Monday 19 November 2012

How to Make a Living as an Author

Let me start this post by saying that this will not happen overnight. If you’re someone who wants a ‘get rich quick scheme’ then find something else. Being an author is a long, hard struggle where you’ll receive the sort of feedback and plain derogatory put downs that would have the unions up in arms had they been received in any other workplace.

If you’re serious about working as a full time author, you need to grow a thick skin, be a total workaholic, forego any other hobbies, and be happy to live in a total pigsty for a large portion of the time (unless you make it seriously big – in which case, hire a cleaner!).

Are you still here? Okay, good.

My story, like many, began a long time ago. I decided I wanted to be an author just out of university, when I realised I’d spent my whole time studying (Zoology) trying to find time to write. However, it wasn’t until seven years and several novels and numerous short stories later that I eventually got published.

I loved what I was writing (Paranormal Fiction) but when a fellow author approached me to see if I’d be interested in writing some erotica for a paid for blog page – Everything Erotic – I jumped at the chance. My royalties from my vampire novel, Alone, were pretty miserable (read non-existent), and after having my second daughter, I was starting to line up job interviews to get back into a job I hated.

It was now early 2010 and I was starting to get some decent erotic short stories together. Under the umbrella of Red Hot Publishing, I put my short stories together and released them as my first erotic ebook under my maiden name, M.K. Elliott. This collection was called Rescued and this was also when my life changed. Within two weeks, Rescued began to climb the chart of Barnes & Noble. At its peak, it hit the #1 spot for erotica and was selling over 400 copies a night.

Needless to say, my hunt for a new day job ended right there.

In the months that followed, I put more erotic titles out with Red Hot Publishing, several of which sat on the Amazon best seller list for Erotica for months. In this time, I also got the rights for two of my paranormal novels back from the original small publisher and decided to put them out myself. I now self-publish the majority of my work in both name (M.K. Elliott and Marissa Farrar) under the umbrella of my own publishing house, Warwick House Press.

While I’m certainly not rich or hitting the big time, I do earn enough money to support my family and put any thoughts of a day job far behind me.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. I used to think that when a book started selling, it would continue to sell, but that’s not the case. Even mainstream authors will see a peak in sales for their new releases and then the sales will start to drop again. Occasionally you’ll get a stroke of luck (or you’ve done some smart marketing) and your book will climb again, but chances are it won’t stay at the top. This is why you’ve got to keep writing to keep ‘filling the funnel’ to keep those average book sales up.

So what I expect you’ll all want to know is how you can actually earn a decent income from writing, so here are my tips:

