If you want to get rich, writing novels is not the way to go.
Trust me. In my four years of writing semi-seriously, I’ve managed to publish one debut novel (which I ultimately withdrew from the Amazon store), one crime novella, and one romance novella.
In total, I’ve sold 176 books, across all three novels and novellas, as well as gaining 165 Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) Read from KU and KOLL:
In total, I’ve earned more than $50 from the sales of all three novels, as well as the royalties paid out for KENP on Amazon.
So, as you see, I’m really flushed with cash right now and can’t wait to spend it all on a wild bender over the weekend. (I’m being sarcastic, of course.)
Since picking it up four years ago, writing has been my go-to secret pleasure. Mornings were the best times for it; waking up near the crack of dawn to brew myself some peppermint tea before sitting down and smashing out a couple of thought-provoking paragraphs were always I looked forward to the night before. And what’s there not to like about it? It’s a calm yet creative exercise that allows you to give voice to the different characters, worlds and storylines you have percolating in your head all day long. It allows you to express your views respectfully and succinctly in an enjoyable medium and, in today’s world, make it easily accessible to millions around the world to read, contemplate, debate, and argue over.
It’s the best passion ever.
But this passion will never make you rich. Based on a study conducted by Macquarie University, the average income of Australian authors is A$12,900. In my opinion, there are a couple of reasons for this:
Thousands of writers write. Only a few stand out.
According to a cursory Google search, there’s anywhere between 600,000 to 1,000,000 books being published each year… and I think that’s a conservative estimate. There’s books about everything under the sun: dungeons and dragons, a journey through the stars, stories about war, stories about peace, stories about how to make the author’s favourite cheesecake in under five minutes.
Too many books are being published each year, most about similar or overlapping topics being sold to consumers at different price points. The sheer volume alone would mean that, as a rough statistic, you would only have one in a million chance of having your book stand out in the crowd. Furthermore, the case for convincing readers to take a punt on your novel has never been more difficult. Amazon and iBooks have flooded the market with high quality and relatively cheap books, as well as subscription offerings that allow users to read an unlimited number of books for a set price every month.
The chance of obtaining not just a reader, but a ‘sticky’ one that continues to purchase your second, then your third book, is getting less and less with each passing year.
In short, unless you have that ‘special something’ — the undefinable quality that makes or breaks your multi-million dollar author dream — getting rich from writing is as possible as winning the lottery (and even then, you may have better odds!)
Books? We have smartphones!
These days, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone sitting down on a train or bus, flipping open their paperbacks or Kindles and reading intently before getting off at their designated stop.
Instead of the above scenario, what I suspect tends to be the case would be everyone glued to a little smartphone screen in front of them, their fingers either flipping through their Spotify playlist, swiping right on someone cute they found on Tinder, or just browsing through social media. For a large majority of people, this would be the default activity they would fall back on when having some free time to kill, whether in commute or in their personal time.
Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with a little smartphone action to pass a little time. In today’s world, however, it is clear that the number one choice in passing time is not to pick up a good book but it’s to spend time with our precious smartphones. This is a trend that will be hard to combat, despite the rise in e-books due to the increase usage of smart devices, like a phone. It’s something that authors today have to work around, that many people are just not into written medium as they are into an audio or visual medium, which is the prevalent form of entertainment on smartphones.
This, in turn, partly contributes to fewer and fewer book sales and, after the publishers get their cut, less money for the author. It’s a hard truth.
Passion versus greed
For my last point, I want to bring the focus back on your own personality and feelings, things that you are somewhat within your control. Forget about the economics of book sales or the faltering race books are running against smartphones. Bringing it back to the person, one of the key reasons why authors don’t make money is because of themselves. Starting off a fresh manuscript, they think big picture, the flashy lights of Hollywood, fans screaming your name, a theatre audience rising to a standing ovation at the end of your very own book-film. When faced with such stunning dreams, aspiring authors rush. They rush to get the manuscript ready. They rush through the editing process. They rush through marketing and gaining an audience.
Everything is rushed and, as a result, the end product, the novel, looks and feels rushed as well. I put my hands up for this point, guilty as charged. This was a hard lesson I learned when I published my debut novel ‘Birth of Hope: The Gaia Chronicles’. I had such a huge ambition for my novel, for it to make a meteor-sized impact in the literary world that, once published, my inbox would be flooded with congratulatory messages from world renowned authors. Flashing lights went off in my head, dollar signs formed in my eyes.
This made me rush, my fingers dancing endlessly across the keyboard in a race to finish the novel in a year. Everything was just done too quickly, the writing, the editing, the review, the publishing. In the end, most reviewers that received a copy of my debut novel all mentioned the same thing. Great story, poor execution. Why? Because everything was too rushed, too quick, not enough time to really sit down and savour the story beats that I crafted in ten minutes on a Saturday morning.
Be calm, be patient. Write your first draft. Review it. Edit it. Take a couple of weeks, months, maybe a year.
If you can’t control how the market recognises your book out of thousands, if you can’t control today’s trends and how your book is going to compete against absorbing technology, at least be able to control the quality of your final product so that, when the big time calls, at least you won’t find yourself with your pants down. Always write for passion, never for money.