Writing with Profit in Mind? Your Book has Already Failed

by Guest Contributor

Man with $100 sign

Today’s post is written by Nicolas Gremion.

If your primary motivation for writing is making money, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Outliers like James Patterson, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts often skew our perception of how lucrative publishing really is. In fact, very few authors actually make a living off their writing—the rest see marginal income from writing, at best.

There are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps one of the foremost involves what I like to call the “Field of Dreams Syndrome.” Too many authors work under the misconception that if they write it, readers will come.

The truth is that there are thousands of authors competing for readers, many of whom are giving their books away for free or next to nothing. Readers have more choices than ever, relying on Oprah or the New York Times’ Best Sellers lists to narrow their options. Without an extensive amount of marketing, one book by a new author is destined to get lost in the Amazon abyss.

It is important to stress that I am not trying to discourage anyone from selling books. What I am saying is that if money is your primary motivation for writing, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Writers who work from a profit-driven mentality end up shooting themselves in the foot before their journey has even begun. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • They fit into a mold. Instead of writing about something they are truly passionate about, they end up trying to fit into the next “it” genre. Suddenly, they’re leaving behind what best suits them in favor of writing something they think will sell, like a teen vampire story or the next Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • They rush the process. New writers try to push their books out into the world before they’re ready, which results in a less-than-perfect product for their readers—or a manuscript that has no chance of getting the attention of a literary agent.
  • They get discouraged. While it’s possible to make a living off writing, it doesn’t just happen overnight. If you put out a book thinking you’re going to sell 20,000 copies immediately, you might get discouraged when early sales are sluggish. Disappointment ends the careers of a lot of writers who confuse poor sales with bad writing.

Compelling Writing Wins in the End

If you want to get your book in front of as many eyes as possible, you need ask yourself what drives you besides money. The most successful writers work from several motivations. Often, they’re trying to express something highly personal or engage like-minded people. Sometimes, they’re trying to escape reality or provide others with an escape. In the end, most writers do it for the fun of writing or because they have a story that must be told.

When launching a career as an author, take the following things into consideration:

  • You need to build trust. You can make money at writing, but first, you need to gain the trust of your readers. Focus on sharing the best story possible, rather than taking their money.
  • You need feedback. If you’re a new writer, you should be primarily concerned with getting people to read your work so they can provide honest feedback. This will allow you to hone your craft and eventually create better books that will have more money-making potential.
  • You need to build connections. Part of marketing a book involves building connections with people before it’s released. If you share your early work with others and build relationships with your audience, your readers will feel more invested in you, the author, and all your subsequent work.
  • You need a sense of accomplishment. Writing is hard work, and like running a marathon, producing a book can be its own reward. If you write simply for the experience of finishing your story, that sense of accomplishment will keep you going, even if sales are slow.

The wisdom of taking your focus off the dollar signs can be supported by the success stories of authors who have hit it big. Mark Victor Hansen was rejected more than 140 times before Chicken Soup for the Soul found a publisher, and the series has since sold more than 300,000 copies. John Grisham published his first book, A Time to Kill, privately after receiving 28 rejections. Even literary giant James Joyce had to wait nine years before anyone would publish Dubliners.

If these authors had only wanted to make money, they would have given up long before their work even made it to a publisher. But they had the passion and persistence to continue with their writing, and their dedication paid off.

Even if you never make it to Forbes’ list of top-earning authors, you can still develop a satisfying career as a writer. A commitment to your readers and a commitment to your craft will help you become a better writer, and when the love of the work is what drives you to write, you’ll find fulfillment no amount of money can buy.

Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Free-eBooks, a popular online source for free eBook downloads, resources, and authors. Nicolas is a culturally curious traveler and entrepreneur who lives in Costa Rica with his wife and his dog, Frankie.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Priya December 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Hi!
Thanks for sharing the post. I think, anyone who wants to be a writer, should first strive to write what clicks with him/her (for the pleasure of creating something), then to please the readers and of course to make some profit out of it (nothing wrong with wanting to earn). Whatever the reasons one should be clear about them.

Though, I don’t believe writing or anything else survives for long without passion. I write because it makes me feel free. And if it manages to somehow entertain some people along the way, that in my opinion is definitely a profit :-).
Thanks!
Read Priya´s last article ..REVIEW: How to Kill Your Husband and Other Handy Household Tips by Kathy Lette

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Charles December 18, 2013 at 5:50 am

Words to remember.

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Anthony Chapman December 20, 2013 at 5:24 am

You should also be careful about who you show your writing to, you never know, they may have an unfinished book under the bed, and if they feel your writing is better than their’s, or if they don’t understand it, they may give you a bad review.

For my own part, I subscribe to the view that the two things a writer needs to focus on are character and structure. Character, because character is plot, and structure because while you may write all the correct words, you won’t necessarily get them in the right order.

As for writing for money, you seem to have forgotten about John Locke, I think his approach is cynical, but I have read on other blogs where writers still look up to him, and are even changing their writing to follow his example.

So, write for your characters, then learn how to sell your books.

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Nicolas Gremion January 1, 2014 at 1:02 am

@ Priya: Thanks for reading. I totally agree with you; like nearly anything your passion will shine through your work!

@Anthony: bad reviews are par for the course. Any book read by more than a handful of people will get some bad reviews. No book will appeal to everyone. Even masterpieces. I encourage authors to look for substance in any review, even if negative, as those can at times be the most helpful.

Personally I wouldn’t be too worried someone is going to steal all your ideas than score a lucrative publishing contract. Has and could, but realistically think the odds are minimal. However, if you wish to get constructive feedback (ultra important) but still keep your story close to your chest, here are some sources I recommend:

http://writetodone.com/finding-effective-critique-7-people-need-review-writing/

Thanks for your interest everybody!

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Atsiko Ureni January 4, 2014 at 11:31 am

I’m going to have to disagree just a bit. I think you can write with profit as a major concern, and still be a successful author. After all, isn’t it the goal of many writers to make a living doing what they love?

But, you do have to be aware of how publishing works. Writing to a trend is just bad business practice, in many cases, for example.

I think you make some good points about having reasonable expectations, and what traps to avoid, but they aren’t necessarily related to writing for profit. Readers of all motivational stripes make those mistakes.

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Alex August 26, 2014 at 8:23 am

It’s like it is in any field: Just focus on giving out value, then the money will come – in the case of writing, to a certain extent…

If you are really into money though, go into real estate or become a stock broker; there are many “easier” ways to earn money than producing art…

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