Not as easy as it’s been told. But then, there’s a lot of stuff floating around out there. What you swallow is up to you.
How a Writer Can Become a Published Author
Anyone can write.
- But only 82% of the reading public think they have a book in them.
- Only 8% of those actually do write a book.
- And only 3% of those publish.
Of a thousand people:
- 820 have a book they want to write.
- 66 will write it out.
- 2 of them will end up publishing it.
Are they now a published author?
Writer + Audience = Author
If those two people get their friends and family to buy their published book – technically, yes they are now a published author.
On average, they spend about $3,000 to get their book published, and make back about $500 off the 250 average sales.
That isn’t making a living from that single book.
But you do have the satisfaction of having accomplished something that only one out of 500 people ever do.
And you can have a book to hold in your hands – and something checked off your bucket list.
But what if you find that you really like to write?
You’ve got a lot more books to write – or know you could keep going at this in all your spare time.
It’s obvious you’re going to have to keep your day job (or retirement income) paying for your hobby.
The trick is to set it up like a business, and make your writing at least cover your bills.
(We aren’t going to discuss making a living at this – Author Earnings distilled Amazon book sales data and discovered that only .04% of all authors on that platform made even $50,000 per year.)
To make a hobby into a sustainable business, it needs to earn more than it costs to run. Of course, it won’t pay you a salary. But it will at least pay all of its costs.
First, lower your overhead.
Cut your costs to the bone:
- Do your own writing, editing, proofing. (Or get a friend or spouse or relative to help you.)
- Get your book formatted for free. (Online for free.)
- Make your own covers. (Online for free.)
- Self-publish. (Online for free as an ebook.)
Selling 250 copies to your family and friends now made you a $500 profit.
(But yes, you can publish that same book as a paperback and it will cost you about $10 bucks or so to have a proof copy in your hands.)
Second, you’re going to have to learn to do all this on your own.
OK, one of the easiest ways to make money on the Internet is to make a course and sell it to people who want to learn how to do something. Because about 95% of any activity online is populated by people who don’t know and want to learn how.
Most of these courses start out at about $500 and go north from there. (The latest scam I heard of cost $2000 for 90-days of hand-holding you through the process of writing and publishing your first book.)
Here’s how easy it is to write and publish your own book:
- Find 2500 words you’ve already written. (Can be anything, old love letters, recipes, college term papers.) Cost: $0, maybe an afternoon of digging through old files in your computer somewhere.
- Get your text formatted into an acceptable ebook for free by Draft2Digital.com – Cost $0 and maybe a half-hour submitting, reviewing, fixing, rinse, repeat.
- Go to Canva.com and use one of their templates for Amazon ebooks to make your own cover. Cost: $0, figure an hour or two if you’ve never made one before.
- Set up an account at kdp.amazon.com and upload your manuscript and cover. Cost:$0, and maybe another half-hour or so.
- Hit publish.
Total cost: $0, and most of an afternoon’s work.
Did you need their expensive course?
Why does it cost so much? Because they are trying to tell you a lot of other things that makes them able to justify their course. Like running Facebook Ads, or how to pick an editor to help you tweak your manuscript. Or how and where to send your book for proofing. Or why you need to have a big mailing list and fast ways to get one in “just” a few days.
What does that all mean? All that extra advice is going to cost you even more money.
Thank$. A lot.
The other secret to the top-selling authors “overnight” success
…is that it only took them 5 or 10 years.
And they are still just one of those .04% at best.
You have to love writing just for the joy of it.
You need to enjoy working at this as a paid-for hobby and enjoy it for the years it will take to get a breakthrough of your own.
Here’s the sad reality of authors: Most can’t last long enough to find their breakthrough moment – and don’t.
Truly prolific authors spend decades at this – the rest of their lives.
While most authors on Amazon have five or less books to their name.
The trick is that the really successful authors only started seeing decent income after their fifth book. (And that includes J. K. Rowling.)
Five years, five books – a novel per year. Not paid for any of them, or – not very much. But “everyone says” you have to pay big bucks per book and run at a loss. $15K invested – and what?
Must be an easier way.
Learn from the Pulp Masters
From the turn of the century through 1940’s, there was a profitable industry where magazines printed submitted short stories and novellas, as well as serialized novels, for around a cent per word published.
And to make a living at this, authors had to be prolific.
Meaning, they couldn’t spend a lot of time fussing over several drafts of a story.
The best were known for hand-typing publication-ready text. Few typo’s. Needed little or no editing. And would successfully publish close to a million words per year. (Not just produce, but publish for money.)
I dug up the “King of the Pulps” H. Bedford-Jones book “This Fiction Business” and found his formula midway through the fourth chapter:
“I have followed a system of my own for the past twenty years; it just happens to be my own way of writing a story, that’s all. …
“Here is my own recipe: Put a sheet of paper into the machine, start writing, and go ahead.
