There are a couple of ways authors earn a lot from book royalties. One: they get lucky and publish an international hit (think Twilight and The Hunger Games) Two: they build a platform and publish lots of books at a frequent pace.
Unfortunately, the “get lucky” strategy isn’t really a strategy. It depends a lot on... well, luck. These authors had a one-in-a-million opportunity, and it worked out. Which is great for them! But what about the rest of us? This is why the vast majority of successful authors fall under the second strategy: You’ve got to write and publish a lot of books at a steady pace.
According to a 2019 author survey by Written Word Media, most authors who earn six figures have nearly thirty published books. Writing and publishing even one book takes a long time, of course, but if you want to be serious, this is the truth. Nobody said being an author was easy. Set a goal to write and publish a book per year.
Other than “write a lot of books”, here are a few pieces of advice to help you earn a living as a YA/MG author.
Treat writing as your full-time career
Forty hours a week is too much (I’m a firm believer that working 40 hours a week is ludicrous), but if you want to make a living as an author, dedicate four to six hours per day to writing. For me, I get up and do my best writing from 6:30 AM - 9:30 AM, and then I put in a couple more hours throughout the day when I feel inspired. I also dedicate time every day for marketing and other related tasks that aren’t necessarily “putting words on a page”.
Think of writing as a business
Make professional decisions. Register yourself as a publishing company and write off your business expenses at tax time, hire a professional editor before you publish anything, get a professional cover design, and study marketing methods and do them (like email lists, Amazon Ads, and Bookbub promotions. More on the topic of marketing coming soon). You can approach your author career with a “starving artist” mentality, or you can approach it like an entrepreneur. The choice is yours – but it will make a difference to your income.
Franchise your books
Consider other ways you can adapt and sell your story. Produce an audiobook, team up with an artist to co-create a comic adaptation, write a screenplay for a film or TV series and work with a talent manager to pitch it to studios, work with a distributor, try to sell your foreign/translation rights, and create a merchandise store using a site like Redbubble. All of these things contribute to your income. If you have full rights over your story (i.e. you self-published), you can also look for creative ways to reach new audiences, such as publishing on alternative reading platforms like Radish.
Make investments outside of your writing career
Because author life doesn’t come with steady paycheques, it’s important to invest outside of your book-related income. Work with a financial advisor you trust to invest your savings in funds that will give you high interest at a risk level you are comfortable with. This is especially important if you get a big advance or royalty cheque! Don’t just put that money in the bank. Put your earnings somewhere strategic that will maximize your income. Personally, I supplement my income by owning a rental property and making high-interest investments.
Don’t fear the day job
While you’re working your way to the top, it can also be a good idea to have a part-time job, just for the security of having a steady paycheque to help you pay the bills. Far from ruining your writing time, a day job can free you. Nothing kills creativity like stress. You’ll be able to write because you want to, not because you urgently have to in order to pay the bills. Lots of famous authors have/had day jobs. If you schedule your day, you’ll discover that you have time for all of it.
Making a living as an author isn’t easy, but if you’re willing to put in the work, the exciting thing is that there is no ceiling to how much you can earn. If you write lots of books and treat your author career like a business, you’ll find your book sales soaring and more digits on your royalty cheques.
If you have questions or want more advice about building your author platform, that’s what we’re here for! We want to help aspiring YA authors like you get your career started. Check out our personalized coaching programs and other free resources on this blog.