The expression “writers write,” is an old one, and I think it’s time that we did away with it.
Sure, writers have to write something every day if they’re ever going to get their first novel finished. However, if they want to succeed in the 21st century, they’re also going to have to market their work every day, take courses to improve their craft and marketing skills, network with other professional writers, and interact with their readers.
Sound like work? It is. “But I just want to write,” you say. So did I, five years ago.
In 2012, I worked as a freelance writer and editor for national magazines. I penned my poetry collections in the early mornings, before I got to work on paid writing contracts. I had already self-published two collections by 2012. A traditional publisher accepted my manuscript for Carry On Dancing, and I thought I was set for life. Okay, not for life, but I was traditionally published! I was going to start making a profit on my writing, after years of submitting work and being rejected! I was going to be sent on wondrous reading tours around Canada and maybe even the US. Because: I was published!
Now, to be fair, my publisher was awesome and worked hard. Those dreams didn’t happen for me right away, because I didn’t yet understand the amount of work (and advertising dollars) that goes into being a profitable author.
I spent hours a day trying to get my name out there, as did my publisher. I toured a few cities in Ontario, using profits from my freelance editing and writing jobs, and some grants I earned from The League of Canadian Poets and The Writers Union of Canada (TWUC). I blogged and Facebooked my way into a fan base of about 200 regular readers. For all this, I earned about $60 in royalties three months after the book’s launch. I was pleased with this, because I was still holding down other writing and editing jobs, and making some wine and shoe money with my poetry. I even started selling the one-time reprint and audio rights of my poems to internationally-distributed textbooks.
Fast forward to 2014, when a publisher accepted my manuscript for Strangely, Incredibly Good. The publisher was fantastic, and worked hard alongside me to publicize the book. The greatest lesson for me that year was that I lost some time and money marketing the book to Chapters-Indigo stores in Quebec and Ontario. I was published, but I wasn’t “she’s a big name,” “she’s going to sell like hot cakes” published, so the stores didn’t put my book on their shelves, only took my books by consignment, and took 45 % of the profit. I had a wonderful time meeting and greeting with readers, at a loss of about 0.50 a book. I was fully aware of that loss. I decided it would come out of my paid contract work. In my mind, my fiction writing was still a hobby, and I was getting my name out there with these appearances. It felt a little counter-productive sometimes, but I kept reminding myself that as long as I was having fun, I should keep on going.
Persistence paid off. By 2015, the year I decided to self-publish Remarkably Great, the sequel to Strangely, Incredibly Good, I wasn’t taking a loss with my appearances anymore, and my local Chapters actually offered to put several of my books on their shelves. I started seeing more money from my fiction trickle in, but certainly not what I’d call a living. I told the students I spoke to at my alma mater, Queen’s University: “Writing can’t always make you a great living, but it can make you a great life.” I was enjoying the life my writing had made – never a dull moment – and I kept at it for the sheer joy of the craft.
My background should demonstrate how many years of zero profit or even a loss you may have to endure before you start making money with your fiction writing. The J.K. Rowling stories are rare. They exist, and I don’t want to dissuade you from reaching for the stars, but they are certainly not the norm.
In early 2016, after much contemplation and research, I made a few changes to how I was selling my work. I took back all the rights to all my work, so that I was the sole publisher. I wanted control of all my work and its marketing, and I wanted to organize my accounting in one place, not several.
Once I had the rights back, I was able to control everything from pricing to discount sales to advertising. I was also finally able to put my first novel in the Kindle Unlimited Library along with Remarkably Great and my new novel, The Ticket.
Kindle Unlimited, used properly, is one of the best author tools since the typewriter. I started making a steady profit by early February 2016. I remember pretty much freaking out that I was now making $60.00 a month on Kindle sales alone, because I had been making $60 every three months. I wrote a blog Keep Your Day Job (But keep the faith) about how I was finally able to use my Kindle royalties – money earned from fiction alone – to buy my daughter a pair of skates.
Over a year later, I’m thrilled to say I could buy everyone in my daughter’s class skates every month with my ebook royalties, and then some. My monthly profits fluctuate, of course, and I haven’t begun to tabulate this year’s paperback profits, so I can’t tell you what I’ll be making this year, but it’s not just shoe money. It’s enough money to not have to think about finding freelance magazine writing contracts each month, or selling my poems to textbook companies to help pay the bills. (Although I still love to do those things).
What did I do differently? I took charge of my creations and my career by becoming an independent author. I kept writing every morning – because yes, writers do write. Then I started spending my afternoons investing in my writing career. I started a mailing list, improved my website, hired a designer for my book covers, and started advertising all of my novels – consistently, in places where readers always hang out. I also began doing more video appearances on my Facebook Author Page and tweeting on a more regular basis, with a more consistent approach.
In December 2016, I took a fantastic course called the Self Publishing Formula by Mark Dawson, and it changed the way I looked at my fiction writing. I had to stop thinking of it as a hobby if I wanted to make good money. It’s a business – a hard one to succeed in – but a business.
It took sixteen years of sending my work to publishers and agents, telling myself fiction couldn’t actually make me much money, before I drastically changed the way I approach my writing “hobby.” Now I’m finally making a daily profit with my fiction writing.
It’s 9:36 a.m. and I haven’t started writing for the day yet. I’ve been marketing my butt off since 7:30 a.m, and trying to help and encourage emerging authors with this blog post.
Because that’s what profitable writers do.