  •             Do you only have one book? Are you spending several hours a day blogging, facebooking, tweeting, just trying to get people to read it. Well don’t. Stop it right now. Any time you’re spending on the internet, you’re not writing. Wait until you’ve got more titles out before you spend any time promoting. You need people to read one book and then move onto the next. If you’re still six months away from the next title, people will read your one book and then forget all about you.
  •       Mix things up. If you write horror, fantastic, but why not try writing a thriller or a paranormal romance, or dare I say it, some erotica! You never know, you might even be good at it. Why not create a pen name and try something completely different?
  •            Keep mixing it up! The great thing about ebooks is we’re now free to write whatever length story we want and get it out there. The more title you have out, the more visible you’ll be – even if those titles are only .99 short stories. So write your novels, because they’ll always be the best-sellers, but also try your hand at some short stories or novellas.
  •        Be clever with pricing. Yes, low priced books are easier to sell because people will take a chance on them, but getting smaller numbers of sales at a higher royalty makes a big difference as far as keep a decent base rate in your earnings. I love it when my $0.99 erotic titles take off, but its the steady sales of my $4.99 novels that bring in my regular income.
  •       Try out KDP Select. This has its good and bad points, which I won’t go into now. If you do decide to go into KDP Select, do it properly! Make sure you’ve hit all the big free book sites before hand (Pixel of Ink and E-Reader News Today). Getting one of the big guys to feature your book will make the difference between a couple of hundred downloads and a double-digits of thousands!
  •        Write a series. The big earners in ebook publishing are generally educated women who write a series of romance novels! Now if you’re not a romance writer (or a woman!), that doesn’t mean you can’t write a series! I have one series almost finished now, one in progress, and another in planning. My stand alone books sell, but nothing like my series books.
  •        Figure out what word count will work for you and stick to it. When I'm writing a first draft, I try to write at least 2K a day. However, I do tend to hop between projects, so often that 2K ends up split over a couple of books. As long as each of those books gets finished and published  then that's fine, but don't start what you're not going to finish or have too many going at once or you'll never get anything out there!
  •       Make sure you have a good editor and book cover. This is basic, but so true. If you don’t have these basics then there’s no point in bothering to do anything else.
  •       Run a sale! And advertise it! There are plenty of sites now which will allow you to advertise a sale for as little as $50. Make sure you put in your product description that the book is on sale for a limited time only (fear of loss, so people purchase right away).
  •       Above all, be hard on yourself. You’re tired? Tough luck. This is your business now and you’re the boss. Imagine if you went into work complaining you were tired and you couldn’t do what you were paid to do. Would your boss pat you on the head and tell you to go home and take a nap? No, he’d tell you to shut the hell up and get on with what you were paid to do. If you want to earn money from this gig, you’ve got to do the same thing to yourself.

I hope this helps and you’ve picked up some tips or ideas. I know I live in fear of my sales drying up and finding myself down the local supermarket looking for work. So in the meantime, I’ll keep working my butt off and pray that people keep buying my books!


  1. I enjoyed your post.

    Glad to see I'm doing most of what you recommend. I've spent over a year getting all of the mss I had on the shelf on Amazon et al.

    I have a last trilogy to polish. Then I'll split my time with a little marketing with my daily writing.

    1. Welcome R. Mac! I also meant to mention that the big earners in this industry are the ones who spend the vast majority of their time on writing vs marketing. If you have multiple titles, then they market themselves to a certain extent!

  2. Marissa, this is such an awesome post! Thank you for taking the time to share some great nuggets of wisdom. I've recently self-published a collection of YA fiction, and was unsure where to go next - currently working on a novel, but was really devoting a lot of time to 'pushing' the short story book out there. Going to take your advice and focus on some new work.

    Thanks again. :)

    1. Best of luck with the books, V.! And yes, get those words down. That's the most important thing. :-) Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thanks for the tips as always, Marissa. Yeah, I'm starting to realize that all of this networking stuff may not be amounting to the moment. I've been in newspapers and magazines, done guest posts and interviews galore, and nothing. I've done the big events and the giveaways...and nothing. *sigh* What I do have are two books. I will focus on producing their paperbacks, so I can have something physical for my home town and surrounding region (since my series is based here), but then I'm getting on that third book that the first draft is already written for. I guess I'll just keep writing the books and hope that it gets the job done. If you've got any other advice, I'm all ears, my dear friend.
    Oh, and congratulations on that success. Let me know when you need that American publicist or assistant...or anything!! ;) *hugs*


  4. Jimmy, I hate to say it, but the people I know who are making a living from this business have numerous titles out. I'm not just talking two or three, but really getting into double figures. My advice to you would be to work on that third book (of course) but also get some short stories done, together with some great, professional looking covers, and try to get some readers that way. Most readers don't blog, they simply scroll the charts on Amazon, which is why having multiple titles is so important. Get some short stories written and out there, either to offer for free or for $0.99 and pick up the people who are actually reading. :-)

  5. Well done, Marissa. One small correction on your timing, EE started in August 2010, and your first individual title was released through RHP in early 2011 (not early 2010).

  6. Wow, you're right. It was early 2011. Hard to believe only a little shy of two years has passed! So much has happened it feel like so much longer!

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