I wasn’t going to make this the second post in this series, but since someone mentioned the subject of money in the last post, I thought it might be a good idea to write this now. The basic argument, of course, is that producing a good quality book (attractive cover, good editing, compelling story) mixed with good promotional techniques should equate to money.
Most authors I talk to want to make writing their career. There’s nothing wrong from wanting this as a goal, but statistically speaking, most authors don’t achieve this. Yes, there are authors making good money. I won’t lie. But from the studies I’ve seen, those making an actual living off their books is way less than those who aren’t. Most authors won’t do it.
So when you go into this, keep in mind you might never make a living at writing. Be prepared for this possibility. Because if you aren’t prepared, you run the risk of becoming bitter or depressed. There’s no faster way to kill your passion for writing than to stress over your lack of sales.
The key is to be content with where you’re at all the time. This is easier said than done, but if you keep your focus in the right place, you can do it. Sometimes I have to sit down and count your blessings. No matter how bad things are, there is always something you can be grateful for. Having a thankful heart goes a long way to weathering out the storms of the writing business (and in other areas of life). Like I said, it’s not always easy to do this, but it’s important.
Yes, the genre you write in can impact how much you sell, but it won’t guarantee you can make a living at it.
Yes, engaging with others online helps for exposure, but it won’t guarantee you’ll sell books.
You can do all the things a successful author did and not see the same sales they do.
There are no guarantees in this thing. Too many people go into writing with the idea it’s an easy way to make money. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Don’t go into this thinking as soon as you publish your first book, you’ll be a big seller. Keep your expectations in check. Be realistic about it.
There are things you can do to better your chances, but that’s all you can do: better your chances. That part is in your control. You can write a compelling story. You can get a good cover and make sure it’s properly formatted and edited. You can join social networks and engage with others. (Make sure you do NOT spam. Nothing turns people off faster than the car salesman approach to selling a book.) You can create email lists, do giveaways, do sales, run ads, and even put a book at free to spur on sales of your backlist.
But none of these are the gold ticket to the easy life. Hard work and dedication does not equal earning a living.
So my advice (for what it’s worth) is to do the following:
Keep your day job (or have someone in your household who makes the money).
Get out of debt. (I cannot emphasize this enough.)
Build up a savings account of about six months of expenses. (Things break down at the worst possible times.)
Then, after doing this, if you start to gain momentum in sales and see a predictable income stream coming in, go ahead and quit the job. Your lowest selling month has to be the one that will give you all month’s expenses, including tax payments.
You’ll be paying taxes on your income from book sales, and you’ll be taxed at the self-employment rate here in the US (meaning 40% for federal taxes and state taxes varying). So you’ll need to live off of only 60% of that income from book sales, not the full 100%. If you have state income tax, you might have to live off less than that 60%. (If your state doesn’t have state income tax, count your blessings.) The IRS doesn’t care if you had a bad sales month or not. They want their piece of your pie. If you don’t pay on time, you will get penalized for it.
I spent more time discussing taxes than the other tactics to protect yourself, but when I started out early on, my tax advisor told me I had to pay 15% in federal taxes. Imagine my surprise at tax time when it was upped to 40%. I’ll never forget having to sell the brand new truck to make that tax payment. After that, I spent a year and a half behind on tax payments and paying penalties. So this is why I want to shout out an extra warning to everyone who is thinking of doing this as a business. Forewarned is forearmed. I don’t want the same thing to happen to anyone else.
If you live in a state that allows you to create an LLC with an S-Corp election, you can get some buffer on the taxes. It’s not a huge amount, but every little bit helps. Not all states will let you do this, so check with a lawyer or accountant familiar with business law in your state. An S-Corp does mean payroll, but you can hire out for that service.
So, in summary, before you quit your day job (if you have one), make sure you have buffers in place to protect you from the nature of sales. Sales go up and down, and they can do it drastically. You want to be smart about this. But keep in mind, you might never make enough to sustain a livable wage off your books. Yes, it possible, but statistically speaking, the odds aren’t in your favor.