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INTRO+ Hello from longtime lurker and writer

Earthling

Contributor
Feb 23, 2019
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I've been lurking here now and then. I finally decided to sign up.

I'm a married guy with a toddler currently self-employed as a fiction writer. I spent a long time in academia, got fed up with it, dabbled in some website development/affiliate marketing (the typical...), and settled into writing fiction for about a year now.

I make a decent amount from my books, more than I ever did in academia, but it's a constant grind. It's far from an ideal long-term financial strategy.

I've been thinking more lately about developing a business that makes financial "CENTS". I've been reading UNSCRIPTED lately and got into thinking about value creation as it applies to writing.

The challenge with fiction is that it has a very limited scope. Or to put it another way, each book I write only provides a little bit of value to a narrow group of people. I think there are some ways to increase the scope and serve more people - for example, audiobooks, foreign translations, and so on. At the end of the day, though, it's hard for me to envision my books providing far superior value than the myriad of other entertainment options out there.

The value proposition is a bit different for entertainment than most other businesses. Consumers want a constant flux of large quantities of novel entertainment. You can dip into this giant stream of consumption for short-term gains.

When I break it down, I believe that the value I'm really delivering is novelty. The reason someone who read George Martin also reads my books is because George Martin can't provide a steady supply of new material. I'm filling that gap. If, in some other universe, George Martin could write a new book every day, very few people would read my books.

Once I identify the real value I am delivering, I have to ask, can I deliver even MORE value? Can I deliver even more NOVELTY? The answer, in my efforts, has been no, not much more.

I've tried to increase my production rate with ghostwriters, voice dictation, editors, the whole shebang. I haven't had much success in providing significantly more value. That is, I don't think my production level would increase by more than a factor of two, ever. Someone like James Patterson has been able to succeed via this route, but I don't think I can.

So that's disappointing.

Of course, fiction can provide value in ways other than novelty. I believe that fiction books can change lives. You could argue that the Harry Potter books profoundly changed the lives of many young and adult readers.

But I have to be honest with myself and admit that I doubt any story I tell will change lives. Even if I devoted myself to writing a story offering this kind of value, I don't know if I can succeed. The market is brutal.

Because of this conclusion, I've been wondering whether I should pursue nonfiction writing instead. Nonfiction can change lives; this forum's namesake is a prime example. More importantly, I believe that I have a much better chance of providing life-changing value from nonfiction than fiction. It will be quite difficult, no doubt, but I think it's much more within reach than with fiction.

I have a decent thing going with my fiction writing, but I would be wiling to drop it if I think there's a better path. Most aspiring authors would probably kill to have my sales figures, but I believe that's only because the general perception of success in fiction is a very low bar.

I'll probably continue to write some fiction, treating it like a day job, while trying to transition to a better business opportunity.

I expect that building a platform and generating visibility for nonfiction will be much more difficult than for fiction. A small part of me hopes that if I succeed in writing a book that can change lives, its audience should grow on its own. In that case, the challenge is whether I can actually write a book that can deliver this much value.

There's a lot of hot-air that succeeds based on marketing, but I don't think I have the marketing chops to pull that off. So I really need to write a good book.

It's kind of a crazy, yet at the same time, mundane, challenge: can I change someone's life with mere words, especially in today's age of media saturation? There are a lot of obvious me-too topics or approaches that won't work.

I'd prefer to solve a very difficult problem like this rather than continually grind away at churning out novelty (violates TIME commandment). So these day I'm thinking... who's life can I change, and how?
 

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Hey @Earthling. That's funny. I'm a non-fiction writer doing well in non-fiction and currently considering expanding into fiction.

I make a decent amount from my books, more than I ever did in academia, but it's a constant grind. It's far from an ideal long-term financial strategy.
It's generally the same with non-fiction. You constantly need to release new books to stay visible. Of course, some bestsellers might continue selling for years (I have some titles like that), but if you stop publishing, your income will probably eventually drop. Also, it's rare to succeed with your first book unless you're already a well-known expert or a celebrity. You'll still have to write at least a few books to make at least a few thousand a month.

The challenge with fiction is that it has a very limited scope. Or to put it another way, each book I write only provides a little bit of value to a narrow group of people. I think there are some ways to increase the scope and serve more people - for example, audiobooks, foreign translations, and so on. At the end of the day, though, it's hard for me to envision my books providing far superior value than the myriad of other entertainment options out there.
Non-fiction is similar, unless you're going to write about a very general, competitive topic like self-help or fitness (but then you're competing with guys who are incredibly experienced with the topic: coaches, scientists, psychologists, professional athletes, etc.).

Audiobooks and translations are something you should be doing regardless of the genre, so it doesn't really matter if it's fiction or non-fiction. As for providing far superior value, what makes you think you can provide far superior value in non-fiction?

No matter the topic, in most of them there are probably people far more experienced than you. Unless you're one of the world's top experts, you won't provide far superior value. I'm not saying your work won't be valuable - just want to point out that you shouldn't expect that you'll be far, far better than others because you'll be competing with experts who have dedicated their lives to the topic in the same way as when you're writing horror, you're competing with Stephen King or Graham Masterton.

Consumers want a constant flux of large quantities of novel entertainment.
And non-fiction readers want a a constant flux of large quantities of novel information. Only some niches are evergreen, but even in them, a lot of readers prefer new releases over dated books.

The reason someone who read George Martin also reads my books is because George Martin can't provide a steady supply of new material. I'm filling that gap. If, in some other universe, George Martin could write a new book every day, very few people would read my books.
If, in some other universe, Malcolm Gladwell could write a new book every day, very few people would read your non-fiction books, too.

More importantly, I believe that I have a much better chance of providing life-changing value from nonfiction than fiction.
Even if you could, the truth is that it gets old fast. Maybe it's just me, but I don't really jump from joy each time I receive an email from my reader saying that my book changed their life or helped them with something. But maybe you're wired different. It seems like you're seeking meaning and think that you'll get it from writing non-fiction. Maybe you will, or maybe you won't. A new business won't necessarily make you feel fulfilled.

Most aspiring authors would probably kill to have my sales figures, but I believe that's only because the general perception of success in fiction is a very low bar.
That's probably even worse in non-fiction because it's much, much harder to write 5-10 or more non-fiction books about the same topic than it is to write 5-10 novels in the same genre.

Having said all of this, I don't want to discourage you from writing non-fiction. It might work for you (it does work for me), but I wanted to provide a different perspective to show you that non-fiction is very similar in most aspects to fiction. It's not a cure-all.

I've been thinking more lately about developing a business that makes financial "CENTS". I've been reading UNSCRIPTED lately and got into thinking about value creation as it applies to writing.
Self-publishing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is not a perfect CENTS business. You're violating at least two commandments (most notably, control because Amazon largely controls your business).
 
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Earthling

Contributor
Feb 23, 2019
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17
Hi fellow writer!

Maybe I should have specified, I am interested in writing problem-based non-fiction, which would address some of the points you raised.

I don't consider Malcolm Gladwell or his genre to be problem-solving. He is an entertainer, and his genre has the same novelty requirements. Most business, get-rich-quick, and self-help books are likewise entertainment.

For problem-based nonfiction, I don't see the need for constant churn, either by the writer or reader. In fact, the opposite is true. Usually, there are a couple go-to books for a particular topic. Iterative improvements or editions would make sense. The most common examples of this are textbooks.

Since you mentioned writing fiction, I could use that as an example. I would pose the question, if you want to make money writing fiction, what educational books should you read?

There are tons of books on how to write novels, but they are mostly entertainment and don't provide problem-solving value. That is, after reading the book, I can ask, how much did your income change? The result would probably be immeasurable, a few percent at most.

On the other hand, I can only name a handful of books that would impact your income by 10% to 1000% or more. Then, to solve the problem of learning to write commercial fiction, I would say that you only need to read a handful of books. Of course, if you are a beginner, figuring out which books to read is part of the problem, and it might vary depending on your background and intended genre.

To address the point about being an expert or celebrity, I can use the same example. The #1 book for learning to write commercial fiction, in my opinion, is not by an expert or celebrity. It's simply useful. (Well, now he might be semi-famous among writers.) I've read his fiction, and to be blunt, I'm a better fiction writer than him. I've also had a more successful fiction career trajectory (purely fiction, he makes more money from consulting + nonfiction).

