What Does It Take to Earn a Full-Time Income as a Professional Author?


Exactly what does it take for professional authors to earn a full-time income writing and publishing books? In the upcoming 2022 Edition of my book, Jobs in Writing, I explore different jobs that aspiring writers can do and earn a decent, full-time income through their passion for writing. Although talented writers have dozens of high-paying career options available to them, the idea of becoming an author is often romanticized in American culture.

Becoming a writer was among the top 10 dream jobs that children said they want to do when they grow up, according to a 2019 survey by SWNS.

Like many professional authors today, I also followed by childhood dream job of becoming a writer. I was lucky enough to realize at an early age that the reason I occupy this planet is to help people by telling stories, although admittedly I had no idea what I was getting into when I initially started down the road to publishing my first book over 20 years ago. All I knew was telling stories was my passion and I had a knack for the written word. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount of things about the art of writing and the business of literature that I wish I knew back then. This became the inspiration behind my series of lectures in colleges across America which evolved into my new book, Jobs in Writing, which I hope to release just before 2022.

What Does It Take for Professional Authors to Earn a Full-Time Income?

Top view of hands holding books flat vector illustration. School kids reading literature, gaining knowledge. Library, education, learning process concept

Nothing like writing the great American novel, am I right? For generations, the idea becoming one of the bestselling, professional authors who shape us intellectually has been glorified by younger, aspiring writers who have a story to tell. But what does it really take to earn a livable wage working as a full-time author?

Making a livable wage as a full-time self-published author is not easy, but for writers who possess determination and self-discipline, it’s a very achievable goal.

One of the most important yet often overlooked facts about professional authors today is that writing books is only a small fraction of the work you’ll be doing. A majority of your job is a hodgepodge of different business and marketing skills.

With the publishing industry changing at such a rapid pace, you’ll need to do a lot more than self-publish books back-to-back to joins the ranks of professional authors. Technology and market trends in publishing are evolving literally every single month. This is something we’ll touch more on later in the book. One of the best ways aspiring authors can stay in-the-know about relevant trends within the publishing industry and detailed book marketing strategies is by subscribing to by twice-a-month email newsletter here.

An author’s salary can vary greatly depending on a large number of variants, however, keep in mind that there are also many different costs that go into publishing a book that will sell.

Traditional Publishers

Thinking of going the traditionally published route? Today, major publishers only consider taking on new authors if you already have a sizable following. (read: celebrities).

Although a publisher will handle many important aspects of your book, such as editing, formatting, and cover design, however, the cost of all these services comes from author’s future royalties. So, whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, you still need to pay for all of the same stuff. Thus, the amount of royalties that traditionally published authors make per ebook, paperback, hardcover or audiobook sale is significantly lower than self-published authors, who pay for these costs out of pocket.

More and more publishers are looking towards the authors to do the heavy lifting when it comes to actually marketing and selling their book. Although traditionally published authors famously receive a sign-on bonus between $5,000 to $10,000 for securing the rights to the author’s forthcoming book, the trade-off is the aforementioned reduced royalties.

Required Skills for Professional Authors

In addition to the actually writing the book, professional authors needs to know variety of other skills, including:

  • Time management
  • Delegation
  • Editing / proofreading
  • Formatting
  • Cover design
  • Market research
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Publicity

Job Availability for Professional Authors

Competition is fierce among self-published professional authors who want to make a full-time income. In 2019, there were over 1.7 million new self-published books, a vast majority of which made less than $100 that year.

Earning Potential for Professional Authors

For seasoned professional authors who know what they’re doing, however, there is a lot of earning potential. The image below shows the monthly earnings for 3 Kindle eBooks via Publisher Rocket taken on September 3, 2021.

The first book, The Keeper of Happy Endings by Barbara Davis, was ranked as the #1 bestselling Kindle book on the date this was taken. Interestingly, the book hadn’t even been released yet and was only available for pre-order with a publication date 27 days after the date this data was pulled. Even during the book’s pre-order period, it managed to earn $733,380 in a 30-day period with approximately 146,676 Kindle pre-orders at a rate of $4.99.

The second book is The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs. This data set is interesting because the book has been out for over 2 years and has an Amazon bestseller ranking of #34,192. Still, at a price of $8.49, this book manages to sell approximately 205 Kindle copies in a 30-day period, earning $1,748 even 2 years after it’s release.

The third book we pulled data for is a novel titled The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. As we can see, this book is ranked #13 out of the estimated 9 million Kindle books available for sale on Amazon. (And in case you’re wondering, there are approximately 50 million listings for new and used physical books on Amazon at the time this was written) This book is perhaps the most interesting out of the three because even though the book is ranked #13 overall and has been out for nearly 6 months, it’s steadily grossing over $1 million in sales each month. This is largely due to the fact that the Kindle version is priced at $13.99, well above the average eBook price range, with approximately 78,925 Kindle orders.

Keep in mind that author’s royalty rate for Kindle eBooks is 70% the book’s list price.

Time Requirement for Professional Authors

For new authors to succeed in today’s marketplace, it requires a minimum of 10-12 hours of daily dedicated work, at least 5 days a week (although when you’re first starting out, most of that should be research, online courses, and learning about the industry). Not unlike freelancing, there is always something you can be doing to improve your status as an author. This is why self-discipline is paramount to the success of a full-time, professional authors.

Most professional authors set aside a few hours in the morning to write, the time when 87% of authors say that they do their best work. The second half of the day is used for checking advertisements, planning marketing, managing contractors, engaging with readers over social media, and other responsibilities.

Bottom Line for Professional Authors

There is a very high threshold of knowledge, experience, and costs that aspiring authors must get past in order to start making a livable wage as a self-published author. Fortunately, there are also plenty of free resources only. Only after plenty of trial and error will you be able to figure out the formula of what works for your specific books, and although it could take years to get to that point, automating your book sales is a very real possibility.

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