Like many of you, I’ve been operating in this space as an author for many years, and now I have the privilege of being an agent. What I’ve seen is that it’s very difficult to make a sustained income as a writer. In fact, in Publishers Weekly’s 150th anniversary edition this month, I was struck at how few authors actually make a successful living.
Around 100 authors worldwide make millions, but the rest of authors make $6,o80 (all authors, full- and part-time) or $20,300 (full-time authors only) per year based on this research from The Author’s Guild.
In the movie, Moneyball, (based on a true story and this book) we see a math person dismantle gut instinct. Someone finally questioned the status quo, the way baseball always spent money on talent. Instead, mavericks looked at boring (but important!) statistics. And then they completely changed their strategy based on which players could make it on base. This, of course, is a very simplified version of the narrative, but you get the idea.
In other words, what you assume will work doesn’t always make steady income. Money-making in writing actually may be kind of boring and less flashy.
So how does an author take the principles of Moneyball and apply them to yearly earnings?
The first step is to determine how much you’re making with your book.
Here’s a calculator you can use.
The next step is to evaluate all other ways writers make money:
- Write for hire. (You write a book for a publishing entity and get a flat fee. You don’t have to market that book. I have made a fair percentage of my author earnings this way. When I say I’ve published 40+ books, several of those are write-for-hire).
- Advertising based on platform. If you have a robust platform, you can earn steady income from advertising or partnerships with corporations.
- Patreon (same idea as above), where you have micro-crowdfunding for what you produce (podcast, writing, essays behind a firewall, etc.) Or macro-crowdfunding like Kickstarter where you fund a whole project.
- Podcasting. If you have the talent, drive, and skills, this can be a very lucrative part of your “empire.” 🙂
- YouTube. If done well, the advertising revenues here can sometimes support someone.
- Self-publishing. You can use the calculator above to figure out possible earnings. However, most self- published books sell 250 in their lifetime.
- Speaking. If you’re a nonfiction author or Bible teacher, you can earn most of your income this way. Many speakers lost much of their income during the Pandemic, which also shows the importance of diversification.
- Courses. Some authors learn a certain aspect of publishing or writing or marketing and sell courses. Bookie Peace Amadi is doing just that.
- Products and merch. Some authors sell how-to products based on their expertise. Others have art (our agency’s Tricia Goyer) or music stores, depending on their gifting.
- Audio book narration. If you have a strong speaking/reading voice, this can be another revenue stream.
- Author Coach. You can coach other writers toward publication or run mastermind groups.
- Ebooks. Creating a series of ebooks to sell either on your site or other online retailers.
- Membership sites. Here’s an example.
Now, let’s think logically about this. Honest confession: When I first started writing, I thought magically. I envisioned my days being spent writing, then raking in the royalties. Reality soon set in, and I realized that I would have to diversify my efforts to bring in a normal-ish income stream. Like Moneyball, that’s not EXCITING, but it is helpful for the bottom line.
Look over the list above. See if there are any avenues that could consistently bring in income.
What I do: I pretend I don’t make anything beyond the advance of the book I’m writing. (I do tend to earn royaltyies as well, but because it’s hard to predict, I don’t allow that into the factorization).
Here’s my particular breakdown (ish) (without taking agenting into account):
- Book writing 20%
- Patreon (podcast) 15%
- Advertising (podcast) 15%
- Speaking 20%
- Products and merch (art) 30%
When speaking died during the pandemic, other parts of my income had to pull that weight. Thankfully, we also serve a God who beautifully and surprisingly provides, and I was able to make it through.
Sometimes I have not been able to pay myself. Even so, God has intervened in those leaner moments. I’ve learned that to be successful (in terms of making an average salary), I have to be very nimble and adaptive.
What about you? How have you brought in income? What’s your unglamorous, counterintuitive Moneyball formula?