So I could say that I am a better fiction writer than him. And there are many other fiction writers who are 10x better than me. But guess what? None of them, myself included, have written anything as useful as what he wrote about how to make money writing fiction. McKee and Truby might be famous "experts", and I've read both of them, but they aren't going to help sell self-published books. Actually, I have yet to see a self-published author who earns a decent amount of money recommend reading any "experts".

But even for this topic, I see the gaps in what is available. If I really wanted, I believe I could write a more useful book than what is currently available. The market size of writers is actually quite small, though.

I could use a somewhat different example to clarify the approach as well. I've created many websites in the past. Some of them still pull in $500/month even though I have literally done nothing for several years.

These are nonfiction websites. They solve problems for people.

I quit building websites because the hit-rate was too low (only a fraction of websites make decent money), such that the ROI wasn't that great. Coupled with the reliance on affiliate income (someone else's affiliate program terms, plus you can only use niches where an affiliate exists), it didn't make sense to pursue it further.

I am not the world's leading expert or a celebrity, but I still managed to put together the world's best online resource on a particular topic, at least as determined by web traffic. What use is a Harvard professor with the answer to your problem in his head if he's not sharing it with you?

The topics for these old websites provide some value, but not much, if I'm being honest, which is probably why the hit-rate was low. That's why I am in pursuit of delivering greater value. I don't care about receiving feedback, but for a different reason. Basically, I have had to learn to tune out haters, but that means I have to tune out fans, to some degree, as well. Thick skin works both ways.

So I've already seen a glimmer of how to approach the nonfiction market, although admittedly from a low-value approach. That gives me some hope.

Conceptually, I'm going to have to disagree with you that fiction and nonfiction are similar. They are fundamentally quite different beasts.

Commercial success in fiction is all about being the same but different. Every pulp author and Hollywood screenwriter knows this. Academics like Joseph Campbell go as far as to argue that every story, at its heart, is THE SAME.

The scope of what you can create in fiction is very narrow if you want to make money. You can pursue literary or experimental fiction, but that is not commercially viable. It's ironic that writing for the fantasy world is actually MORE limiting than writing for the real world.

Problem-based nonfiction is limitless. There are new problems being created each day that did not exist the day before as society and technology change. You could point to something like cryptocurrencies (I am not interested, but for argument's sake) as a new problem-based nonfiction topic that did not exist ten years ago. Society-wise, you could point to privacy concerns or a health issue like autism. Privacy and autism existed fifty years ago, but society did not care about them as much or in the same ways as it does today (again, not my choice of interest, but two examples).

It's not that hard to be a "world's expert", either. For fun, I created a website about a year ago on an emerging topic. Within a month, I was getting 30K visitors a day (real organics, not bots or junky traffic stat counters). I had international news outlets, like real ones you have heard of, contacting me for interviews - at its peak, I was probably getting a couple interview requests a week. I shut down that website because it wasn't a money-making endeavor, and I lost interest in it. (Basically, there were a bunch of unethical people trying to make money off the trend, it pissed me off, and I didn't want to be associated with them or make a single dollar off my work.)

I do agree that a very general topic like "how to be happy!" is going to be a tough nut to crack, and finding a suitable evergreen nonfiction topic that has a market opportunity won't be easy. But in my opinion, the order of difficulty of self-publishing, from easiest to hardest is:

1. Short-term fiction
2. Short-term nonfiction
3. Evergreen nonfiction
4. Evergreen fiction

I'm not too concerned about Amazon. I'm not completely reliant on them, even with my fiction. It's even easier to develop an independent platform or ecosystem for nonfiction topics, anyways, since you can naturally tie your work to a website.

This forum site is one approach. Another would be to start a blog AFTER you find a book that sells well. I know some people advise to build up a blog following, then publish - I think that is backwards. Write ten books, find your bestseller, then develop an online resource around that book. Yeah, you're using Amazon, FB, whatever to kickstart your efforts, but the platform is independent in the end.
 
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Blu H

Contributor
Jun 24, 2018
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Venice Beach
Dude you've already made it! Entertainment IS quality value that keeps away Boredom... and you're good at it! Kim Kardashians (which I can't stand - I like Kourtney though) provides tremendous value that most would qualify as useless... but it's scale is absolutely massive, which is why she gets paid millions per month. On the flipside, a doctor who performs open bypass surgery offered a life saving gift to someone, which is awesome... but it was still given to 1 person only.

Once that person recovers... guess what he/she'll be watching!! The bottom line is... Value is Value which is Value! The importance we attribute to different forms of it is purely subjective, no matter what the subject we're talking about. You obviously have writing & web design skills - which together if well done could passively cover your monthly expenses! Don't potentially throw this away in order to offer what you feel would be more important value.
 

MTF

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Conceptually, I'm going to have to disagree with you that fiction and nonfiction are similar. They are fundamentally quite different beasts.
Let's agree to disagree. I hope it will work for you. Just wanted to share my perspective as I have a feeling that you think of non-fiction as a magic bullet but it's not really that different in this aspect from fiction.
 
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Earthling

Contributor
Feb 23, 2019
17
26
17
Dude you've already made it! Entertainment IS quality value that keeps away Boredom... and you're good at it! Kim Kardashians (which I can't stand - I like Kourtney though) provides tremendous value that most would qualify as useless... but it's scale is absolutely massive, which is why she gets paid millions per month. On the flipside, a doctor who performs open bypass surgery offered a life saving gift to someone, which is awesome... but it was still given to 1 person only.

Once that person recovers... guess what he/she'll be watching!! The bottom line is... Value is Value which is Value! The importance we attribute to different forms of it is purely subjective, no matter what the subject we're talking about. You obviously have writing & web design skills - which together if well done could passively cover your monthly expenses! Don't potentially throw this away in order to offer what you feel would be more important value.
Well, I have no problem starting over to pursue something else. I had a job before that practically everyone else would envy from the outside. But it was stupid, for reasons I don't need to go into, and it didn't even satisfy my reasons for taking the job in the first place. I walked away from it to everyone else's astonishment.

Now, I make 2-3x more doing something that is at least enjoyable, working a third of the hours. I take care of my toddler from home, which can be challenging at times, but I am very grateful to be able to spend time with my family instead of having to sacrifice them for work.

So it's definitely a great position for now, but it's not a reason for me to become complacent. There are few ways for me to grow this as a business. There are MANY reasons the income could decrease in the future. I think blindly going forward with a high-risk job like writing with little upside is insane.

There's some skill involved in my success, but a lot of it is luck - the market conditions and so forth, which could change at any time. And for that much luck, the upside is really low.

To put hard numbers on this, yeah, maybe I made 200K in the last year, but I churn all my non-family time hours to get that, and 200K/year isn't financially liberating. The point of this forum is to make life-changing income, isn't it? To be blunt, I'm fairly sure that I could get a company job and make about that much within a few years... that's the opposite of what this place is about, right?

I agree that scaling up the audience is a good strategy, except I don't think I can do that in my current genre. Again, for hard numbers, say I sell 10K books a month and earn $2 royalty on each book. That's about 200K a year. Not bad? But that's only 10K customers a month. I don't think it is possible to grow much beyond that.

Even if I made my books available for free, I doubt I could hit more than, say, 50K downloads a month. More likely, even if I made my books free, I wouldn't get much more than 10K downloads a month. For reference, I have made a youtube video that went viral and hit a million views in under a week. The audience size for my genre of books, even if free, just doesn't compare.

I don't write romance, so one thing I have considered is switching to a genre like contemporary romance that has a larger audience. It's also more cutthroat and competitive. Again, everyone is writing the same story, so it's hard to differentiate yourself.

I'm kind of musing here, but i have thought about going into other entertainment channels, like video, comics, and so on. Video can get a huge audience, but a (fiction) web series is incredibly expensive to produce and generally does not make money. Most examples of successful indie videos are generating revenue through sponsored content or advertising, and I'm a little reluctant to pursue a "three-party" arrangement. You have to "sell" twice - to your audience and to your advertiser.

I don't really see this business model discussed much on this forum - the "indirect" sale. I would be interested in hearing people's thought on this. I think it is more straightforward to create a product with value and exchange it directly for money. For the other model, essentially your are trying to become an influencer using entertainment to attract an audience...not quite sure about that model.

The one good thing about writing, also, is that people are still willing to pay money for books. No one wants to pay for online entertainment directly, music, youtube, anything. Books are the last bastion.

For most businesses, if you are successful, you can at least chart a path to growth. If you start a successful restaurant, you could open another one in the next city, then another, franchise it, and so on.

