10

Recently I was exposed to several sources that suggest that writing one novel a month is possible:

  • The book 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron,
  • "Write. Publish. Repeat", and
  • my old statistics file that shows that on good days I wrote over 4000 words per day years ago (which translates to 120 000 words per month, if I write 4000 words every day during a month).

Let's say I manage to optimize my writing performance so that

  • I actually write first drafts of 100K-120K novels in one month,
  • spend 2 months self-editing the manuscript, after which
  • I hand off the manuscript to an editor (the editor will do a line edit).

Total time where I have to work is 3 months. I can do something different (write or edit another book) while the editor does the line edit.

Then, I could publish 4 books per year (12 months in year divided by 3 months per book = 12/3 = 4 books per year).

If that happens, I run into a financial constraint: Let's say

  • editing a 120K novel costs 2000 Euros (that's an actual price from someone I know, Lulu's editing services for foreign authors cost about 6600 dollars) and
  • creating a cover - 500 Euros (99design says their starting price is 200 dollars, but in my experience there are always some additional fees).

This equals 2500 Euros per novel. For 4 novels per year, this is 10 000 Euros.

Let's say I can easily save 2 500 Euros per year (without running into debt, without tricks with the credit cards).

Question: Given the assumptions below, what is the best strategy to sustainably grow a fiction writing business so that it generates enough revenue to make a living (quit my day job) some day?

Assumptions

  • I have no published books yet and no mailing list.
  • I do not consider traditional publishing.
  • I don't expect my first X books to be profitable, i. e. I don't expect to make any sales. If some of the books sells, that's great, but my plan should work even, if no book makes any substantial sales during the first Y years. It's like a lottery, only that in writing my chances of winning are greater with every finished book.
  • The more books I publish, the higher the chance that one of them will sell.
  • I cannot publish a novel without buying third-party editing services. Of course, I do self-edit before submitting the manuscript to an editor, but I believe the final product is much better, if it has been line-edited by another person (not the author) who is also a native English speaker (which I am not).
  • Costs of line-editing a novel range from 2000 Euros (2325 dollars) to 5700 Euros (6625 dollars) at Lulu.com (line editing plus coaching for authors whose native language is not English).
  • I don't have any artistic abilities and if I drew the cover for my books myself, I most likely would screw up. I also don't believe in hiring some low-wage person to craft one of the most important sales vehicles for a book. For this reason, I believe there is no way to create a working (selling) book cover without hiring a decently-paid professional.
  • Any solution must not disrupt my long-term goal (becoming a full-time author who lives from selling his own fiction books). For this reason, I don't like the idea of borrowing money to edit books.
  • I accept the idea of giving some books for free (however, a free book still needs editing and cover), if it has the potential to give me some long-term benefits (e. g. subscribers to my list).
  • I prefer strategies, where you can do marketing activities as a by-product of writing. If, for example, I write a historical novel, I can put the results of my research (by-product of writing) on my blog. That may work. And there is blogging advice, which is idiotic, concentrated, 100 % snake-oil-style BS: "Research your audience, create a customer profile, find out what they need and then blog about those topics." There is no way to know the demographics and psychographics of a fiction reader, unless you put the book in front of them and see, who likes it.

Ideas of answers I came up myself

Below you can find some ideas on how to solve this optimization problem. If you find any problems in it (reasons it can fail), please tell me. I really appreciate your pre-mortem.

Idea 1: Publish 4 books per year for the costs of one

Process

  1. I write the first 120K book in a year.
  2. Then I split it into several parts (like 4 episodes 30K words each, or 10 episodes 12K words each).
  3. I publish this one book.
  4. During the rest of the year, I write and self-edit other 3 books. Those self-edited, but not published books are put into backlog.
  5. Once I saved up the next 2500 Euros, I publish the next book from the backlog.
  6. If and when one of the published books starts to generate money, I invest that money into publishing the next book from the backlog.

Benefits

  • More frequent buzz: The more books I publish per year, the often I have the opportunity to remind the readers that I exist.
  • Pricing tricks: People respond to incentives. I could make the first out of 10 episodes free. The subsequent ones would cost 0.99 dollars (8.91 dollars for 9 paid episodes). Plus there is a "bundle" with all parts in one place for 5 dollars (this saves the reader 3.91 dollars).

