When I was in the eleventh grade, Mrs. Labno, my AP Lit teacher, gave us our end of the year assignment. We were to write an autobiography or rather, a condensed version of where we saw ourselves as adults. I still have that paper today and looking back on my own words I laugh. I was a trip. Having written it at sixteen and to be a published author today makes me feel two ways:
(1) I’ve kept my eyes on the prize, pursued my dream and made it a reality. Unlike many who evolve into wanting to be a writer, I’ve wanted to be an author since I was twelve. My career choice has never changed.
(2) I can see what my teacher was talking about and will be forever grateful for her insight about what I’d then rolled my eyes to, which was this:
When Mrs. Labno, the little lady whose students towered above her, saw that I wanted to be a published author with the big house on the hill and white picket fence, she was the first to give me the realness about money and writing: “You may want to do something else on the side.”
“What?” my sixteen-year-old self, rolled my eyes and concluded that Mrs. Labno didn’t know what she was talking about. I was brilliant, obviously. Who did she think she was to say that my dreams weren’t going to come true? Just wait until I publish my first book and it hits The New York Times Best Sellers List. I’ll show her.
Of course, I was at the age where we knew “everything”. This was also years before Amazon and Kindle so my aspirations were to be published the traditional route and I had no idea of queries and agents back then. In fact, I knew little to nothing at all. Except that I was going to be a famous writer.
Fourteen years and eight published and two unpublished books later I’m still waiting.
Though not talked about often, financial stability is the elephant in the room and a huge determinant for writers who consider doing this full time. By full time I mean to write exclusively, as in not having other streams of income. What’s frightening is that many ambitious writers do the unthinkable. They decided to Self-Publish a book so they quit their jobs and waited for the money to start pouring in. They are still waiting.
Is it possible to make enough money writing and publishing books that you can do it exclusively? Absolutely. Is it possible you will go broke quitting your day job after publishing your first book? Absolutely!
Mrs. Labno wasn’t saying that it was impossible to make enough money as a writer to live, but she was saying that it will take lots of time, hard work, dedication, and many books before an author sees the kind of return that will give them the comfort to quit their day jobs (Exception: write a killer book that gets you a major book deal from which you then start your own business and then live happily ever after).
Mrs. Labno was telling me that I should not put all my eggs in one basket, that I should have something else on the side that can help contribute to my income until my writing takes off instead of rely on writing alone. Thanks to her, I didn’t come into this field with the mindset that I’m going to make lots of money and neither do I write for these reasons. In fact, before I graduated college I started work as a Phlebotomist while I was writing. Because of this piece of advice, I didn’t come into this naïve and saved myself some heartache and guess what? I want to save you the false financial expectations too.
“As I’ve said many times before, most authors will be lucky enough to make enough from their writing to cover out-of-pocket cash expenses, let alone any kind of a profit at all. I’ve argued long and hard with those who express disappointment at the meager return they’ve seen, if any, for all their labor, but I am going to repeat again here—money should not be the reason you write or publish.” – Susan Toy
If you have not listened in at The Publishing Success Summit (Comprised of 65 Book Industry Experts – Published Authors, Author Platform Mentors, Designers, Editors, Literary Agents and Publishers) at the close of last year that I am sure you’ve seen floating around WordPress, then you have missed out. Well, sort of. I’ll be quoting some of those people in this article. Speaking of quoting, multi-millionaire Tom Antion’s interview was the most real to me. In it he said:
“Books are the high credibility. If you’re an author people give you credibility. But the bigger money is in the CDs, the coaching program, and the mentor program, and all the other stuff that you can sell.”
I’m not going to say successful authors because you don’t have to make lots of money to be successful. Instead I’ll say authors who are well off financially, do not just write books even if they did get that book deal. They may go on to:
- Open and run their own publishing house
- Travel and speak
- Found their own product line of things outside of books
Sometimes credibility can create a deceptive view of an author’s financial success. What I mean is that sometimes for those of us who aren’t where we want to be, it’s easy to look at someone we perceive as “doing it” and think they’re making a lot of money. It’s the reason you don’t ever compare yourself. You don’t really know how people are doing or what they really know. They can be far behind what you perceive or admire you when you think you are admiring them. Sometimes you can say something to someone assuming they don’t know anything and it turns out they are a well of information. Don’t assume people don’t know what you know and don’t compare your success to someone else. Stay humble.
Anywho, a lot of stuff looks good on paper but when it comes down to what authors actually make that’s when it becomes apparent most writers don’t make much.
Too many people are not being real about book publishing. Instead, we’re recycling information like vacuums and leaving out the realness. The truth is that everyone has bills to pay and unless you can pay your mortgage or rent, light bill and Comcast bills (they be tripping with those prices smh) off the back of your book sells alone, you may not want to quit your day job. It’s no different than starting any other business. The exceptions are:
- Someone invests some serious money into your writing career. Like say if EC happens to meet and impress Oprah *Waves to Oprah* 😉
- A Spouse who makes enough to take care of the both of you while you get your career off the ground (Can you say a blessing??).
- You already own a business or receive government funding (retirement, SSI, Disability) that brings in considerable income.
Unless you are in one of these categories I mentioned, if you quit before you have a financial plan in place that will help you to live until your writing takes off, then you will have to beg people to buy your book just so you can put food on the table and unfortunately for you, book buying is not like other businesses.
