Saturday, 5 July 2014

Hugh Howey or BUST!

Alternative Title: How To Be A Full-Time Author Without EVER Penning A SINGLE Bestseller!

From an email a few weeks ago:

WRITER: Hi, could you show me someone on Amazon who is self-published and having success writing serials or series in the detective/mystery genre.

ME: Sure. Here. (attached a link to an author on Amazon)

WRITER: No, I mean someone who is successful. Making money. Her books are mostly ranked in the 20,000s. She has one at 11,000 and one at 15,000 but the rest aren't selling all that well.

ME: She has 11 books in that series, all priced at $2.99-$3.99 and they are all selling copies every day. She also has a second series of 4 books that are selling every day. The highest ranked is at 11,925.

WRITER: Yeah, but she hasn't even got anything in the top 10,000. MY book is in the 20,000s same as hers and I'm not making much money.

ME: She has 15 titles.

WRITER: Is there anyone else? Someone who is successful?


A more recent email:

WRITER #2: Hey, TW, since you won't reveal your pen names can you point me to a successful sci fi series. (self-pubbed) But not an outlier.

ME: Yeah. Here you go. (link to sci fi series on Amazon)

WRITER #2: No, his books aren't what I meant. I mean somebody making money.

ME: He is making money. Six books in the first series and the most recent was published in April but is still at 17,000 way after the "30 day cliff", showing he has a fan base. All the books are priced at $3.99 and the first in his new series is ranked at 11,000.

WRITER #2: I meant someone who has books in the top 2 or 3 hundred ranks.

ME: You said, "Not an outlier."

WRITER #2: Not an outlier but someone successful.

ME: <expletive deleted>


Here is something to think about:


Hugh Howey has said that the real story of indie publishing is the amount of authors quietly making enough money to pay their bills.

There are many, many full-time authors out there making a good living from self-publishing yet their books have never graced the Amazon top 100, and maybe not even the top 1,000. They are known to their fans but are not household names and they MAKE A LIVING as FULL-TIME authors. Isn't that great?

If you go and take a look at one of their books and dismiss it because it is ranked at #35,000, you aren't seeing the full picture. Where are the author's other books ranked? What about books you might not know about written under pen names? How many titles do they have out? How much royalty are they making? How much does this all add up to?

If you get enough titles out, you can make good money even if no single title ever becomes a bestseller.

Think about that for a minute.

If you write enough good stories, you WILL make money. That wouldn't necessarily have happened in the old world of publishing.

So next time you think an author is not a success because their books aren't all at super-high ranks, take a moment to consider how many titles the author has to and how long all those books have been selling. Do some mental math. Maybe that's something for you to aspire to.

…which brings me on to my next topic, which I call the "Hugh Howey Or BUST!" syndrome.

I'm seeing writers on message boards bemoaning their lack of sales and saying things like, "I thought there was money in self-publishing." or "My <insert genre here> books don't sell, therefore the <insert genre> is dead." or "I've been doing this for a year now with not much to show for it."

This ties back to the topic above and the writers quietly making a living at self-publishing. Those "quiet" authors might be inspirational for people moaning about their sales but the moaners are focused on the authors the media mentions whenever a story about self-publishing crops up …the BIG names. Outliers like Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath and Bella Andre.

In the "failed" author's mind, if he/she doesn't become a success as big as Hugh then what's the point?

Isn't the point that you want to write? You DO want to write, correct?

Because if you don't, there are much easier ways to earn a living!

In the old days, before self-publishing, you wouldn't have been able to make ANY sales without first querying agents and publishers, signing contracts that gave you very little royalty and waiting years for your book to come out. If you make even 1 sale of your self-published book, you are doing better than you probably would have with all those gatekeepers.

And in the old days before self-publishing, there was a quality every writer needed: PERSISTENCE

Manuscripts would go out to publishers only to be returned with form rejection letters. The author would simply send it out again to another publishing house. And again. And again. They knew they were going to have to work hard if they wanted to make a living doing something they loved. And while the book was out doing the rounds, they were working on the next one.

Do you have the same persistence as those pre-kindle writers or are you spoiled by the ease of self-publishing? Just because it's easy to put a book online doesn't mean it's easy to make a career out of it.

Not too long ago, before the advent of self-publishing, you would have had drawers full of manuscripts that would NEVER sell yet you would keep writing and keep improving your craft. These days, you can out your work up online and hope it sells but you still need to keep working and improving. Who told you this was easy?


This may be a new world of publishing where you can publish yourself but I put this idea forward to think about.

To make it as an author in today's world, you must possess the same strengths as authors in the old world possessed.

Meaning: Don't do something that would have killed your career in the old model of publishing because it will probably kill it in the new model too.

You need that tenacity and stubbornness to keep going in the face of adversity. In the old days it was rejection, now it's lack of sales. Like the writers who shrugged it off and sent out the manuscript again, do the same and write another book.


Do you moan about your lack of sales? Think it's the genre and not your writing/covers/blurbs that is at fault? Want to do anything (marketing/promotion) other than write more books? Here are some solutions to specific problems…

PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for a year and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 2 years.

PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for 2 years and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 3 years.

…If you really want to be a writer, you will keep at it for however many years it takes. Look up your favorite writer and see how many rejections they had to endure before they "made it".

PROBLEM: "My <genre> books aren't selling. The genre must be dead.
SOLUTION: If you decide that a genre is dead, then it is dead to you. And you are dead to it. You could be making a big mistake turning your back on a genre you love. Opportunities are everywhere. Be a happy writer.

PROBLEM: My first book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your second book.

PROBLEM: My second book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your third book.

…if you REALLY want to be a writer you will KEEP GOING.

PROBLEM: There's an author who doesn't write anywhere near as well as I do but they make way more sales than me. It's disheartening. What's the point?

SOLUTION: You should only ever focus on YOUR OWN career, not anybody else's. You will be MUCH happier.

PROBLEM: Writing is a lot of hard work.
SOLUTION: Who ever said it was going to be easy? If you want to write, you won't mind doing the work.

PROBLEM: Writing is too much hard work.
SOLUTION: Get another job, An easier one. And forget all about that nasty writing.


Don't spend your time focusing on the outliers. Concentrate on your own career and make it the best you can. Aim high but don't try to follow in someone else's footsteps (it's rarely possible to do successfully). Instead, be a trail blazer. If you want to write pearl diver romances (and let's face it, who doesn't?) then do it.

But be honest with yourself and be prepared to work.


  1. Hmm, I get to be the first person to comment just on the random happenstance that I was reading your blog when you posted.
    Also I have realized that I will never be a bestseller and am not concentrating on writing as many novellas (Preferably in series/serials) as I can in the hope that in a couple of years time I can make a living as a full time writer.

  2. That's cool, Lance. Happy writing! :)

  3. searching for the perfect genre is end up doing nothing but searching for the perfect genre....

    1. Write what you like to read. That's always a good start.

  4. I totally agree, Sherman! The perfect genre is different for each writer. It's usually the genre they read and loved all their life. There may be more than one.

    There's nothing wrong (IMO) with writing in a genre that sells well as long as you make your stories interesting to you and the reader. That means not writing stories you hate to write. What's the point of that?

    Writing to market is one thing…selling your soul is another thing altogether.

  5. I see this as a mighty force of slow growth, like an oak tree. I'm looking to be an anonymous, mid-list author with a small but dedicated following. According to everyone who has some credibility, I can write. Therefore, I will sell, once I'm visible from space (like I'm on a small, orange lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean).

    The key is to get more titles up there. I have seven short novellas + two three-story bundles in my first series (Book 1 is perma-free, to get 'em hooked). I'll put up a dozen of this series, then pivot to a spinoff that's more Noir.

    Who knows? I might start a Cozy series, based on a character I knew in life (like all my characters are).

    1. Sounds like you have realistic expectations, abstonebridge,,,and the determination to put them into practice. Good luck!

  6. Lol! This is amazing! Hugh Howie himself had...what? 12 books out before he wrote Wool? Something like that. Anyway he was publsihing his stuff for years before Wool took off and it was completely unexpected. Its his story that keep me going.

    Writing is hard work. If I had known how hard, Maybe I wouldn't have started. But after so much water under the bridge, there's no going back, Besides, these stories won't leave me alone. This is what I was born to do and I will have to let nature take its course and trust my instincts. Overnight success never has been overnight.

    I have no idea what kind of author I will become. I know that NOW I write because I have to. Emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. And my fan base is growing. I can see it. I started in 2012.
    Thanks for this!

    Alyne de Winter

  7. As, well, a publisher I guess, I totally agree. I started with non fiction, I have 45 titles and about 70% are ranked sub 50k in .com.

    I currently make around $1500 per month. None are best sellers.

    I am beginning to write fiction - first erotica book released a month ago, get around 30 sales per day @ $2.99 on the 70% level. Writing the sequel as we speak. Quite frankly my book is a bit crap, my writing is crap and it is only 7 pages long...yet makes me $50 every single day.
    I know people who make the same every day working 8 hour shifts at fast food stores, yet 6 hours of work created me $50 a day on top of my 45 non fiction books that I outsourced.

    In 10 years time provided Amazon is still going and I keep up with technology, I will still be making $50 per day off that single erotica book!

    People who whine and say it doesn't work are simply not doing it properly.

  8. For everyone out there who thinks: "This book is terribly written! I'm a much better writer than this!"

    Well, prove it, then! Get writing!

  9. Great post. I totally agree. The first year I was one of those, "Why can't I earn 100k a year with my ten stories?" But I kept on writing and writing and more writing. Plus after 20 years plus of writing without selling to NY publishers, I had a lot of work available to publish.

    After 3 years I have published over 250 short stories, novellas, and novels, in multiple genres. I earn more per month/year than I've ever earned in my life. None of my titles were bestsellers. If a title earns $10/20 a month, I'm happy. On average, mine earn slightly more.

    Next week I'm going full time as a writer. I expect to double my productivity, and live the dream. For 20 years I wrote every day for free. Now I make a living do it. My dream has come true.