Idea 2: Use the backlog for the maximum bang

Process

  1. Write the first draft of the first book in a year.
  2. During self-editing, read the self-edited text aloud and record it (for every chapter).
  3. Once self-editing is done, publish every chapter on public platforms (Medium, Wattpad, Scribd etc.) with a link to the audio version of that chapter (by-product of self-editing in step 2) and a note "If you want to get notified, once an improved version of this novel is available, register in my mailing list".
  4. Once the editor has finished her work, publish the book and notify all subscribers that the book is ready.
  5. Write the first draft of the second book in a year.
  6. Self-edit and record the audio (analogous to step 2).
  7. Put the second book into a backlog for future line-editing.
  8. Publish the self-edited version on public platforms with a link to audio version and a note "If you want the improved version of this text to be published, please let me know. The more people tell me they want, the faster it will happen.".
  9. Repeat steps 5 through 8 for third and fourth book in the year.
  10. If one of the 3 books gets explosive popularity (many e-mails saying "Yeah, I want the edited version of this book"), run a Kickstarter campaign to raise EUR 2.500,-- for editing and cover. If there are, say 1000 interested people, each of them has to pay only 2.5 Euros to make it happen.
  11. If not, wait until you save 2500 Euros again. Then, use the editor to edit the most popular (by the number of "I want it") e-mails.

Possible tweaks

  • Use the audio version as a bait for the mailing list ("Subscribe to my mailing list and get the audio version of this and other chapters for free").
  • Put the audio versions of the book on podcast platforms (e. g. iTunes) to increase discoverability.
  • Put the audio versions on YouTube.

Benefits

  • Growing a list
  • Market research: By putting my stuff online I get a chance to communicate with readers and get hypotheses on who they are and what marketing activities may work best with them. The "I want it" e-mails are an even more direct feedback on what books my readers like most.
  • Adding an audio version may help stand out (it's more effort, hence fewer authors will do this). It can also appear as overdelivering (you get the text AND audio for free). Plus there may be a stronger bond, if you not only read the text, but also hear the author's voice.
  • Rewarding subscribers: When the book in step 4 is ready, I can offer subscribers (early fans) discounts or give them the book for free.
  • Feedback: By doing it this way, I'm adding a third channel (feedback of readers on public platforms) of quality control (self-editing, editing by an editor).

Idea 3: Use the backlog as mailing list bait

  1. Publish one book per year. At the end of the book, add a note "If you want to read more of my stuff for free, subscribe to my list."
  2. Set up the list so that when a person subscribes, they get access to text and audio versions of the backlog (self-edited) of my books.

Idea 4: Finance writing fiction through non-fiction books

  1. Write a non-fiction book that demonstrates that I'm an expert in some demanded IT topic (I have an IT background).
  2. Use this book as a sales vehicle (proof of me being an expert) for high-priced (like EUR 100,-- per hour) consulting gigs.
  3. Sell 100 hours of consulting per year, resulting in 100 hours * 100 Euro per hour = 10 000 Euros. 100 hours per year is 8.3 hours per month.

Idea 5 (tweak of idea 4)

Every year, write

  • one non-fiction book that results in at least EUR 5.000,-- revenue,
  • publish one fiction book with the saved money,
  • publish two other books with the revenue of the non-fiction book.

Note that this has a drawback: It's much harder to produce quality non-fiction books on a regular basis because you have to do more research than with fiction books. I'm not sure I can write one good non-fiction book every year.

Idea 6: Buy the editing services in bulk with a discount

If the size of the backlog reaches a certain level (like 10 books in the backlog), find an editor and negotiate a bulk sale with him or her:

  1. I will hire them to edit all my 10 books.
  2. In exchange, they will charge me less than 2000 Euros for each book.

Analogy: If Bob buys 10 tons of cement, and Alice buys 100, then the seller will probably give Alice a discount (she will pay less for every ton of cement than Bob).

Rejected Idea 7: Break-even funnels with paid ads (Facebook, Amazon etc.)

This may work, once I have empirical data on who reads my books (gender, education, income, political views etc.) and why. At the moment, I don't.

Also, I assume you need to lose hundreds/thousands of Euros figuring out Facebook ads before you can make money.

It seems to work for some established authors, but I'm not established yet.

Rejected idea 8: Barter editing

There is the option of me editing someone else's book, and then they will edit mine. Scribophile is one place where you can do it.

