Image: Matthew Loffhagen
You want to know how to make a living as a writer, every author does. Store shelves are heaving with novels, over 20 million Kindles have been sold in America, and you can’t get on the train without seeing books everywhere. Someone has to be selling their work by the crate, so why isn’t it you?
The truth is that it can be, but writing quality alone won’t do it. There are ways to make money from your work that are implementable right now, and in this article I’m going to share what they are. They’re yours, for free, as long as you can accept one thing.
The Harsh Truth
There are three people in the world who make good money doing only things they enjoy, and you’re not going to be one of them. To make money from your writing, you’re going to have to put time and effort into tasks you don’t enjoy. Every successful author is a publicist. They market their books and themselves, even if they also hire other people to do so on their behalf.
If that isn’t something you’re prepared to do then that’s okay, but this is the barrier between writing as a hobby and being a professional author.
What follows are questions you need to be able to answer with an unequivocal ‘yes’ if you want to make money from your work.
We’ll start with the hardest.
Do you believe you deserve to make money as a writer?
If your answer is a frustrated ‘yes’, if you don’t even understand why this question has been included in the article, then feel free to skip ahead to the next heading. If you’ve got that guilty feeling in your stomach, then read on.
To many, the ideals of artistic expression and financial success are mutually exclusive. They believe that seeking to make money from writing renders it less sincere and less worthy. This comes from an idealized image of the artist suffering for their work, but it’s a romanticization that can strangle the career of an author.
Believing that artists shouldn’t advertise creates a mental block. This could stop you from advertising at all, or mean that when you do advertise you’re reluctant and apologetic. No matter how widely you advertise, if you act as if you’re doing something wrong you’ll put readers off.
It can be truly difficult moving past this belief, and it often takes genuine introspection and constant reminders that you need to advertise your work to do so. Most authors make their peace with this by acknowledging two facts:
1. Financial success allows for continued artistic expression
It costs money to produce art. The more able your writing is to support itself the more, and usually the better, writing you can create. Why? Because the money has to come from somewhere. However successful your work is, you still need to pay for the time and resources to write it. And by resources I mean the physical means of production, the time needed to create and edit that manuscript, and the emotional ability to produce a finished book.
If you can come home from a day’s work with the time and emotional capacity to write something great, then that’s fantastic, but it’s still not desirable. Making money from your writing makes you more capable of dedicating time to creating, and stops it from being something that you have to set your life aside to accomplish.
2. Art is communication
Writers have something to say, and yet so many of them believe in the almost paradoxical idea that great work will fall into public awareness on its own. They slave over a narrative to create a story they want to tell people, and then refuse to tell people that the story exists.
If you believe in your story, if you think you have created something with artistic merit, then you are not doing anyone a disservice by recommending it. You’re not tricking them or chasing their money, you’re presenting your writing to the people you wrote it for. Think of how happy you are to find a book you really love. That’s what you’re trying to give to people. Do you think authors are trying to gouge you when you pay a reasonable price for their work? No? Then why be harder on yourself than you are on other professional writers?
As mentioned above, it can take a long time and a concerted effort to accept these ideas. But once you begin to do so you’ll be ready to start making a living by creating art. To do so you need to be able to say ‘yes’ to…
Are you on most, if not all, social media?
You need to be accessible to your existing readership while actively pursuing new readers. Social media is currently the best and easiest way to do this, allowing for a direct relationship between you and potential readers.
Every author starting out today should be on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ if they’re serious about making money. These are popular sites where people seek out and share content they enjoy. If one person really likes you then having a social media presence allows them to share that fact.
Social media doesn’t just allow you to advertise yourself, it allows fans to advertise you. Are you on Pinterest? LinkedIn? Wattpad? I guarantee that on each of these sites there are pages dedicated to finding writers in your genre. They are gathering places for people who love to read and if you’re not on them then you can’t claim to be doing everything you can to increase your readership and make money.
Are you engaging with communities of readers?
You can’t just hang around waiting for people to discover you. What are you doing to draw attention to your writing? Are you networking with other authors, joining those groups dedicated to finding new authors, and offering up high quality content to get other users advertising you?
Have you published excerpts of your books? How easy are they to find? Are you posting on the lesser known social media sites once a week, and the big three at least twice? Is it worth adding you on Twitter? Do you offer sufficient incentives to make people want on your email list?
Engaging with people on social media is essential. You should be hunting down your target audience and showing them why they should be buying your work. That means producing and sharing content, as well as forging relationships.
Reaching out to book review sites for interviews, reviews or guest articles is a great way to build your name, and there are enough of them that you’ll never run out.
Have you put your money where your mouth is?
You have to spend money to make money with writing. For authors this begins with formatting your work and deciding on a cover. If your book doesn’t look professional no-one is going to buy it. There are a lot of professional cover creation services, so there’s no excuse for having a cover that puts readers off. Likewise your formatting; the software exists for you to produce a professional standard work that’s a pleasure to read. Improving reader perception of your product is a sound investment.
Once the book in its basic state is of a professional quality, it’s time to start thinking about advertisement and giveaways. The bigger social media sites are ideal for advertising your work to a specific group, and there are numerous book advertisement services (more on those in a moment). You can organize giveaways of any size, so gather up whatever you can use to associate your name with the thrill of competition and get to it.
Are you managing your pricing?
First of all you need to look at similar books in your genre: are you priced to compete? If so, then are you making the most of offers and discounts? The iBookstore and Amazon are both designed to allow authors to engage in special offers. Likewise book advertisement services like BookBub will advertise your book to their clientele if they can offer them a bargain.
It’s not enough to sporadically offer discounts. If you’re offering a deal then shout about it on social media, begin it with a competition to get potential readers excited and informed. Co-ordination is the name of the game.
You should plan offers far in advance. Start with a competition to spread the word, then use your discounted period to advertise with sites like BookBub and BookGorilla. If the sale goes well, and you use social media to facilitate awareness, there’ll be a period afterwards in which people who’ve only just heard about your work buy it at full price. This is a good time to be engaging with websites, so recent reviews, interviews or excerpts appear when your name is searched (top tip: content on Google+ gets an artificial bump to visibility, and enhanced presentation, when appearing in a Google search. Get some content out through your Google+ platform and you’ll look like a real professional to the curious.)
Are you dedicating time to all of the above?
It’s not enough to grudgingly ‘find time’ to promote your work. Bare minimum input will yield a bare minimum output. If at all possible, you should be putting aside twice weekly periods in which you do as much as you possibly can. Like any job, advertising yourself and building your readership requires dedicated time and effort. That might not be something you enjoy, but it’s what’s needed to get your work earning what it deserves to.
The good news is that all these methods work, especially when they’re combined. Break a sweat and you’ll see the results. Remember that we don’t forget the artists we enjoy; once someone learns your name they’ll recognize it in future so every victory, no matter how small, is permanent. If you want to make a living as a writer you have to work hard and realize that it will take time.