For entertainment, the path from "okay" to "great" is a lot murkier or random. Most entertainers are thrilled to be able to pursue it as a day job. In my case, most authors would sacrifice their firstborn to make 200K a year. But there's no way beyond that except to become the next James Patterson, which is pretty unrealistic. On the other hand, if you told me that you could grow your lawncare business beyond 200K profits, sure, that's reasonable. You don't need to be Superman to do that.

That's why I'm looking to shift from entertainment to problem-based genres, i.e. nonfiction.

Even if I stick with entertainment itself, I am going to pursue more problem-based entertainment.

There was a post here about a 7-year old making millions on Youtube. I'm familiar with those videos and how similar channels operate, as I looked into going into that market. But the reason these channels make millions (and Disney makes billions) is extremely obvious if you have a small child.

You are solving the problem of keeping parents sane. That is the real problem that children's entertainment solves. You are literally changing the parents' lives with those videos. (You may also be damaging your child's development from too much screen time an an early age, but that's another story...) That 7-year old and his parents deserve the millions, as far as I am concerned.

Audiobooks are a growing market. I've been looking for other opportunities there, or ways to grow explosively. I have some ideas, but I am not sure about them...definitely on my radar, though. Audiobooks are more of a problem-based entertainment genre than pure reading.

Many adults in this digital age have ADD and love to multitask. Audiobooks solve the problem of how to keep yourself busy if your hands and eyes are occupied.

So I think entertainment is great, and I am not writing it off completely, but I am still trying to find a way to grow the audience beyond a plateau. Side-stepping into nonfiction is one option, but there are definitely other fiction ones. I haven't come up with a good solution yet.
 
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Earthling

Contributor
Feb 23, 2019
17
26
17
Let's agree to disagree. I hope it will work for you. Just wanted to share my perspective as I have a feeling that you think of non-fiction as a magic bullet but it's not really that different in this aspect from fiction.
You may be right as well. I appreciate your perspective and your willingness to speak up if you think something's off. I like the real talk and disagreements that pop up on this forum. An echo chamber of Care-Bear hugs isn't going to help people succeed.

I don't see nonfiction as a magic bullet, but I do see myself as having to try something different. I am quite fine with failing and revising plans or trying something else.

The other option, stasis, is a guaranteed failure. It's clear to me that simply writing fiction books every month is a high-risk dead end. It's okay for now, but it's no long-term solution and is not a sensible path to financial freedom, at least for me.
 

Blu H

Contributor
Jun 24, 2018
21
40
29
Venice Beach
Well, I have no problem starting over to pursue something else. I had a job before that practically everyone else would envy from the outside. But it was stupid, for reasons I don't need to go into, and it didn't even satisfy my reasons for taking the job in the first place. I walked away from it to everyone else's astonishment.

Now, I make 2-3x more doing something that is at least enjoyable, working a third of the hours. I take care of my toddler from home, which can be challenging at times, but I am very grateful to be able to spend time with my family instead of having to sacrifice them for work.

So it's definitely a great position for now, but it's not a reason for me to become complacent. There are few ways for me to grow this as a business. There are MANY reasons the income could decrease in the future. I think blindly going forward with a high-risk job like writing with little upside is insane.

There's some skill involved in my success, but a lot of it is luck - the market conditions and so forth, which could change at any time. And for that much luck, the upside is really low.

To put hard numbers on this, yeah, maybe I made 200K in the last year, but I churn all my non-family time hours to get that, and 200K/year isn't financially liberating. The point of this forum is to make life-changing income, isn't it? To be blunt, I'm fairly sure that I could get a company job and make about that much within a few years... that's the opposite of what this place is about, right?

I agree that scaling up the audience is a good strategy, except I don't think I can do that in my current genre. Again, for hard numbers, say I sell 10K books a month and earn $2 royalty on each book. That's about 200K a year. Not bad? But that's only 10K customers a month. I don't think it is possible to grow much beyond that.

Even if I made my books available for free, I doubt I could hit more than, say, 50K downloads a month. More likely, even if I made my books free, I wouldn't get much more than 10K downloads a month. For reference, I have made a youtube video that went viral and hit a million views in under a week. The audience size for my genre of books, even if free, just doesn't compare.

I don't write romance, so one thing I have considered is switching to a genre like contemporary romance that has a larger audience. It's also more cutthroat and competitive. Again, everyone is writing the same story, so it's hard to differentiate yourself.

I'm kind of musing here, but i have thought about going into other entertainment channels, like video, comics, and so on. Video can get a huge audience, but a (fiction) web series is incredibly expensive to produce and generally does not make money. Most examples of successful indie videos are generating revenue through sponsored content or advertising, and I'm a little reluctant to pursue a "three-party" arrangement. You have to "sell" twice - to your audience and to your advertiser.

I don't really see this business model discussed much on this forum - the "indirect" sale. I would be interested in hearing people's thought on this. I think it is more straightforward to create a product with value and exchange it directly for money. For the other model, essentially your are trying to become an influencer using entertainment to attract an audience...not quite sure about that model.

The one good thing about writing, also, is that people are still willing to pay money for books. No one wants to pay for online entertainment directly, music, youtube, anything. Books are the last bastion.

For most businesses, if you are successful, you can at least chart a path to growth. If you start a successful restaurant, you could open another one in the next city, then another, franchise it, and so on.

For entertainment, the path from "okay" to "great" is a lot murkier or random. Most entertainers are thrilled to be able to pursue it as a day job. In my case, most authors would sacrifice their firstborn to make 200K a year. But there's no way beyond that except to become the next James Patterson, which is pretty unrealistic. On the other hand, if you told me that you could grow your lawncare business beyond 200K profits, sure, that's reasonable. You don't need to be Superman to do that.

That's why I'm looking to shift from entertainment to problem-based genres, i.e. nonfiction.

Even if I stick with entertainment itself, I am going to pursue more problem-based entertainment.

There was a post here about a 7-year old making millions on Youtube. I'm familiar with those videos and how similar channels operate, as I looked into going into that market. But the reason these channels make millions (and Disney makes billions) is extremely obvious if you have a small child.

You are solving the problem of keeping parents sane. That is the real problem that children's entertainment solves. You are literally changing the parents' lives with those videos. (You may also be damaging your child's development from too much screen time an an early age, but that's another story...) That 7-year old and his parents deserve the millions, as far as I am concerned.

Audiobooks are a growing market. I've been looking for other opportunities there, or ways to grow explosively. I have some ideas, but I am not sure about them...definitely on my radar, though. Audiobooks are more of a problem-based entertainment genre than pure reading.

Many adults in this digital age have ADD and love to multitask. Audiobooks solve the problem of how to keep yourself busy if your hands and eyes are occupied.

So I think entertainment is great, and I am not writing it off completely, but I am still trying to find a way to grow the audience beyond a plateau. Side-stepping into nonfiction is one option, but there are definitely other fiction ones. I haven't come up with a good solution yet.
Hey at least I can see your head's in the right space! Just be careful about throwing away what you have going on for nothing, at least until your shift is complete. Also be careful about not falling into the "doing what you love" niche that could make you happier Yes... but have low demand & tough competitions.

You have a fantastic problem on your hands! Always remember that during this journey!
 
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Earthling

Contributor
Feb 23, 2019
17
26
17
Hey at least I can see your head's in the right space! Just be careful about throwing away what you have going on for nothing, at least until your shift is complete. Also be careful about not falling into the "doing what you love" niche that could make you happier Yes... but have low demand & tough competitions.

You have a fantastic problem on your hands! Always remember that during this journey!
Yeah, I'll treat writing fiction as a day job now. I poured a lot of extra energy into seeing if I could take it further, but the answer was no. I could write volumes about the things that failed.

My energy will be pushed towards testing other things to replace my day job.

It could be as simple as alternating between writing normal fiction and "swing-for-the-fences" fiction, where the latter will likely flop, but has a 1% chance of striking it big.

I think I may have confused some people with my focus on delivering life-changing value. I brought that up in my first post, because I see that as the path to making more money. If we aim high and fail, at least we will deliver some value and make some money.

I've been all over before with niches. I wrote an article about a gross medical problem for pets (I don't even own pets) 10-15 years ago on one of those random sites Seth Godin or whoever owns. They still send me $50 every couple of months. Kind of crazy. But yeah, I don't care about the niche if it's effective.

