An Author’s Guide to the Business of Writing
Growing up at a time when the Harry Potter books were becoming popular and turning into movies, it wasn’t unreasonable to think an author could make bank. I mean, I was seeing it right before my eyes and loved reading and writing, so I was determined to grow up and be a wealthy author.
Unfortunately, not all authors turn into billionaires. In fact, achieving that level of success is more luck than anything else.
Fortunately, all authors have the opportunity to make a good chunk of money from their writing. The trick? You need to treat it like a business.
And luckily, that’s what we’re talking about in this article.
In this guide to approaching your writing as a business, we’re going to look at:
- The shift from hobby to profession
- What writing income looks like
- Building your writing career
- Marketing your writing
- Sustaining your author career
We’re going to dive into some heavy, intricate topics in this article. While you might be used to DabbleU content focusing on the intricacies of characters, plot structure, themes, tropes, etc., this guide will be discussing income, side hustles, marketing, entrepreneurship, and more.
But with all that said, there has never been a better time for an author to turn their passion into a profitable career. If you’re willing to try something new and put some effort into unfamiliar territory, you have the opportunity to find success.
Let’s figure out how to do that.
Understanding the Business of Writing
One of the biggest challenges all authors face is understanding the difference between what they think writing should be and what writing as a business really is. And I get it; we all have a romanticized view of a bestselling author in an Italian villa penning their next world-changing novel.
Maybe that could have been the case a century ago, when there were like 15 authors worldwide (that’s an intentionally underexaggerated number, by the way). Nowadays, there are four million books published annually.
I don’t say that to discourage you—and that massive figure is almost 90% nonfiction. But I want to illustrate how different the author landscape is today than it was 10, 50, or 100 years ago.
That means our mindset has to change, too. Let’s change it up.
Writing as a Business
First things first, we need to start thinking about writing as a business before we can master the business of writing. Even typing that seems straightforward and obvious, but this is one of the hardest steps in this entire guide.
When someone embarks on their writing journey, they start from one of three places:
- Writing as a hobby; they just really like storytelling and want to pursue this art.
- Writing the book; there’s this one story in their mind that needs to get out, but they don’t necessarily want to write more than that.
- Writing as a profession; they are approaching writing as a means of generating income.
Very few people start in either of those last two categories. Most people who start writing do it because they love stories and want to tell them.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re happy writing a story on your timeline and are thrilled that it’s out there with a couple dozen readers, that a-okay. Honestly, that is ideal for a lot of writers.
But if you want to turn your stories into a significant income stream or your primary source of income, then we need to shift away from that hobby mindset and approach our writing differently.
To be extra clearer, this doesn’t mean we’re sucking all the fun and creativity out of your writing. You need this journey to be fun and creative for long-term sustainability (which we’ll talk about later in this guide). But you need to balance it out with the professional approach of an entrepreneur.
Before we talk about all the things that requires, though, we need to discuss how you can actually make money as a writer.
Writing Income Streams
You’ll struggle to point to a successful individual or business who only sells a single item or service. Sure, they may focus on a particular area, but a contractor might do drywall, decks, kitchen renos, and more. McDonald’s sells more than just Big Macs. If Apple can monetize something, they will.
If we’re going to approach writing as a business, we need to think about more than just the income pulled in from a single book. We have an article all about this, but I want to take the time here to introduce you to a heck of a lot of options you have. I guarantee you haven’t thought of some of these.
- Book sales - The most obvious one, of course. This includes income from e-books, paperbacks, hardcovers, and audiobooks. You’ll earn royalties from all of these formats (if you have them) whether you’re self-published or traditionally published.
- Freelance writing - You’re a good writer, so translate those skills into a freelance income stream. Depending on your niche or skills, this can include blogs, articles, newsletters, emails, help articles, grants, whitepapers, newspaper articles, or other online pieces.
- Content creation - Whatever you’re excellent at, write about it on a platform like Substack, Medium, or Patreon. You can also translate your expertise into online courses, non-fiction e-books, or webinars. For those who have the chops for it, you can create YouTube videos or podcasts.
