Business | Lessons Learned

Can You Really Make a Living as a Self-Published Author?

February 24, 2015

I’m asking myself this question right now so I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned because the answer isn’t easy. It depends. Here are the variables as I see it:

How Much You Write
You have to build up a body of work before you become known. You are not going to cash in on the very first book you publish because you are sending your baby out into a sea of thousands of other books that already have a following. The more you publish, the higher the likelihood that your work will reach a wider audience so you’ve got to write and publish a lot.

How Much You’re Willing to Work at It
Anyone can write a book and publish it these days. Even with self-publishing becoming more of a quality endeavor, many people still think a self-published book is not as good as a book published by say, Random House. You absolutely MUST publish a book that is on par with a book like The Fault in Our Stars or Gone Girl as far as quality goes.  That means you’ve got to work at the craft of writing to create the best book you possibly can. You must align yourself with professionals who are dedicated to that end as well (like editors and book cover designers). The competition is getting fierce.

How Much You Put Yourself Out There
You must talk about, Tweet about, Facebook about, and email about your book as much as possible because NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT IT but you’ve got to do it in a way that’s not “in your face” or “too cheesy.” You must present yourself as a “brand” that people who don’t know you would be willing to get to know. If you think for one minute that you just write your book, publish it, and you’re done…then forget it. You will not be able to make any money at it.

Taking all of these variable into consideration, earning enough money to pay your mortage (if you have one), feed your family, and live your life is still tough especially if you’re starting out. It doesn’t happen right away because no one knows about you. Most of your time and energy is spend getting known when you should be writing. It takes tenacity, perserverance, and consistency.

The Hugh Howey scenario is one in a milion: you write a book, self-publish it, market it, and thousands of people buy it and tell everyone about it. For most of us, it takes writing and publishing several dozen books before we crack into the coveted “Amazon Top 100 Best Sellers,” and those authors don’t ever come close to the New York Times Best Sellers.

I may sound like I’m trying to convince you not to pursue self-publishing because you are likely not going to earn enough to do it full time, and that’s mostly true. I’m actually presenting the reality for those of you (like me) who have your head in the clouds. We will still write, reach for our dreams but we’ll do it without rose-colored glasses on seeing the landscape for what it is and doing what we do because we love it not because we think we’ll make it to the big time.

  • While this might not be what aspiring self-published authors want to hear, you are absolutely right in your advice. Very few self-published authors are able to do it full time and make a living and for those that do, it’s taken many years of hard work to get to that point.