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Do you make any money off your novels?

5992 Views 61 Replies 46 Participants Last post by  AnnetteL
I had always pictured novel writers as making a lot of money so it was shocking when Larry McMurtry said in his literary work that he never made much money off of his books, even Lonesome Dove.  He made most of his money off of the screen plays.

My sister has had 17 christian books published.  Most were novels, but a couple were nonfiction.  She has made a little bit over the years, but not enough to bring in any real income.

My brother-in-law has written 3 very good westerns.  Since he had them published himself, according to my sister, they actually cost them money.  He told me that he gets a small amount from them from time to time, but will never break even.

I guess there are some of the more famous writers that make a actual living out of writing novels, but there are probably not a lot of them.

So if you are a novel writer, have you made any money off of your novels?
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Remi Michaud said:
Hmmm. Is that how I'll make some money at this?

*begins writing furiously*
Hey, I have a 5 novel series (unpublished) dealing with randy vamps, werewolves, and witches (oh my). They're next to be formatted, get covers, and epublished on Kindle.
I think this is excellent advice (not just because that's exactly what I've done). Writing is a craft. Publishing is a business. Being smart in business is essential to having a successful career as an author. There are so many ways things can go wrong for an author--whether they self publish or opt to publish via the Big Six.

daringnovelist said:
I think that's where the key of diversifying is. How do you expand your income streams? The people who survive in small business (which is what we're doing) tend to have multiple income streams. Starting with money management -- when there's a boom, and they have extra cash, they may put some back in the business, but they also invest so they have a buffer income stream. Regular savings is important.

Next you look for finding multiple income streams within what you do. It really helps to not only have a large number of books, but a range -- maybe some non-fiction, some works that appeal to different audiences if possible. Then you need to look at your venues: how many different places are you making your work available? Not just Kindle, B&N and Smashwords, but paper and audio book, and on your own website, and in traditional venues like magazines. Those gift cards DWS has been talking about lately. Selling at specialty events related to your subject and fleamarkets.

Have you monetized your blog (either with advertising or subscriptions)? Do you do speaking engagements?

The way you stabilize your income is you diversify - which you can do slowly and over time - and you build multiple streams of income, so that if any one of them takes a hit, you've got others.

Camille
Nah, not from my fiction but my study guides are chugging along quite nicely  ;D
G
My focus is more on making a life than on making a living.  8)
Sam Rivers said:
I had always pictured novel writers as making a lot of money so it was shocking when Larry McMurtry said in his literary work that he never made much money off of his books, even Lonesome Dove. He made most of his money off of the screen plays.
I have no trouble believing Larry McMurtry makes more money off screenplays than novels. He doesn't seem to be a New York Times bestseller, and he co-authored the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.
modwitch said:
:D :D :D

You so can't color inside the lines.
Says the person who came up with the idea of an anthology about pink snowbunnies in hell? :D
I do want to make a living at this, and intend to pursue whatever avenues I can find that allow me to do that, but it struck me as I was refraining from checking my DTP this afternoon that the really important point is that I love writing.  I wrote before I made any money.  If my sales disappear tomorrow, I will still write and in fact, any day that I get my 1000 words in is a great day.  To borrow from an episode of Castle, I'm going to keep showing up.
modwitch said:
:D :D :D

You so can't color inside the lines.
You said it, sister. (And so did Ryne.)

Ironically, my Pink Snowbunnies story (if I do get the chance to write it in time) will be rather mundane -- just a silly conversation. But I guess that's not coloring inside the lines either....

Camille
To answer the original question, I have made a profit. I sat down and calculated all of the money I've put into my first book, and all of the money I spent on advertising on blogs, cover art, etc, etc, etc.. I've profited a grand total of...

$26.

Yep. That's it.

That being said, I've also only sold a couple-hundred books. Some on kindle. Some by hand. Some on eBay. You get the idea. But I think that if I keep at it, write QUALITY fiction (not just quantity), aim at the right audience, and keep plugging away, I think I can make enough such that it will pay for itself and then some.

Also keep in mind that Indie publishing (especially with the advent of Kindle/Nook/etc) is MUCH different that indie publishing was ten years ago. This isn't vanity publishing. It's true grass-roots publishing at the ground level. You just have to do all of the marketing and publicity yourself... which (if I have talked to the right people in traditional publishing) you'd have to do most of anyway.

So, if you're on the fence about it and think that you have quality work, I say, put $500 into it. Get some great cover art, editing and make it shine both in cover and in content. Then let it out to the masses and see what happens.

The worst case: No one knows your name, nothing sells and you wasted $500. This is good news, and this is the worst that can happen. Why is it good news? Because if no one knows your name (because, let's face it, nothing sold!) then your name is still clear to publish other works later, if you ever come up with a different story. You can keep trying stories until you actually find success, and each new story finds new readers. So if one does blow up, suddenly you have all of these other great stories out there that people will suddenly be interested in.

The best case: You blow up our of the gate, selling hundreds of thousands in the first year, like Victorine Lieske. She has an awesome story and is truly a kind, amazing person. She just published her second novel, and is on the road to blowing up again. I can't say enough good things about her or her writing.

Reality for you is sure to be somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, and I like my chances with either one. I think that it's a good gamble at this stage of the game.