- Ghostwriting - There are people who want a book but don’t have the skills or time to write it. You can do it for them, usually for a flat fee or royalty split, in both nonfiction and fiction genres.
- Editing and consulting - If you’re a stickler for rules or knowledgeable about story structure, character development, and everything else writing, you can pursue editing or author coaching.
- Speaking engagements - Once your books are out there and you’ve proven you know what you’re doing, people will pay you to speak at events, to classes, at conferences, etc.
- Grants and fellowships - This is an underrated one. There are organizations out there who want to give you money, but not enough people know to apply for grants, fellowships, or residencies that can help support you while you’re writing your awesome books.
- Awards and competitions - Whether you’re submitting your published work or writing a new short story, competitions can provide a bump in income with prize money and awards can add social proof to your work and boost sales.
- Merchandising - If you’ve worked hard to cultivate a solid fan base, make some merch for them to buy! This could include bookmarks, t-shirts, posters, etc.
- Teaching - Once you’ve proven you know your craft (and have the sales to back it up), consider teaching it to others at a college or university.
- Crowdfunding - While this is far from a proven model, we’ve seen the success of crowdfunding novels from authors with rabid fans—most notably, Brandon Sanderson’s record-breaking Kickstarter.
- Contribute to anthologies - Work with other authors to create a collection of short stories, leveraging each other’s audiences and skills.
- Subscription services - Websites like Patreon aren’t just for nonfiction content. You can post short stories there for monthly or per-piece subscribers. Patreon members might be given exclusive access to other content, like behind the scenes notes or bonus stories. Other options like Kindle Vella exist for short stories, too.
Those aren’t the only options you have, but it’s a pretty good list to hopefully get your mind going. Are there any that draw your attention? Any that you could capitalize on with your skills?
And don’t get in a tizzy because only a few of them mean writing stories. Remember, we’re focusing on ways to take our writing and make a comfortable living off it. And, at the end of the day, you get to write and make a great income.
Does it get better than that?
Building Your Writing Career
We know the mindset we need to adopt to treat writing like a business. We know there are a bunch of different income streams we can use to buff our writing business.
But how do we actually turn authorship into a business? What do we need to do to separate ourselves from writing as a hobby? Is it just a matter of income?
As with all things in life, it’s not that easy. Rather, your income will likely depend on you putting in the work into a writing career.
To understand that, let me introduce you to a term…
What do you get when you combine being an author and an entrepreneur? Well, you probably guessed based on the heading of this section, but it’s authorpreneurship.
True to its name, being an authorpreneur means applying the thinking and practices of running your own business to your book writing career. Which sounds great, but it’s a little vague.
In addition to the fact that you need to be a skilled writer and produce books that are readable and entertaining, here are the other things an authorpreneur needs to consider:
What is it that you want to accomplish? Every good business has a solid business plan that outlines your goals, target audiences, and marketing strategies.
That’s not all, though. Authorpreneurs need to incorporate the financial side of their work, including pricing strategies, budgeting, and revenue projections.
Finally, you want to identify other income streams you will pursue other than book sales. Even within book sales, break down what formats you are selling, then regularly analyze to see what books and formats are performing best.
Read a few of my articles on DabbleU and you’ll soon find that I’m a big advocate for establishing a writing habit. Authorpreneurship takes that up a notch.
Not only do you need to set goals and maintain your own deadlines, but you also need to allocate specific times for writing, editing, marketing, and other business-related activities.
To make it easier, lean on some tools to help. Dabble can make goal setting for your novels a breeze, and project management tools like Trello or Monday can help with the rest.
This is where we’ll lose most self-titled creatives. Part of authorpreneurship means analyzing the market to identify demand, competition, and opportunities for your next books.
If you want to write a fae romance novel but the market is obsessed with werewolves right now, the smart business decision is to write the werewolf book, no matter what you really, really, really want to do.
You need to understand your target audience, what they want, and keep an eye out for upcoming trends to capitalize on them.