The problem is, you need to edit 3 chunks of other people's writing in order to get one your chunk edited. Let's assume all chapters are 2000 words long. On Scribophile you first

  • edit three chapters of other people's books, and then
  • someone edits your one chapter (there is usually more than one person providing feedback).

I'm not sure this is the best investment of my time. There is also absolutely no guarantee that people editing my texts are more competent than I am.

  • 1
    Why do you rule out traditional publishing? Most people who make a lot of money as writers do traditional publishing, at least when they're established. The publisher does a lot of the grunt work for the author, and has better channels to market and distribute than the average author does. – David Thornley Aug 29 '18 at 21:54
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    Reason 1: I regard traditional publishing as a lottery. A publisher may see my book and then offer me a deal. That's possible, but unlikely (especially for the first couple of books). BTW, same applies to movie rights -- great thing, but unlikely. Reason 2: It is imaginable that some publishers won't publish an otherwise fine book because of my political views, or because of the ideas in the book. – Franz Drollig Aug 31 '18 at 12:37
  • Reason 3: Imagine I write a book that makes me 200 dollars per month (after deduction of Amazon royalties). For me, that's great. For a publisher, it's probably too small a market. Consequence of this is that you can write many books with low profits, but if you have enough such books, the low profits add up. Hence, it is possibly easier to make a living as a self-published writer than with traditional publishing. – Franz Drollig Aug 31 '18 at 12:37
  • Reason 4: It appears to me that in self-publishing you can become successful by becoming a better writer. I'm not sure the same applies to traditional publishing. I'm a bad networker, the major publishing houses are located far away from my country, I have zero experience communicating with agents etc. All these skills are less relevant in self-publishing (correct me, if I'm wrong). – Franz Drollig Aug 31 '18 at 12:45
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    @FranzDrollig You are wrong. All those skills are MORE relevant for a self publisher. – Chris Sunami Apr 24 at 16:10
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My advice is to ignore the people that advocate writing a book in one month, or two, or three.

Even with no other duties, it takes me at least six months to finish my fifth draft of a book, and I may spend another three months doing more drafts. I don't expect anybody else to follow my formula, it is based on my personal sensibilities and what I have found works to create a publishable book. Stephen King has said it takes nine months to produce a book, and some have taken more than a year. JK Rowling rewrote the first Harry Potter book from scratch five times. It's 384 pages, no way she did that in a month!

Write and edit at your pace, don't let anyone tell you that you are doing it wrong. Figure out for yourself how to streamline your process, but you should not have a time limit.

In this business, quantity is not a substitute for quality. Mediocre books written in a month, even given away free on Amazon or iTunes or whatever, may help you build a mailing list: But if people out there are disappointed with the quality of your free book, by what logic will they pay for the next book? Or even bother downloading another free book?

These strategies might work if you have a stack of quality books, but not with a stack of slap-dash, poorly edited, garbage books. And is that really what you wanted to write, anyway? Not for me; I want to be proud of my work.

I read of a woman that won a million dollar long shot trifecta, she picked the jersey colors that matched her scarf. I read of a man that won millions in the lottery playing the birthdays of his kids -- but his winning ticket had one of them wrong by a month. Now these are obvious examples of what I am about to say, but the same idea applies: Just because somebody else found a method that worked for them, don't think that means it will work for you too.

You can sure listen to it, try some elements of it, but in the end remember you have to produce quality, and if their method produces dreck, discard it. Do not listen to the apologists that tell you it is good enough, typos don't matter, grammar is fluid, and the only important thing is to be done with it and make a buck.

It is possible they have some natural storytelling skill so readers forgive their trash for some element of suspense, a natural skill you don't have, so your similar trash will flop.

Write your stories by your own method, take as long as it takes. An approach I believe works is building an audience with free work. Build up some stories to give away free, one at a time, specifically to build up a mailing list of thousands of people. Use them for feedback, ask them how they liked it, good or bad because you want to be a better author. Engage with them, ask them to fill out a survey. Best thing about your book. Worst thing about your book.

Some will respond. Apply their feedback to another book, and email them to offer it to them, again for free. Advertise it for free to build more mailing list (keep track of which books each email address has seen / purchased). More engagement. Then, after two books, try to sell one. All this while writing another book, which will be for sale, also.

