For many people one of the top things on their ‘To Do’ list when they retire is write a book. But is it a good idea or not – and will you make any money out of it?
I feel decently qualified to talk about this, as during my career as a freelance writer I have written over 100 books, mostly non-fiction. The first book I ever wrote was a guide for singletons looking for love. The most recent, earlier this year, was a guide to making money from forex trading (ghost-written for a client).
The first thing I would say is that you shouldn’t approach book writing with any expectation that you will make a ton of money from it. For most of the books I have written, my earnings have been modest set against the time and effort I put into them. In purely financial terms, article writing and copywriting have been a lot more lucrative.
On the other hand, even a modestly successful book can go on paying an income year after year, both in the form of royalties on sales and extras such as PLR (fees from library lending).
Writing a book also has attractions other than the purely financial. For example, if you want it to be, a book can be your passport to public speaking engagements, conference bookings and consultancy opportunities. It may lead to paying commissions from book, magazine and newspaper publishers. You may also be asked to appear on local – or even national – TV and radio, talking about your book and (in the case of non-fiction) your area of expertise.
Don’t under-estimate, either, the personal satisfaction of writing a book. Many people find that the process of planning and writing a book is engrossing and fulfilling. The sense of achievement at holding your own book in your hands is hard to beat. And completing a book can give your confidence and morale a big boost as well.
Of course, it must also be said that writing a book isn’t something you can do in a day or even (with a few notable exceptions) a week. It is a substantial project and will require self-discipline and determination. You will need to be well organized and focused. And while you definitely don’t need to be Shakespeare to write a book, at least a basic grasp of spelling, grammar and punctuation is essential.
Fiction or Nonfiction?
Fiction can be fun to write, and the potential returns if you write a best-seller are clearly huge. On the other hand, you do have to be realistic about how likely this is to happen. There is a massive amount of competition, and a new novelist has to be exceptionally talented (and/or lucky) to get a publishing deal.
Non-fiction (factual) books are probably a little easier to get published, and have the advantage that you may be able to get a contract just by submitting an outline and proposal to a publisher (highly unlikely with a novel). You will need to demonstrate that you have relevant experience and/or expertise in the field in question, though.
Unless you are already a well-known celebrity with a high public profile, the bad news is that it is very unlikely that you will be able to sell a book purely based on your life story.
Book or Ebook?
While print books are still very popular, recent years have seen a big rise in e-books. These are read on e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle or tablets or smartphones.
It is actually quite straightforward to publish an e-book for the Amazon Kindle, and some authors have made a lot of money doing just that. There is even a small but growing number of Kindle millionaires. I will talk about writing Kindle e-books in more detail in another post.
Publish or Self-Publish?
Other things being equal, it’s still probably best to aim initially for a contract with a traditional publisher. If they like your book, they will then take on all the ancillary tasks such as editing and proofreading and getting the finished book printed. They will also have a publicity department whose job it is to promote the book, e.g. by arranging reviews and media appearances.
So far as payment is concerned, the usual arrangement is that the publisher pays the author royalties – typically around 10 percent of sales, paid annually or biannually. You may also receive an advance against royalties, though advances generally have been decreasing for some years. Nowadays a typical advance for a new, non-celebrity author is £1000 to £2000.
Self-publishing used to be called vanity publishing, but nowadays that derogatory term is less often used. Essentially self-publishers take responsibility for the entire publishing process themselves, from writing through proofreading and editing to printing and promotion. While there can be attractions to this, self-published books are generally not taken seriously within the publishing industry. It can be a lot of work for scant reward, and I don’t recommend going down this route unless you have exhausted all other possibilities (and probably not even then).
Self-publishing an e-book is another matter, though. As mentioned above, it is quite straightforward to do this using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. If you self publish a Kindle e-book, you will be paid a royalty by Amazon for each one sold via the store. This can be as much as 70 percent of the sales price, which is a lot more generous than the royalty rate paid by print publishers.
In some cases, also, self-published e-books have been picked up by publishing houses for release in book form. The 50 Shades of Grey books by E.L. James are one high-profile example.
Self publishing an e-book is therefore definitely worth considering if for whatever reason you don’t want to go with a traditional print publisher for your book, or you have no success finding one.
In this introductory post I have only been able to scratch the surface of writing and publishing a book, but if this is something you have thought about, I hope it will have given you some food for thought.
I should like to conclude with a few useful resources…
For general advice on writing-related matters, you might like to check out my other blog, Entrepreneur Writer, where I share tips, advice and information aimed at writers and aspiring writers.
For advice and feedback from fellow writers, I highly recommend joining the (free) forum at www.mywriterscircle.com. I helped set up MWC some years ago. Although I am no longer involved with its day-to-day-running, I still visit regularly. It’s a friendly online community with a dedicated team of volunteer moderators, all of whom are keen writers themselves.
If you’re looking for a practical guide to book writing, you might like to consider investing in my top-selling CD-based course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. Although primarily about writing non-fiction books, it also has a section devoted to fiction writing.
And for advice on writing Kindle e-books, my top recommendation is Kindling, a sort of one-stop shop for aspiring Kindle authors, produced and maintained by New Zealander Geoff Shaw. You can click here to read an in-depth review I did of Kindling on my EW blog.
Finally, to find publishers (and agents) who might be interested in your book (and much else besides), I highly recommend The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook or Writers’ Handbook. These are published annually, and in my view there is nothing really to choose between them.
I will return to the subject of writing books (and other writing projects) in future posts on this blog. But of course, if you have any comments or questions about book writing, please do post them below.