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.

Marisa Wright

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.

https://www.ryanjaharden.com/post/20booksto50k-vs-slow-and-steady-craftsmanship

19+ Comments

Roger

A very interesting blog post. My goals have not changed but this is a good resource. Thanks for your crit of the site.

Jan-02 at 03:23

Trevose

Though I think this is a helpful post from Marisaw, there is a broader context that should also be considered by anyone wanting to make a living from writing fiction.

In short, grossing $50k a year as a self-employed worker will leave you pretty close to living in poverty.

Simplistically, let’s look at this way:

$50k - 15.3% for Social Security and Medicare. Those are not optional in the US. So you are down to about $42k.

Let’s say you need to spend $5k a year on book editing and advertising – which is super cheap if you are cranking 4 books a year…super cheap. But let’s say you magically can do it. Now you are down to about $37k a year. That leaves you about $3k a month.

From that $3k a month, you have to pay for your own medical insurance, transportation, housing, utilities, internet, computers, clothing, food, etc., etc.

If you were grossing $100k a year – and could do it year after year until you retire – then you would be in a pretty good spot. But the number of people who generate that much money year after year as fiction writers is…well…tiny. Really tiny.

Don’t get me wrong: I love to write and encourage anyone who wants to write to do it well and to pay close attention to sites such as Marisw highlighted to learn as much as you can about how to make a profit and successfully market your work. Just be thoughtful about how rarely anyone can make a living doing it.

Jan-02 at 04:06

Elliestorm

Trevor mentions the same things I have thought being a part of that group.

And the idea they sell shovels also has been one I’ve taken away.

But I find it sad that they are now promoting the dumbing down of entertainment.

Ironically I was just at the museum a couple hours ago looking at pottery fro 100-200 years ago and marvelling at the beautiful work and lamenting that nothing like this is made today (even if your super rich, it would be difficult to find that kind of craftsmanship).

The same is happening to entertain… the flood of poor quality, mass produced, read/watch once then move on content has cheapened the industries.

Though what gives me hope is photography. It is an industry flooded with people who brought a camera and started a business (and therefore cheapened the industry) but the good news is ppl can still make a living from it. They adapted. The best photographers can still demand top dollar for weddings and such and still get it. But they have to be at the top of their game ie they are master craftsmen and women.

The point I make here is where do you want to be? Catering to the masses who will forget you if you stop emailing them or an established writer who only needs to produce 1 book every 2-3 years because your fan base is holding out for your next installment.

The first is easier to achieve, but you’ll be forgotten in moments. The second is harder, but you’ll be remembered for generations.

Jan-02 at 04:15

Timark

do a gillian flynn.

write 3 best sellers and make 20 million. then write whenever you feel like it.

Dreamland is nice.

Jan-02 at 04:25

Dste

Love the example of selling shovels. I’ve seen a lot of people doing that and have had similar thoughts but not expressed as well. Pretty disheartening to think that the real money might be in selling people help to supposedly make money writing.

This does sound like an interesting group for whatever tips it can provide, though. I’d check it out if I had Facebook.

Jan-02 at 05:16

Alark

Thanks @Marisaw, love learning from you :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:.

Jan-02 at 05:57

Ronoz

Worth checking out. The Ryan Harden article is also interesting: “making boatloads penning erotica.” Who’d have thought?

Jan-02 at 06:04

Marisaw

Since I’m not American, I had no sense of whether $50,000 a year was a liveable wage or not. The main thing is that most of us would never expect to earn that much from our novels, full stop.

Jan-02 at 06:58

Marisaw

I agree. However whichever one you want to achieve, you’ll need to learn about marketing and self-promotion. That’s where you can learn a lot from this group, even if you don’t choose to follow their whole strategy (which, you may notice, I said I wasn’t recommending).

Jan-02 at 07:00

Elliestorm

yup its about defining what your end goal is

you know the saying reach for the moon and you’ll hit the stars

so what is the moon one is aiming for? for me … quit my day job and live off writing

then what is your stars … seven or eight figures in the bank.

I’ll be happy with the first if that’s all I ever get.

then you go from there … how to make that happen. because the second is like hoping to make it big in hollywood or as a super model or as a fashion designer … it takes a whole lot of luck in with the rest.

Jan-02 at 07:21

Redredrose

To be honest, I’m just glad my royalties allow me to eat a nice bowl of Matzo ball soup. Or alternatively, buy an ice cream cone on a hot day.

Jan-02 at 07:33

Tgreen

So, I remember this fun post from the mentioned facebook group

An author with about 20 published novels, 6 of which were in amazon’s top 2000, many in top 10 of their respective categories (subgenres of romance) was freaking out, because usually, she spent about $10.000 per month on advertisements, and grossed about $10.500, the difference being the profit.

But that month, she was already $6000 down on ad costs and earned only $5800 so far.

Gross earnings without advertising costs are a very misleading number.

Jan-02 at 08:09

Miked

some info, FYI:
It depends. The US is a big place and living standards vary widely.

