Friday, August 23, 2013

Yes, you CAN* make money writing!

by Malena Lott

I make good money writing.

Caveat: only a fraction of that income comes from writing books.

Caveat 2: I live in Oklahoma where cost of living is low, so Yay!

I write ad copy, marketing materials, and brand strategy. Coming up with creative ideas for companies can be lucrative. While some literary purists might think writing advertising is "selling out" I saw early on that could be a way I could use my writing skills *and* give myself time to work on my "great American novel."

While I worked in radio, TV and corporations in my 20s, I started a branding firm with a business partner when I was 28 so I could have flexible hours, be a good (sane) mama to my kids. My agent did eventually sell that first novel for a modest advance. Then she sold  my second novel for a better, yet still modest, advance. Then...nothing. Which is kind of crazy since I knew my writing was getting better with each book. Go fig.

My agent finally said I should self-publish a title we both loved. That was Fixer Upper which went on Amazon and Smashwords in 2010. Sales...trickled. I was bummed. But I kept writing. I started Buzz Books USA in February 2011 to publish other people's work, too, because I figured I could combine my passion for marketing and stories all in one. I knew it would take about three years to "grow it up." I pubbed "Life's a Beach" that summer. It sold better than my first, and it was a novella, so it took less time to write. With a catchy title and cover and premise "Law of Attraction and karma meet on the beach" sales started picking up and for two years it was my best-selling digital title. (Now it's Fixer Upper.)

I got my rights back on that first novel, The Stork Reality, and after a year, sales are picking up on it. I wrote a follow-up to Life's a Beach that included characters from all my novels to answer my readers who wanted to know...whatever happened to... in The Last Resort. I include links to my books in the back of each novel. Some people must click on them! And algorithms are a very real thing which I don't understand that much, but love when it works in my favor.

This much I do know: one book does sell another. If they liked one, they will likely buy another. If they didn't like one, they still might give another book a chance. (Readers are awesome that way.)

Because I never stopped writing - even when I doubted myself! - I had a nice backlog of stories including a young adult novel, which became Twin Falls, and two more women's fiction novels, Something New and my latest, Family Charms. My readers are saying with each release they are stronger, which give me the momentum to keep going. Books are cross-selling each other and I love promoting the authors at Buzz.

What's the lesson here? The "takeaway"? Never. Stop. Writing. Build your community, engage with readers and keep believing. Does it take some luck? Yep. I pulled the two Smashwords titles and put them on nook myself two weeks ago and guess what? Fixer Upper was plucked from their database and mentioned in their daily newsletter and sales skyrocketed for a few days and I started seeing a slight uptick in other titles. Then, the wave receded. That's what awareness is. It comes, then it goes away, but over time, people remember. 

Another key to mentally surviving this "side career" - stop comparing yourself to other writers, whether they are tradtionally-pubbed or self-pubbed. I personally know three indie-pubbed authors who quit their day jobs and make buckets of money off their many ebooks. That's a tiny percentage of the authors sphere, but still, don't compare! You'll drive yourself nuts and that could keep you from writing your best work.

Keep going. And good luck. If you believe in it and work hard, you can make some money from writing. How much is up to you and that whole "preparation meeting opportunity" thing.

***

When Malena isn't writing, she's marketing and mothering. She's a Cub Scout mom, dance mom and mom of a new driver. She blogs about zen, creativity and mojo at malenalott.com. 

23 comments:

  1. It all builds--that's one of the great things about ebooks. They're out there for readers to discover either this week or a couple of years from now. Sage advice on comparing ourselves to others, too. :)

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    1. Thanks, Sara! I am thankful ebooks "stick around" and technology can really be our friend.

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  2. Yay, Malena! I'm so glad to see your post, both for its encouragement and the reminder not to compare. that truly is the hardest thing of all!

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    1. Thanks, Sheila. It's taken me awhile to get to this place (mentally and bookshelf wise) and I am happy for those who make the buckets of money. Thanks to how the Internet works, it truly can be any one of us someday.

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  3. Malena, this was a great post; thanks for sharing! You're right, comparing oneself to others is a horrible pitfall! Bad news bears. And since success as an indie can rely so much on timing, luck, and genre/hook, it's wonderful to remember that this is long-tail stuff.

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    1. Thanks, Jess! I think because of the Internet "new to me" is just as good as the "new" especially since it takes time for referrals to happen even with fairly new "stuff", books included.

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  4. Great post, Malena. I like hearing the whole history of how you came to this zen place.
    I think that is the beauty of indie publishing that things build and even if something isn't a bestseller out of the gates, it still can be later on.

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    1. Ariella, Yes! It's been interesting to see how well-published big names are actually using the same techniques that indies do in terms of finding a backlist book, charging say .99 for it and then upselling to the new title. So, hey, everyone's doing it. Even trad published "oldies" need awareness boosts and promos, too. It is a bit like the wild wild west still.

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  5. What inspiration! Thanks for sharing your story, and EVERYTHING!

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  6. Great post, Malena- you are a rock star!! And I love the advice: never stop writing!!

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