In this case, the brand is you. What makes you stand out to your readers?
Network with other authors, publishers, and industry professionals. And make sure you create a professional author website and establish a presence on one or two social media platforms that you’re willing to commit some effort to.
Most importantly, start building your email list.
Building off your brand, you’re going to want to foster a relationship with your fans. This means engaging with readers through social media, email, and other platforms.
It also means gathering and responding to feedback, reviews, and inquiries promptly and professionally.
When you’re writing as a hobby, it’s more justifiable to only break even on your book or even take a loss on it. After all, you’re doing it for fulfillment rather than income. That’s not the case for an authorpreneur.
Instead, you want to monitor your income and expenses to maintain profitability. If one genre isn’t selling as well as another, spend more time where the money is.
Look to see what the requirements are for operating a business as an author or, once you’re more established, an imprint/publisher. You’ll also want to set aside funds for taxes, reinvestments, and unexpected costs.
Finally, don’t add more stress on yourself; use accounting software or an accountant to help with your finances.
There’s a reason we preceded this section with all the different income streams you can access. Very, very few people who earn their wealth do so through a single stream of income.
Books have the benefit of providing ongoing returns with minimal effort compared to a “day job,” but you’ll need to diversify your portfolio to achieve true success.
This can mean exploring new genres, exploring ancillary products like merchandise, or investigating new opportunities to try and be first to market.
An author’s learning is never done. Truly, I don’t think you can find an author who doesn’t need to refine their craft, even a little.
This is especially true for an authorpreneur, who seeks to stay on or ahead of trends.
Make learning a continuous habit. Attend workshops, webinars, and conferences to improve your writing skills and understand market trends. Invest in tools that will make your writing and business all the more streamlined (if the finances make sense).
The most important but also least promoted element of business, self-care is crucial for authorpreneurs. Burnout is a real thing in all industries, but very few other professions need to balance business, creativity, and 80,000+ words written in a short amount of time.
It’s easy for authors to burn out, so pay attention to your body. Focus on mental and physical health. Think about ergonomics when setting up your workstation. Establish reasonable timelines that leave room to breathe, spend time with your family, and live.
And celebrate your successes! This is a job, but it shouldn’t be a soul-sucking one.
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
One thing we need to cover before we move too much further is the distinction between self-publishing and traditional publishing when building your writing career.
I’ll sing this statement until pigs fly: no one path is better than the other. It really depends on what you want to pursue.
When looking at it from an income perspective, those who pursue self-publishing and traditional publishing earn more, on average, than those who only pursue one of those paths. I want to quickly highlight the unique aspects of each, but you can also learn more about traditional publishing here and self-publishing here.
Traditional publishing is what most people think happens when you write a book. In this path, you still need to work on building an audience and writing the perfect book, but:
- You have an agent handle the finicky business side of things with the publisher
- Almost all expenses are covered for you, from editing to cover design to marketing
- You’ll have a much larger presence in brick and mortar stores
Getting your foot in the door of traditional publishing requires a good stroke of luck or a connection that can get you through the initial gatekeepers, but getting in with a publishing house can let you focus on writing.
When we think about authorpreneurship, self-publishing gives us the best opportunity to fill that roles. As a result, there are countless six-figure-earning self-published authors out there who removed luck from the equation.
You might like self-publishing if:
- You like the entrepreneurial side of publishing
- You’re willing to build an audience and nurture it
- You don’t want to wait two or more years from when your manuscript is finished to when people will read it
- You want to take advantage of the fastest-growing side of publishing
Most of this article is geared towards self-published authors, as the slow timeline of traditional publishing makes it difficult to capitalize on trends or publish multiple books per year.
On the other hand, traditional publishing gives you access to a lot of resources to promote your book and reach a wider audience.
Whichever you choose, applying a professional, business-oriented mindset is necessary for success.
Marketing Your Writing
Regardless of how you publish your book, you’re going to need to market your writing. Even if your publisher is pumping those dollars into marketing campaigns for you, they’re going to expect you to do some legwork.
