Can You Make Money Writing Novels?

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

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

  • Just look at J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books.
  • Or look at writers like Stephen King and John Grisham.

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

But here is the downside...

For every novelist who consistently hits the bestseller lists, there are hundreds and thousands whose novels earn them a much more modest income (they might make something from writing novels, but not enough to quit the day job).

I think it is true to say that something like 95% of the money in writing is shared between the top 5% of authors, and vice versa.

Added to that, of course, are the thousands and thousands of people who write novels that are rejected by literary agents and publishers.

I always try to encourage people here at Novel Writing Help to believe in their talents, but even so the possibility is always there that your first novel might never be published.

Which is okay - so long as getting your first novel published doesn't constitute some kind of business plan!

What Motivates You?

"I simply don't know how anyone can write at great speed, and only for the money's sake."
- Fyodor Dostoevsky

All I'm saying is that the desire to become rich from your writing really isn't the best motivation for doing it...

  • For one thing, the odds really aren't in your favor, with 199 out of every 200 novel manuscripts submitted for publication being rejected. (Not that you should let this put you off writing - you simply have to be better than all those other novel writers.)

  • Second, there have got to be easier ways of earning some cash in a hurry than to try to make money from writing.

  • And third - and this is the important one - unless your primary motive for wanting to write novels is the love of doing it for its own sake, your fiction is unlikely to be the best it can be.

Now, you mustn't let these depressing facts and figures put you off writing, with the hope of making a living from it someday. The reason that most first novels aren't published is that most aren't fit to be published (ranging from those that just miss the grade to those that are truly terrible).

You simply have to believe that you will succeed.

How? By telling yourself that, unlike the 199 writers who don't make it, you have...

  1. A little raw talent.
  2. A willingness to work at it for as long as it takes.

(In fact, if you don't believe these things you should quit now.)

The "for as long as it takes" is important. Something that is crucial to bear in mind during the months and years ahead is that, 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).

Another thing that will set you apart is a strong knowledge of the art and craft of novel writing. You probably don't have that yet, but you will with the help of this website.

Bottom Line?

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 - because, like I said, writing a novel purely for financial reward is unlikely to result in the best novel you can write.

Knowing what you hope to get out of novel writing will fundamentally affect the way you approach it...

  • If writing a novel represents a career move for you, the chances are that you will rush it and end up with something far from perfect.
  • If you view it as a worthwhile activity in its own right, irrespective of whether the novel is eventually successful or not, you will do well.

Paradoxically, you stand a better chance of succeeding the less you worry about succeeding.

Write fiction because you want to write fiction (here's what motivates me to write). If you happen to make money from your writing - maybe just a little, maybe quite a lot - then look on it as a great bonus.