We talk a lot about the hard work involved in becoming a self-published author, but the real answer to this question is an enthusiastic “Hell, yes!” If you follow the paths we’ve created, spend the time learning how the system works, and work hard, it is absolutely possible to quit your day job and make real money as a writer.
Self-publishing got a bad rap because for many years it was almost impossible to make a profit as a self-published author. You had to buy a print run of books and then find ways to sell them, and they were expensive. And the world of self publishing was filled with predators who wanted to sell you things, but had no stake in your success.
With Amazon and SmashWords and other online retailers, that has completely changed. More than half the money made by the authors of books last year was paid to self-published authors. And these companies take a percentage of your sales, so they are deeply invested in your success. They want you to win.
And that is the real difference. A bookstore didn’t care about your self-published book. But Amazon does. The more books they can have for sale, the more sales they get overall, and the more money they make. You have the largest company in the world working with you and rooting for you to succeed on their platform, which is why self publishing has taken off as a huge market for aspiring writers. Tens of thousands of authors now make a living self-publishing and many more make extra cash writing as a side hustle. Markets ranging from romance and erotica to cookbooks and litRPG novels have exploded now that e-books and print-on-demand services have revolutionized the industry.
We Won’t Claim That Self-Publishing Is Easy
We will never lie to you. Success as a self-published author requires real work. You have to write reasonably well, though you are not required to be a brilliant author to make a living, and you also need to run your business well. No one is going to promote your book for you. You have to do the work yourself.
This means maintaining a mailing list, social media accounts, discounts on Amazon, running ads on Facebook and Amazon, and a host of other “side work” that traditionally published authors don’t usually do. That’s the trade-off for the chance to make a much higher percentage of your book’s sale price, as well as the opportunity to be published when traditional publishing houses are taking fewer authors than ever before and most contracts are going to authors who have already had significant success.
Making real money as an author without an agent or a publisher also usually requires you to write a lot. Every new book you write, especially as part of a series, creates more sales for your back catalog, the books you have published in the past that may not be selling as well as they once did. So an author with twenty books will make a lot more money from each book launch than they did from the first few.
Writing lots of books may seem like a terribly daunting task. But it’s a skill just like any other and almost anyone can learn to write fast and keep those books coming. You may write two books a year, or like some self-published authors you may write ten or more books a year, but you’ll definitely need to churn out more words than a traditionally published author.
The good news is that the books sitting on Amazon in your back catalog will continue to make money. Traditionally published books often have an initial print run and then they are done. This means that the majority of traditionally published books never make the author another penny once the publisher decides to give up on them.
How Much Can You Make?
This is a tough question. Are you a great writer, or just okay? Are you going to write fifty books, or just five? Do you have a significant social media following? Are you comfortable promoting yourself? There are so many factors that go into your likely future income that everyone’s results will be different.
What we can tell you is that most serious self-published authors are able to make a living after a few years. And we can tell you that a few of those authors even make millions, though they are rare cases of people who hit a sweet spot, wrote very well, and did a great job of promoting their work.
Making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year is a much more reasonable goal. And writers who treat their education like any other profession, spending a few years to learn all the skills necessary to succeed, frequently achieve this kind of income just like those in other professions who go to college to learn their trade.
But there is no college degree in self-publishing. We expect that there will be at some point, but for now that isn’t an option. So you’ll have to work on your own. And this is the biggest roadblock for many aspiring authors.
You Have To Really Want To Be A Writer
The reason so many people fail to make real money doing what they love is because they are not able to put in the work without a boss hanging over them or a college professor telling them when assignments are due. Most of us in the modern world, Americans in particular, are raised believing that the path to success is to go to college and get a job and work hard. It’s a clear path and it doesn’t require much ingenuity or belief in yourself. You just do what people tell you to do, and you get a good job.
Writing isn’t like that. If you want to write books for a living, you have to work on your own, without anyone telling you what to do. For those of us who are successful, that’s a big part of what we love about it. But for many, it’s the reason they fail. They don’t put in the hard work because they’re unable to be their own boss and tell themselves that they need to work X amount of hours or they’re going to lose their job.
Starting with nothing but a real desire to write for a living and ending with a career as an author takes a few years. It can take even longer if your writing isn’t strong to start with or you don’t have much free time to dedicate to your education. And it can happen much faster if you are already a strong writer and can afford to spend a year working really hard to make it happen.
You Have To Stick To It
Your first book, maybe your first three or four books, may not do very well. Most new authors don’t have great success with their first book in self-publishing. It can be a real boost to your confidence to make even a few hundred dollars from your first book during that first month, but eventually you may realize that you aren’t going to make a living if the trend continues.
But each book sells more of the books in your back catalog and draws in more readers who will follow you on Amazon or GoodReads, join your mailing list, follow you on social media, and buy your next book. If you are defeated by a failure or two, you may give up before your career even has a chance to get started.
You’ll only stick with it if you are both committed to making it work over a longer period of time and also really love writing. If you don’t love writing, or if you can’t make a long term commitment to creating a career as an independent author, you probably shouldn’t waste your time. If you don’t give yourself a chance to succeed, you guarantee failure.
Giving Yourself The Best Chance To Succeed As An Independent Author
We created Written Well to give self-published authors exactly that — the best chance. All the information is there. And to be honest, it’s available in other places, too. You can learn everything you need to know to be successful in self-publishing for free if you are willing to sift through websites, blogs, Youtube videos, and Reddit threads and sort out what works and what doesn’t. There will be some bad information, and lots of outdated advice that no longer works. But it can be done. You don’t need us; you can get there on your own. We created the site to put all the information you need in one place, organized in a simple and efficient way. All of our advice is proven, current, and consistent.
We also wanted to provide a place where authors could help each other. Maybe you’ll find some advice on our forums from someone who has already conquered a problem that you’re facing. You might even make some new friends. But most important is the encouragement, the positive attitude, seeing others succeed, that helps you push through the tough times and achieve your goals.
That positive reinforcement is huge. When things get tough, life is so much easier when you have people to talk to who are dealing with the same challenges. A forum filled with friendly people who want to help, and a site full of information to answer your questions, will give you the best possible chance to make it as an independent author.
That’s why I started this article with an enthusiastic “Hell, yes!” Because staying focused and believing you can do it are vital to your success. Whether you join us or not, we want you to keep believing in yourself and keep doing the work and learning the craft. There has never been a better time to be a writer, and we’re rooting for you!