The night was dark and stormy, and you dreamed of what it might be like to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. What if you could stop dreaming of making your passion for writing a fruitful reality, and get paid to write fiction?
Is it really easy to write and publish fiction?
Before the advent of digital and self-publishing, publishing a book seemed about as likely as winning the lottery. Today, would-be authors have many tools and options available to help them succeed in reaching their desired audience with their work.
With a greater than ever market in which to publish fiction, what stops so many writers from publishing, and what sets the published authors apart?
To be a writer of fiction, you simply need to have a story to tell, and to believe in that story – and then another, and then another. And believe in yourself! You are a storyteller, and you have a voice and perspective worth sharing.
You don’t have to be the best technical writer to be a successful storyteller, although that is a skill that can be improved with time and effort.
Truly, diligent effort is the other part of this equation. It takes an effort to commit your words to the page, day after day until your story begins to take shape. It takes effort to edit, publish, and market, or even to hire experts to help with these things.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2016 Median Pay for writers and authors was $61,240 annually or $29.44 per hour. So, the diligent effort required doesn’t have a bad payoff. That’s certainly incentive to consider your dream of publishing as a practical goal. In fact, today, thousands of people are making their living writing fiction, and you could be one of them.
For many people, the independence and control of being a self-published author hold a strong draw. For the diligent worker, it is often a more certain path than the tedious process of submitting your work to agents and hoping that you can stand out against thousands of others, especially as a new, unknown writer.
In fact, self-publishing can sometimes lead to a publishing deal with a major name, if you drum up enough popularity on your own.
There are lots of articles on how to get recognized by agents if that is where you want to start. For this piece, we will focus on self-publishing and freelance writing.
Freelance & Ghostwriting
One of the easier ways to start making money now is to hire yourself out as a freelance fiction writer. And perhaps you can even take a double-pronged approach, using your freelance career to bankroll your livelihood while you attend to personal projects – this isn’t necessarily a one or the other situation.
Sites like Guru, Upwork, or Fiverr are great places to start looking for jobs for creative fiction writers. More often than not, these gigs will be for ghostwriting, but occasionally you may also find anthologies or magazines seeking original work, and that type of posting.
In the freelance market, the more genres you are willing and able to write for, the more opportunities you will have. It’s good to be prepared to adapt your writing style to the conventions of those genres.
Adaptability will also be a great trait for this market. If you are ghostwriting, the story will ultimately belong to the person to whom you are selling it, and they will edit it to fit their vision.
You may have to let go of ideas you loved or complete rewrites because your goal is ultimately to write their story. (And on the other hand, you may sometimes receive very little direction and have to invent your own outlines and plots, none of which you’ll receive credit for when the story is published.)
This isn’t meant to dissuade you, though, only to prepare you for the ego-stripped reality of ghostwriting. It is actually a terrific way make money without taking much personal risk.
You can practice honing your skill and adapt to different genres, and perhaps even learn a bit about the business side of writing, in the process. And as we mentioned before, it is a nice way to support yourself while working on your own project.
One thing about ghostwriting and freelance is that unlike self-publishing, where you can hire an editor to clean up your manuscript, your appeal as a project bidder may depend more on your ability to write well. You may be asked to provide samples of your work.
So if you intend to go this route, be sure to have your writing skills in tip-top shape, and this will help you to narrow the field between you and any competition.
The first step of self-publishing is to have a story, whether written in short-story or novel length. The most successful independent authors have also established a strong online presence via social media, online communities, and blogs, and that should probably begin as early in your endeavor as possible, but you must also have a product when marketing your brand, and that product is your story.
There are many different theories on the best practices in writing, and what I would suggest is learning about them and following one that seems best to you – even if it’s bits of theories cobbled together.
Write in the mornings if that is your jam, go to the café if you are too distracted by housework at home. There is no right way to approach your writing sessions, as long as you make them consistent and they work for you. Don't forget, there are plenty of different genres that you can write in. Horror, sci-fi, and fiction are all popular options. There are less common angles too, like fan fiction, personal stories and even dirty stories.
Once you have your product, your story, you will want to run through it at least twice to make edits, considering the plot, the flow, and grammar and style (don’t consider grammar until your final edit).
Then you can show it to trusted individuals, a beta reader group, who can give you feedback and let you know what they thought of the story. You can go through this process more than once if you feel you need to do so.
Once you have your final version, you may wish either to trade editing with a fellow indie author or hire an editor to do a final review of your work.
It was mentioned before that going this route can be more suitable for someone who may not have the time or inclination to polish the piece grammatically – and while this is true, keep in mind that the more of an editor’s time you take, the more you need to be prepared to pay them for their effort.
Once you have your final, polished copy of your work, you have a few options.
You can hire a company that handles self-published works like Mill City Press or Girl Friday Productions, but expect to pay a fair amount of money upfront. There are also a few options in between, like hybrid companies and agents who assist with self-publishing. These options will all require reimbursement for their expertise and service.
You can take a completely do-it-yourself approach and talk to vendors directly and hire freelance workers yourself, which can be more affordable and yield greater income later on since you won’t owe anyone royalties, but this process will be more time consuming.
If you are taking the DIY approach, you may want to make a project board using an app like Trello so you can track and work on smaller goals simultaneously.
For example, while you have your editor reviewing the final version of your book, you will want to start working on other components of publishing, like the cover art and design. Depending on your competency with these elements, you may wish to hire all or part of the cover design out, using sites like Guru or Upwork.
You will also want to start looking into and contacting ebook self-publishing servicers, distributors, and retailers, such as Kindle Direct Publishing or BookBaby.
Many of these do not charge you a fee to publish your work through them initially and take a percentage of your sales, instead. They typically will also have help pages to help you navigate their publishing system, making the process a little less daunting for a new writer.
If you choose to go the DIY route, there’s one more piece that will be integral to your success.
At some point during the process, not necessarily before you even finish your first draft, it will be a good idea to start a blog and some author pages. Establish an online presence on social media circles and in groups that are relevant to the genre in which you write.
Good social media strategy is a topic for a whole other article, but keep in mind that how you present yourself, your brand, matters, and a good reputation can be very helpful in building a following for your published stories.
Once you have a publishing date, gather your most trustworthy and enthusiastic friends and fans, and form a social media street team. Ask them to talk up your latest publications in their own circles, and to leave reviews on retail sites like Amazon (and especially any place you sell your book).
Remember, you don’t have to achieve the towering popularity of the prolific authors we mentioned at the beginning of the article to make a decent income from writing fiction. But then again, with enough grit, determination, and proper use of marketing strategies, you can definitely develop a solid following, and who knows what might come of that!
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