Being a successful writer often means accepting certain truths and working with the industry. In reality though, even if you play the game, the odds of becoming a successful writer are fairly stacked against you.
Knowledge is power, however. The more you know about getting involved in a career as an author, the better prepared you are not only for the highs and lows, but also how to weight those odds in your favour. In this article, we’ll cover facts and figures about becoming an author. We’ll also look at advice and guides from those who’ve travelled this road before.
How Long Should My Book Be?
How long is a piece of string? In this case, it’s as long as an agent/publisher wants it to be. Getting published, especially for the first time, is about playing to your audience. With that in mind, you want to cover certain conventions when it comes to novel length. If you don’t, you are less likely to be picked up.
Writer’s Digest states that for most books, you are looking at between 80,000 - 100,000 words. More and you’ll put off agents, less and you’ll do the same. However, there are exceptions to this practice.
Fantasy fiction tends to be longer, over 100,000 words. Young Adult fiction, on the other hand, is often shorter, between 55,000 and 80,000. Children’s fiction goes even lower, with 40,000 to 55,000 being widely accepted.
How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?
Becoming an author is, more than anything, an investment of time (and talent). It’s one of those things that can’t be done without dedication and perseverance to a passion beyond that of trying to make a bit of money on the side.
With that in mind though, knowing how long it is actually going to take you is still important. When you start writing a book, it’s good to have a realistic idea of how long it is going to take to finish, if you follow conventional practices like writing a bit every day, setting a word count, etc.
Okay then, how long does it take to write a novel?
If you can write 1000 words a day, you can have your first draft finished in three months. If you can’t, you can’t. Only you’ll be able to make a prediction of how long it will take you. This isn’t a fact, a figure or an interesting piece of wisdom from an expert, it’s just the horrible truth of book writing.
How Long Should a Novel Query Be?
Before you can get a novel published, you need to grab yourself an agent. To do that, you need to sell them on your book. Publishing is a business after all, which means it’s all about the sale. Step one in the process is the query letter that accompanies your novel.
But how long should a novel query be?
Writer and agent Nathan Bransford suggests the optimum length of a query is around 300 words, or about one A4 page. He claims this is the kind of length agents are looking for, and means it is more likely to get read properly.
How Many Queries Should I Send Out?
It is recommended by experienced writers and published authors that you send novel queries out in batches. The theory goes if you send all queries at once, and your query isn’t good, you’ll alienate all agents and publishers, ruining your chances. Instead, sending out queries in different stages allows you to adapt and change it based on success/failure rates.
So how many queries should you be sending out at once?
The wisdom of others claims 6-8 is the magic number. This allows you to make good progress and contact a number of different agents while safeguarding you against poor query process.
How Many Rejections Before Getting Published?
Becoming an author means growing extra-thick skin. You’ll hear this a lot when looking to become a published writer, and for good reason. Agents can receive hundreds of queries a week, and they only opt to represent a rare few. This doesn’t mean your work is bad, it just means it wasn’t right for them.
This is what they’ll tell you. This is what you’ll have to convince yourself of as you slog through yet more rejections. But how many rejections can you expect to get before being published? There isn’t a true average here. Best-selling books like Still Alice receive over 100 rejections and still made it big.
From our research though, scouring the forums, Q&As, articles and blog posts of the internet, it seems to be that 60 rejections per novel is what most aspiring authors can expect to see before getting their break.
How Many Writers Are There?
Becoming a writer is a dream job for many. 80% of Americans have said they’d like to be a published author, while 60% of UK residents have the same secret aspirations. But being an actual, paid author is a tricky business.
There are around 150,000 people on the list of authors for the United States, that’s about 0.04% of the population. In the UK, your chances a little better. There are 62,000 authors in Britain, putting the figure at around 0.09%.
How Many Books Have Been Written?
Every year in the UK, over 180,000 new and revised books are published. A considerable undertaking, and one that shows the industry is far from dead. If you’re looking for something of an even grander scale though, it is estimated that throughout history, 130,000 million books have been published.
