How to Make $50,000 a Year as a Novelist
I can hear you all falling about, reading that title. “$50,000 a year? You must be joking! Yet amazingly, I’ve just spent the last two months in the (virtual) company of several novelists who are doing just that. How they’ve done it is a revelation, and I think it’s a revelation every would-be author needs to have.
If you want to learn how to make money from your novels, you'll find the answer in an unlikely place: Facebook. Specifically, a Facebook group called 20BooksTo50K®. They don’t have a website – all their information is on Facebook, (and pretty hard to navigate as a consequence), but it’s all invaluable. Anyone can join, and I’d urge you to do so – not to stay long-term, necessarily, but to have a deep dive into their marketing secrets.
To reiterate: the main reason I recommend all writers to join the group is NOT because I recommend committing wholesale to their system (more on that later). It’s because their members are so generous in sharing their self-promotion and marketing techniques, which they are constantly analysing and tweaking. Things change fast on the internet, and if a strategy stops working, these guys will notice and let the group know. That’s an invaluable resource that’s unmatched anywhere else, and it's useful whether you're aiming for traditional publishing or self-publishing.
You'll find plenty of other sites and groups where writers share their 'successful' strategies, but too often, they‘re using a hotchpotch of techniques and have no clear idea which of them is working or why (the ‘throw a lot of mud at the wall and hope it sticks’ approach). If they’re not able to say, “I spent x dollars or xx hours on this strategy and it resulted in xxx signups or xxx book sales”, how can you judge whether it’s worthwhile? On 20Books, members back up their results with statistics and graphs of their actual book sales. That information is gold.
What's more, 20Books members are overwhelmingly fiction writers, so you know the strategy is relevant (most self-publishing advice is geared to non-fiction books and simply doesn't work for fiction).
The bad news is that many of their marketing strategies require you to spend money, and to give away a lot of copies of your novels. However any writer who’s dipped a toe into marketing knows there’s a plethora of sites offering to help you market your books (for a price). You’re going to have to invest in some of them if you want to make sales – at least with 20Books, you’ll have current information on which are worth investing in and which are not.
The 20BooksTo50K® System
For those curious to know what the system is about, the group’s name says it all: the goal is to write 20 novels, then you can build an income of $50,000 a year. As someone who took years to produce their first novel, I rolled on the floor laughing at this idea, but bear with me: it’s not quite as ridiculous as it sounds. When you break it down to, “Write 4 novels a year for 5 years”, it sounds slightly less daunting.
It may also sound more achievable when you know these authors don’t spend weeks polishing their work – they pay a professional editor to do it for them.
An editor is not the only thing they pay for. The money will be a stumbling block for many, I”m sure. My initial reaction was, “I’ve already invested hours of my time in writing the darn book, and now I have to invest thousands of dollars in an editor, cover design, video ads, audiobooks – and on top of all that, I’ve got to give away books for free?”
Actually, yes. The group treats novel writing like a business. Like most small businesses, they expect to make a loss for the first few years, and invest money in building up their customer base before they start making a profit. I confess I find the prospect frightening. I am also wary, because it’s just possible new members have already missed the gold rush. Let me explain.
The advent of the internet was like finding the first gold field at the beginning of a gold rush. A new way of making money opened up. Everyone flocked in, making money with affiliate marketing. That was the first gold seam. But latecomers found all the claims were taken, and they couldn’t break in. New seams were found – selling on eBay, publishing ebooks etc. However, as it became more and more difficult to find gold, the most experienced miners stopped mining and instead, sold shovels to gullible new arrivals.
That happens on the internet on a vast scale. You’ll still find plenty of ‘experts’ offering to teach you how to make money using techniques that haven’t worked since 2011. They’re selling shovels to the gullible.
Though I find their marketing information priceless, I worry that 20Books may be selling shovels, too. I know there are authors in the group making big money, but if they got their start 2 or 3 years ago, that means they established their reputation before the market became flooded. The same techniques may not work so well for a newbie starting out now, when there's so much more competition.
Be that as it may, I think the group is still worth joining. Even if you aim to publish only two or three novels, you can still learn a lot from the knowledge they have to share.
Here are some of the blogs that our members have been contributing recently.