Wednesday, November 7

How To Earn A Living As A Self-Published Writer

How To Earn A Living As A Self-Published Writer

I believe the key to earning a living as a self-published writer is two-fold: write short and write series.

1) Write short

It used to be that particular genres, such as crime fiction or paranormal romance, had to be a certain length.

My first paranormal romance was about 72,000 words because I had been told by the editor she expected all submissions to be between 70,000 and 75,000 words. Other genres have other requirements but, at that time, 70,000 words was considered on the short side for a novel.

With the growing popularity of lower priced ebooks readers have become more accommodating of shorter novels and don't mind paying a few dollars for a 30k, 40k or 50k word novel or novella. In fact, some readers prefer shorter stories.

As evidence of this trend, I give you these posts penned by authors writing in very different fields:
- Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction
- Shorter Novels in the Digital Age?
- Indie Epublished Authors: Build Your Backlist Quicker with Shorter-Length Novels

2) Write Series

Not too long ago Melinda DuChamp, a writer with over 50 published books to her credit (although under other names), wrote a guest post for Joe Konrath's blog at his request. Melinda disclosed she had made $15,000 in one month from her first independently published book, 50 Shades of Alice in Wonderland, an erotic novel.

I mention Melinda's success NOT to suggest we all become erotic novelists but because she came up with a business idea I thought was brilliant.

5 trilogies + 5 omnibus editions = 20 books

Imagine you write a trilogy and that each of the three books is about 30,000 words long. You then bundle each of these books into an omnibus edition and sell that. You'll have written three novels--well, novellas--but have four items to sell (the three books plus the bundle of the three books).

For only 90,000 words you'll have a trilogy and four books to sell!

Let's take this a step further. If you wrote four more trilogies you would have a total of 20 books, and book bundles, for sale. That's 20 books for the work of 15.

How quickly could this be done? If you wrote 2,500 words per day you'd be able to write 15 novellas (450,000 words) in 6 months!

Amazon's KDP Select Program: With 20 books for sale one could always be free

Here's a twist: If you offered your 20 books for sale on Amazon and enrolled them in the KDP Select program, you'd always be able to offer one book for free!

I hesitate to recommend enrolling your books in Amazon's KDP Program because whenever exclusivity is required many other issues have to be considered. That said, it's something to think about over the short term, especially if no one knows your name and you want a lot of exposure in a short amount of time.

Other articles you might like:

- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
- Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive
- NaNoWriMo: How To Reach Your Daily Wordcount
- How To Write 10,000 Words A Day

Photo credit: "Psalm 103 texture" by Rachel Shirey under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. I've been thinking along these lines for a little while. I might have to try my hand at a novella (as part of a bigger series) once my current book is done.

    1. Excellent idea! I'd love to know how that turns out.

      Soon I want to publish a post on writing serials.

  2. Some excellent points here. As a writer who makes a full time living from his writing, if you're writing series setting the first book to permafree has also worked marvelously for me and is a wonderful alternative to KDP Select.

  3. My mom is a big fan of yours. The told me about your post, so I've shared it with a few friends. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Cassandra! By the way, I like your blog too; wonderful photos.

  4. Hi Karen
    This is exactly my plan. How did you know? LOL
    Seriously though, my own research has told me something similar and its nice to see it confirmed.

    1. lol Well ... ;) Thanks for the comment N.R., it's always nice to have ones own ideas confirmed. :-)

  5. Great post Karen. As a business man myself I love to read about the business and marketing strategies of the publishing world. Thank you again.

  6. I WILL earn a living as a self-published writer, I WILL and it will be partly due to this post! Thanks for another great bundle of useful info Karen. I'll have to mention you in the thank you page of my books, ;)

    1. Thanks Lisa! If I were responsible in some small way for your inevitable success that would make me all kinds of happy! Thanks for your comment. :)

  7. Some good points are made here, though, I think that 15 books at 30,000 pages is highly unrealistic. Yes, You could write that many books in that length of time. That's probably about 7 1/2 pages a day. For those that write a lot and have a lot of experience, that's a reachable number, though, I would not push it far beyond that or quality suffers. For novices, they could maybe write that many in a day, but they probably won't be good pages. They probably should not write more than half that number in a day. Also, you're not taking into consideration time for coming up with the ideas for these 15 books, fleshing them out, or editing and polishing them. That's easily another 6+ months, and that's only if they work hard, at least 6+ hours at it every day (including weekends). Not to mention, you're encouraging people to write a novella in 1.5 weeks and telling them that's possible. Kathy Reichs writes a novel in 3 months, which is considered fast. Her daughter, Kerry Reichs writes a novel in 6 months. You're telling people it's possible to write in 4 1/2 weeks what Kathy does in 12. Kathy is a bestseller. Kerry is a full-time midlist author. I think it is possible for a highly accomplished writer (written at least 10-15 FULL-LENGTH stories, been through professional critique groups, worked professionally as a writer, went to college for it or took ample classes geared towards that, done extensive research on writing) could do it if they locked themself in a cabin for a year and had little contact or interaction with the outside world...but I would still question the quality of the work...and their sanity. Anyone else who tried that without those qualifications already under their built, I can guarantee, even in a year's time, their lack in quality. In fact, most, of them would downright suck. Writing well should always take precedent over writing fast (and badly).

    1. I totally agree that prewriting and editing are going to vastly expand the timeline, and experience helps with speed and quality.

      However, I'm fairly certain you won't be able to make good on your "guarantee."

      The Night Circus and Water for Elephants, NYT bestsellers, began as NaNoWriMo novels.

      As I Lay Dying was written in six weeks.

      The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was written in one month.

      A Clockwork Orange was written in three weeks.

      Alexandre Dumas wrote a novel in three days to win a bet. (It wasn't Three Musketeers, obvs.)

      The Confidential Agent was written in six weeks.

      On the Road was written in three weeks.

      A Christmas Carol was written in six weeks.

      Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde was written in six days.

    2. Thanks for your feedback T.R.! You're right, it's relative to how much a person can write per day. Everyone's different. Some find it easy to write 3,000 words a day (Kris Rusch for instance) others only write that amount if they're writing a book (Stephen King). To each their own.

      That said, I think a writer can improve both the amount of words they write per day as well as the quality. All it takes is practice and a willingness to learn.

    3. Jordan, thanks for your comment. And let me just say: Wow! That is an impressive set of facts! I'm got to have to save a link back to you comment. It's good to know that fast writers are well represented amongst the great/classic writers. Cheers!

  8. I just got done reading your article, and really enjoyed it, thank you. I have over 200 self published books so far. You can see some fun self-published books at where they are in paperback, digital and audio also now. all of them are indie and self published, any questions or help, please ask me, I do this full time and would love to help anyone that needs help or advice, thank you, Vince Stead.


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.