Writing as a Business

So You Want to Publish a Book (Post 2): Realistic Expectations With Money


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.

realistic expectations for blog post on writing and finances

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.

Categories: Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: ,

When Should You Release a New Book?

Recently I wondered what the best time to release a new book was. Obviously you would want to release something scary prior to Halloween, something romantic right before Valentine’s Day, something full of snow and holiday cheer right before Christmas, etc. But what about the rest of the year? Are there days that are lucky for self-published authors? Is there a time of year that can help you get more copies into people’s hands? I was determined to find out.

Now despite my best efforts, I only have three books out at the moment (though I am working on getting more out soon), so I couldn’t rely on just my own experience ot answer this question. So when in doubt, I do what I normally do: ask the writing groups I belong to on Facebook. The answers I got were quite informative.

Of course there were the tips to release seasonal stuff around their seasons, but there was a ton more advice that I found quite interesting. One author’s observations was that people prefer introspective works in the summer (makes sense, seeing as I just read Go Set a Watchman) and mysteries and thrillers in the fall (that is when JK Rowling is releasing her next detective novel). Another author liked to follow the movie release schedule, releasing books whenever there’s a movie coming out in the same genre as his book. He also felt that people prefer laughter in winter months, “light and airy reads” in spring, adventure stories in the summer, and scary stuff in autumn.

Probably the most helpful advice I got from a woman who had recently read an article on the subject (which I wish I had a link for, but so far I have been unable to find the article). According to the article she read, the best time of year to run a promotion was the two weeks after Christmas. According to her, something about a free or discounted book after the holidays gets people buying, and that allowed her to retire from her day job and pick up writing full-time (which is something I’ll have to try).

Some other tips she gave included:

  • The best days of the month to release a book is between the 7th and the 14th.
  • If you’re self-publishing, don’t release your book on a Tuesday, because most big publishing houses release on Tuesday and you’d be in direct competition with them (wish I’d known that when I released my second novel). Instead, try to release on the weekend if you want good sales. Those days seem to be good days to publish for independent authors.
  • And if you’re trying to hit some bestseller list, release on Sunday or Monday. According to industry data, that’s a good time for self-published authors.

The one thing that all these authors seemed to agree on is that there was never a bad time to release a book. It was never directly stated in any of the comments I got, but it seemed to be implied. Sure, apparently Tuesdays might not be the wisest day of the week to release a book, but other than that there aren’t any days or times of the year when authors will doom themselves publishing a book.

And you know, I can’t help but see that as a good thing. Just means there are plenty of opportunities for authors to publish their books and maybe pull out a bestseller from them. And we all want that for our books, don’t we?

Does the advice here match your own experiences with publishing?

What advice do you have on the best time to publish a book?

Categories: Book Promotion, Business Plan, Digital & ePublishing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Publishing Trends, Schedules & Routines, Self-Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New Modifications on Amazon to Look Out For

It’s a good time to be independent. That’s part of the reason this site exists: to make sure authors know that it’s a good time to be independent and we’re here to help you make the most of it. And it’s about to get better: recent announcements from Amazon about modifications to ongoing programs are bound to benefit authors, especially of the independent variety.

The first announcement is a coming change to the KDP Select program and deals with how authors are paid. Currently, authors whose books are available through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Lending Library are paid based on how many times those books are “borrowed” through these services. Starting July 1st though, Amazon will start paying authors based on how many pages a customer reads the first time they read the book. If a page is on the screen long enough to be registered, it’ll add to how much the author is paid.

According to Amazon, authors who write longer works and feel short-changed by the current pay-by-the-rent format can stand to earn more if they can write long stories that are exciting and keep the reader involved. At the same time an author who writes a 100-page thriller novel is encouraged to maybe see if they can extend the story a little bit longer.

Of course, one shouldn’t write a book based on this sort of formula (or possibly on any formula(, but it might give some authors encouragement to try a few new things while giving other authors who already write longer books hope for a little extra income through KU and KLL.

The other announcement deals with changes to reviews and rating. You ever get that low review where someone just takes offense at something on your cover art or a typo in your author bio on Amazon or just to say “I did not like this book. It was totally stupid?” Sometimes they don’t even buy the book? Had my first of those recently, brought down my rating a little. Thankfully, with this little change these sort of not reviews will matter less in the grand scheme of things.

Currently, Amazon rates its books by averaging customer reviews. If you have a book with eight reviews, for example, and you have five four-star reviews, two five-star reviews, and one three-star review, your book’s rating will be 4.1 out of 5. Under the new system though, which they are already testing, reviews that are recent, have been written by a customer who bought the product, and are found helpful by other customers will be given more emphasis than other reviews. So if you have a five star review that’s been found helpful by twenty people and it was written last month by someone who bought the paperback, it’ll be given more weight in the rating than other reviews.

This is a huge change in the review and rating system, and has a number of positive benefits for both Amazon and people who sell their work through Amazon. It’ll not only prevent those fake reviews intentionally posted to bring down ratings, it’ll stop false reviews meant to pump up reviews (Amazon has had a heck of a time trying to stop these reviews, even suing companies that provide positive reviews to authors for a price). And if products have a few flaws around release, once the updates are done and people start reviewing the updated product, the reviews dealing with the product flaws will be less prominent and matter less in the long run.

Right now they’re still experimenting with the new system, and it’s only covering a small group of products, but once Amazon starts using it for all their products, it’ll change everything about the reviewing system! And it can only benefit. Assuming an author writes a very good book, customers looking at the reviews will get access to the most helpful reviews first and foremost.

Like I said, it’s a very good time to be an independent author. And it’s going to get even better. With more chances to get paid for writing the stories you love and not having to worry about length, and a new ratings configuration that keeps bad reviews from totally ruining your rating, authors stand to prosper more from doing what they love and do best. And I cannot wait for these programs to become available for all.

What are some modifications you’d like to see done to Amazon or other book distribution sites?

What are you looking forward to with these new changes?

Categories: Amazon store, Book Reviews, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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