Can’t Make Money in Fiction? Who Says?

Is this your future?

Many people perpetuate an image of the publishing business as a bleak world for fiction writers. Some pessimists seem to imply only the blessed few–born talented, mentored by geniuses, and gifted with more free time than we mere mortals can imagine–can live off the cash stream from their fiction.

I’ve read and heard the dissatisfying rumor that fewer than 200 fiction writers in the U.S. make enough money from writing to support their households, and even they live without frills, making less than the average grade school teacher.

Everyone else who sits down every day to write, submit, and generally learn about publishing will accrue little more than needed to buy the year’s writing aids. We must write solely for the love of it, right?

Yeah… not really.

Author Dean Wesley Smith’s blog post, “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Can’t Make Money in Fiction“, picks apart the misconception that 200 or fewer fiction writers “make a living” at the craft. He asserts at least 200 new writers annually may be able to support themselves with their fiction. 

That isn’t the best part of the article, however. Smith adds sparkles to sunshine when he explains how savvy authors split apart each story to bring in bigger paychecks. Smith even gave this process a catchy name–the Magic Bakery.

I’d love to open a Magic Bakery of my own within five years. It’s a nice dream.

Overall, “Can’t Make Money in Fiction” is a heartwarming post. I’m thinking of it as Smith’s holiday gift to aspiring authors. Check it out and let me know if you agree.


8 thoughts on “Can’t Make Money in Fiction? Who Says?”

  1. Dean Wesley sure makes a good argument! But I guess I can’t even test his theory until I get that darn MS finished! 🙂

    Thanks for the link to his article.

    1. That’s a good question. Most of the published writers I know are genre writers, but maybe I can hunt down an answer.

    2. I quickly determined I need to mark the border between “genre” and “non-genre”. For a definition of non-genre, I first tried “stories of everyday characters doing everyday activities in the current world or recent past.” Yet, Crime and Romance novels can fall within that definition.

      So, what are your definitions?

      1. My definition would be in how a book is marketed. It would be shelved in one of the genre sections: Mystery, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, etc.

        He also spoke (derisively) of “slow writing” meaning, I think, that the author takes at the very least one full year to write and edit their book, and more likely that’s closer to two. Many genre writers, after they perfect their style, write two or more books a year. Some develop a formula where they change a few details, but essentially write the same book over and over, which means they could crank out three or four books a year. If you have that many books in the works at once, I would imagine you could bring in quite a bit more income than someone who publishes one book every three years … unless, of course, the magic happens and your book hits the number one spot on all the lists.

        1. This gives me a more specific prompt: Do professional writers whose works are marketed in Literature rather than in genres typically write (rewrite and edit) slower than professional genre writers? If so, do they simply make less money or can other marketing factors compensate for slower production?

          Now I’m itching to spend a few days on research for a new blog post on this topic. I hope you don’t mind the wait.

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