A large quantity of books will not sell more books. A large audience that LIKES your books will; every time one comes out. You don't have to be a whiz on social media and make friends with all of them, you don't have tweet something clever every day or post to Facebook every day. You just need customers that if you email them occasionally, several weeks apart, they will bother to read your emails and not automatically delete them.

The fame you want is not general fame, it is specific fame, X thousand people that have read one or two of your books and like them. But, again, this strategy relies very heavily on quality writing, because even for free, readers have choices, and aren't going to waste their time on your second free book if your first was an amateurish disaster you tried to finish in a month.

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    I will point out, for the most successful book series in history (half a billion copies sold, in eighty languages), JK Rowling published one book per year for four years (1997, 98, 99, 2000) then three more books, years apart: 2003, 2005, 2007. To me that is a plausible pace, and obviously the year-long delays between books did not reduce her popularity at all. Quality trumps quantity. (I presume the increased intervals after 2000 were a result of being distracted by newfound wealth and fame.) – Amadeus Aug 27 '18 at 11:58
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One way to build your "list" is to contribute shorter works to anthologies -- someone may buy(borrow) the book because of interest in the topic/prompt OR because they know one writer in it (Peter Beagle did a story here? I need it).

Many readers will read the whole book (or at least start each story to give it a chance to grab them), and while you may be not as good as More Famous Author, you are now in their "company" in a way. Plus, potential reader has now heard your name, and that breaks through a bit of a barrier. Instead of being Random Person, you're now Person Vaguely Heard Of, then "Oh yeah, that writer" and then eventually they'll know who you are.

From http://changingminds.org/principles/repetition.htm :

Use friendly repetition to create familiarity and hence liking. Use it to help the other person remember the things you want them to remember. And whilst you are at it, associate the repetition with a trigger that can re-stimulate good feelings.

Similarly, any other shorter things you can contribute can boost your "list" (email or whatever), to ultimately boost your market for your Novels . So this may include participating in podcasts (if your story is a superhero deconstruction, analyze superhero movies (guesting on an existing podcast perhaps), writing columns/essays, etc.

Another option is to Kickstarter (or similar) - again, this works better if you have built a "list" of some sort. But I backed a book analyzing WonderWoman because I liked this guy's blog, and he sent chapters-in-progress to backers. (7/8 of the chapter may be pretty-close-to-finished, and then some areas had a paragraph of Ideas To Include/Research.) He sent about 1 chapter a month, and the money he asked for was as much as he would get paid to adjunct-teach a single class -- he could then drop that class to devote the time to writing instead.

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  1. Write for a large market segment.

  2. Write better than most of the other works out there.

    "Better" here means that you must write exactly what your readers want. In this sense Shades of Grey is a perfectly crafted book. Read it as a gread example of perfect match between text and audience.

  3. Publish where the fans are. E.g. a fanfiction forum.

  4. Become part of the community.

If you don't write in the mainstream center of a popular genre, you will never be able to make a living with self-published books.

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    Sorry, but I disagree with most of your points. Re "Write to market": In order to produce a quality book you need to love it (this is a necessary, but not sufficient requirement). If the world is gaga over cute vampires, but I'm not, I will never be able to write a good work in this niche. Re "Publish where the fans are.": As stated in the question, at the start nobody knows where the fans are. Re "Become part of the community." -- This is too abstract to be applicable. – Franz Drollig Aug 26 '18 at 16:48
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    @FranzDrollig, he didn't say "Write for a large market segment which you hate." He said "Write for a large market segment." It is perfectly sensible advice. There are many, many genres out there to choose from. If you can't find any you like, and you want to become a large volume, exclusively self published author making a living at writing, you should probably try technical writing or teaching or firefighting instead. This answer is perfectly practical, and in the modern era, "Become part of the community" is self evidently clear. – JBiggs Aug 26 '18 at 20:59
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Please keep this in mind first: Many well-known, respected, successful, prolific authors still (need to) keep a day job to live comfortably. Many of them have related careers like writing coach, or professor of English, but it's still a day job. Most people who write do it out of the love for it.