And you should want to, too. What happens if the publisher goes under? What if your relationship ends? What if you want to go elsewhere?
Marketing isn’t just about sales. I mean, it’s directly tied to sales, don’t get me wrong. The more you market, the more you can sell. You need to find the balance between paying for marketing and profitability, though.
On top of that, marketing makes your work more visible and discoverable (praise be to the all-powerful algorithms), which advances your career and lets you write more.
Most importantly, effective marketing helps establish and build your brand while you engage with your audience.
Your brand is who you are to your readers. Without it, there’s nothing really distinguishing you from the rest of the authors out there. People might read your book, but you need to give them a reason to stick with you, especially if you don’t already have the next book ready for them to read.
And, even if you have 30 books, you’ll always have fans who are waiting on the next new book (and they’ll let you know about it).
Finally, engaging with your audience is the ultimate form of marketing. This is how you convince them to join your book fam, cement them as long-term readers, and even find invaluable feedback from them.
Now let’s figure out how you can do this mythical marketing thing.
How to Market Your Writing
There are countless ways you can go about marketing your work. Seriously, I can give you a list ten pages long and you’d still come up with something that I didn’t include.
For the sake of brevity and efficiency, though, here are the most prominent avenues you can use to market your book.
Author website and blog - A professional website acts as a central hub where readers can find information about you and your work. It’s something you own that isn’t subject to external algorithms.
Email newsletters - Newsletters are a direct line of communication with readers, keeping them informed about new releases, events, and other updates. Again, this is one of the few things you own and have complete control over.
Social media platforms - Platforms like Twitter/X, Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok are invaluable for reaching and interacting with a wider audience and building an online presence.
Book launches and events - Hosting or participating in events can provide exposure, allow direct interaction with readers, and generate buzz around your book.
Public relations - Securing media coverage, interviews, and features can provide substantial visibility and attract a wider audience.
Paid advertising - Using targeted ads on platforms like Facebook, Google, or Amazon can help in reaching potential readers effectively. Be mindful of your return on investment with any paid ads or services.
SEO (search engine optimization) - Optimizing online content for search engines can help improve visibility and attract organic traffic.
Participation in online forums and communities - Engaging with readers and other writers in relevant forums and communities can help build relationships and promote work subtly.
Guest posting and collaborations - Writing guest posts for similar blogs or collaborating with other authors can reach a new audience.
Content marketing - Creating and sharing valuable, relevant content can attract and engage a clearly defined audience and ultimately drive profitable customer action.
Podcasting and video content - Creating podcasts or video content can be an effective way to reach audiences who prefer audio-visual content.
Book awards and competitions - Participating in and winning book awards and competitions can enhance your credibility and create additional promotional opportunities.
Reader reviews - Encouraging satisfied readers to leave positive reviews on platforms like Amazon and Goodreads creates the best social proof for potential buyers.
Networking - Building relationships with other authors, publishers, and industry professionals can open up opportunities for collaboration and cross-promotion.
Sustaining a Writing Career
Finally, we need to think about our business long-term.
These days, you’re not going to write one book and retire early off its royalties in your castle-sized estate. I’m sorry, but that’s just not possible anymore.
So part of your writing business is thinking about the future and sustaining it—or, dare I say, improve it. Here are 10 ways you do that.
1. Stay Consistent
Regular writing - Write consistently, even when you don’t feel inspired, to maintain momentum and improve your skills.
Set and maintain goals - Set short-term and long-term career goals, and develop a roadmap to achieve them. Check in on your goals regularly and adjust as needed.
ABW (always be writing) - If you just finished revising your novel, start writing the next one. The most successful authors are always writing, always giving their audience something new.
Income streams - Diversify your income by exploring revenue streams like freelancing, teaching, consulting, and more.
Genres and formats - Experiment with different writing genres, mediums, and formats to expand your reach and appeal to a wider audience.
3. Build and Maintain Your Author Brand
Online presence - Maintain a strong online presence through a professional website, blog, and social media.