I will refuse to work with genuine idiots (everyone has flaws, not talking about being perfect) or corrupt scammers, but that's something entirely different.

I did like that post about Martin Berkham someone else made, as I've known about him for a while. I'm not above stooping to marketing or whatever. Stuff like that doesn't bother me. Hell, as I mentioned above, I went all out and spent a big chunk of time and money on building a ghostwriting team. I enjoy writing, but I'm not above doing something like that. The endeavor wasn't worth my time. I can see why, and in what cases it would help, but I'm not in a position to benefit from ghostwriting.
 
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MTF

Never give up
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It could be as simple as alternating between writing normal fiction and "swing-for-the-fences" fiction, where the latter will likely flop, but has a 1% chance of striking it big.
I like this idea a lot because it plays to your strengths. You already know how to write fiction and market it. You could test different genres and different ideas and perhaps you'll be able to find a new, more lucrative market.

Based on my experience, you can reach perhaps $500-600k a year from non-fiction, but it's much, much more difficult now that ACX changed their bounty program (they paid you $50 for each person who became a paying Audible subscriber after getting your audiobook as their first purchase).

Realistically, I think that $300k from non-fiction books alone (without a back end) is achievable within a few years. Anything above that is a challenge.

The ceiling in non-fiction is lower than in fiction. A bestselling fiction book will sell a LOT more copies than non-fiction. Currently, in top20 bestselling books on Amazon, 18 are fiction (the two non-fiction titles are a memoir and Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People released in 1989). I have to admit that even I am surprised by this - thought there would be at least a few non-fiction books there.

The odds are stacked against non-fiction authors. Granted, non-fiction bestsellers might have more longevity than fiction bestsellers. I'm not so sure about that, though, because I'd say that people don't mind reading older stories while a lot of them probably mind reading old information. After all, pretty much every story can be evergreen, but most information will never be (particularly in today's world).

You may be right as well. I appreciate your perspective and your willingness to speak up if you think something's off. I like the real talk and disagreements that pop up on this forum. An echo chamber of Care-Bear hugs isn't going to help people succeed.
Thank you, I appreciate that. It's good to have a discussion, we can learn something from each other.
 
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I like this idea a lot because it plays to your strengths. You already know how to write fiction and market it. You could test different genres and different ideas and perhaps you'll be able to find a new, more lucrative market.

Based on my experience, you can reach perhaps $500-600k a year from non-fiction, but it's much, much more difficult now that ACX changed their bounty program (they paid you $50 for each person who became a paying Audible subscriber after getting your audiobook as their first purchase).

Realistically, I think that $300k from non-fiction books alone (without a back end) is achievable within a few years. Anything above that is a challenge.

The ceiling in non-fiction is lower than in fiction. A bestselling fiction book will sell a LOT more copies than non-fiction. Currently, in top20 bestselling books on Amazon, 18 are fiction (the two non-fiction titles are a memoir and Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People released in 1989). I have to admit that even I am surprised by this - thought there would be at least a few non-fiction books there.

The odds are stacked against non-fiction authors. Granted, non-fiction bestsellers might have more longevity than fiction bestsellers. I'm not so sure about that, though, because I'd say that people don't mind reading older stories while a lot of them probably mind reading old information. After all, pretty much every story can be evergreen, but most information will never be (particularly in today's world).



Thank you, I appreciate that. It's good to have a discussion, we can learn something from each other.
For nonfiction, I kind of view the whole space of digital publishing (web + books) together. Fiction websites generally make very little money. The author of Worm is probably one of the most popular Western web novelists, and last time I checked he was making only 5-6K a month. Fanfiction, the most popular form of web fiction, generally doesn't make money for other obvious reasons.

Meanwhile, nonfiction makes tons of money in the web publishing space. So taking the backend (upsells, courses, membership site, etc.) + a book seems like a straightforward business approach that can earn a decent amount without relying on unicorns as much. It's not easy, but a path may exist. Although I'm not an expert website developer, I have some experience there, so that would give me a way to move forward.

Fiction can't have much of a backend or something similar. Some people are talking about making board games that tie-in. Computer game tie-in. Merchandise. Movie option. Yeah, none of this is very promising.

I guess that is my issue with fiction. Relying on catching unicorns or hitting improbable home runs for growth doesn't seem like a solid plan. It seems like a one-time event-driven strategy rather than a process-driven strategy.

So the question for fiction is whether you can attach a process to the method of generating home runs, or a way to make it more process-like. Sure, you can polish your skills over long periods of time, that's a process, but I don't think skillful writing is sufficient. Or even too important in some cases.

While I haven't found a full solution, I think the course of this discussion has given me one key idea.

I turned to nonfiction because i wanted to pursue problem-based writing, but as I mentioned earlier, I think fiction can be problem-based as well.

So this is the key idea I have for now: assess fiction from the viewpoint of problem-solving. This might increase my chance of hitting a home run from 1% to 2%, lol. Well...that's progress. Maybe that is the true process here? Find ways to keep upping that percentage?

Initially, I had zero ideas, or more to the point, zero CONFIDENCE that I could hit a home run with fiction. But once I thought about problem-based fiction, I have been able to come up with one or two ideas for now (while rejecting 100+ other ones) that hold some promise for making it big. So this will be my filter to narrow the ideas - what problem is solved, and how big is that problem.

Some runaway bestsellers in fiction are true unicorns, but others might be somewhat predictable. Take 50 Shades of Grey. That solved a huge problem, and it's not surprising it sold well. Twilight created an enormous fanbase that was left in a hungry frenzy. They wanted more content, and more explicit content. E. L. James solved that problem for them with her fanfiction, which turned into 50 Shades. I think this is truly a direct problem-solution relationship.

Twilight itself is more of a unicorn to me. Some people argue that Anne Rice's books laid the groundwork, and that the ending of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV created an unmet need. Perhaps these points are true, but it's not obvious to me that a specific, compelling problem existed, such that Twilight needed to fill that need. Or that's not a convincing description of the right problem, at least.

But even if I can't explain everything, if I can explain more things, that will help me have a better hit rate.

The standpoint of fiction as specific problem-solving also explains one question I've always had. The superhero genre for books has never gone anywhere. You can look up superhero bestsellers on Amazon, but they use a very general description where superhero is any hero in a fantasy or scifi world.

I'm talking more about caped crusaders - Marvel/DC style. Marvel has changed the public perception of comic book heroes and has been an enormous pop culture force. The rise of George Martin in pop culture in a similar fashion increased the fantasy book market, but meanwhile, "true" superhero books haven't really grown much. I've always wondered about this - Marvel is popular, so why aren't Marvel-style books growing popular. Others have also noted this. Why are movie and book trends not growing in parallel?

Well, it's obvious from a problem-based perspective. Movies fulfill the need of casual fans, and the pace of superhero movie releases is accelerating, such that casual fans might even be saturated. There's no need for more superhero content. The ones that do want more superhero content can turn to graphic novels or comic books.

Basically, there's no problem. So the analysis of "Marvel is hot, let's write a Marvel book" fails. It's really, "Marvel is hot, and there's plenty of Marvel content already" = no solution needed.

The most widely touted formula for success in fiction is to find a hungry, underserved niche. Readers can't get enough billionaire romances - not enough books! - jump in to write some. It's problem-solving, but problem-solving of the lowest order. It's chasing trends or fads.

I think there are other problems to solve, potentially big problems with big rewards. I gave the youtube example of children's entertainment to solve the problem of parental sanity. I think there are other completely different problems that fiction can solve.

It's obvious in hindsight, but yeah, fiction or nonfiction, it doesn't matter. I'm going to pursue it from the lens of solving problems. Fiction has a better chance of virality, perhaps, so I might start with that. While fiction stories are all the same/saturated, the process of using fiction to solve problems is not, since there are many new/unsolved/continual problems in the world. Fiction can only solve a very small subset of those problems, so my task is to dig and find those problems.

I have one idea I am itching to try. If it still seems like a good idea after I finish my current projects, I'll probably give it a shot.

Yeah, I'm more confident. This is a much better plan than aiming for magical unicorns.
 

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rogue synthetic

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I think I'd be wary of interpreting the draw to art and entertainment with the language of need and problem-satisfaction. It gets something right -- people do come to entertainment because the message speaks to them and draws them in, one way or another -- but the devil's always in the details.

