Can You Make Money Writing Novels?

The answer, of course, is yes. Not only can you make money writing novels, you can make a lot of it...

  • Look at J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books.
  • Look at writers like Stephen King and John Grisham.
  • Look at hugely successful indie authors like Mark Dawson.

I have no idea how much these people earn from their fiction writing, but I'd be willing to bet that they don't have to do their own housework. And there's no reason why you couldn't become just as successful.

And here's the best news of all...

There's Never Been a Better Time to Write Fiction

This isn't the place to talk about the details of how to get published (that happens in the dedicated publishing section). But it is the place to discuss how easy (or not) it will be to publish your fiction.

Why? Because it will have a massive impact on your motivation levels.

If I told you that getting published is an "over the rainbow" dream, that for every writer who makes it 199 won't, that's going to put a huge dampener on your efforts.

You'll be okay on the good days. But on the bad days, when things are not going so well, those 1-in-200 odds will eat away at you and make you question whether writing a novel is worth it at all.

A. A. Milne: Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.

Incidentally, I didn't pick "1-in-200" out of thin air. A decade ago (back before the Internet opened up a huge range of opportunities for novelists), agents and publishers collectively rejected 99.5% of manuscripts.

So if I'd been writing this article a decade ago, I would have had to try to motivate you by saying something like this...

Finding a publisher or an agent isn't easy, but neither is it impossible. You'll likely experience many rejections in your quest to get published, but the trick is to keep going and believe in your talents. After all, cream always rises to the top in the end!

Even if your first novel fails to find a publisher, there is always your second novel. And the odds of that one being accepted are much stronger (because the first book would have taught you so much). So...

Never allow the seemingly poor chances of success put you off writing a novel. Equally, don't let the possibility of success (including making money from writing fiction) be your prime motivator. Besides, writing a novel purely for financial reward is unlikely to result in the best novel you can write.

And that would have been true – to an extent. Why wouldn't it have been the whole truth? Two reasons...

First, a lot of bad books were published during the "good old days of publishing." And a lot of good books went unpublished.

(When I say "bad" and "good," I'm not snobbishly talking about "trashy" genre fiction vs. "highbrow" literary fiction. I mean good and bad novels of their type. You can have excellent "airport novels" and truly awful literary fiction.)

Now, none of this was down to luck or injustice. It boiled down to numbers...

  • If the publishers saw a large enough market for a novel, who cared if the critics were going to trash the book?
  • If they couldn't see a large enough market, the excellence of a novel counted for nothing.

The second problem with traditional publishing was that the majority of published writers couldn't make a living from writing books.

The tiny percentage of published writers who were household names earned virtually all of the money. The rest of them failed to earn back their meagre advances and were stuck in their day jobs.

And Then the Internet Changed Everything...

How? It gave writers a realistic way to publish their own books – first using print on demand technology and, later, ebook platforms like Amazon's Kindle.

Just as important, the Internet gave writers a way to market their books using blogs, social media and so on.

Before the Internet, self publishing had been a high-risk strategy. You needed to invest a lot of money up front to print enough copies of your book to benefit from economies of scale. Then you needed to sell them – not easy when most bookstores wouldn't touch self-published titles.

Now writers could manage their entire careers from a laptop. And they didn't need to invest money up front...

  • Their books were either digital (meaning a unit cost of zero).
  • Or they were "printed on demand" (so they didn't have to pay to produce a copy until a customer had bought one).

What Does All That Mean in Plain Language?

It means that a huge "middle ground" of opportunity has opened up for novel writers. Just think about the situation before the Internet came along...

At one of the scale, you had the A-List authors – the kings and queens of the publishing industry whose books were stacked high in the stores. These folks made a lot of money from their writing, and rightly so.

At the other end? Those rejected writers who, frankly, didn't deserve to be published.

The huge "middle ground" was occupied by two sorts of novel writers...

  1. Those whose books were rejected – not because the books sucked but because the publishers couldn't see an economic case for investing in them. As the classic rejection slip said, "Great book, but we can't see a market for it."
  2. Those writers who were published, but whose books failed to earn back the advance. In short, these writers made a few thousand dollars (max) and then weren't published again. Yes, they had the kudos of being a "published author." But hour for hour, they would have earned far more money flipping burgers in their local fast food joint.

The only escape from this "no man's land" in the middle was self publishing. But like I said, self publishing was a huge financial risk. Plus you had to put up with the "self published = can't get published" jibe.

Back to Today...

Today, escaping from no man's land by self publishing your novels isn't just more do-able than ever (because of the ease of publishing and, crucially, the ease of marketing your books to niche audiences). It's actually becoming the preferred route to success by thousands of authors.

And, yes, independent authors are enjoying success. Just look at this graph from May 2016...

Graph showing rising earnings for indie authors


Look at the rising blue line (indie publishers) vs. the falling purple line (the "Big 5" publishers) at the top.

Be in no doubt: you can become a part of that rising trend and make money from your novel writing!

What About the Stigma Attached to Self Publishing?

There's no doubt that landing a traditional publishing deal comes with a lot of kudos attached (despite the fact that the earnings may be pitiful).

That said, self-publishing is gaining acceptance as an honorable route to publication...

  • High-profile success stories like Amanda Hocking helped to change perceptions.
  • And there's a growing realization, too, that "gatekeepers" still exist.

In the old days, the gatekeepers were the publishers. It was they who kept all the "bad" books from ever being published. (Though as we've seen, marketability was a more important factor for them than quality.)

Today, anyone can publish anything, no matter how terrible it is. What they can't do, however, is sell their novels.

Why not? Because the new gatekeepers – the readers themselves – will either trash the book with bad reviews or not review it at all. And a bad book with bad/no reviews is as good as invisible on Amazon.

So the gatekeepers are doing their job!

Finally, let's not forget that a typical browser looking for something good to read on Amazon will have no idea that a book a self published.

Sure, they'll sense that something is wrong if the author was sloppy (poor cover, poor description, poorly written book, poor reviews).

Otherwise, they simply won't know that it's self published. And nor will they care.

Am I Saying that Self Publishing is THE Way to Make Money?

Not necessarily, no.

It's a pretty darn good way to make money from your writing. But if you have your heart set on a traditional publishing deal, I have good news...

Like I said above, the Internet has not only allowed writers to easily publish novels. It's allowed them to market them, too. And guess what?...

The novelist chasing a traditional publishing deal can use these online marketing tools to make herself a very enticing prospect for a publisher.

How so?

By building a so-called "writer's platform." Put simply, a platform is a way of reaching people – blog readers, Twitter followers, you name it.

Approaching a publisher as a "nobody" puts all the financial risk on the publisher. It will be down to them to shift your book in significant numbers. But if you have 5,000 raving fans on Twitter, they'll sit up straighter when considering your proposal...

Not only do you have a way to reach 5,000 people. Each of the 5,000 has a network, too!

Wrapping Up

This isn't the place for a detailed dive into publishing. I just want you to come away with a clear and simple message...

Whether you embrace the opportunities of online self publishing, or you use the power of the Internet to help you land a traditional publishing deal, there has never been a better time to write novels and make money from them.

In the old days, you were either published or you weren't (and 199 out of 200 were not). Today, there's a huge middle ground of opportunity waiting for you.

You don't need to invest money up front to succeed. You don't even need to be a natural sales person. You just need to understand how the system works and what you need to do to win.

And if all of that hasn't ratcheted up your motivation by a notch or three, you need to read it again!