If you want to be a success as a self-publisher, my best advice, based on personal experience, is expect to make your money as a salesperson. Your books are your products, and if they're well-written and well-produced, you'll be able to sell exactly as many as you're willing to personally sell. If you do book tours, and speaking engagements, and meet-the-author events, and conventions, and social media, and networking, and interview, and you don't have any shyness about relentless self-promotion, you can actually do very well financially. But you'll be primarily making your money selling, not writing. You also won't be able to make this work financially through a service like Lulu. You'll have to break out on your own, and make your own contracts with a printing press, which will mean a lot more up-front costs, but also a much higher margin on everything you sell. Read the Self-Publishing Manual for everything you need to go this route.

If you just want to write, write, write (not sell), and you think you can maintain a pace of four books a year DO NOT, for the love of all that is holy, self-publish. A consistent author is a traditional publisher's dream. Save your money, avoid the headaches, and keep writing until you produce a book good enough for a traditional publisher to snap it up. Being a self-publisher is a full time job IN ADDITION to writing, and selling is another one on top of that. Unless you are sure you can do all three jobs well AT THE SAME TIME, you're just looking to waste your time and money with your current plan.

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I'm just sitting here laughing and laughing...

My spouse is going through something similar.

Comic book series with 4 issues a year (e-comic only) and a book collection every 4 issues (e-book and trade paperback). Have a traditional publisher but not sure if that's helping or not. We have to do all the marketing.

Costs:

  • $2500 USD per 22 page issue (plus a cover). Spouse and his co-writer work for royalties only but the artists get paid up front.
  • $175 per 4 issue arc. This is the publisher's costs that they take off the top before determining royalties. Very reasonable. They set up the ISBN, do formatting, submit copy, etc. No editing, just the occasional editorial comment. You should add this cost into your calculations. About $200 per book with an author services company.

Income:

  • Each e-comic sells for $1.99. The retailer takes half and the publisher takes half of that. We get $0.50.
  • Unclear what our cut from the book sales will be, since the first book isn't out yet and we don't even have the exact page count (88 pages comic, 3 covers, + some extras) or cover price. My guess for trade paperbacks is $5-10 each and for e-books maybe $2-3.

If we self-published, income on e-comics and e-books would double (minus the lost sales from lower readership since the publisher adds some cache and we got some reviews that said as much). Unclear if we'd have to buy large quantities of paperbacks, since it depends on which printer we work with.

Break Even Point

5000 purchases of each issue.

Yeah, you read that right. Those are the kind of numbers that even larger publishers consider decent (I mean it's not Archie or Superman, but it's considered respectable). This is not readers. Each purchase is probably passed around to several readers. We don't know our numbers yet but we're guessing purchases are in the dozens. Not thousands.

OR

1000-2000 purchases of each book, in hard copy.

Well our local bookstore has said they'll probably sell it. And so did the comic shop an hour a way (the local comic shop is very focused on kids and mainstream comics, this one is for adults, but we'll ask them). Spouse can do a couple conventions a year and maybe sell enough to make up his booth fees (and travel costs for the larger more distant ones).

OR

Unknown number of purchases of the e-book (4000?)

These are easier to sell and sales will be higher. But retail cost is lower so royalties are lower too.

Outcome: He keeps his day job

Spouse has a full-time job with great benefits. He is allowed to do some writing on his downtime. He's not going anywhere. Our goal is to break even (if there's anything additional after breaking even, some will go to the co-writer). Our dream is, after a few years of arcs and buzz, HBO comes knocking.

So what about your works?

Well, your costs are too high.

Aside from a cover, you have no artwork. That's what is super pricey. Spouse's artist is fantastic and charges $150 for a full page color illustration, including covers. You can get great covers for $200 or less.

You are absolutely right that you need professional editing. And professional proofreading. These are not the same thing and are not always done by the same person. My spouse paid an editor as the series was coming together and this didn't work out. His second editor was much cheaper and really excellent. But he doesn't use an editor anymore because the structure of the series is set. Of course, comics are different as there isn't much text. He writes all the scripts and directions to the artist (it's not a collaboration with the artist, it's a job for hire).

Your estimated costs for editing might be dead on, I don't know. My guess is the first book or two would need full editing and the others maybe barter with other writers you trust then pay for professional proofreading.

I know you are reluctant to go the traditional publishing route but then you don't outlay any money. Your income per book sold is less because you have to split the proceeds with the publisher, but you don't pay for editing, etc.

At least try submitting your first book and see what contacts you get offered, if any. Then make an informed decision.

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