$50K/year is not a boatload of money in any event.
But you can live comfortably in rural Appalachia or places in the deep south like Mississippi and Alabama. I think Arkansas is the poorest state. Those three keep passing the ‘Poorest State’ title between them.

Rural American Midwest is far different in character but $50K can get you by alright.

In NY $50K isn’t exactly poverty-level but you won’t exactly be living large either, not even close. Average career salaries range from $50-200K. Quite a few command more than that. Retired now, I’m in the low-middle of that range.

The flip side is that NYC and Long Island where I am boasts the highest cost of living in the country aside from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area on the West coast. You can’t buy a tiny studio in NYC for less than a million bucks. I’ve been out of circulation for a few years but those studios might even go for $2MM now. NYC studio condo apartments run 600-1,000 s.f. Tiny. That’s something like $2,500/s.f., a ridiculous amount. To lend some perspective, you can build a fancy office hi-rise or a school for around $350/sf. Hospitals and all they entail, maybe $800/sf. My numbers may be a little low now but that’s the ballpark.

My basic monthly living expense with utilities is about five grand, no frills. I don’t live in a big fancy house. More like an unimposing hobbit-hole, built c.1880 with 8 very small rooms and exactly one old china-closet because back then people used wardrobes. I live an unassuming life between horrific family dramas in my little 3-story hobbit-hole. I don’t go on fancy vacations or spend a lot of money on Stuff, except maybe an occasional antique book and some candles and some pot. Call me Boomer.

I can mostly buy what I want when I want it, good enough for me. Except I need a new car and I really, really want a Lucid luxury EV. Out of my price range, for now.

My brother is moving to North Carolina where the cost of living is half or less than up here. My little brother will live like a king in N. Carolina, on half my retiree income.

There is a gigantic discrepancy in this country between the Haves in their castles and the Have-nots in the gutter. San Francisco is more expensive than NY even, but when the ultra-wealthy Kingmakers come down from their towers they wade through a sea of homeless to get to the limo. I think I saw that scene in some dystopian nightmare of a movie. Soylent Green, maybe.

Jan-02 at 08:21

Elliestorm

copied from a post in the group Marisaw is talking about. you’ll note in there that they spend six figures on advertising.

The Half a Million Year
Hello, and happy New Year!
It’s me, Jolie, back with another annual round up of what I did this year, the hard figures, what worked for me, and what didn’t.
In 2022, my business turned over half a million dollars. That is very nice to say.
I’ve written several strategy posts as 20Books gave me a roadmap to success that’s proven out. Go ahead and search my name if you’re interested in my progress to this point.
Who I am

A newish author, in my fourth year of publishing, and 99% indie
First book launched: 2019
Genre: romance (contemporary, suspense, NA, and dark)
Pen names: 1
Titles live: 23 plus 4 boxed sets (most books are across 4 series - the first three set around two generations of a family and their small town place in the world, and the 4th series a spin off)
Audio titles: 18 + 2 boxed sets
Translations: 0

2022’s income:

Amazon: $475k
ACX (audiobooks): $41k
Affiliates: $6k
Merchandise & signed copies: $5-8k (this is low key and done for the super fans - it's all handled by my PA)
Ingram: a few thousand (just started putting paperbacks on here a few months ago)

TOTAL - $530k ish
Costs:

FB ads: $160k
AMS ads: a few thousand at most. I'm not good at these
The usual suspects - covers, photos, editing, graphic design, admin and PA costs, bookkeeping and accounting, website, NL provider, promos like Bookbub, swag and postage

Total - $200k ish

What I did in the past year
For 2022, I had a few objectives:

Continued growth of my loyal readership (marketing my back catalogue, Easter eggs in books, bonus scenes (handled by me), book boxes, swag parties, reader group engagement (handled by one of my PAs))
Chasing a trend with writing a dark romance series
Audio back catalogue completion
Start translations

In addition to this, I took on several new people to help me out, including a PA who writes my weekly newsletters, manages my website, and applies for Bookbubs every month (which she got on her second month!).
What I reduced, stopped, or didn’t do

Fewer free book runs
No shared world or multi-author anthology books
Any newsletter building that wasn't via bonus scenes (therefore actual readers)
Reduced my overall publishing rate by releasing only 4 books (compared with double that in earlier years)
I didn't attend any author conferences. I felt full enough of strategy that any further great insight just wouldn't permeate

What went well

My new trend-chasing series killed it. The first two books hit the top 100 and B1 is my top earner for the year with B2 close behind. It's a polarising series (connected, evil cliffhangers) and readers either adore it or hate it, but that sells copies and it's doing everything I wanted it to do. I deliberately linked it to my existing world to bring over my readership, and though darker romance is not to the taste of some, they're still reading it as it's by me and has the Easter eggs
Back catalogue marketing - my previous three series are all in the same world so a reader who enters there has a lot of books to read through before they're up to speed. It stretches ad money well. My reader group actively encourage each other to get them all under their belts so every family update is known
FB ads. These create a consistent income for me. By always running them, I keep a minimum coming in every month, irrespective of the season, whether I have a new release, or a Tiktok doing well. As you can see from my graph, my worse month was a shade under $30k
Tiktok - I've had 5-8 people posting daily for me on this platform. Some do better than others but overall they more than pay for themselves. In December, a viral post brought in $6k on one book alone, not counting read through