--Jerry
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Not really. But I've only been e-pubbing since April.
J. Carson Black said:
As a midlist writer, my career went like this: Tiny little book deal and small advance. Don't make back the advance. Get kicked off the carousel. Work hard on my writing as the years go by. Get another book deal. Smaller advance. Don't make that one back. Get kicked off... er, see above. More years go by. Write the best book of my life. Get a DECENT deal! Wow! I've made it! Squeeeee! Look out Edgars, you've got my name on a statuette! ... Don't make back the advance. Get kicked off. Change my name because nobody will buy someone with my numbers. Find a great agent. Get turned down by 28 of the best editors in the business. Didn't even get on the carousel this time.

My husband bought back the rights to a few of my books. He put them up. I said, "This is ridiculous! We're not going to make any money."

I owe him a huge apology.

Now I'm making a living. IF it continues, it will be a darn good living. Making a living as a writer---what a concept! For the first time in 25 years.

What I love about this? I'm my own best client. I love my client and my client loves me. My husband and I make every decision, not to please some marketing flak talking through her hat, and no one else decides what the title is or what the cover will look like. And it turns out that all along we knew better about my own books. That maybe, just maybe, the author isn't the lowliest cog in the publishing wheel.
I hope it continues, because I have 25 years of making virtually nothing to make up for.
I just love stories like this - not that you had to spend 25 years almost making it, but that now you've been vindicated. Inspirational.
Sarah Woodbury said:
I do want to make a living at this, and intend to pursue whatever avenues I can find that allow me to do that, but it struck me as I was refraining from checking my DTP this afternoon that the really important point is that I love writing. I wrote before I made any money. If my sales disappear tomorrow, I will still write and in fact, any day that I get my 1000 words in is a great day. To borrow from an episode of Castle, I'm going to keep showing up.
Thanks for the reminder, Sarah. Sometimes I need a reminder to stop obsessing over numbers and just get back to the love of telling stories.

Let me just say quickly that yes, I am making money now. More than I would as a substitute teacher or coach, which were my last jobs. And after years and years of writing into a void, then watching my manuscripts go the rounds and waiting to hear back from editors, it still so often doesn't seem real yet that I actually have readers now. I feel soooo blessed - like everything happened just like it was supposed to.
Am I making money?  Yes.  Considering the books that are making me money are stories my agent couldn't sell so they were just sitting on my hard drive gathering virtual dust, I'm not only surprised but extremely grateful.  Last year I thought about giving up out of sheer frustration and looking for a "real" job.  Now, I'm making enough from writing to call *this* a job.  Granted, it's part-time wages and full-time effort but hopefully that will change by next year.
modwitch said:
<looks around for the person who did such a crazy thing...>

I blame Glendon. I'm just the messenger.
Don't worry. We love you for your crazy ideas. ;D
Okay, I just checked. For each of the last 8 weeks, I topped $400 -- sometimes by a fair bit, sometimes by only a little. I've put approx $300 cash into publishing and advertising--plus an unknown, but vast, number of hours writing, editing, proofing, etc. For me, this is beyond what I hoped for when I first published 360 days ago. My wildest (of the realistic nature) dreams had me envisioning $1000 per month. I can live on that. With just 3 months of good sales, I'm still fearing it'll all collapse.

Courtesan, my best selling book, has brought in $3000 give or take $30 over the last year (most of that in the last 3 months). That's probably more than I would have received as an advance these days and it's still pulling in $20+ per day.

So, if you consider the above as 'making any money off [my] novels', then the answer is yes.
I'm starting to, well I will do when Amazon stop losing my checks!

Look at it this way, where would our books otherwise be if ebooks wasn't an option, festering away in a drawer somewhere I believe.

I can't wait for my film rights to land on my desk.  :D :D :D
T.L. Haddix said:
Truthfully, you have a better chance of winning the lottery unless you write about vampires, werewolves, zombies and have them all having lots of sex with each other.
Wait, does this mean that I've finally hit the correct formula? I need to get my zombie book edited and published. ;D
I like this thread topic, and I'm encouraged by the attitude that many people have on here. I believe the right attitude is an important factor in most people's success.

David Wisehart said:
Lots of writers are making lots of money.
Even more writers are making even less money.
Almost all writers who publish-whether traditional or indie-are making some money.
The best way not to make make money writing fiction is not to publish.
Amen. I'd also add:

The second-best way not to make money writing fiction is to have a negative attitude, and assume that you're not likely to make money. Self-fulfilling prophecy!
The third-best way is to publish sloppy work or to refuse to work hard to improve your writing, then whine that your sales aren't going anywhere.

Thank you, authors, for sharing your financial experiences with the rest of us! It's nice to hear from people who ARE achieving their goals, as well as those still on the way who are inspired to keep on going.
" Truthfully, you have a better chance of winning the lottery unless you write about vampires, werewolves, zombies and have them all having lots of sex with each other " T.L Haddix

A quick search at Amazon Kindle, which automatically brings up the current best sellers in order i think ?
The first 16 books on the list included ;

2 Christian novels, or Christian commentary
10 Romance novels
2 Romance again ( of the paranormal / fantasy kind )
3 thrillers
1 one odd one out, from Ralph Waldo Emerson about living self reliantly on the land

Romance wins that round !
All five of my books were rejected by NY publishing at one time or another--none of them in the current form as I cut 15000 words out of each of them and had them edited--but the story and characters were all there.  Maybe it's not fair to them . . . maybe if I had my agent try to sell Daughter of Time now someone would snatch it up.

But I don't think I could stand to hear 'we haven't had good luck with that time period' one more time :)
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