“The chances are that you can get a flying start with a good bit of dialogue or a fine situation. After a few pages, stop and study your characters. Go on writing from page to page, and let the plot form itself as you proceed. If you like, have a climax to write up to; otherwise, let the climax come of itself. Plot and climax will come as you go along.”
Bedford-Jones wrote for decades, earning some $50,000 annually during the Depression (equivalent to hefty six-figures today.) And that “King of the Pulps” title was bestowed by a review magazine, based on his paid production, where he was routinely the top-earning author.
So where is all this outlining, multiple drafts, developmental editors, flanks of proofreaders?
That’s from advice originating a combination of the Big Publishing Houses and Academia – neither of which had anything to do with a short story that would sell to popular magazines.
Traditional publishing is known for only accepting as low as 1% of all novel-length submissions, paying only 10% royalties, and taking an entire year to publish a book. (And Academics don’t make their living by publishing entertaining fiction – so where do they get off advising anything?)
The term “plot” itself was borrowed from land-developers as a way to understand and dissect a writer’s work (literally meaning “lay of the land”) not to plan out how a story is written before you start. (Bedford-Jones has his fifth chapter devoted to shooting holes in that myth.) Sure, there can be some planning ahead of time, but as Louis L’Amour would do: once you type “The End” at the story’s finish, then roll in a fresh sheet of paper and start typing the next story. (L’Amour’s books have never gone out of print, starting during his own lifetime. Another like that is Frederick Faust, who wrote under “Max Brand”.)
Stories are stories. And most people know when something is a good story by just reading it once through.
Trust yourself to be able to write good stories – then make each one better than the last – and you’ll be churning out high quality at a fast rate soon enough.
You have spell-checking at your fingertips. And a good read-through of your formatted ebook on a smartphone should enable you to find the areas that need improvement and help you catch 99% of most errors. In any good story, the readers won’t care or won’t object to the tiny handful that get through. Because you’re writing fresh, live stories from your own style. And that resonates with readers enough to buy your stuff.
You sit, you write. Revise as you go. Proof and correct once you’re done. Then publish. And then start again.
That’s the simplicity.
Here’s your “developmental editor”: Read books you like. Study the books you re-read just for pleasure. Use what you can out of those books without plagiarizing – change the names, the setting, other details. Reuse the story, not the “plot.”
Most of all, write the story you’d like to read.
Revise, proof, publish.
Then roll in a fresh digital sheet of paper and start the next.
Writers write. They get better the more they do.
Why short stories are better, faster, more forgiving
This is where you find out that many of the writers we respect today, and the classics of yesteryear, all started out by writing short stories. (L’Amour, Bradbury, Asimov, Jack London, even Dickens were among these.)
Short stories have their own discipline – but all include the core of a story. They are simple to write, simple to revise, simple to proof, and simple to publish.
A recent study showed that fully 25% of the books on Amazon are short stories – at least 2500 words long.
You can work on any particular point you want while you are writing, concentrating on improving your dialogue, your pacing, your backgrounds, your cliff-hangers, all while producing publishable copy, perhaps several of these per week. Or just take a week to get a single “perfect” story nurtured through the process.
As you continue along, your confidence and output will build. And your stories should be getting better as you go along. Again – don’t pick up your old stories and re-edit them. Pick up a new story and write it, learning from the mistakes you found in those earlier ones.
Write, revise, proof, publish.
Simple. Fast. Direct.
And decent quality – enough to publish.
(Sure, if you find some typo’s or minor errors in re-reading an earlier story, then fix them and resubmit your new copy. Doesn’t cost anything except a few minute’s time.)
Theodore Sturgeon is known for saying “90% of everything out there is crud.” For you and me, this means – get into a regular production flow so that you will wind up with the 10% of your best stuff out there on sale. The cream will rise. (And the dregs will sink.) Meanwhile, you are still writing.
That’s how you survive writing while learning your craft
For the five years it will take to have an “overnight success”:
- Write short. Each one better than the last.
- Write the stories you want to read.
- Cut your overhead costs to zero.
- Compile collections of your better works and put them on sale as well.
- But above all – write, finish what you write, revise|proof|publish, start your next one.
Elsewhere, I’ve gone over the math it takes to get “novel-length” books produced. And proved it last year by writing a 60K+ book as a 9 short story series in three weeks for NaNoWriMo.
That years’ production averaged two 6-8K short stories published every week. A hundred short stories written and published in a single year. And nearly forty collections built from them.
Can be done.
Beats slaving over one novel a year. More like 600K words, or about twelve 50K novel-length collections.
Right now, I’m in that gulf between being prolific and being “discovered” – but they are selling each week. Figure that after four more years I’ll have my “overnight success” show up.
Or it might happen faster, if I can simply keep up this rate.
Note: like the old Detroit ad – “Your mileage may vary.”
But you’ll enjoy every second you spend at it – and it will be more than covering its costs.
Like getting paid to play amateur baseball. Without all the traveling and workouts.
Also published on Medium.