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Can You Make a Living as an Independent Fiction Author?

Millions of people are captivated by the idea of becoming an author of fiction. If successful, you’ll make a living from creating your own worlds, giving imaginative birth to characters people fall in love with, and building and interacting with a loyal audience of readers.

It’s an appealing dream, but is it a realistic one? Could you make a living as an independent fiction author?

The Self-Publishing Process

Here’s some good news to begin with: publishing your own softcover book nowadays is easy. Publishing a digital book is even easier.

Some authors try to work with an agent or publisher directly with the hope of becoming a headliner. If you can close a deal this way, you might be able to land an advance of several thousand dollars before your book even gets written.

You also won’t have to do any of the legwork in terms of marketing. However, all too many aspiring authors end up frustrated by this process: publishers only accept projects they believe are going to be highly profitable, and a lot of authors will be competing with you, most of them with established track records, so it’s extremely difficult to break in.

Self-publishing as an independent author, by contrast, is much easier. Once you have the solid draft of a story, you can use an online platform to put together a final version quickly and inexpensively, whether you decide to lay it out for print or package it as a digital edition.

Things get a little more complicated from there. As an independent author, you’ll be the one who’s responsible for promoting yourself and marketing your work. If you don’t have any publishing or marketing experience, this can be very challenging. If you don’t have much of a budget, you may not be able to hire a professional team to handle this part on your behalf.

Still, a self-published work is an achievable goal for more people than the traditional publishing route.

Money-Making Potential

Despite recent stories, the book publishing industry continues to perform quite well. The U.S. book industry alone generated $25.93 billion in revenue in 2020.

There are also plenty of examples of authors who became both wealthy and famous because of their sales. If you strike gold with the next young adult fiction series that takes the world by storm, you could become a millionaire.

Even if your book becomes only a decent seller for a short period of time, you could make tens of thousands from your work. One new volume every few years, if it maintains this trend, could be enough to sustain you indefinitely.

To be honest, though, the average profitability of each individual publication offers a grim outlook. In truth, most authors don’t make any money – and those that do barely do better than break even.

Millions of new books are published every year, and most never become a bestseller. Even if you secure a substantial advance for your book, there’s no guarantee the sales will make that money back. Furthermore, just because you have one book that’s a success, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to replicate that success in the future.

The Most Important Tips

It is possible to become an independent author and make money doing it, but here are some essential tips you’ll want to know if you don’t want to get burned.

  • Hone your skills. Just because you have a great idea for a book doesn’t mean you necessarily have the skills to flesh out that idea on paper. Some people work their entire life to improve as a writer and still never achieve success. If you want to boost your chances of making a profit with your writing, you ought to invest in your skills. That means reading and writing constantly, attending classes, and engaging with other writers.
  • Do something different. Don’t try to copy the formula of some other successful book, or retread ground that’s already been covered a dozen times. If you want to succeed, you have to find a way to stand out, with a fresh take on an old genre or a style that breaks the norms.
  • Create a business plan. Put together a business plan for your book. Who is your target audience? Who’s your competition? How are you going to market your work and grow?
  • Don’t quit your day job. Even the best writers have difficulty making enough money from their writing to do it full time. If you can, pursue fiction writing as a side gig or hobby, while maintaining your full-time job.

Not everyone is cut out to become a bestselling fiction author, though millions are probably trying. It’s possible to make a living this way – we’ve seen people do it – but if you want to avoid the worst possible outcome and keep your sanity in the process, you’ll need to proceed with caution and have a formal plan.