Can You Make Money Writing Novels?

See Also: How to Calculate Potential Book Profits

Can anyone write novels?

There are no educational or social requirements to becoming a novelist. Education helps you develop writing skills and get involved in the community of writing, but it is not a requirement for success. The main requirement is that you write a novel. The better written and more marketable your novel is, the better your chances. In the end, the elements that lead to the successful marketing of a novel have little to do with educational or social background.

What types of novels sell well?

Genre novels tend to be the easiest to market. There is a built-in audience for genres such as romance, horror, children, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and thriller. A new genre, chick-lit, in which the protagonist is a modern single woman experiencing relationship and career issues, is currently popular. Novels that fall outside of these genres aren’t necessarily doomed, but they are harder to market, and most major publishing houses are looking to publish novels that they are confident they can sell in great numbers.

How do I find a publisher?

There are many small and mid-sized publishers who are open to new writers. The problem with smaller publishers is that they don’t have the money and clout of a major publisher. Typically they will publish a print run of about 5000 books and try to sell those before they print more copies. Your chances of getting published with a smaller publisher is better (though you are still competing against many other novelists) but few of them can bring you the royalties required to make a living. Major publishers are the ones that can bring you big sales. It is harder to get a major publisher to notice you, but it isn’t impossible.

Typically a writer is represented by a literary agent. An agent is someone who has read your book and believes that the book is marketable enough for them to sell it to a publisher. They take advantage of whatever connections they have in the publishing industry to get your book read by acquiring editors, who decide what books their publishing company should publish. The acquiring editor then makes a proposal to their board of editors (or whoever else has final authority) and if all goes well you get your book published.

How many novels do I have to sell to make money?

Here is where you run into trouble. While there are many, many variables involved in how much a writer makes when his or her novel is published, a good rule of thumb for estimating your profits is a dollar a book. That means that you would have to sell 50,000 books a year in order to earn a solid living. While there are some people who publish multiple books a year, the typical novelist manages to produce a single book a year, so you would have to sell 50,000 copies of each book you publish, assuming that you find a publisher for your books.

While the Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of this world have no trouble selling millions of books, the typical novel sells about 5000 to 10,000 copies. Less than ten percent of published novelists manage to sell 50,000 copies or more of their book, and selling 50,000 copies of a book in no way guarantees that you will find a publisher for your next book. Major publishers are looking for big wins. They want to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and they are going to stick with the writers they think will deliver them those numbers. Keep in mind as well, that the delay between having a book accepted for publication and getting that book published is generally about two years and often longer. That is a long time to wait to see profits from a book.

Are there other ways for novelists to make money?

Many novelists hold full-time jobs in publishing or education. These jobs provide their main income. Novelists can make some money by giving readings or getting paid to attend writer’s conferences. A novel can also get sold to a movie studio. Whether the novel gets made into a movie or not, the novelist gets paid a certain amount. If the novel becomes a successful movie, the novelist is usually in a much better position to get their next novel published.

Can I self publish?

Self-publishing is an option for people who want to get their novel read, but the option seldom leads to substantial profits. The upside of self-publishing is that you can make much more per book than if someone else publishes your work. The downside is that all of the risks and all of the expenses are on your shoulders. That means that you have to find a way to sell enough copies of your book to make back your initial investment and then to make a profit. This is possible, but it is a lot of hard work. Keep in mind that the time you spend trying to publish and sell your novel must be subtracted from the amount of time you have available to write your next novel.

I’m sad now, can you cheer me up?

While the prospects of making a living as a novelist aren’t good, there are some people out there who manage to do it. A few people even manage to get quite wealthy. I recommend that you write novels if it is something you enjoy doing and if you want to produce something you can be proud of. Those are excellent reasons to write novels. By all means, once you produce a novel you are proud of, send it out into the world and try to find a publisher. Maybe you’ll strike it rich and maybe you won’t. At minimum you’ll have written a novel, and that is something to feel good about.

24 thoughts on “Can You Make Money Writing Novels?

  1. Heheh… “I’m sad now…”

    I think almost all writers have a little corner of their mind reserved for dreams of major novelist one day. But it’s good to be very realistic about the market for it. It just isn’t there.

    James Chartrand – Men with Penss last blog post..How to Increase Your Rates for the New Year

  2. I agree with your reasons for wanting to write novels. If someone decides to write books solely for the possibility of financial rewards I would imagine that their books would be decidedly dull.

  3. I also have to agree about novel-writing motivations. Writing a novel involves a lot of emotion and feeling, and I doubt that the desire to make money and get rich could create a meaningful novel. On a rather related note, I have read advice for novel writing that essentially gives a formula. While I’m sure that formulas can teach something, there is more to writing than churning out words in exchange for dollars. Even if those dollars are necessary…

  4. @ James

    I don’t enjoy crushing dreams, but I get the question so often that I had to answer.

    @ Paul

    i don’t think there are many people who write strictly for the money, but I do think that most people have no idea how hard it is to make a living as a novelist.