People respond to art on a level "beneath" conscious sense of needs and express problems. No Twilight or 50 Shades fan ever sat down and ran through lists of reasons and arguments for liking vampires or BDSM porn. The interest in those works didn't come about because they needed them in quite the way they need food, or companionship, or even the way a product-purchaser needs the hole that the drill can make in the wall.

They responded to it because the message resonated with them at a non-rational level, the level of emotions and sense of identity, meaning, belonging, purpose.

Why would this matter? If you're thinking in terms of needs to fill and problems to solve, you're likely to pigeonhole yourself into existing categories. People have a need for X, so I'll give them lots of X. Break-out works of fiction also break out of the existing status-quo. They're derivative to a point, but the points of difference define them at least as much as the likeness.

There's two issues you might want to think about:

1. Art and entertainment do fill needs but in the loose sense of the word. A need for emotional resonance, a need to feel a sense of meaning or belonging, sure. Just keep in mind that this is not the need that a consumer has for dinner, life insurance, or a hammer; there may not be a pre-existing demand which you only have to discover. Art is "optional" in that way. Which brings me to...

2. Needs and problems presuppose a stable background that you can analyze. The draw of art is the upset of stable backgrounds with novel perspectives. To slightly mix metaphors, nobody needed a tablet until Steve Jobs created the desire and gave it meaning by unveiling the iPad. In the case of compelling, best-selling fiction, you'll have to create the desire and fascination rather than tapping into an existing but unmet demand.

Most of this dove-tails with what you're already doing. Trial and error is still part of the process, and there won't be a magic formula. But I do think it is worth keeping these distinctions in mind. Art obviously can be business, but it won't just be business.
 
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Earthling

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I think I'd be wary of interpreting the draw to art and entertainment with the language of need and problem-satisfaction. It gets something right -- people do come to entertainment because the message speaks to them and draws them in, one way or another -- but the devil's always in the details.

People respond to art on a level "beneath" conscious sense of needs and express problems. No Twilight or 50 Shades fan ever sat down and ran through lists of reasons and arguments for liking vampires or BDSM porn. The interest in those works didn't come about because they needed them in quite the way they need food, or companionship, or even the way a product-purchaser needs the hole that the drill can make in the wall.

They responded to it because the message resonated with them at a non-rational level, the level of emotions and sense of identity, meaning, belonging, purpose.

Why would this matter? If you're thinking in terms of needs to fill and problems to solve, you're likely to pigeonhole yourself into existing categories. People have a need for X, so I'll give them lots of X. Break-out works of fiction also break out of the existing status-quo. They're derivative to a point, but the points of difference define them at least as much as the likeness.

There's two issues you might want to think about:

1. Art and entertainment do fill needs but in the loose sense of the word. A need for emotional resonance, a need to feel a sense of meaning or belonging, sure. Just keep in mind that this is not the need that a consumer has for dinner, life insurance, or a hammer; there may not be a pre-existing demand which you only have to discover. Art is "optional" in that way. Which brings me to...

2. Needs and problems presuppose a stable background that you can analyze. The draw of art is the upset of stable backgrounds with novel perspectives. To slightly mix metaphors, nobody needed a tablet until Steve Jobs created the desire and gave it meaning by unveiling the iPad. In the case of compelling, best-selling fiction, you'll have to create the desire and fascination rather than tapping into an existing but unmet demand.

Most of this dove-tails with what you're already doing. Trial and error is still part of the process, and there won't be a magic formula. But I do think it is worth keeping these distinctions in mind. Art obviously can be business, but it won't just be business.
Hey! Are you another writer or artist, haha, I wonder how many are around here.

I think much what you are talking about applies to certain sectors of art. Sure there's some mysterious force that causes certain art to resonate with individuals. But:

1) I'm not in the business of predicting individual responses. I think some AUDIENCES do have predictable responses that aren't so mysterious, with the caveat of my second point.

2) Sure, many or even most artistic responses can't be predicted, but, frankly, I don't care. This isn't academia. One or even 90% outliers are irrelevant. As a business-minded producer, I'm concerned with the segment that CAN be predicted or engineered. At the least, I want to increase the odds of success, so that even if I can't predict the outcome, I work in a fashion that is more predictable.

You can take Hollywood as an example. Some arthouse indie film may skyrocket to success because it hit just the right notes for the public's mood at that moment. But no major studio is going to bankroll a random indie film unless it is some big shot's pet project or something.

I don't think anyone can predict this kind of purely art-based bestseller.

Meanwhile, you have Aquaman, which had a bad script and meh acting, but it's raked in over a billion dollars already. I'm sure that the studio analysts were able to predict the financial success of Aquaman. As long as it didn't commit any acute blunders, it was all but guaranteed to make that amount. (Of course even that mediocre script is better than what 99% of screenwriters can produce, not denying the baseline level of skill involved.)

Who's making more money, as a batting average or in aggregate - the arthouse unicorns or the guaranteed blockbusters? Even the lesser movies, like the seasonal rom-com, and so on, are pretty much guaranteed profits if you're not horrendous.

It's not mysterious. It's reproducible. It's planned.

The same happens in the music industry. An extreme example is Korean pop music. They have factories producing boy bands and girl groups. The artists are talented, but nothing special. They'd be a dime a dozen in LA. They do work hard. They churn out music groups and songs like a factory. Again, it's not very mysterious.

These industries have certain tools like pre-sold franchies or near-monopolies. So we have to figure out a different way to engineer success. But the point is that I believe you can increase the odds. And that means pursuing certain kinds of art and not others.

I'm the investor, investing with my time and money. I am asking myself, do I want to invest in this warm and fuzzy sounding book? This beautiful story that brings me to tears? Or this story that solves a problem. If I go to a studio and ask for funding to make a movie about my passion for tigers, I will be rightfully laughed out of the room. So the job is the come up with an idea that will at least make them not laugh. Because I can provide reasons why they idea is more likely to succeed. Solving problems and understanding the audience is one way to do that.

I'm not sure why you think solving problems pigeonholes my thinking. What's the alternative? Pursue my passion? Try my hand at pseudo-pop psychology? Throw random darts?

The problem with most wannabe entrepreneurs is that they have too many ideas. Focus is good. I don't need reasons to include more ideas. I need reasons to reject ideas, and to drill down on one approach that will work. Again, I don't need to create all art. I need to find the one solution that works for me. That's it.

In fact, I would argue that placing a restriction leads to more creativity. I'm not the first person to say this. People who teach genre conventions/structure (for stories) argue that having genre restrictions forces you to be more creative. Otherwise, you get lazy attempts to be avante-garde with no touchstone to measure your result.

Can you think of a fiction topic that may sell well and that actually solves a problem? Do you see how hard it is? Do you see that it requires out-of-the-box thinking?

I have been thinking non-stop about this, and I still have literally only ONE decent idea. ONE. I have a mediocre second idea, but I don't think that one's good enough.

And this one idea is different from any book that has been written. I mean, there are some similar books, but not really, and they definitely don't solve the problem I have in mind. It's definitely not the status quo, because if the status quo solved the problem, there wouldn't be a need for this book.

So I'm not sure about pigeonholing.

I don't think the needs that art fulfills IN CERTAIN CASES is nebulous. I already gave the example of children's videos on youtube. You have Pixar and Disney producing gorgeous art. Then, you have outsourced, low-quality animation children's songs making millions of dollars, with likely far better ROI on investment than even Disney.

I'm not giving any more examples, because coming up with the ideas is the hard part and I am keeping them to myself.

As a writer, the execution is entirely intellectual (the process of writing, editing, and so on). There are no geographic, financial, collaborator, regulations, etc. other business issues hindering product creation. It's all in THE HEAD. That's great in that, in principle, you just have to think, and you will earn money. Of course, the flip side is that all the easy stuff is done, the intermediate stuff is saturated, and only the hard stuff remains, where the difficulty is largely in coming up with the RIGHT idea.

I think there are probably 5 evergreen ideas at most suitable for me (others can solve other problems) that will fit the idea of "problem-solving fiction". I've thought of one. I expect there will be at most 1-2 transient topics per year at most. The challenge is digging them out.

You still play the lottery, of course. But I want to increase the odds. 2-3% chance to make a million? 5%? I'd buy a couple of those tickets, for 1-2 months of work each. If I can get that percentage up to 10%, hell yeah, I'm all in.

I think you and I probably have similar beliefs about art, fundamentally. I've completely neglected to talk about craft, and that magic "IT FACTOR" that makes a work popular. I'm not denying this aspect of art. I'm taking this as a given. That it is always being worked on and improved.

