How to Make a Living as a Professional Self-Published Author


lol thanks :slight_smile:


First time self-published authors like me need a lot of help with the industry, but most of the advice we get at best is questionable. At worst, the advice is flat out wrong and may hurt our careers in a long run.

Sometimes I wish for a dedicated mentor to tell me how the industry works. But I know it’s unrealistic so it’s only after too many failures that I can succeed but not before screwing readers in the process. After all even if it’s first book, you have one chance to make an impression.


do proof editors edit per word or…?


oh my book (It’s pretty ready to go) its a little over 62K words, whats the word count I could put down with my book on here?


Most charge by word, some by pages.


…and they assume (or expect) a page to be formatted in a certain way that makes it contain a certain number of words on average. Some books need much more editing than others, so the editor makes more money on some than on others, but it averages out. Some editors charge by the hour, but will usually give an estimate first.


It drives me nutty when I see all the bad advice floating around online, especially when it comes from authors who are actually reasonably successful but don’t grasp the mechanisms behind their success.

Here’s what I mean by that: Some authors happen to absolutely love writing highly saleable tropes in very saleable genres. They just adore it. But because their books fly off the shelves the moment they’re published, those authors’ advice is “Write what you love! Readers will find you!” because that’s their experience. But not everyone is fortunate enough to love penning (for example) mail order bride romances set in the Wild West. And so people who love (for example) genre mashups are left angry and frustrated because they’re following the advice and it’s leading them nowhere.

Then of course there’s that ever-popular pack of rubbish masquerading as advice that does the rounds: “Once you have X number of reviews, Amazon promotes your book for you!” Utter gibberish. Literally never happened in the history of Amazon. But will authors ever stop sharing that nonsense? No, it’s the meme that will not die.

So yeah, there is a LOT of excruciatingly bad advice out there. But conversely, I’ve mentored people on a one-to-one basis, and they almost always just ignore the mentoring, throw tantrums, scream that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and storm off in a huff after wasting six months of my time, and I cannot be the only author who has had this experience. Which is why there’s hardly a glut of us willing to offer one-to-one tuition.

The short of that advice is this: If you want to make a living as a professional, self-published author, you must:

  • Study your genre week after week
  • Learn which tropes come and go
  • Write a book which best slots into the market you are watching (and don’t forget to make it a damn good book)
  • Get a cover which slots into the covers in the market you are watching
  • Write a blurb which slots neatly in among the other blurbs in that market
  • Get that book edited and polished and nicely formatted

If you’re already wailing that you don’t want your book to look the same as everyone else’s, congratulations, you’ve flunked out of making a living school. Now, whether or not your book might actually be the breakout success that redefines a genre or creates an whole new one, nobody can ever tell you. That is down to a whole bunch of environmental factors you cannot ever control: What else is popular the week you release it, whether or not Amazon screw up something in your book’s release (putting out a mangled file, leaving the cover off, failing to populate your also-boughts, you name it), whether some global event occurs which suddenly inspires people to go search for something to read which happens to match what you’ve written, whether a random celebrity discovers your book and tweets about it (which was, in effect, largely what triggered the success of Harry Potter - a popular radio DJ in the UK was chatting about it on his drive-time morning show because his kids were reading it, and suddenly everyone wanted to buy what this DJ’s kids were reading), or whether the stars are right.

I can tell you that nothing’s quite so ugly as when writers who refuse to write to market get angry at writers who write what readers want to buy. That’s the choice you made and the risk you take, and as this thread is called how to make a living, not how to have a breakout success, my advice would be that you don’t take the risk.

If, like me, you’d rather take the risk, go for it :smiley: But nobody can teach you how to make the risks sell.


Hahaha, this is brilliant, and the rest of the post is gold. Hat tip, Amelia.


You have a great post but THIS stuck out. I was hired to write an article on how to write to market, and how to write FOR SALES. Not how to write for yourself, not how to write for the passion, not how to write for friends and family, but how to write what sells (in any genre). The backlash aimed at me was immense.