    @ Key

    Formulas are a bad idea, although I did enjoy reading “The Destroyer” series of books as a teenager, and those were as formulaic as they get.

    @ Lillie

    It sounds like you understand what it is you can get out of writing and publishing novels.

  5. Lillie has actually chronicled the fascinating, albeit lengthy, process of writing and being published. Anyone interested in what it really takes should visit her site. She’s a hard worker, a lovely person and has a lot to teach about writing the almighty novel.

  6. Thanks. I am not disappointed at all because i love writing, and about the marketing, it isn’t the same for everyone as we all know; one can get himself to the top if he/she’s got the ability and a quality of a writer. So people please do the best you can do with your novels…

  7. I think writing can take long time for original contents.
    Good command over English and openness to admit
    critics is also a very big quality of a writer…

  8. This is a great article. Personally I was really just glad to be able to finish my novel and get a publisher to work with me. So it has really been interesting and a lot of work. Takes a lot of patience and after ten years I finally completed a work in entirety so I am glad about it.

  9. i loved this article. i dream to be such a writer that people will look forward to reading my books. i have finally finished a novel that i have been dreaming of, stuggled with, and worked on with my friends for 4 years and i am now almost done with my rough draft and will be fixing it up to get an editor to help me. please share any tips with me if you can.

  10. Some of this actually helped me. You see, i am a young writer. At 16. I actually enjoyed this. I managed to publish three poems so far, and i know it’s a start, but i really wish to publish a story of mine. As good as this article was, i am still confused on some of it. If anyone can help me, please do. I just want to see someone who is either in the same poistion as me, or has been before, and just jelp me out on who i can trust to go to. I want to publish my own book, but i do not know how to, so i thought about going to someone. I am still not sure yet. And there’s no clubs or Colleges i can go to that will allow me to do just Creative Writing. But i do not want to be a Journalist. i like to have a wild imagination and think of unusual things that can fascinate people. So if anyone can, please help me. Even if it is just to help me find a Novelist Club to go to. Or a small job on writing Non-reality books. Something like that. But it has to be in Essex.

    Please and Thank You.
    -Charlie

  11. Charlie,
    I am an aspiring writer working on my own novel at 24 years old. You have quite a jump start, buddy. Good for you and your published works, thus far. My advice to you is what I call a little R and R (research and reading). Research the market you want to publish in to help broaden your perspective on your chances of getting your particular novel publish. And read. Read everything you can get your hands on that relates to what you are writing and the publishing world. I suggest buying “Getting Published for Dummies”. They have great information that can help you get started. I also purchased a book on plot, story, and character development to understand how to make my characters come alive. Additionally I have studied the books that I would like to model my own novel after by studying their dialogue, plot and character development to understand how those successful authors made their characters come alive. They are many avenues to take when writing a novel. There is no single right way to write a book. Good luck.

  12. Melissa, thank you for helping me out. I noticed i had made some spelling Errors, please forgive me for them, lol. About these books you mentioned, how much were they? And you didn’t tell me the Title of the book that helps bring the Characters to live, may i know it? I am earning my own money soon, and wish to but both books mentioned. I am a bit paranoid about asking someone else to publish my book, if that’s what you meant. Because i’m worried they’ll take my work and put their name on it. But i will risk it.
    Thank you for the help, it was much appreciated. I do apologise again if i seem a bit unintelligent. And i sen dmy best wishes and good luck on your Novel.

  13. Dear Charlie:

    Your fear of having your work stolen is a common one for first-time authors. The Copyright protections apply to any work when the author puts a C in a circle, the year, and their name. No filing needs to be done.

    Yet, some authors feel better when, through the Library of Congress (http://www.copyright.gov/). the pay about $35 and upload a copy of their manuscript for official registration.

    Tim

  14. What i do not realize is in reality how you’re not really a lot more well-favored than you may be now. You are so intelligent. You already know therefore considerably with regards to this matter, produced me personally consider it from a lot of various angles. Its like women and men are not interested until it’s something to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your personal stuffs great. All the time handle it up!

  15. I have a few questions but first off, Thank you for all the information.
    I am 16 and currently have one novel completed, all the sights I have read that deal in this topic seem to be geared towards the twenty something year olds.
    My questions are this:
    Should I wait until I am in my twenties to search for someone willing to help me in my writing dream?
    I have about twenty other stories/books-to-be in the workings and I am wondering if you have any advice for me and other teen writers.

    Thank you for taking time to read and answer me.

    1. Shayleah,

      A considerable amount of time has passed since this post. The information in it, however, isn’t really geared to any age, it is just a look at who gets what when you publish a book. If you have a book you are satisfied with, you are welcome to send it out to publishers, but in my opinion, you are better off using a service like Lulu or Amazon Books and putting it out yourself. As this post points out, there is very little chance of making big money as a writer, no matter what your age, but it is now very easy to publish your work and have something you can show the world.

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