  10. I only have a story or two out in multiple series…which means I'm selling predictably little in all of them. I EXPECTED this. My two novel series are even designed so the reader doesn't get the major "OH! THAT'S what's going on!" until book 3 or 4. Which means I have to write and release through book 4 before I can reasonably expect many sales.

    One of those series is getting drafted on Wattpad. Book 3 is all up, and I'm revising that for release now. Book 4 is in progress, nearing the end—and it was when I started posting books 3 & 4 that the series really got some major readers on Wattpad. It isn't unreasonable to believe that'll hold true off the site, too.

    I'm looking forward to finding out. :)

  11. This is so true! I started my career before SP and it took me four years of very hard work to break in. I've had a pretty decent traditional career and am now a happy hybrid. But I have to say, you start all over again when you enter the portals of Self Publishing. You are so right. The same strengths that got us published back in the day of multiple gate-keepers are the strengths that keep us going now. There will always be authors who are more successful. So what? That is their business. My business is my career. And I think this brave new world is awfully exciting. I so want to write a pearl diver romance, with kitten minions. Just for you.

  12. That post is full of great advice. This isn't your father's publishing environment. While that big hit would be nice, I know of authors that hit it big, made six figures, signed deals and then sales tapered off they couldn't repeat. You don't build a home by chiseling it from a house sized boulder, you build it brick by brick from nothing. It might not look like much but you keep working at it and soon you have a home.

    I'd be willing to bet, most of the money in self-publishing isn't being made by the Hugh Howie's and the H. M. Wards, it's made my an army of midlisters, paying bills, buying new cars, maybe even making a real living. Persistence and being prolific is the key, not massaging the one novel into the masterpiece you hope will put you on top of the lists (many masterpieces languish at the bottom of those lists). Write, publish, rinse, repeat. A good story is all you need, not perfection. One book might make you $50 a month, ten could make you $1000, fifty could replace your day job income.

  13. This is a great post - I know a lot of authors who aren't happy with their first or second books... it's only after you've gotten out the big "labor of loves", the first few, that you begin to focus on writing books that have a market, making something that will sell, designing it well like a product. And it gets easier... I know many authors that start cranking out a book or two a month, just because they can (and not crap, as you become a more confident writer you can write quality quickly, especially if you're writing serials or short guides). I'm not planning to make real money until I have at least the first 10 books up.

  14. Followed from @bannercopress and I'm glad they shared your post! It's been very motivational. Now about those links the previous people thought insignificant, if you happen to have those handy...

  15. I'm learning that I don't particularly like genre's/labeling. I've often read books and written in a certain type of genre, but by so doing, I don't read any other writing out there--and there is great writing out there. I am missing out on great stories, writing and adventures, and it has crippled me in the past. But I now have a writing friend who is so encouraging to me and inspires me, that I now write what comes out, and usually I don't write the story; my characters usually do. So this year I have challenged myself to start reading whatever tickles my fancy. I've even bought a steam-punk novel! I'm not really in it to make big bucks, writing is in my DNA and if I didn't write, I would probably go mad or die (or both) because my soul requires it of me. And I enjoy it, even the hard days. If even one person is inspired by something I write, then I feel I've surpassed even my own greatest expectations--and I have pretty high standards for myself.

  16. What a wonderful, inspiring post! I hears these same comments all the time and smile when people ask me about my career and if I'm making money.

    I tell them I'm in it for the long haul and will keep writing no matter what. The money is nice, but it shouldn't be why we write.

    I love what you said about writers making a living without being best selling authors.
    There's nothing wrong with the goal of becoming a best selling author, but it's not so great if it's stealing your joy of writing.

    I am trying to establish myself in one genre at the moment, but I have story ideas that cross different genres and plan to write them. I love that self-publishing allows authors to do that. Readers enjoy different genres, so why shouldn't we write them?

  17. Excellent points. Thank you.

  18. I'm going to read this post every time I don't feel like writing.

  19. This is amazing! I laughed so hard at that first bit. Great words of wisdom every author should read

  20. Remember it is a marathon not a sprint and enjoy the journey. That's the only way to view the path of a writer.

  21. This post comes at a very important time for me. Much thanks!

  22. Can I say yes to this a thousand times? Let's just pretend I did and skip all the copying and pasting. Not that I'm averse to the work or not persistent enough to do it. But I'll save you the comment space. Well done! Great message! I hope it sinks in with the moaners.

  23. I just published my first book in a series. I planned to write for over ten years, since high school. My first career imploded and I work a third shift job I absolutely hate.

    That being said, I do have more time to write while my family is asleep on the weekends. I'm proud of my first book & will keep going. I have pretty crappy sales, I'm trying to figure out the best way to promote with few resources. I have a few fans already asking me when the second book is coming, which is nice.

    This article is great. It is hard trying and failing, but I'll keep plugging away. I love writing this series and I believe in it. Thanks for the advice.

  24. Thanks for all the comments, guys. I appreciate it. :)

  25. Love this - it's essentially my business plan in a nutshell :)