Writing for a Living

Many of my readers who follow my blog and Facebook livestreams know that I’ve been writing since I was very young. When I was in ninth grade, I submitted my first manuscript, The Europa Princess, to a publisher and, Lo and Behold!, I received a contract. Unfortunately, because I was fourteen, I had no idea how to read a contract (see? I knew I wasn’t qualified to be a lawyer!). I showed it to my parents. I don’t know if they read it or not, but I never heard another word about it.

I wasn’t disappointed, though. I told myself that I was only fourteen-years-old and who wants to achieve their lifelong dream at fourteen? I knew that I had plenty of time to write and publish more novels. So, instead of pursuing it, I focused on fine-tuning my skills.

As a child, that was my dream: writing for a living. In my mind, I saw myself sitting at a typewriter—computers weren’t invented yet—plucking away at the keys until the wee hours of the night. I saw myself standing before crowds at bookstores, talking about my latest book and then, after my lecture, sitting down to sign copies of my books. And I envisioned myself packing up my typewriter and traveling around the world, sitting in cafes in France or on the beach in the Caribbean.

Simply put, I wanted to write for a living.

I imagine most writers have a similar dream.

Unfortunately, not all writers can write for a living.

According to , the average published author earns $500 in royalties. That might sound very low, however it’s even scarier to realize that $500 is the average. Factor in the James Pattersons and Jodi Picoults who earn millions on the one end of the spectrum and you’ll realize that the majority of authors basically earn nothing.

One of my friends wrote a book and I helped her publish it. Frankly, the book’s premise was interesting, the writing was funny, and the overall book should have been a category killer⁠1. She did everything right: she knew her target audience, she knew her material, and she knew how to write. When we put the book up for pre-order on Amazon.com, she could hardly contain her excitement.

“Everyone I’ve told about the book is going to order it,” she said to me. “And I have dozens of cousins who I know will buy it.”

She was well-connected and did a ton of marketing. Everyone knew about her book. Everyone promised to pre-order it. This book was destined for greatness.

In the end, she sold twelve books. Maybe less because she might have bought a few copies herself and didn’t tell me. All told, she earned less than ten dollars.

It’s frustrating.

The problem is that writing for a living is only part of the equation. Marketing and timing are everything. While there are always exceptions to the rule, my opinion is that, in today’s society with information overload creating so much noise, no one can be a truly successful author without an enormous focus on marketing.

And there is the major stumbling block.

Most writers write because they are creative and they are storytellers. Most writers don’t understand marketing.

For almost fifteen years, I was a college professor. I taught marketing and communication as well as other courses. Most people who have attended college took a Marketing 101 course and, therefore, think they understand marketing. I can assure you that Marketing (with a capital M) is much more than the four PS: product, pricing, placement, and promotion. In keeping with the P theme, I say that it also takes perseverance and presence.

Writing for a Living

Product

Obviously, the product is the book. But what is the book? It’s more than just the story. It’s also the cover, the description used for marketing it. Just as important, if not moreso, is the amount of time spent editing the book. Editing is not just reading the manuscript for typos, spelling errors, or grammatical mistakes. Authors should invest in good, quality developmental editors, too. The greatest education that I ever had in regard to writing came in the form of my editors. Every comment, change, deletion, and addition was an education. I studied everything they did to my manuscripts so that I could learn from them. They specialize in editing. They are the experts. They have a lot to teach us.

Pricing

How you price your book will depend on your goals. If you want to make money, you’ll price your book higher. If you want to create a ripple effect and target your rankings, you’ll price your book lower. Pricing strategies are complicated and you need to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly. This also goes hand-in-hand with understanding your audience and what they are willing to spend. Additionally, this will change over time. A new and unestablished author will not command the $9.99 price tag for eBooks that we often see (and cringe at) from our favorite popular authors. The pricing that you set will help influence sales.

Placement

Where you publish your book is important. Do you need an agent? Will you self-publish? If you self-publish, should you publish on Amazon.com exclusively or publish on other platforms as well? These are important considerations for any author. There are pros and cons to these different platforms that authors need to understand before self-publishing their manuscripts. If, however, you are fortunate enough to have a traditional publishing house pick up your manuscript, that’s a whole different story. Publishers dictate where your book gets placed and for how long. Their decisions and connections can either make or break your book.

Promotion

Regardless of whether you self-publish or go through a traditional publishing house, you will need to promote your book. Promoting is not a simple “BUY MY BOOK” post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or website. In fact, in my pinion, that’s the sign of a true neophyte. Think about it: have YOU ever bought a book from an author who posted something like that? Promoting your book is more than just a flash mob of pleas for people to purchase it. Promotion is an on-going, never-ending process that is just as much work as writing the book in the first place.

Perseverance

Misconception: If you build it, they will buy it. Baloney. Any author who thinks that readers will flock to their books needs to reevaluate their dreams because it will turn into a nightmare. Truth: Successful authors spend the majority of their time marketing, not writing. And it’s not a one-stop marketing effort. It takes time and patience, organization and structure, and planning and strategy. Without perseverance, no author will ever see more than a few dollars of sales (if that).

Presence

In today’s world, this is probably the most important aspect of writing. You’d think it would be the product, but I can assure you that I’ve bought dozens of books (products) that were horrible: poor writing, awful dialogue, horrendous editing, and silly storylines. And yet, I bought them. While that doesn’t make for a huge fanbase, the author did get my money. Without a presence on social media, no author can survive. You might have the greatest publisher promoting your book, but if you want to truly earn a living as a published author, you need to create a presence on social media.

The next blogs will examine the different aspects of the Marketing Mix for Authors individually.


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One thought on “Writing for a Living

  1. This post is VERY enlightening and helpful. The old “build it and they will come – NOT” holds true for writing, just as is does in any other business, I guess. Writers are probably a lot like artists – long on talent, short on marketing. Thanks for the useful tips. Your expertise gained from years as an author and your background in marketing can save us lots of time and heartache. It’s very generous of you to share your knowledge. Thanks!

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