Saturday, January 27, 2018

Is it possible to make a living writing fiction?

Signing The Corruptions earlier this year at Mysterious Bookshop in NYC
Probably not if you set out to write literary fiction (I recall one of my assigned reads back in MFA writing school was The Lime Twig by John Hawkes. I nearly barfed it was so boring). Literary authors, in my mind at least, view a commercially successful book as a failure, which is why so many literary writers must teach to make a living. It's different for a genre author. We write books for the masses and gladly take their casheshe for our efforts and in the end, much of our work stands up to the test of fine literature anyway. But I'm getting ahead of my skis here.

The Experiment

This past year (2017), was more or less an experiment precipitated by my having been suddenly fired from the one steady trade journalism gig I had going. It brought in a nice baseline income so that I didn't have to worry so much about royalties and/or advances. Plus I loved the gig. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely needed the book royalties if I was going to survive financially. It's just that because I enjoyed a writing/editing income separate from the fiction, I didn't wake up suddenly in the middle of the night wondering what I could be doing to sell more books.

So, last year, when that ten year gig suddenly vanished due to a cooperate buyout, I found myself with a choice. I could either look for more journalism-freelance writing gigs, or I could concentrate entirely on my fiction efforts and hope that I brought in enough money to at least keep the cable TV on.

Work, work, work

It turned out to be the most productive year in my twenty year professional writing career. I wrote six 60K+ word novels, a couple novellas, and several short stories. In fact, I wrote and published so much stuff that if I write not a single word this year, I am all set for publishing (both indie and traditional) well  into 2019 and perhaps 2020. How did I do it? Simple. I dragged my ass out of bed every Monday morning and set it in the writing chair just like any other working stiff. I wrote whether I wanted to or not (In all candor, I pretended to be an employee of say FOX, and they were expecting me to put out at least one novella per month, or no pay check. The ruse worked!).
Exploring Central American ruins and fictional inspiration this past June

Dollars and cents

Ok, so in terms of dollars and cents, what does all this mean? I'm not going to be entirely transparent here but according to the tax documents I've received thus far, I made a solid mid-five-figures. In terms of more recent years, it wasn't all that great, but this is the nature of the business. Some years you're hitting home runs and scoring major deals and you're pulling in a comfortable six figures whether you like it or not. Other years are down years. Production years I call them. Years when you're working your tail off and not a whole lot is coming in, but the important thing is you're making a living.

 A smart move

For once in my life I made a smart move: Every advance I received (and I took in quite a few of them) over the past five years from agented deals, I invested in mutual funds, which means those monies are working for me on a monthly basis. Another smart thing I did was to invest a big portion of my royalties into my indie books. When you invest in creating a new book, it's almost as if you're buying real estate. Eventually the return on investment will be enough to pay back what you spent and earn you a nice 10-20% per year of passive income from that point on. The key, is to write more quality books that will stand the test of time.

Steady growth 

2017 proved to be an interesting experiment. There were no big advances (I did receive a small four-figure advance from an independent press), no big Book Bubs (I had two Europe only BBs), and no one single title entered into the Amazon Top 100 (that I can recall anyway). Like I've intuited in previous posts, it was a year of steady growth, steady writing, steady sales. And in the end, I earned enough to make a living. I'm actually quite shocked, to be honest. If this were the old days and hybrid authorship were an impossible dream, I would have found myself begging for a job ("Welcome to McDonald's, can I take your order?").

Instead, I'm able to do something most writers only dream about. I can get up every morning, sit myself down at my laptop in my PJs, and write my particular brand of noir and hard-boiled fiction. Hopefully my books are more interesting than the Lime Twig (No offense, Mr. Hawkes). And hopefully they keep on selling so I can continue to work at the only job there is for me.



  1. Thanks for sharing. You're definitely my inspiration :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this is really encouraging. I like the the part where you push your self out of bed and progress ahead with your writing no matter if you are bored or not. Cheers!

  3. Thanks Andrew. Yes, if you treat it like a regular job it becomes pretty easy! And what a great job it is...

  4. Great post Vin. I always love when writers post the reality of the writing life. Inspiring especially for a writer like myself with 30 books in print, eBook, audiobook etc...I am taking your advice and submitting my new thriller, Fan Favorite, to Down & Out Books. Thanks again!