How To Make A Living, Writing Fiction

For those of you that read this blog regularly, and there are a few of you amazingly, you’ll know that I’m coming close to publishing my first novel. It’s been a long time in the making and I’m now running towards the finish line. But people are still asking me how I expect to make a living from it all.

There are writers making a very good living in this new publishing environment, so what is it that they’re doing that we can borrow and take for ourselves. There are no rules anymore, no one telling us what to do, we’re our own bosses and masters of our own destiny. But with all that freedom how can we make sure we don’t get lost?

Write one novel at a time

I’ve been writing two books simultaneously for the last year and I’ve learnt that I probably won’t do that again. It takes a hell of a long time to write a novel and then edit it effectively. However long you think it’s going to take… double it. If you’re writing 100,000 words, and then re-writing them a couple of times, even at a prolific rate, that’s 3 or 4 months without a break. But there are natural breaks that do occur and so this number more realistically becomes 6 months.

Short Stories

Keep writing short stories along the way. When you feel like a change, spend a couple of days thinking and writing a short story. 5,000 words is a good word count to aim for because this is substantial enough for people to pay for, and also you can collect five together and publish an Anthology. Some authors sell them individually and others bundle them together, and some even do both, but if you can bring out an anthology of short stories in between the novels then it keeps the interest alive for the readers that you are trying to win over.


I’ve mentioned the novella before in this blog and in the new self-publishing environment it becomes more and more appealing. You can spend a third of the time producing one, compared to a full-length novel, and still sell it at the sweet spot price on Amazon. (I’ll talk about the sweet spot in a minute) Novellas are very well suited to series writing, where you can release ‘episodes’ of a bigger story.


The great thing I’ve learnt, from more experienced writers, about writing a series is that you can sell multiple books if you can only pull in the reader initially. All of the famous success stories in writing are due to a series. Most of the best-selling movies in history are franchises. Readers love reading about characters that they know, and love, developing and facing new challenges. That’s just the way it is and always has been, so use this to your advantage. You can then secure a readership that will hang off of your next release.

Volume of Books

To make a living as a writer, realistically, you must have a number of books on sale. Each book will have an initial spike of sales at launch and then settle further down the charts. The more you have at different lifecycle stages the more chance you have of making regular income. An example of this was a writer I heard yesterday talking about the seven books they had published. None of them are a runaway success, and they can expect to sell maybe 200 copies per month of each, once they have settled. (roughly 6 a day) But there are seven of them, so doing the sums, that’s about $3,000 per month if you sell them at $2.99. That’s assuming that they’ve all settled, but the newest one should be selling slightly more at least. Also, in a series you can expect knock on sales for previous books.


On Amazon $2.99 is the lowest price you can charge to receive a 70% royalty, so you can undercut traditional publishers and still receive $2 per book. Nearly every successful author I’ve listened to seems to rest on this price point. I think you have to experiment with price and find what works for you but this seems to be the optimal position.

Quality and Interest

It goes without saying that your books must be edited professionally, as much as possible, and look good. They must not stand out as self-published when sat next to a Lee Child book on Amazon. Also, I’m assuming that I write interesting stories that people want to read, and I assume that anyone that reads this blog must be discerning enough to also write interesting stories too. It’s a pre-requisite for being a writer at the end of the day. If you’re going to write about fossils then the chances are that you’re not going to make that much of a living from it.


The playing field is set now so that you can make a success of it for yourself. It’s going to take a lot of hard work  and a continual cycle of – writing, editing, marketing – But after a couple of years when you have built up a back catalogue, established a series, and published a number of anthologies to keep ticking over, you should be in a position where the income becomes steadier. Remember with eBooks the earning potential never dies (they never end a print run) so the longer you’re in the game the easier it should become. Patience, discipline and determination will get you there… I hope. 🙂

Has this helped anyone? I know that I’ve often been asked by people to explain exactly how I hoped to make any money from it all, and hopefully the above does just that.


5 responses to “How To Make A Living, Writing Fiction

  1. Thank you for this post, Michael. I can use this information!

  2. I’m doing my bit towards your income, and those like you, I’ve just taken delivery of my Kindle Fire! The Illustrator’s VERY jealous!

  3. Ouch…………yes! I read with oven gloves on now.

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