I've worked with many writers, both as an employer of ghostwriters and more casually on writer forums/groups. Most writers DO NOT have the "IT FACTOR". It can be different for different writers - wit, control of pacing, imagination, or just putting the whole package together in a special way. I would estimate that less than 1 out of a 100, maybe less than out of a 1000 writers, are able to pull it off. Even then, it's not a given. People still have flops and successes.

I'm assuming in this entire thread that the writer, well, me in this case, has the chops to pull off the execution. This already presupposes that there is a certain level of artistic skill and ability to reach an audience. It goes without saying that the fiction book I do write, even if it is solving a problem, still has to be damn good fiction.

I can continue to work on my craft. In practical terms, I could continue to read books on craft or taking courses, but I am slowing that down in favor of spending time reading books outside my genre, doing research, and searching for opportunities.

I think spending much more effort on chasing unicorns through the magic of my art is less likely to succeed, now that I've brought my craft up to a "serviceable" level (which is still higher than the average self-published author). Now, it's time for figuring out how to increase the odds of selling to a larger audience, however that may be.

As I've implied in this whole thread, I have no problem changing ships. If problem-solving fiction isn't the solution, so be it. But I don't see a better idea at the moment. All the academic fluff about how to write bestsellers, is in my view, useless beyond a certain level of craft at a practical level. I want to invent the next kpop factory, if you will, not cross my fingers and hope to become the next Mozart or Miles Davis. When I walk up to an investor (myself), that is the message for him.
 

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Problem-based nonfiction is limitless. There are new problems being created each day that did not exist the day before as society and technology change.
Depends. If the problem is transient, your books will also be transient. You could be flipping one grind for another.

On the flip side, I think you are selling yourself short. You make $200K a year selling fiction. That is not small potatoes and admirable, moreover, the market is telling you there is some bigger potential there. If you were barely squeaking it out on say, $30K a year, then I'd say yeah time to reevaluate.
 
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Earthling

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Depends. If the problem is transient, your books will also be transient. You could be flipping one grind for another.

On the flip side, I think you are selling yourself short. You make $200K a year selling fiction. That is not small potatoes and admirable, moreover, the market is telling you there is some bigger potential there. If you were barely squeaking it out on say, $30K a year, then I'd say yeah time to reevaluate.
Yeah, if nonfiction doesn't make more money (over the long term), it's a failure. But at the same time, I put a ton of energy into trying to expand the market of my current fiction, and it isn't going anywhere.

I beg to differ on selling myself short. If I had an entry level position at FAANG, was good with politics, and saw a path upward, okay, that would be a decent job to continue.

This is all risk, little upside for the amount of work and sacrifice I put in. Part of the reason I expect the income not to grow further is that it is not sustainable at a personal level.

I'll put it this way. You can look up numbers, but 200K profits from fiction places me beyond the 0.1% of self-published indies, probably around 0.05% or less. Bezos has discussed numbers in the past.

I saw some numbers for salary by state. In the worst state the top 1% make over 250K a year (across all careers, not writing). In NY, the top 1% makes over 2 million a year. That is the top 1% - we're not even talking about the top 0.1%.

Comparing the size of your bank account with others isn't always a good idea, but I do think it is important to point this out to others who think about venturing here. For the same amount of hard work, discipline, time, sacrifice, etc. to achieve a high level of (admirable) excellence, you are ending up 10x worse than the average for all careers.

If I went into programming, do you think that the top 0.05% of programmers make only 200K? I mentioned there was some luck, but I put in a lot of sweat, blood, and tears - I bet as much as anyone else, as much as my body could handle without sacrificing my family, to achieve that 0.05%.

I chose writing specifically because it was compatible with my personal needs to take care of a small child, and the associated mental/time requirements. There are some benefits when dealing with a small kid versus something like programming (programs have to be perfect or they won't compile/exeute properly; fiction can have flaws, even typos, and it still sells. Try being a perfectionist with a kid on your hands...)

I'd rather make 50K/year from stable rental income in some college town than 200K flash-in-the-pan from writing. That 50K means you've build up the assets that earn that. Ditto with a real business with 50K profits. The 200K value is all in my head, which is useful to some degree, but not in a strict business sense.

Still thinking about potential paths...that's why I posted here. Again, I find it useful to hear differing opinions; thanks to all who replied so far. Currently, I'm still planning to continue writing fiction 80% of the time, with 20% devoted to "something else". That "something else" will be searching for a larger audience or delivering more value through writing, or I may just abandon writing and move on to another business entirely.

The more I think about sunken costs and opportunity costs, the more I am inclined to abandon writing entirely (within 1-2 years max, or as soon as I can build an actual business asset).
 

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But at the same time, I put a ton of energy into trying to expand the market of my current fiction, and it isn't going anywhere.
Is your genre one of the top genres or something less popular? I'm not asking you to reveal your genre - just want to identify the reason for your challenges. I've found that if you're a small fish in a big pond, there's much more growth possible than if you're a big fish in a small pond (you can't really expand your small pond). Perhaps you've run out of space to grow in your current market.

I'll put it this way. You can look up numbers, but 200K profits from fiction places me beyond the 0.1% of self-published indies, probably around 0.05% or less. Bezos has discussed numbers in the past.
I wouldn't look at it this way considering how many writers are extremely poor entrepreneurs. The vast majority earns nothing or close to nothing because they're artists at heart and don't even know how to identify needs.

As far as I know, there are more than a handful of self-published fiction authors making 100k+ a month or at least 500k a year (just browse through the bestselling lists in various genres and you'll find them easily). There's definitely a ceiling in this business, but it all depends on your genre. In the biggest ones, a realistic number to shoot for is probably at least 500k, if not 1 mil.
 
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Is your genre one of the top genres or something less popular? I'm not asking you to reveal your genre - just want to identify the reason for your challenges. I've found that if you're a small fish in a big pond, there's much more growth possible than if you're a big fish in a small pond (you can't really expand your small pond). Perhaps you've run out of space to grow in your current market.



I wouldn't look at it this way considering how many writers are extremely poor entrepreneurs. The vast majority earns nothing or close to nothing because they're artists at heart and don't even know how to identify needs.

As far as I know, there are more than a handful of self-published fiction authors making 100k+ a month or at least 500k a year (just browse through the bestselling lists in various genres and you'll find them easily). There's definitely a ceiling in this business, but it all depends on your genre. In the biggest ones, a realistic number to shoot for is probably at least 500k, if not 1 mil.
I am more niche, although there is crossover into umbrella genres. Really, anything other than romance is small for indies, at some level. Thrillers is fairly big, but not for indies.

Romance has its own issues and breaking out there will be a lot tougher. Shifting there is one option, but...

Bezos said in 2018 that there were 1000 Kindle authors with 100k+ in sales. Many authors spend a ton on advertising, so this isn't true profits. Others might have multiple pen names (I do). Also, there is more than Kindle to the market. But it gives us an estimate. Let's say 500 indie writers in the US make 200k+ profits from fiction.

Dude. There are only 15x30=450 total NBA players.

We're having a discussion about playing in the NBA and becoming an All Star. That can't possibly be a sensible business plan.
 
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Also, there is more than Kindle to the market. But it gives us an estimate
It's a very inaccurate estimate.

In 2018, only 20% of my income came from Kindle. The rest was from audiobooks and Createspace, and a small amount from other retailers, etc. I make well above 200k.

Obviously, it depends on a genre (I'm in non-fiction), but this means that while there are maybe only 1000 fiction writers making 100k on Amazon, this is just from Amazon.

There are probably hundreds, or thousands, of authors who are making, say, 50-100k on Amazon and additional several hundred from other sources (mostly audiobooks and paperbacks).

We're having a discussion about playing in the NBA and becoming an All Star. That can't possibly be a sensible business plan.
I get what you're saying. There are businesses where the ceiling is much, much higher. The thing is that these other business models usually don't come with the incredible perks of self-publishing: working whenever you want, not having any employees, enjoying relatively passive income (I still make a lot of money from books I wrote a few years ago), etc.

We probably have different perspectives because I've come to realize that I'm not really that good of an entrepreneur outside of self-publishing. I don't think it's the best business model there is, but it's the best business model for me. I prefer to make less, but doing something that fits my personality. If you offered me a job with a much better pay, I still wouldn't take it while it seems like you probably would (nothing wrong with that, just different priorities).

