Since I wrote the bulk of this article in 2014, fiction writing has become a viable career, and a well-paying one, if you put some effort into it. I’ve changed the introduction to reflect that. Today, many of my writing colleagues have made the switch to becoming authors. Many/ most are making reasonable incomes.
Some are making more money than they made as freelancers, but most are not. When I suggested to a writer that she could be making more money putting her creative energies into a blog, and other forms of online writing, she said: “My fiction is an investment. Jane Austen’s still selling, and she’s been dead for a long time. Every word I write and publish can keep earning for me indefinitely.”
You can’t argue with that one. She’s right. 🙂
Fiction writing: keep writing, and keep selling
Let’s look at five tips you can use today, to help you to ease into a fiction writing/ money-making mindset. Over the past two years, since I first wrote this article, it’s become obvious that you can make a lot of money as a commercial writer of entertainment. (That’s what fiction is, after all, entertainment.)
You CAN pay your bills writing fiction; many other writers are doing it, so you can too. If you’re worried about competition, don’t. If what you write is entertaining to you, it will be entertaining for others – people pay for this stuff.
A tip: I’m not suggesting that you can write an instant bestselling novel. Years ago, I heard one writer suggest that it takes around four years to learn how to write fiction. Looking back, in my experience, that’s about right. Your very first novel may be a bestseller, but it’s highly unlikely. That said, it may sell, and sell well. Today, you can make a good income with fiction without ever writing a bestseller.
1. Write short stories to acclimatize yourself to making stuff up
Did you know that Lawrence Block (long one of my writing heroes) got his start by writing erotica, specifically, lesbian romances? As did Donald Westlake, who immortalized his pulp smut career in Adios, Scheherazade, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
I mention this because new fiction writers tend to think that if they write smut, they’re not “real” writers, or that they will always be forced to write smut. Not so. Smut helps you to pay your bills while you’re learning to write fiction. Why not earn while you learn? (No one needs to know you’re writing smut, unless you choose to tell them.)
So write short stories, and if you can, write erotica short stories – smut SELLS, and sells well. A few years ago, you could write ultra-short erotica, and make a great income. These days, focus on erotica romances. Aim for 20,000 to 30,000 words. Use a pen name for this stuff. You can write under whatever names you choose.
2. Kickstart your imagination, daily. write snippets
I spend 30 minutes a day dreaming up ideas for fiction. I think about unusual characters, either based on people I’ve met, news stories, or character traits. I dream up scenes I want to write, one day.
All this material goes into my Journal notebook in Evernote. Not only does this daydreaming help me to write my current stories, it feeds my imagination. Your mind is a wonderful tool. Forcing yourself to come up with ideas is a workout for your imagination. It makes all your writing easier. Try it.
3. Watch for ghostwriting gigs for fiction
I’m seeing lots of fiction ghostwriting gigs on the outsourcing boards. Don’t sell yourself too cheaply however. Remember that once you’ve completed your ghostwriting project, and get paid, you lose all rights in your words. However, a ghostwriting gig or two can help when you’re making the switch to fiction.
The income helps. It’s also perfect training for you. I’m trying to cut back on my ghostwriting, so I can build up a couple of pen names, but the income is tempting. 🙂
4. Build your publishing catalogue: amazon will help you to sell
The more ebooks you have on Amazon, the more you will sell. We talked about writing romance novellas:
Romance novellas sell, and you can write them quickly. Your romance novellas may never get into the top ten in any genre, but that doesn’t matter. You’ll nevertheless make money. A couple of my students who write erotica are making five figures a month, and are looking to make more, once they start selling bundles.
Short stories and novellas build your publishing catalogue (the books you have listed under a name – your own or a pen name – on Amazon.) Aim to publish something at least once a month. Then you’ll appear on Amazon’s Recently Published lists.
5. Get a writing buddy, so you can trade scenes
When you write fiction, you’re entertaining your readers. You’re aiming for an emotional effect on them. Fiction is written in scenes, and it’s just about impossible to gauge the effect of a scene on someone else. It’s like telling a joke to yourself. You need someone else to read your scenes, so that they can tell you how they felt.
Way back before the Web, I was a member of a fiction writers’ group on CompuServe. Bestselling novelist Diana Gabaldon was a member, and posted scenes from Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber. She wanted to know the effect of the scenes.
So, get a writing buddy. Trade scenes. Your buddy needn’t write in the same genre as you do, as long as you’re both writing.
Fiction writing is fun, and profitable too. Looking on your flights of imagination as a way of paying your bills may seem strange. Soon, you’ll learn to write both fiction and nonfiction with ease; you’ll discover that you can compartmentalize… and that the more you write, the more you can write. 🙂
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Article updated July 28, 2016.
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