If your primary motivation for writing is making money, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Outliers like James Patterson, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts often skew our perception of how lucrative publishing really is. In fact, very few authors actually make a living off their writing—the rest see marginal income from writing, at best.
There are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps one of the foremost involves what I like to call the “Field of Dreams Syndrome.” Too many authors work under the misconception that if they write it, readers will come.
The truth is that there are thousands of authors competing for readers, many of whom are giving their books away for free or next to nothing. Readers have more choices than ever, relying on Oprah or the New York Times’ Best Sellers lists to narrow their options. Without an extensive amount of marketing, one book by a new author is destined to get lost in the Amazon abyss.
It is important to stress that I am not trying to discourage anyone from selling books. What I am saying is that if money is your primary motivation for writing, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Writers who work from a profit-driven mentality end up shooting themselves in the foot before their journey has even begun. There are a number of reasons for this:
- They fit into a mold. Instead of writing about something they are truly passionate about, they end up trying to fit into the next “it” genre. Suddenly, they’re leaving behind what best suits them in favor of writing something they think will sell, like a teen vampire story or the next Fifty Shades of Grey.
- They rush the process. New writers try to push their books out into the world before they’re ready, which results in a less-than-perfect product for their readers—or a manuscript that has no chance of getting the attention of a literary agent.
- They get discouraged. While it’s possible to make a living off writing, it doesn’t just happen overnight. If you put out a book thinking you’re going to sell 20,000 copies immediately, you might get discouraged when early sales are sluggish. Disappointment ends the careers of a lot of writers who confuse poor sales with bad writing.
Compelling Writing Wins in the End
If you want to get your book in front of as many eyes as possible, you need ask yourself what drives you besides money. The most successful writers work from several motivations. Often, they’re trying to express something highly personal or engage like-minded people. Sometimes, they’re trying to escape reality or provide others with an escape. In the end, most writers do it for the fun of writing or because they have a story that must be told.
When launching a career as an author, take the following things into consideration:
- You need to build trust. You can make money at writing, but first, you need to gain the trust of your readers. Focus on sharing the best story possible, rather than taking their money.
- You need feedback. If you’re a new writer, you should be primarily concerned with getting people to read your work so they can provide honest feedback. This will allow you to hone your craft and eventually create better books that will have more money-making potential.
- You need to build connections. Part of marketing a book involves building connections with people before it’s released. If you share your early work with others and build relationships with your audience, your readers will feel more invested in you, the author, and all your subsequent work.
- You need a sense of accomplishment. Writing is hard work, and like running a marathon, producing a book can be its own reward. If you write simply for the experience of finishing your story, that sense of accomplishment will keep you going, even if sales are slow.
The wisdom of taking your focus off the dollar signs can be supported by the success stories of authors who have hit it big. Mark Victor Hansen was rejected more than 140 times before Chicken Soup for the Soul found a publisher, and the series has since sold more than 300,000 copies. John Grisham published his first book, A Time to Kill, privately after receiving 28 rejections. Even literary giant James Joyce had to wait nine years before anyone would publish Dubliners.
If these authors had only wanted to make money, they would have given up long before their work even made it to a publisher. But they had the passion and persistence to continue with their writing, and their dedication paid off.
Even if you never make it to Forbes’ list of top-earning authors, you can still develop a satisfying career as a writer. A commitment to your readers and a commitment to your craft will help you become a better writer, and when the love of the work is what drives you to write, you’ll find fulfillment no amount of money can buy.