I tip my hat right back at you, sir!

I can imagine, and I sympathise greatly. I frequently get targeted by trolls who think that teaching writers to make a living is utterly evil because we should all live on dust and provide entertainment - for free - because it’s in our souls.

Which, you know, it is in our souls, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. Writing is hard work! It’s a craft that we spend years upon years learning, only to realise that we’re barely journeymen. People who think it’s a fast path to a quick buck soon quit. If you stay the course it’s because writing is the right path for you.

But we deserve to earn a living wage for our hard work, just like everyone else does. When we’re teenagers we’re told that flipping burgers in McDonald’s teaches us the basics of work: turning up on time, doing the tasks we’re assigned, functioning as part of a team, and other essential workplace skills. In exchange, you get paid. Well, writing to market is the burger-flipping of the literary world. You learn the fundamentals of storytelling, of marketing, of how market forces actually work, of how customers’ tastes vary or remain the same. You write to market to make a living and to learn the essential workplace skills that might eventually make you a breakout success in the job you want.

If, ten years later, you think you know enough to start a restaurant of your own, and it flops, that isn’t McDonalds’ fault. Plenty of people do their market research, find out the footfall of different areas, research the tastes of those areas, look at the potential competition, hone their craft to ensure they’re delivering the best possible food they can, then open a restaurant which succeeds. If you fail, you try again. And again. And every time you fail, you analyse why, because that is how you learn. Blaming everyone else for your failure means you disregard any potential lessons which could have been learned, even if that lesson is, “This student town doesn’t want a haute cuisine burger restaurant where a gourmet burger costs $25.” No, it must be the fault of all those cheap, nasty burger joints, intentionally serving burger which better suits a student budget.

Writers can be astonishingly snobby about genres not their own, and the genre which earns the most loathing is Romance… But some of the world’s very best Science Fiction writers cut their teeth on Erotica and Erotic Romance. It teaches you how to work. It teaches you story structure, craft, what the market does and does not want (or, if you want to stick with the analogy, what burgers it will and won’t eat), and how to put your butt in chair and produce the words (the part many writers fail at).

Robert Silverberg wrote pulp erotica novels for a living. So did Harlan Ellison. So did a whole bunch of other now-famous SF/F authors, because SF/F didn’t pay the bills. Silverberg once wrote a fantastic article on his erotica-writing days and what they taught him. NSFW link (the header has ladybottoms on it):

This wasn’t a thing people did in the Sixties and Seventies because smut was hot back then. It’s a thing people still do today because what they want to write doesn’t put food on the table or help them pay for their PhD:

Being a bitter, horrible troll online because people who flip literary burgers are earning a living where you are not is not a good look for anyone. It’s the equivalent of striding into McDonalds to berate the staff for being ‘mere burger-flippers’, or belittling your wait staff in a sit-down restaurant for ‘not having a better job’. People still do it, but those people are nasty, and eminently blockable :smiley:


I love your analogy. And it’s true. I had a quick check of the work they’d published, and lo and behold, their rankings were bottom of the pile. Even my niche genre fiction was topping them. I had to hold back and not comment, as even if my article was “awful” and “disgusting” as they said, I still got paid and I presumably got paid more for 500 words than they’d made off their work, and it’s sad. If you can make a living solely on the genre you’re in love with, then lucky.
I’m not saying people should strictly write smut. I’m not saying people should try to replicate 50 Shades or Twilight or Stephen King’s work. What I was saying is that if you want to succeed, then go and write your dream book. Write what you are passionate about but if you find funds running low, you probably might wanna write to market. Write something that you can turn over and earn some change from. Write something marketable. Write something in an already-established genre that has a large reader pool. Write for the masses. There’s no need to die on this hill (and this is a strange hill to die on, I admit) if you want to earn from your craft. And there’s no shame in writing something outside of your chosen genre if you need to. I’ll be the first to hold my hand up and say I’ve wrote sub-standard articles on everything I hate to put food on the table. I’ve churned out smut and marketable romance to put food on the table. I’ve edited questionable books for questionable men with questionable storylines to put food on the table. And you know what? Pushing my marketable fiction led to a massive increase in sales on my high concept gen. fic that I’ve spent years slaving over… a series that, before I pushed smutty romance, was failing and at the bottom of the Amazon ranks, and is now higher than #500.