It’s a lot more work to get someone to sit down and invest their time in reading a book than it is to convince them to buy a bar of soap or try this new recipe which is the real reason it’s hard to get reviews to be honest. People must invest their time into reading your book which tends to be a lot more expensive than money. If it does not look interesting no one will take a chance on it. It’s simply just a waste of their time. I don’t want to sound discouraging here but that’s just the truth. People will always put their happiness first. Before me and before you. Sad, but true. At the end of the day people are out for themselves.
In my own journey to self-sufficiency, I’m learning that the best way to make a real financial gain from writing is to not just focus on writing and publishing books alone but to also consider what I can offer readers that are beyond the book. This has led to what is now being called Authorprenuership, or the combining of writing books with a business model.
Since writing books is a business, Authorprenuership is something that should be second nature for writers but unfortunately for many of us, it’s not. Instead, we tend to learn about Authorprenuership after the book is written instead of years before. Though a new term, Authorprenuership is the common business sense that’s been around forever. The term is new, the concept is not. It includes, but is not limited to:
- Paid Public Speaking Engagements
- Monetized Blogs
- Online Courses
- Radio Show Appearances
- Coaching Programs
- Mentoring Programs
- Small Publishing Companies
- Products such as Bookmarks, Coffee Mugs, T-Shirts, Ink Pens, Notebooks
The idea is to secure other streams of income around the book.
I wrote this article weeks ago, and it has sat in my Blog Post folder on my laptop for some time. After reading it repeatedly, I hesitated to publish this because I’m still on my own journey and I really wanted to make sense to you before presenting this information. It wasn’t until yesterday, while preparing for a radio show, that I decided to blow the electronic dust off this article and get it out of the drafts folder. While scrolling through twitter I came across Income expectations for self-publishing authors by Lieze Neven. I’m a big component of confirmations (meaning that when I pray on something I wait until the answer is confirmed before I act. A man may plan his way, but it is YAH Almighty that orders his steps, but I digress) and this was another one of the many articles I’ve come across about writers and finances. In it, Neven provides a breakdown on how much authors make on Amazon and the rankings:
- Most books on Amazon sell LESS than 10 copies a year. If you would price your book at $0.99 this would mean you get $3 per book per year. Auwch.
At least 90% of the books on Amazon will make LESS than $100 a year says John K.
A small handful of books, not more than 1000 – will hit the gold mine.
Here’s a breakdown of the Amazon ranks and what they mean.
Rank = 10: Avg daily sales to maintain rank = 1,289
Rank = 100: 191 daily sales
Rank = 1,000: 28 daily sales
Rank = 10,000 : 4 daily sales
Rank = 100,000 : 0.6 daily sales.
Even if these numbers aren’t exact, you get the point.
“Is it Worth It?”
I noticed in Liezen’s comment section that someone said that if these numbers are true then it’s not worth it except as a hobby. I disagree. Writing is always worth it!
Here’s the deal: Where do you want to be? What do you want? Imagine it. Write it down. Pray on it. Work toward it. Prepare for it. In the words of Oprah:
“I don’t believe in luck. To me luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.”
What she said. Even though you may not be making the kind of money you want to right now see right now as an opportunity to prepare. You don’t want to wait until the door is open to have things together. You want to have your business plans and everything already in place when that moment comes, not scrambling to adjust. You want to have an engaging blog, engaging social media, book reviews, someone somewhere other than yourself talking about your work BEFORE the opportunity arrives. You never know who is watching you, reading your blog posts, your social media, or your author website. So prepare for your time to shine.
- Have a professional author photo across your social networks
- Have business cards
- Have an author website
- Have a blog
- Have an email list
- Have a business plan
- Have an author media kit or portfolio
- Have book reviews
- Have bookmarks showcasing your book covers
- Have author interviews and guest posts
- Host live book signing events and take pictures. Add this to your portfolio.
Have something ready to show that special someone that you are already working. Be professional. Be ready. (And authors? Please don’t leave a review or rating of your own books! As much as possible, let others do that kind of thing for you.)
Thirteen revisions and many weeks of putting it off later, I decided to put my big girl skin on and publish this post because I think it’s time we start being all the way real about the financial aspect of Self-Publishing. Yes, this is a great time to publish a book but in the words of Nina Amir, the marketplace is flooded, and flooded is probably an understatement. The marketplace is a Hurricane Katrina of books. If I throw a penny into the sea, unless that’s a special penny, it’s not going to make any dents. This means that unless you are willing to do the work (producing an excellent quality book, writing the book, promoting the book, building platform, speaking networking, blogging, etc.) then people will forget you.
I hope this has been helpful for those considering this route. Writing and publishing is both exciting and liberating but before quitting your day job remember, it takes time and security of multiple income streams to be able to be realistically financially independent. It takes establishing strong author platforms and building a business model around the book you wrote. The book is important because it gives you credibility and authority, establishing you as an expert on your topic. What gives you money? All those other things.
The moral of the story?
Don’t come into this hoping to make lots of money out the gate. That takes time. If you’re writing specifically for financial gain writing and publishing books is not the place for you. You’re in the wrong field.
Yecheilyah Ysrayl is an author, poet, blogger, book reviewer and author of “Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One) and other works. For updates sneak peeks of other projects, nuggets and tidbits, video tutorials, writing inspiration, and more, be sure to follow this blog and to subscribe to Yecheilyah’s email list HERE.