Brutal Economic Reality of Fiction and Those Reviews

People don’t make money from writing novels. Some bestsellers generate just a little north of $10,000. That’s why writers find jobs working as marketers, teachers, lawyers or journalists.

Some can make a living on fiction. They are the few and the lucky.

Don’t kid yourself. If you commit to writing novels do it because writing is your art. And if you need to make a living for family or lifestyle reasons, don’t quit your day job.

I don’t think Amazon and its $0.99 cent independent author world has helped anything. You are basically encouraged to price a book at $0.99 or $1.99 if you want to sell anything as a first time novelist. Guess what the royalties are on that? $.33 a pop, boys and girls.

The Book Hustle

They tell you to market better. Go blog, and build a social media following to sell books. Yeah.

Really, you sell books en masse via speaking engagements, direct marketing, media relations, virtual and live blogging tours, and third party reviews. So the social aspect is really out of your hands. The other people in your network have to rally behind the book. Even then, you are looking at only a few books that go 100% bananas. By the way you can buy some peanut butter and jelly afterwards with the royalties. Or if you also have a day job, you can use the money for a massage to relieve you of sleep deprivation induced stress.

Coincidentally, to be included in many blog-driven social email lists that refer independently authored books, you must 1) pay and 2) have a minimum level of reviews to be included (on Amazon, of course). That in turn creates another need for reviews.

I hit this wall last week when I tried to get Exodus into a few of these lists and didn’t have enough reviews. It really turned my stomach having to basically beg for reviews. My brand of blogger ego comes in the form of self reliance, but in the end I needed your help. I asked my community for help, and you delivered. For that I am grateful. It’s moments like this request over the weekend that I learn real humility, and an appreciation for others.

I used to poo-poo authors who asked for reviews. If there is anything I have learned over the past three years with the Fifth Estate, Marketing in the Round, and now Exodus, it is how necessary reviews are. Books must be discussed publicly and frequently, good or bad, if they are to succeed.

I have been rejected by two of the four blog/email sevices already, one based on the number of reviews, the other on subject matter, but at least I am in the game. And if I breakthrough and have a big social email? I might make a few hundred bucks.

More importantly, I will be read by more folks. For me, the book is my art. And that’s what I care about.

You Can Make Money as an Author

Now look, you can make a living as an author. Thousands already do so in the United States.

By the way, more than ten thousand people make a living as pro sports athletes in the United States. That includes the minor leagues, and some minor league players only earn $1100 a month.

To succeed, you have to build a repertoire of books, more often than not a series, which creates a back catalogue. Each new work helps sell the older works. Movie rights and big breakthrough moments create a macro effect on an author’s entire catalogue. Prolific successful authors make money.

The rest of us, well, it’s what we do. Until (or if) our time comes.

We live to be read, make a few extra bucks, and most importantly to have our art read and seen by the world. The currency to get there is word of mouth conversation and reviews.

For those of you who have helped me this past week, thank you. I am so grateful, you have no idea. It’s what this business is all about, and to have so many folks who have read Exodus come out of the woodwork and drop a review, well, it overwhelmed me. Thank you!

What do you think about the fiction ecosystem?

Featured image by sbluerock


  • This is very interesting stuff. Being a HUGE Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader in my life I find it interesting I never heard of Phillip Dick even though I know of all those movies based on his work (he sadly died before he could cash in on all that).

    I think the real problem is the 80’s did have a time when novelists were making bank. But the internet changed that. Pre-internet if I wanted to read anything I had to buy a book, magazine or newspaper. And the news was limited to 1-3 offerings depending on the city.

    I read so few books now. I used to finish 10-20 a year now it is 1-3. Yet I read just as much as I always have. Most of that time spent reading various news and interests online (politics, sports, science, blogs, etc).

    And the problem is just like with media in general we were never forced to consume ads in support of media. It was optional. If we had to pay straight up screw the ads all these years I wonder if it would be different? Then maybe the $7.99 for a paperback book might have a better value option than reading so much free stuff that I do?

    • Funny, I have never read Dick either, even though his impact on the sector is huge. I have to agree with you on the Internet’s affect on the publishing business, and many other forms of content. It has changed everything, neither for the good or the bad, but in direct contrast with how we grew up.

  • People want social proof that you are likable.

    I think it helps demonstrate how important it is to build a fan base and make that part of a strategy to sell books.

    If they see other people participating (reviews, communities, meetups, conversations, etc.), then they are more likely to participate. The challenge has always been to get that initial following.

    • I agree, there is definitely a bit of a herd effect when it comes to social validation. Other likes make a book safer to buy.

  • As far as authors being underpaid compared to publishers, I am hoping that Google Authorship will help with that. Although not directly related to selling books, it does make the author more visible online, which could help the author make a name for himself, which could help sell books.

  • I love the fiction ecosystem. I’ve only been swimming around in this pond (or is it an ocean?) for a few years, but it has the feeling of a meritocracy where effort is rewarded.

    You are right about reviews being important in landing ads, but when one starts to get the ads, then something wonderful happens. Readers who subscribe to Bookbub, ENT, BooksOnTheKnob, TheEreaderCafe, FKBooksAndTips, are avid readers and also in the habit of writing reviews.

    The point is that though the initial reviews might be a challenge, the subsequent reviews take zero effort. I’ve picked up 27 reviews for HWDA in the last eight days. It took me two years to get the first 24 (admittedly, I didn’t know the importance in 2011)

    Just this week I’ve come to realize that review are not ONLY good for helping get people to buy one’s books, or getting advertisers to accept one’s ad, they are a source of data.

    Yesterday, I reread all 94 of my reviews on HWDA and I’m seeing a pattern of what people like about my writing. This will help me with future novels as I understand the make up of my readership.

    We live in the best age to be a writer. It may not be easy, but everyone is allowed in the game.

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