Quite frankly, I’m confused as to why people went onto the article to say how horrible I am, but surely when they read the title, they know what they’re getting into.

Again, lovely comparison between McDonalds and writing to market. Fantastic choice of analogy, I’ll probably use it myself. It’s refreshing to see someone who agrees with me that writing your chosen genre is incredible, but understands there’s no shame in writing what people will snap up.


Bingo. The market is so huge that both McD’s and Burger King can coexist :smiley:


In what world is 4/5 stars a bad rating? With 800 reviews? That’s INCREDIBLE! Haven’t read any of their work but I want to extend a big congratulations to the author! No book works for everyone, but considering the fact that 800 people left a review and it has a 4/5 is AMAZING! That’s nearly a perfect rating! Again, congratulations to the author! :blush:


This was a very good post. Thanks for sharing. Think I’ll try to save it offline to reread. :slight_smile:


I always remind myself that trying to break cliches is great, but it is the cliche that sells.


Wow. Just wow. First, thank you @XimeraGrey for posting this. Second, I am happy that people here and in this thread actually take a name and go look things up. This is really cool, because most people don’t. Third, I am an Indie author with problems and am here to learn what the problems are and how to fix them. I have met some very helpful writers and am quite thankful that Wattpad exists. @SchuylerThorpe, why are you fussing all the time? Just a curious. All sorts of things go into play to make one successful and part of that is attitude. Willingness and adaptability to change and grow is another. Maybe there isn’t a precise formula for making money as an indie author. We aren’t making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I write for me, no matter how many times I get knocked down.


Why the fuss? Because…let’s see…

People here who are industry established think they know everything there is to indie publishing when they aren’t indie-published.

Two, everyone seems to think that they can become “successful” by hopping onto the next gravy train of “fads and trends” and think: “That’ll make me a gazillionaire!”

Third, everyone thinks that “free” gets results. Free this, free that, free everything. No one has to shed one single American dollar for advertising or promoting. They also think social networking is a breeze and everyone just loves their novels and nobody has any complaints about anything.

It’s just a perfect, idyllic world and everyone becomes this huge success story overnight through no pain and virtually no gain.

And lastly, everyone here seems to think they have the absolute perfect formula for SUCCESS and everyone should DO IT.

Like I haven’t fallen for that crap a million times over the past two decades. Do you see the word SUCKER stamped on my forehead right now?

No one has time for the little guy. Or anyone else with a different opinion or way of doing things. (Namely me.)

So, unless you’re on board and in sync with the rest of the willing sheep online…? You’re just an outcast.

And from my long experience as being such, people like me don’t so well in the mainstream. Not talking just books, but life in general.


Ah. Social networking is a pain in the ass. It’s also the place where hopefully you meet someone, just one, who isn’t related to you, doesn’t know you from the grass, and is willing to say ‘I love your stuff!’. Someone willing to be honest without cutting, that lists your negatives in a way that will help instead of cutting you to pieces.
Begging for reviews or reads is quite humbling, and it’s strange. I produced this, I’ve tagged it as properly as I know how, and hope that someone finds it. I hope my covers are eye-catching. We don’t all have backing. That’s the point of being independent with a market flooded with so many writers.
Free doesn’t get me anything on Amazon. Oh, people download my books, but I don’t even get a review. Free here? Has gotten me valuable information. It has given me a small audience, which I didn’t have before. It depends on perception.
Complaints? I hated Fifty Shades of Grey. Couldn’t get through the first sentence of the first page. It’s a damned movie now. Ugh.


I’m having a hard time finding an affordable editor that charges less than $1K, my book’s a little over 62K words. Every editor I’ve found are in the thousands and it’s way less than 100K in word count…


If there’s no editor that does that, what are my options then?