I save most of what I earn from my business and reinvest in things outside of self-publishing. This way, even if I can't ever grow past, say, 1 million in profit, I don't really care because all it takes is a few years of solid six figures to be set for life (depending on your living costs).
 

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Of course, fiction can provide value in ways other than novelty. I believe that fiction books can change lives. You could argue that the Harry Potter books profoundly changed the lives of many young and adult readers.
I think this is the key here. I'm a prolific writer, although I'm sifting through it all from the last nine years, and have hid most of it away for the most part for a simple reason, the idea of changing lives.

Now it's just time to get it edited and out there.

If you know every story is based off the Heroine's and Hero's Journey, what I see most writers doing is sitting around having other people write books for them. They also get caught in one niche. I am a natural at it and I can do it with ease just by turning on music and writing right now. I believe it depends on whether you have a concrete mind or abstract mind. I believe what is easy for one writer, might not be for another.

I remember one professor told me to keep educating myself instead of following the writers groups, following the way they write, because I'm a visual writer. He saw I write like a lot of older writers with more depth and graphic details. I really have to push myself to slow down. I have a tendency to want to get there fast, and anything you do in life fast, you can make mistakes and have to go back and do it over again until you get it right.

I can write all day long, 24 hours a day, and never get tired of it. Not a good idea, for I have wore a brace because I have written too much in both non-fiction and fiction. I believe in 2019 it is limiting my writing to when I really want too, and for specific goals to get projects done. And do some podcasts where I speak instead of write.

I believe when I started the forum...M.J. threw me the "I will bet on lots of short-reads, versus a Babe Ruth Novel." While I took time to investigate that world, It was a growing experience, I learned a lot about non-fiction, the publishing industry, and the games we play. And think Amazon kind of answered it for me when they changed the rules in the process. A trilogy of Novels would be worth my time or a series of books, rather than writing seven short books a month.

I was under the assumption at the time in the beginning you just wrote a story, which I wrote back in 2011-2013, before I hit the fastlane in 2014, and glad I didn't finish it or throw it out there, because in 2019, I have much more to provide a novel with characters with more personality, depth, and more aware of the dynamics of human complexity, the journey itself, which all Movies and top Novels illustrate. The actual Hero or Heroine going through the process.

I have spent a lot of time studying around the globe and seeing what cultures offer in their film and screen writing, and there is diversity in this. When you limit yourself to one culture, you can only see from a limited point of view. Inspiration is brought on by exploration

Just looking at abandoned castles, asylums, aircraft, amusement parks, there's ideas coming all the time for fiction writing. There are endless possibilities. I believe in a sense some writers limit themselves. There are ideas everywhere you go.

I have had the chance to walk in some Castles here in Europe, Museums, WWII Cemeteries, and see different cultures. There is inspiration and opportunity if you look for it even history. You have different time frames. Historical Fiction.

It all comes down to research, exploration, and finding the write road. And the book the Art of War comes to mind. Aiming in a different direction than most writers.

In the Heroine or Hero's journey, there is adversity, obstacles, the inner transformation on the emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, sexual, and financial level. Just like a real human, the masculine and feminine will face the victories, the tragedy, the painful moments, but rise out of the situation. I think to be a good story teller you have to know this pretty well inside and out, the psychology, the thinking process of your characters. What would they do in this situation? What would they be thinking? How would they problem solve, adapt, adjust, and navigate through each event.

Creating Characters themselves is a job in itself, making them unique, stand out from the crowd, and be individuals.
Dialogue is another Job, how they say things and express themselves differently in conversations.

Stars Wars was a hit, because the author knew the complexity of human nature, the psyche, the light versus the dark, the duality, the polarity. The control, the power, the greed, the aspects of life and death. The adventure, the exploration of unknown territory. The ego.

I get too many ideas all the time, and have piles of notebooks with notes, research, and the skeleton I once wrote, but now it is taking everything I learned since I entered fast lane and providing a novel that solves people's problems, teaches them some things important about life, but in fiction format, and adding value to society as a whole.

And then as you stated, there are genre's. The fixed way of writing a story whether in romance, mystery, crime, sci-fi, etc. and where is the audience reading the most. And can I be innovative and creative enough to even break out of the fixed way we say, "We have to write a novel."

Can I break the rules, but still have a good story.

To be a good writer, I understand there is a lot of work that goes into it. Screen Writing, Novel Writing, Short-Stories, Editing, Plotting, Etc. You just don't sit down and write a good book in five minutes.

While I can write quantity, quality is what readers are after. If you don't provide quality work, they don't keep reading your series or book

I really sometimes don't like reading other people's work for I understand it takes away from my own creativity, vision, yet still I have to read it to see what my competition is, and understanding what readers value and hate.

Than listening to book reviews and hearing what readers hate about books, and what they love about books. I think you have to listen to the audience.

If you write a good book it will sell itself and by word of mouth they will find it. You know that with movies. People are waiting for the next series to come out, and front and center.
 
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Earthling

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It's a very inaccurate estimate.

In 2018, only 20% of my income came from Kindle. The rest was from audiobooks and Createspace, and a small amount from other retailers, etc. I make well above 200k.

Obviously, it depends on a genre (I'm in non-fiction), but this means that while there are maybe only 1000 fiction writers making 100k on Amazon, this is just from Amazon.

There are probably hundreds, or thousands, of authors who are making, say, 50-100k on Amazon and additional several hundred from other sources (mostly audiobooks and paperbacks).



I get what you're saying. There are businesses where the ceiling is much, much higher. The thing is that these other business models usually don't come with the incredible perks of self-publishing: working whenever you want, not having any employees, enjoying relatively passive income (I still make a lot of money from books I wrote a few years ago), etc.

We probably have different perspectives because I've come to realize that I'm not really that good of an entrepreneur outside of self-publishing. I don't think it's the best business model there is, but it's the best business model for me. I prefer to make less, but doing something that fits my personality. If you offered me a job with a much better pay, I still wouldn't take it while it seems like you probably would (nothing wrong with that, just different priorities).

I save most of what I earn from my business and reinvest in things outside of self-publishing. This way, even if I can't ever grow past, say, 1 million in profit, I don't really care because all it takes is a few years of solid six figures to be set for life (depending on your living costs).
I'm very risk averse, which is paradoxically why i would jump ship to look for better opportunities.

I lead a pretty frugal life, but you're one accident or health problem away from being bankrupt and left for dead. It's likely that someone important to me will have cancer or some other major health issue during my lifetime, and given the state of healthcare in the US, who knows how much that will cost. If the best treatment is in Germany, how are you going to afford that? If I'm old and sick, yeah, maybe let me die in palliative care, but what if your child has a problem?

I do agree self-publishing has perks, but the risks are insanely high to me, and it's not too passive. I'm constantly scraping for extra hours/words per day. I've sacrificed my entire life anyways for this job - the idea of perks doesn't affect me; it's more what is practical for the moment.

I frequent a noodle shop where this old man makes noodles by hand every day. There are maybe 7 other employees at the restaurant. I have only ever seen the old man make noodles. Occasionally the restaurant is closed unexpectedly. I kind of wonder - is the old man sick on those days? If he keels over and dies, I suspect the other 7 employees will lose their jobs. It's crazy to me.
 
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Earthling

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I think you have to listen to the audience.
This is really the only thing that matters for making money with fiction, although they don't always tell you things truthfully or at all. Everything else is secondary or unpredictable.
 

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MTF

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It's likely that someone important to me will have cancer or some other major health issue during my lifetime, and given the state of healthcare in the US, who knows how much that will cost.
I'm sorry to hear that. I don't live in the US so I never really think about this issue; you don't have to worry about it if you live in a country with free healthcare. I understand that your expenses and priorities are different if you have a family and live in the US.

Perhaps consider a different business model then. Maybe hiring ghostwriters could work for you. It works incredibly well for Bella Forrest and plenty of other writers.

Just wanted to provide my own perspective as it's clear you're doing something well in fiction and it would be a shame to lose it. I've been close to giving up with my own self-publishing business, too. If I had given up, I would have never built what I have today.
 

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I just read your original post and didn't read the other comments so apologies if someone already said this.

Siddhartha, Brave New World, and The Stranger are some of my favorite books!

You could even go as far as to say Elon Musk was inspired by much of science fiction and is working to make some ideas a reality.

There is tremendous value in showing people what is possible.

I don't think fiction is necessarily mutually exclusive with reality and when you can help shape reality or someone's take on it, you are doing powerful work.
 