Surely, with such gargantuan numbers been thrown around, your new novel can be amongst them?
How Much Do Writers Make?
Trying to find a writer who’s in it for the money is like trying to find a banker who took up the job because they want to help people. These lunatics do exist, but they are a few and far between. Instead, writing is often about the passion and the uncontrollable urge to create.
Still, the prospect of turning professional isn’t something many would turn their nose up at, but how much do writers make? The ones who succeed in becoming an author, anyway.
The average writer makes just over £10,000 a year. It’s a bit of extra money to keep you ticking over, sure, but not enough to provide a stable living. Only around 13% of authors make enough to support themselves without other sources of income.
How Many eBooks Does Amazon Sell?
For those that do make money, much of a modern author’s success comes from the digital space. The Amazon book marketplace has seen an incredible rise in popularity in recent years. Nearly 20% of all books sold are on Amazon Kindle alone.
How many eBooks is that?
Amazon sells almost 500 million eBooks per year. Writers looking at how to become an author that actually makes a living can’t ignore the powerhouse that is Amazon. Which then brings you to an important question:
Should I Self Publish?
Self-publishing is something that attracts many authors. Over 780,000 self-published books are released annually, with a total of five million authors listed — including myself, having published a I’ve self-published a fantasy eBook. Obviously, the ease of self-publishing is inviting for anyone that is looking at how to be an author. However, is it actually a viable option?
Are all these people wasting their time?
Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
Some interesting research that looked at self-publishing vs traditional publishing found there to be certain benefits to both practices, and it all depends on how many books you can shift.
Basically, it comes down to royalties and advances.
In the early stages of sales, a traditional publishing contract is going to yield better results. A writer that sells 5000 copies of a self-published book is looking at revenue of around £1200, whereas a traditionally published author will likely have made £3400. However, if the self-publisher continues to sell, they start to earn more by comparison as costs mount up for traditional publishers.
In short, successful books can actually be more profitable if self-published, but you do have to market and manage the process yourself.
How Much Do Self-Published Authors Make?
So, self-publishing could be better for your career than finding a traditional publisher? Yes, but the odds aren’t in your favour. Most self-published authors - more than 50% - make less than £400 from a novel.
Those that do find success still tend to be less financially better off than their traditionally published peers, with the average income of a self-published writer sitting at around £3,800.
Far less than that previous average of £10,000 and certainly not enough to create a stable living. What you may find even more off-putting about the self-publishing business, is that 20% of authors never make a penny.
How to Make Money Self-Publishing
It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Before you get hung up on the idea that self-publishing isn’t for you, consider that just like the traditional publishing industry, there are notable success stories. Some authors have gone on to make thousands through self-publishing channels and platforms.
While rare, some authors do earn a healthy enough sum of money to make a living. 2% of self-published authors make $100,000 a year or more. It is hard, but not impossible, just as with any kind of writing.
Take self-published author E.L James as an example. She managed to make over $100 million from her works, so why couldn’t you? What’s more, there is more money in self-publishing than ever, and the amount authors stand to make continues to rise year-on-year.
40% of writer earnings on Amazon come through independently published books. The market is out there. It does exist. It’s just a case of tapping into it and finding your place.
Final Thoughts on Becoming a Successful Author
It can be off-putting, to go through complete production of your book, editing and pushing your writing skills as far as they can go, only to have submission after submission get rejected. It’s important to remember, though, that you are in good company.
Countless aspiring writers follow the same path, the same journey, and many of them go on to succeed. What these facts and insights show is that struggle is all part of the modern writer’s life. Attaining success is a challenge, and you may be forced to follow avenues of writing you hadn’t considered before.
The message here is don’t give up. Learn to find what is best for your work, take inspiration from those that have come before you, be flexible in how you eek out success and never fall into the trap of believing your mission to become a writer isn’t right for you.