We all have a secret dream of a life where we live wherever we want to in the world – on a beach, in a forest cabin, in the South of France – living a wonderful lifestyle funded by the books we write at our leisure.
This dream is 100%, complete, utter fiction. Here’s the sad reality:
No one gets rich off one book, even if it’s an “overnight success”. Nearly every single author who won a Booker or Pulitzer Prize still has a day job, and of those who do make a full-time living writing, most managed to sell film and TV options. Nearly every single ultra rich author of recent times – J K Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, E L James – has written a slew of books with associated movies and merchandise.
Ultimately selling books is about marketing. There are “authors” making six and seven figure incomes who don’t even write: they outsource to cheap ghostwriters in developing countries. That’s because the more books you publish, the better all of them will sell. Out there is some smart marketer who has figured out Amazon keywords, has a back catalogue of a couple of dozen titles, publishes a new book every month, and is killing it.
Readers en masse are simply not that discerning. You won’t make bank from literary fiction aficionados alone. Genre fiction is what makes bucks, and the average (paying) genre fiction reader is 1. Female 2. American 3. Of lower literacy than the average author. This is very hard to stomach when you know you’ve written something amazing that your friends and fellow authors and editor and writing coach adore. But it’s the reality.
What’s the takeout from this?
Write if you love writing, but don’t expect to give up your day job any time soon.
If you want to make money, then you need to approach writing as a marketing exercise. Take online marketing courses, learn how to research the market and write specifically for lucrative niches, and become an expert in SEO, Amazon and Google ads.