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@Earthling, I wanted to thank you for your thread and our discussion as it made me think about my business and question my own beliefs. I wanted to help you show that non-fiction isn't all roses and that you might do better by sticking to fiction since it works well for you, but I just realized one thing I hadn't considered before that I think made me better understand your position.

Namely, as I've been looking for some new novels to read and also researching potential topics for my own novel, I realized how crazy competitive the market is and how little differentiation there is between books in the same genre.

For example, I was browsing through dystopian books and realized that pretty much every book on the bestseller list was very similar to a book written by a different author. Very similar characters, very similar plots, similar covers - almost everything.

Even in more specific categories, say, post-apocalyptic, there were just a few main trends with books that looked very similar to each other, even though they were written by different authors (two big ones were EMP and some kind of a virus).

For me, as a reader, there's little difference which book I'll read because they all appear to be almost the same to me. This is a very bad position to be in as an author. The fiction market seems to be much more commoditized than non-fiction.

In the end, in fiction, instead of taking chances with a new author, I often gravitate toward a few authors I already know and trust. Many of them are traditionally-published, established authors as they are least likely to put out something generic like many self-published authors do.

This is much less visible in non-fiction. Even in a hugely competitive category, there are dozens, or hundreds of subcategories. And even if you're writing about the same topic, you can always address a different audience (which doesn't seem to be that prevalent in fiction where most self-published authors are very formulaic because most readers expect certain tropes).
 

NMdad

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A little late to the party, but a common theme I've seen for successful nonfiction & fiction books is the use of open loops--e.g., Malcolm Gladwell, Andy Weir's The Martian (initially self-published, a chapter at a time, if I recall correctly), Michael Crichton, Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series (BTW, initially self-published), etc.

For those not familiar with the technique, an open loop is a copywriting technique where the reader gets pulled through the story--page-turner books often use the technique. It can become formulaic, but it works--many of the most popular books use it. Literary fiction, not so much.

Copywriting isn't just for direct sales.
 
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Earthling

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A little late to the party, but a common theme I've seen for successful nonfiction & fiction books is the use of open loops--e.g., Malcolm Gladwell, Andy Weir's The Martian (initially self-published, a chapter at a time, if I recall correctly), Michael Crichton, Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series (BTW, initially self-published), etc.

For those not familiar with the technique, an open loop is a copywriting technique where the reader gets pulled through the story--page-turner books often use the technique. It can become formulaic, but it works--many of the most popular books use it. Literary fiction, not so much.

Copywriting isn't just for direct sales.
Right, open loops are important at all scales, within a chapter, within a book, across a series of books. It's intimately tied to the idea of pacing.
 
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Earthling

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@Earthling, I wanted to thank you for your thread and our discussion as it made me think about my business and question my own beliefs. I wanted to help you show that non-fiction isn't all roses and that you might do better by sticking to fiction since it works well for you, but I just realized one thing I hadn't considered before that I think made me better understand your position.

Namely, as I've been looking for some new novels to read and also researching potential topics for my own novel, I realized how crazy competitive the market is and how little differentiation there is between books in the same genre.

For example, I was browsing through dystopian books and realized that pretty much every book on the bestseller list was very similar to a book written by a different author. Very similar characters, very similar plots, similar covers - almost everything.

Even in more specific categories, say, post-apocalyptic, there were just a few main trends with books that looked very similar to each other, even though they were written by different authors (two big ones were EMP and some kind of a virus).

For me, as a reader, there's little difference which book I'll read because they all appear to be almost the same to me. This is a very bad position to be in as an author. The fiction market seems to be much more commoditized than non-fiction.

In the end, in fiction, instead of taking chances with a new author, I often gravitate toward a few authors I already know and trust. Many of them are traditionally-published, established authors as they are least likely to put out something generic like many self-published authors do.

This is much less visible in non-fiction. Even in a hugely competitive category, there are dozens, or hundreds of subcategories. And even if you're writing about the same topic, you can always address a different audience (which doesn't seem to be that prevalent in fiction where most self-published authors are very formulaic because most readers expect certain tropes).
That's exactly what I meant that commercial success in fiction is about being the same but different, whereas nonfiction was limitless. Of course, there's some variation by genre, but generally, if you want to make money, you learn to be creative within the confines of reader expectations.

It's not only that - I feel like fiction lacks a lot of basic business opportunities. I have some experience with digital marketing, outreach, virality/social, SEO, all that stuff. Most of it doesn't work that well in fiction. There's some PPC and, depending on your genre, some modest networking/social, but I can't use most of my skills to boost sales.

For many genres, the main advantage of fiction is that you can be lazy on the marketing side, either doing none, or focusing on only one method like FB ads. Authors abhor marketing so they see that as a positive. I hate this. I would rather play the full business game - more places to differentiate myself, more puzzles to solve, more places to win and kill/keep out the low-value competition, even if I have to work harder to get things going.

I'm seeing so many opportunities in nonfiction. Again, I think the downside is that it will take more work to get traction, but there are so many ways to improve the product and provide more value.

Right now, if you google a lot of common problems, you end up with trash websites that all regurgitate the same useless advice. Google's algorithms suck, and the web is spammed to death with people trying to make a quick buck from advertising and affiliate offers. Even big companies are in on the spam game. When I need an actual answer, I can't find it anymore. I usually search forums or somewhere with real people.

Beating the behemoths at SEO is impossible. However, I think you can capture some market share through regular marketing - key influencers, organic reviews, pounding the pavement, etc. That assumes your product is superior.

I don't have direct experience, but it looks to me like the nonfiction book market is similar or even more open than web publishing (although I view web+book space to be the same/linked.) I searched Amazon for a book covering a major problem that affects a ton of people. All I found was some spammy 50-page booklets, one or two really dry, outdated tomes no one is going to read, and so on. I was kind of shocked, to be honest. If I wanted a resource on this major life issue, I would have no idea where to turn based on Google or Amazon. I had thought this issue would already have a bunch of gurus or celebrities and not be worth pursuing. I was researching it as a "baseline" hot topic to study techniques. (The web is littered with slick pages with useless info on the same topic.)

Anyways, I'm glad you found the discussion useful. I find it is helpful to speak out loud to people. It's not to get spoonfed answers but more to stimulate and get feedback in unpredictable ways. You never know how something someone says will trigger another thought and lead you to an answer!
 

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@Earthling, I've found this interesting: World's Highest-Paid Authors 2018: Michael Wolff Joins List Thanks To 'Fire And Fury'

It's a list of the world's highest-paid authors in 2018 and it seems that it's been exclusively a list of fiction authors for the past 11 years:

Michael Wolff is the first nonfiction author on the list in 11 years.
I wonder how many non-fiction authors there are on the top50 list if such a list exists, and what #50 makes a year considering that #10 makes about 10.5 million. It's not really that much for being #10 considering you're the tenth highest-paid author in the entire world (according to another Forbes list #10 highest-paid musician made 64 million in 2018).
 
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Earthling

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@Earthling, I've found this interesting: World's Highest-Paid Authors 2018: Michael Wolff Joins List Thanks To 'Fire And Fury'

It's a list of the world's highest-paid authors in 2018 and it seems that it's been exclusively a list of fiction authors for the past 11 years:



I wonder how many non-fiction authors there are on the top50 list if such a list exists, and what #50 makes a year considering that #10 makes about 10.5 million. It's not really that much for being #10 considering you're the tenth highest-paid author in the entire world (according to another Forbes list #10 highest-paid musician made 64 million in 2018).
Thanks for the post. There's a bunch of data on authorearnings.com (site seems to be down at the moment), too.

I don't think such a list exists, but another interesting list would be earnings by webmaster. No one is going to release their complete numbers, though. Plus many people own multiple websites.

More than the pure number, for me, it's about freedom and security. For midlisters, fiction provides flexibility, which isn't the same as freedom.
 
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I don't think such a list exists, but another interesting list would be earnings by webmaster. No one is going to release their complete numbers, though. Plus many people own multiple websites.
That would be hard to create since probably all of the most lucrative websites aren't owned by a single person. Anyway, even the owners of less lucrative sites have something that authors don't have - a possibility to sell their business easily. A self-published author and a website owner can both make, say, $50k a month. The author (unless they use ghostwriters) is stuck with this income. The website owner, in addition to $50k a month, can always sell their site for at least $1 million or more (20-30x multiple).
 

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