What went not so well

Launching B3 of my bestselling series on Thanksgiving. Big fail. I figured people would have time at home to read but nope, it was the opposite. Readers were cross at me for launching a book they had desperately waited for at a time when they couldn't read it. With the world and her husband selling stuff over that weekend, online visibility was almost nil, and people still don't know this book is live
AMS ads mistake - I sloppily keyed in a $56 bid instead of 56c. It was live for three days and spent $750 for very little return. Facepalm
Finding good translators has had its highs and lows
Audio returns - I hesitate to call this a fail, but returns on my audio back catalogue are not high. I invested a lot to get all my series books recorded, and some look like they'll take years to pay off. It's still a great source of income with around 1k audio unit sales per month now, but that's a long game. I'd absolutely recommend audio for front list books (and also using big name male narrators who have a following) but it's not an instant earner for backlist in my experience

What will I do in 2023

Translations! I'll launch 9 German books (I'll be in Berlin for one of them too!). I have my two latest series currently underway with a couple of translators working on them simultaneously. I'll start looking for translators in other languages next
I'll publish the final dark romance book so that series will be complete
I'll return to romantic suspense and write another protector / small town / on-brand series. With AI-written books and the cost of living crisis looming, I feel strongly about building a brand and delivering exactly what my readers want from me. Last year, my dark romance series was a passion project as much as an experiment. This year, I'm serving my readers' hearts with familiarity and reliability
Launch special editions, maybe a kickstarter, and indulge in some luxury swag
Write bonus stuff to delight existing readers, likely not as a separate money-making venture
Maybe some more direct selling
Continue to outsource, including handing over translations to a PA, and continuing to have people run TT accounts for as long as this platform is profitable
Some complicated stuff around setting up a business in the UK

Overall, I’m thrilled with how the year has gone. My business is thriving, and I think I’m over the riskiest part of setting up a new career. I know my limits and how much I can handle at any one time, and I make decisions about taking on new ventures at my own pace.
I’m also convinced I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff that’s happened so if you have questions, shout.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! My best wishes for happiness and book success in 2023.

Jan-02 at 09:36

Jeff65

I did join that Facebook group, but was repelled by the relentless optimism of the posts there. It seems very divorced fron the reality of self-publishing, where the typical self-published book on Amazon sells around 10 copies.
It is no doubt true that if you want to make significant money from writing you have to treat it like a business. However I have realised that I dislike doing publicity etc even more than I dislike going to the dentist.
If I wanted to amass a large amount of money I could get a salaried job, invest in unit trusts, buy a house, inherit property. Did that, so why would I want to start a mass-market writing business, which I’d probably hate.
I have just read an interview with an author who revealed that she used AI to draft her plots and design a book cover, and that the AI can even draft text in various styles (how does it learn how to do that?) I think I’ll give up now. :unamused:

Jan-02 at 11:19

Glitterpen

Good blog post. I definitely don’t want to buy shovels. I quit Twitter a while ago. It’s just a time drainer, especially for me. I’m so isolated that could do it in my free time until the cows come home and never feel like I got enough socialization, because real, meaningful connection seems to be missing. People just shoot off a list of questions (probably obtained from the Internet somewhere). That got old fast. The time is better spent on writing.

I’m not sure I could write four books a year, for five years. I could write one book a year, possibly two. If I were to self-publish, I would have to train to get my editing to a pro level, because I have no money for an editor/proofreader (other than ProWritingAid which I bought on a February leap year sale). I haven’t finished any of the the novels I wrote between 2015 and 2017, and I’ve been tinkering with them for over seven years. I’m unsure how long it will take me to get my writing to a pro level. I will probably go the traditional route after another five years by finding an agent for Bracelet. :face_with_monocle:

Jan-02 at 11:31

Glitterpen

That’s the issue I’m struggling with… :pensive: AI will try and replace us.

Jan-02 at 11:36

Tgreen

On a side note, you might be looking for something that doesn’t exist.

I remember us exchanging crits years ago, and the writing itself was fine, with the novels not having any major issues. And I remember parts of them, which means the contents were pretty good. I mean, if those were my stories, they would have received one round of edit, and then I would have started querying (if I were looking for a traditional publishing route, which imo makes more sense for you anyway).

My personal experience/observation is that 80 - 90 % of a novel’s quality is determined at the outline level, with the theme, tropes, general plot, overall idea, and main moments being what determines how well will the novel do - all agents ask for a quick summary of the book because that’s what actually matters.

The endless tinkering typically works on much lower-level stuff, which doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. It’s also much easier to take lessons learned into a new project than it is to rewrite an old one.`

Jan-02 at 12:31

Dinzyfinzy

What if people don’t have facebook?

Jan-02 at 13:01
Click here to reply
Member submitted content is © individual members.
Other material ©2003-2023 critiquecircle.com