When You’re Told You Can’t Make a Living as an Author?

Published by audenjohnson on

make a living as an author

I read an article that said authors make a median of $6,000 a year.  Not the first time I’ve heard something like this. Over the years, I’ve read plenty of posts saying authors make less than minimum wage. Can you make a living as an author?

When you ask most authors about doing it full-time even the traditionally published ones will say don’t quit your day job.

It is frustrating. Being an author is a full-time job. But, we don’t make full-time money and that doesn’t seem likely to change. You get people outside of the industry who see J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and assume their story is common. If we’re not at that stage then maybe we aren’t working hard enough or maybe our books aren’t good.

And then, you have well-meaning or even trolls who see you struggling and tell you it would be better to get a real job and keep writing books as a hobby. Maybe put off writing for a few years until you get back on your feet.

What do you do?

Maybe Take a Step Back

There’s nothing wrong with leaving writing for a few months or even years and coming back to it. Look at your life. Can you realistically fit writing and marketing into your schedule? If something inside you is telling you to take a break, then take a break? Don’t let stubbornness keep you doing something that may not be right for you at the moment. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Be Realistic

It’s nice to dream of being the next Neil Gaiman, Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. But, be realistic about it. They weren’t overnight successes. It took them years before they took off.  Most artists have some story about being poor before they made it.

Over 100 books are published a year. Most of them barely climb out of the mid-list. Even fewer become mega-bestsellers.

That book you’re writing, it could take off. More than likely, it won’t. At least, not right away. Maybe not for a couple a years. Prepare for that.

Adjust Your View of Being a Full-Time Author

It is possible to make a living as an author. Depending on what that means to you. Most people see it as focusing entirely on releasing your next books while your current ones sell enough to cover your expenses. That may still happen for some people. More than likely, being an author full-time no longer means just writing the next book.

It’s marketing, a lot of marketing. It’s updating your website/blog/podcast/vlog. For indie authors, it’s going over your book’s keywords every couple of months and seeing if they need to be updated. It’s changing your book cover if needed. It’s submitting your book for awards. It’s networking.

Most authors who do it full-time also have multiple income streams. Few rarely just rely on book sales. They have book sales, speaking events, blog/podcast/vlog advertisements, online courses, freelance work… Joanna Penn is a full-time author-entrepreneur and she brings “in money from book sales, speaking, consulting, course sales, and affiliate income.” (10 Years Of The Creative Penn Podcast. 3.2 Million Downloads In 215 Countries)

Don’t give up

There are always stories of authors who got a movie deal from their debut novel. Authors who don’t do any marketing but manage to make a living solely from selling books. Be realistic. Know the statistics but don’t give up on your dream to make a living as an author.


4 Comments

William Kendall · April 30, 2019 at 4:51 pm

Good advice!

Julie Gorges · May 7, 2019 at 12:30 am

That is perfect advice. I've been a freelance writer for three decades. Although I've written four books and blog, by far, most my income has come from writing for other people. Because book publishing is so much work and frustrating at times, like you suggested, I took a long break from it. As you said, absolutely no shame in that! Just got back on the saddle again with more realistic expectations this time around. Write because you are passionate about it, not to get rich! Great article.

Sandra Bennett · May 9, 2019 at 4:40 am

Some very sound advice. Don't write to get rich quick, it probably won't happen. Write because you have to. A burning desire inside you screams at you to write. If you are lucky to be published and a few people buy and enjoy your book, all the better. You have helped make someone's day. I write to share a love of reading with kids, to me, that's more important than any monetary gain.

Rosie Russell · May 10, 2019 at 10:38 pm

Great article Auden! Taking breaks is a healthy way to get through this writing journey.
Thanks for sharing.
Have a great weekend,
Rosie

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