Networking - Continually network with other writers, publishers, and industry professionals to build relationships and open up opportunities for collaboration and cross-promotion.
Marketing efforts - Consistently market your work and your brand, maintaining visibility and engagement with your audience.
4. Engage with Your Audience
Community building - Foster a sense of community among your readers through social media, email newsletters, and other activities and communications.
Feedback loop - Regularly engage with your audience to gather feedback, understand their preferences and expectations, and refine your work accordingly.
5. Continue Learning and Developing Skills
Professional development - Invest in ongoing education and skill development through workshops, courses, conferences, and reading.
Market research - Stay informed about industry trends, emerging platforms, and market demands to adapt and stay relevant.
6. Manage Finances Wisely
Budgeting - Create and adhere to a realistic budget, factoring in irregular income, taxes, and expenses.
Savings and investments - Build a financial cushion through savings and investments to navigate lean periods and plan for retirement.
Regularly review - Finances are intricately linked to a successful business. Periodically review your expenses and income and be prepared to make changes.
7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Time management - Develop effective time-management strategies to balance writing with other responsibilities. Seriously, use a calendar.
Self-care - Prioritize physical and mental well-being through regular exercise, adequate rest, time spent with friends and family, and relaxation.
8. Seek Professional Advice
Legal counsel - Seek advice on contracts, intellectual property rights, and other legal matters affecting your writing career.
Financial advice - Consult financial advisors or accountants for personalized advice on taxes and financial planning.
9. Embrace Rejections
Persistence - Expect and accept rejections and bad reviews as a part of the writing journey and use them as learning opportunities to improve. Develop a thick skin and realize it isn’t personal.
10. Leverage Technology
Digital platforms - Leverage various online platforms to publish, promote, and monetize your writing effectively. Be prepared to innovate and capitalize on new technologies, but don’t get too distracted.
Productivity tools - Use writing and productivity tools to streamline your workflow and stay organized. Find those efficiencies wherever you can!
One of the best writing tools to help you write all those books you need is our very own Dabble. With powerful tools like the Plot Grid, co-authoring, goal setting, character profiles, Story Notes, and so much more, Dabble has everything you need to make your writing easier and more fun.
But, on top of that, there are quality of life features like automatic syncing, writing anywhere on any device, and automatic focus mode so you can hide all those tools and get your words written.
The best part? You can try all Dabble has to offer for 14 days, no credit card required, by clicking here. So go take the first step to starting your author career and write some words.
Book marketing. Those two innocuous words instill fear and loathing into the hearts of so many writers. You just want to write your books and have them sell themselves. Why do you have to tell people about it? Well, Susan, because you do. I know you want to write, but if your goal is to write, publish, and make money from your books, then you’re going to have to find a way to make them visible. Thousands of new titles are uploaded to Amazon every single day. Millions of books are being published every year, and no matter how good your story is, without marketing, there’s not much chance very many people will find it.
What kind of writer are you? Are you the sort who writes a meticulous outline that tips into the five digits or the type who sits down in front of a blank sheet of paper and lets the words pour out of you like a runaway train? Did you know there are specific terms for this kind of writing? Writers will come up with words for anything, I swear. Plotters are the first type of writer. They like to have detailed outlines that tell them exactly where their story is going. Pantsers are the other type of writer, which is kind of a weird name, but the term was coined by Stephen King (a famous pantser) to describe writing by the seat of your pants. Cute, eh? There is no right or wrong way to write your book, and I’m going to repeat this so many times. The right way is the way that works for you.
Dystopian fiction is one of the darker subgenres of science fiction and fantasy. It takes us into dark, foreboding worlds, where oppression and bleak landscapes are the norm. Books like 1984 by George Orwell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley have become classics that shine a light on political corruption, environmental disaster, and societal collapse.Why do we love these stories? Maybe it's because dystopian fiction allows us to explore worst-case scenarios, to grapple with the idea that the world we know and love could be lost forever. It's a way for us to confront our fears and anxieties about the future, to see what could happen if we continue down a certain path.