlap between what you want to write and what the market wants to read, and you’ll find a store of stories that you can have fun with.
7. Publish consistently.
It’s tempting to focus on quantity over quality if you’re out to make money, and quantity is important. Many top-level authors produce one book per month, but three or four a year is fine when you’re just getting started. When you reach the point of being able to support yourself full time, you can upgrade your production as needed.
8. Collect emails.
You might not know much about email marketing or have any idea what to do with emails after you get them. Some authors don’t write many emails in a year or use their list only to announce new books coming out. Your email list—your direct lines to fans who adore your work and are following you to learn more—is a gold mine when it comes to selling books. Even when you’re first getting started, make sure you have a way to collect those emails and start up your own list. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
9. Build a community.
Or at least find one. Following and connecting with other authors can help you in a multitude of ways as you can learn new strategies and put together cross-promotions that will reach more readers beyond your own list.
10. Don’t burn out.
Lastly, it can be tempting to dive in with everything you’ve got—but sometimes pacing yourself better can save your writing career. You’ll need to account for holidays, vacations, sickness and emergencies, so keep plenty of time free in your schedule to allow for flexibility.
Almost no one makes it as a professional writer right off the bat. If you set a budget for your publishing and work out a part-time writing schedule, you can build the habit of writing and publishing regularly without holding the full accountability for success.
As always, please sign in to share your experiences in the comment section below. You can also click on the blue button to visit my group of self-publishing fiction writers on Facebook.