Can You Get Rich Writing Books?

I don't think there's an author out there that hasn't dreamt that one day their work could be a best seller, adapted into a TV show, or turned into a movie. And while many of those thoughts might be nice, it isn't really what motivates most of us to write.

For me, I did it just because I enjoy telling stories and wanted to try my hand at a few things. I went through a vanity publisher, Newman Springs Publishing, for the first three books in my Ascension Legacy series. For the last three in the series, I did those entirely as a self-published author. Neither route is as illustrious as being published by the likes of Harper Collins, Penguin House, or any of the other mainstream publishers but my original goal was just to get the books made and in that goal I succeeded. 

But now that I've gone through the easiest of the routes to being published, a future goal is to see what I can do about landing an actual literary agent and potentially a traditional publishing deal. I know that to do that I will have to invest the same amount of money, if not more, into whatever works I choose to use for that endeavor as I did for my currently published works.

Lit agents like stories that are well structured, complete, engaging, and largely ready for print. Those are the ones that are easiest to sell after all. This means that I'll still have to go through extensive editing to give myself the best chance at finding an agent. And that editing will most likely need to include developmental editing to help make sure that the story being pitched is of the best quality I can produce. I'll need help writing summaries, a synopsis, pitches, or whatever other requirements each agent wants/needs for a submission to be considered. All of these things represent a significant investment that I'll have to make in my book, and therefore myself, if I'm serious about achieving that goal.

How much of an investment? Its hard to say. With my other books, I would say my investment per book was anywhere around $2,500 to $3,000 on average. The vanity publisher offered packages that included editing, cover art, typesetting, ISBN registration, eBook conversion, and distribution all for a set price. But beyond that, I also had to pay for marketing supplies, advertisements, sponsored reviews, and even physical copies that I wanted to keep for various promotions. With the self-published books, my costs were typically lower than the vanity publisher costs but I still had to have all of the same things performed which meant farming it out to independent contractors or doing the work myself, plus all the same post-publishing costs like marketing and personal copies.

But none of those costs ever included developmental editing which typically costs more than traditional copy/line editing. This means that whatever book or books I choose to leverage in my efforts to find a lit agent will likely end up costing me more per book than my other books did previously. It is something of an obstacle as life likes to throw us financial curveballs but if I want to achieve that goal then its something I have to find a way to overcome.

The downside is that even if I land a lit agent after a substantial investment like this, it could take months or years before I'm able to recoup that money. Having a lit agent doesn't guarantee you a publishing deal overnight, if ever. Lit agents typically get a percentage of the deal they negotiate for you with the publisher so its in their best interest to only represent books they think they have a good chance of "selling" to a publisher but there are several agents all trying to pitch their authors to publishers at the same time.

Its a crowded market no matter how you choose to slice it.

But at the end of the day, even if you get a traditional publishing deal, the odds of "getting rich quick" as an author is something of a pipe dream. There are tons of new books and new authors that are published every day, even by the big publishing houses, that don't achieve retail/commercial success. And without that retail/commercial success there are increasingly low odds that a TV show or movie adaptation of your books will ever happen.

And it seems that if you want to get on any best seller lists, you have to pay. No, I don't mean pay to get on the list but you have to pay to get positive reviews in critical publications like Kirkus or you have to pay to enter various contests and then win said contest. Most authors aren't famous and don't have massive online followings which means that most of us have to rely on finding other ways to get people to read our books. Kirkus (or similar) reviews and contest wins are popular ways to help elevate your book to a greater audience but they all come at a cost with no guarantee of ever making your money back.

But ask any author you know if they make their living solely on the revenue of their books. The answer will often be "no." And if someone says yes, ask how long it took before that was the case and how long it took for them to earn back all of the time and money they invested in their books. Odds are the answer to both of those questions will be "a while" at best.

Success stories like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are rare in the literary world. Sure, there are other authors out there who have had movies and TV shows made off their books who likely received a nice payout but it probably wasn't right after their books were published. There are far more books out there that have never been on a top selling list, optioned for a movie, or inspired a TV show. The odds of an author getting rich off a book is probably about as good as being drafted into the NBA which is 1 in 11,512, if they're even that good.

The odds of getting rich from writing are low. Do it not for the money but for the pleasure writing brings you and the joy of telling captivating stories to others. If you enjoy writing and just want to share your stories with others, then being an author is your path. If you want to get paid, find something else. 

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