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?
- 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
- I write the first 120K book in a year.
- Then I split it into several parts (like 4 episodes 30K words each, or 10 episodes 12K words each).
- I publish this one book.
- 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.
- Once I saved up the next 2500 Euros, I publish the next book from the backlog.
- If and when one of the published books starts to generate money, I invest that money into publishing the next book from the backlog.
- 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
- Write the first draft of the first book in a year.
- During self-editing, read the self-edited text aloud and record it (for every chapter).
- 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".
- Once the editor has finished her work, publish the book and notify all subscribers that the book is ready.
- Write the first draft of the second book in a year.
- Self-edit and record the audio (analogous to step 2).
- Put the second book into a backlog for future line-editing.
- 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.".
- Repeat steps 5 through 8 for third and fourth book in the year.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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."
- 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
- Write a non-fiction book that demonstrates that I'm an expert in some demanded IT topic (I have an IT background).
- Use this book as a sales vehicle (proof of me being an expert) for high-priced (like EUR 100,-- per hour) consulting gigs.
- 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:
- I will hire them to edit all my 10 books.
- 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.