Writer success is not a magical occurrence

writer success

I have met many first year authors that see writer success as downright magic. It’s a long road to build the first book. The process starts with a person building up courage, then word count, then editing, then cover design, then writing descriptions, then getting it to reviewers, and then… you wait. Several months go by and you begin to see a couple of small sales. That seems like a lot of work that went into getting a couple sales. In researching for a sales solution, they hear about other authors have near instant success. These idols of writing have massive daily sales and bank accounts full to bursting. Their advice is that you need to do XYZ.

A new author tries XYZ. For their sales, the tactic get’s a “F”, as few additional books are sold. Frustrated, they are told to keep writing and life will align. Two short stories later, life still hasn’t aligned. At this point, a new author may look at writer success as a mythical beast. However, the only part that’s mythical is their expectations. I think far fewer writers would put in the time if they understood what a “working writer” really means. I am not talking about a writer that has a full-time day job, though that’s the standard.

A working writer is not a Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. These are celebrities who have had massive success. A working writer is one who is paid a fair wage for each word they pull from the air. The EFA says that a professional fiction writer should make at least 20-25 cents per word. A new writer is not a professional, as professionals have at least 5+ years of experience. So let’s calculate the first authors’s book above “content mill ripped off 2 cents per word” but below 20 cents. I would think for an unknown, unpolished author 5 cents is fair. So that labor of love 80,000 word novel created – that’s $4,000 of value.

Here is where new writers get confused. Publishing a book is not the service industry. Instead, you are taking that $4,000 of value and investing it. That’s right, that labor of love is a royalty investment. What could you expect from a typical 7% APY on a $4,000 sum? $280. So let’s move from annual to monthly. That $280 a year becomes $23 a month. If you sell your book for $2.99, that’s $2 royalty. That $23 a month now become about 11 books sold per month.

You know that $1 Amazon makes on each book sale? That doesn’t cover marketing. Like any other product, there is massive competition. To get your product viewed above a host of others, you need to market. New authors have $23 a month to market with before they go in the red. However, most book promotions have difficulty paying back what someone spent on them. Let’s say a savvy writer finds a $10 promotion that sells 3 copies. That raises their book rank high enough to sell three more copies. The rest come in through the month.


When looking at these tiny amounts, it’s hard to conceive of being professional. However, with enough time and smarts on marketing, it is possible for the working writer.