Make a Living as a Writer – Part 1
I’m going to make this very simple: The secret to making a living wage as a writer lies in two words: volume and variety. Today let’s talk about the first one.
The biggest mistake writers make with respect to their “publishing dreams” is hoping for one big break that’s going to change their lives, allow them to quit their job, and propel them into the life of the full-time writer.
Making money in this business, for the vast majority of writers, isn’t about having one huge hit. Or even two huge hits. Instead, it’s about building a career, book by book, and building an audience that wants more of your books.
Writers begin to see a “living wage” when they have a stack of books out there in the marketplace. Each book needs to be bringing in royalties regularly. Even if each book is not selling a huge number of copies individually—if you have a whole bunch of books out there, each selling some copies, it starts to add up.
It’s all about building a foundation, building a reputation, so that each book you release builds on the last and each one expands your audience so that your new readers are always wanting to go back and find your older books, too.
You’re not ready to “quit your day job” until those royalty checks coming in regularly are adding up to the amount you need to support yourself. Hopefully this is in addition to any advances you’re getting.
This is difficult because you’re only one person. You have limited time, and you can only write so much. That’s why it’s important to take the long view. You’ve got to methodically and strategically build your career. The writers who are doing it full time are able to do it because they have a large volume of product out there, and they’re having enough success that their audience keeps growing.
This is true for people who are in traditional publishing as well as self-publishing. In fact, publishers have always built their business on this model, known today as “the long tail,” which refers to a situation in which a few products sell huge numbers (the “blockbusters”) and a great many more products sell fewer units each, but there are so many of them that they add up to far more revenue than the blockbusters. (Hence: volume.)
Publishers make a great deal of their revenue on backlist, and always have, so even though the term “the long tail” is relatively new, the concept has been around a long time. Companies like Amazon make most of their money on the long tail — the thousands of books that only sell a few copies each, rather than the few books that sell thousands of copies.
So this is why people always say “don’t quit your day job” to newer writers who only have a book or two being published. Even though it can be tempting to look at your advances and calculate whether you can get by without the steady income of the regular job, we always recommend you don’t take that leap until you’ve got somewhat of a “long tail” built up — a large volume of work that’s available for sale and making money on a regular basis.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the second component in How to Make a Living as a Writer: Variety.
Have you dreamed of quitting your job and supporting yourself as a writer? Have you thought about what it would take to be able to do that? Does the concept of needing a large volume of work available for sale resonate with you?
“The first key to making a living as a writer is VOLUME.” Click to Tweet.
Making a living as a writer isn’t about one big break or one huge hit. Click to Tweet.
When should you quit your day job? @RachelleGardner answers. Click to Tweet.