Once upon a time, the author was a frightfully creative and impoverished artiste scribbling away in a draughty garret, reconciled to the fact that he wrote because he loved to, not because it made him a decent income. Fast-forward to recent years: the cult of the celebrity and the phenomenal success of a few authors has inspired some people to dream of being a published author because they think it will make them rich and famous. Time for a reality check.
The true landscape of traditional publishing
- The vast majority of authors who submit a book to agents/publishers don’t get published.
- Of those who do get published, the vast majority don’t make enough money from their book(s) to be a professional (full-time) author.
- Of those who are professional authors, the vast majority don’t make enough money to have a luxurious lifestyle. (The average author income in Britain is just £12,500 per annum, well below the minimum wage.)
- The verdict: Only a very tiny proportion of published authors are rich and famous.
The true landscape of self-publishing
- The vast majority of authors who self-publish don’t sell a huge number of books.
- Of those who do sell a decent number of books, the vast majority don’t make enough money from their book(s) to be a professional (full-time) author.
- Of those who are professional authors, the vast majority don’t make enough money to have a luxurious lifestyle.
- The verdict: Only a very tiny proportion of self-published authors are rich and famous.
Talent doesn’t guarantee success
Some rich and famous authors are rich and famous because they’re amazingly talented. Some rich and famous authors are rich and famous despite the fact they’re not amazingly talented. And for every rich and famous author that exists, there are many more out there who are fabulously talented but can’t catch a break.
So many factors affect whether an author does well; it’s not just about the writing. Luck, timing, public reaction and need at a point in time – all these play a part. No one can quite pin down why exactly Harry Potter and Twilight became international sensations. Millionaire self-published author Amanda Hocking had some suggestions for why her books sold so well – popular genre, decent covers, low price, recommendations from bloggers – but she had no definitive recipe for success.
Check your motives for writing
I’m not trying to depress you. Of course you should dream of yachts and mansions and attending award ceremonies wearing Versace if that’s what motivates you. But be clear about the chances of living that dream. The proceeds from your first book may buy you a Hot Wheels car (99 pence), a remote-controlled car (£30), an old banger (£300), a pre-loved Mini (£1,000) or a new Ford Fiesta (£12,000), depending on how well it sells, but they’re really unlikely to stretch to a Ferrari (£200,000).
My advice: think carefully about why you want to be an author. If writing a book is simply a passport to wealth and notoriety, give up now. Apply to a reality TV show instead. If you want to write a book, make it because you eat, breathe and sleep writing; because being a writer is an integral part of who you are; because your dream is to share your writing with the world.