As an author, you more than likely suspect that it doesn’t pay well to write just one book, unless you’re already famous. If you’re just starting out writing your creations, you might wonder how many books you need to write just to break even. How many books do other authors write?

Authors usuaslly write several books unless they are one-hit wonders. Evidence suggests that those making over $100K/year have on average published over 33 books. So if you want to make over 100K a year, prepare to publish as much as possible.

There is no set amount of work an author should or will produce in their career, but let’s look at the quality vs. quantity argument and the forces at play that influence writers.

How Many Books Should I Write in a Year?

If you want to earn over $100K per year, statistics suggest you should aim to write 1-5 books a year. While there is no clear answer to this question, however, you can make a rough estimate based on your goals as a writer.

According to Statista, most writers making over $100K per year average around 33 books. But emerging writers average around 7 books

There are relatively low expectations if you’re a part-time author writing for a supplementary income. You can publish as much or as little as you like. If your primary income comes from writing, you should look to publish at least 1-5 books a year.

Writing x amount of books does not guarantee you x amount of profit, as writing one book can take a week, a year, or even several years. Authors are strongly encouraged to have a yearly publication goal. However, this depends on a multitude of personal factors.

Examples of these factors include, but are not limited to:

  • How fast an author works.
  • Their creative flow.
  • How long the novel is.
  • How many drafts and edits are needed before publication.
  • Breaks that the author takes in between writing.
  • The amount and intensity of research required for the content of the book.

Writing a Novel: A Timeline

It’s not a simple task to align the timeline of every good novel, mainly because no two are alike. 

A Clockwork Orange, one of the gems of the 20th century, was written in three weeks. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, another example of literary genius, took 12 years to write and another five to be published. The secret to writing a good novel has been right under our noses all along: 

“Don’t compare yourself to others.” 

We can, however, break down the timeline of the first draft of a novel into five steps:

  1. Create a compelling story, and immerse yourself in it.
  2. Create strong, realistic, and three-dimensional characters.
  3. Decide on the point of view of your novel: is the main character a narrator? Is there a third-person omniscient storyteller recounting events?
  4. Step by step, break your novel into acts, scenes, moments, and other elements. This encompasses character motivation, dialogue, conflict, and every other meaty bit of your story.
  5. Once you have colored in your story, it’s time to end it in a way that fits the story and will be satisfying to the reader.

Congratulations, you’ve completed your first draft! The work doesn’t end here, as you need to seek outside input, edit, write a few more drafts, edit again, and only then can you take your work to a publisher

Editing your work can be arduous, but this editing Masterclass will get you on the right track in no time.  

This process can take weeks, years, or decades, depending on your preference and how your creative process works. Working with a publisher will incur deadlines, as there are several people depending on the success of your work.

However, before taking your work to a publisher, there’s no deadline other than the one you set for yourself. 

If you decide to self-publish, this process is more flexible than publishing with a publishing house or agent. You set all your deadlines, which comes with a lot of freedom and responsibility that falls solely on you.

These restraints become far more restricted if you’re writing novels as your main form of income. You have less time to produce more work of such a quality that it will sell well enough to pay the bills. 

Stephen King’s advice for writing is that anyone who hopes to be a good writer should expect to write for four to six hours every day, or around 2000 words a day minimum. For more writing tips from Stephen King, watch this Bangor Daily News interview in which King discusses his writing process:

The Number Of Books You Need To Write To Make a Living

If your only form of income is generated through writing books, you have a much tighter timeline for writing and publishing a successful piece of work.

An author will make around 10% of the royalties from a book. If this book sells for $25 and you sell 250 copies, which is the average for a nonfiction book, you would make 10% of $6,250 in a year, which is $625. 

The federal minimum wage in the US is $15,080. This would mean you would need to publish around 24 books yearly to make a basic living if your books are selling at this rate. 

This may seem like a rather bleak reality for the average author. Still, it’s crucial to remember that this differs from author to author. You could sell a million books for $3 and make $3 million. 

Or you could sell your book for $40 and only sell 14 books and make a total of $560. 

If you’re publishing with an agent or publisher, your advance payment on a book may be between $5,000 to $10,000, 15% of which will go to an agent. You won’t need to cover design or editing costs out of pocket. 

Don’t let this discourage you! The best place to start is by just starting. 

Create a consistent writing schedule and set ambitious yet realistic goals for yourself to work towards, even if that goal is to get published and has nothing to do with money.

Other Avenues of Income for Authors

Authors have a range of opportunities when it comes to making a profit off of their writing. Not only do they get paid for selling pen-and-paper writing, but they can also:

  • Distribute ebooks on Amazon or Kindle.
  • Partner with companies like Audible to make audiobooks.
  • Talk to their publisher about making their book a screenplay
  • Move into the editing space and write in their spare time.

Conclusion

Nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to publishing a novel and there is no universal formula to writing a successful book. The average author doesn’t make a killing with their writing, at least not in the beginning.

What you can do as an author is find a process that works for you and utilize your writing to make an income in multiple ways that go beyond traditional publishing. Most importantly, stay consistent, goal-oriented, and determined.

Categories: Publishing

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.