I recently did an interview with Jennifer Minar-Jaynes Editor in Chief, at www.WritersBreak.com. She asked me specific questions about making a living while writing.
Check it out and let me know if you have any questions. Make sure to also check out Jennifer’s blog.
What were you doing before you became a writer?
I never actually considered that I was really a “writer” until recently. I studied classical music in college, and then became interested in natural health and raw foods. I went on a quest of self-discovery when I was about 20 and worked at different retreat centers in California. I got my first book contract when I was just 22 to write a recipe book for an up-and-coming star in the “raw food” world called “The Sunfood Cuisine”.
What do you like most about your work?
I really enjoy writing and being able to work from home. I also enjoy the high return on investment I have been able to generate from my writings. I don’t think, considering how lazy I am, lol, that I could have done the same in the corporate world!
I would say that there’s nothing I really hate about my work, now that I’ve systematized and outsourced the processes that were too difficult for me to handle all at once. At this point I have a lot of projects on my plate so that’s the part I enjoy the least.
You are a fantastic (& very persuasive) writer. Is this self-taught?
Thank you! Yes I have learned everything myself and not through any formal education.
You’re also extremely prolific. You’ve written 20 ebooks and have turned out possibly “hundreds” of articles. I know, because I’ve probably read most of them! Any tips for writers who would like to produce as much quality work as you do?
For the record, I have written many eBooks, yes, but also six published books.
Whenever I write I need to get into a “zone.” I need to turn off all distractions and just write. Whenever I have something important to write, like a new book, I find I get my best writing done if I work on it in a block of one of two hours, first thing in the morning! That is before I check my emails or do any other type of work or even eat!
I also always set a timer when I write, using the “clock” application on my iPhone. I normally set it to about 45 or 50 minutes and then take a 10-15 minute break, and come back to it if necessary.
When writing a big project like a book, it’s imperative to set yourself a daily word goal. Usually 2000 words a day is a good target to make any significant progress.
Every writer dreams of moving to a tropical paradise. To write remotely about the things they’re passionate about and also make a good living. But for many of us, it sounds too good to be true. If anyone can do it, then why aren’t we all? Or, would you say, it’s this very mindset that’s limiting us?
I’m not sure that every writer dreams of moving to a tropical paradise, but indeed many do! The great thing about writing is that you can do it from anywhere.
If that’s your dream, there’s really no one stopping you.
I would say that for many people, moving to a tropical paradise is not something they should consider until they have the other aspects of their business and writing plan in place. Once you’re already successful in writing, then you could consider making a move.
What else would you say limits us from doing this—making the above dream a reality?
Actually I think that what limits people is inaction and being overwhelmed.
People procrastinate and don’t get anything done. They are also too distracted and can’t focus on writing, and take too long to complete projects.
For a writer, it’s imperative to have that 2-hour block every day to write uninterrupted, with no checking emails or Facebook!
You also need to write in a very clean environment. Your office should be an oasis of peace with no papers lying around and no notes all over the place. Read the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen if you haven’t already!
At first glance writing digital informational products seems much more lucrative than writing digital novels since informational products generally have much higher price tags. Any thoughts on this?
I cannot comment on digital novels since I don’t have experience with that field. However I hear stories of people making a killing writing digital vampire novels for Kindle.
Digital information products can be successful as long as one spends enough time putting together a complete strategy.
To give you a case in point, I offer a course “How to Write and Sell Your Own eBooks in 24 Hours or Less,” on my website
This course could have well been a book, but instead I found it more beneficial to separate the content into 12 lessons. Each lesson is a written PDF, but I also provide support material in the form of videos, templates, etc.
That way, it’s 10 times the value for the customer. Most people who would buy a book on how to write eBooks would read it, but never get anything done! But with support material and lessons spaced over time, they can work on it bit by bit one step at a time.
So we have to redefine what being a “writer” is. I may not always publish books but other writing projects in different forms can be even more lucrative.
What kinds of skills, personality and constitution must someone possess, in your opinion, in order to be successful at making a full-time income by writing ebooks?
You have to be able to write, but you don’t have to be a good writer. I don’t consider myself a good writer, since English is only my second language. I make a lot of grammatical mistakes, and I haven’t mastered proper writing tecnique. However I can churn out at least 1500-2000 words an hour and write in a style that’s compelling for my readers.
You have to be in touch with your readers. You have to think about them first, before you think about yourself. I do a lot of surveys to ask people what they want, to test new ideas, before I put them out on the market.
To make a living selling ebooks, you have to consider the full package, not just the “fun” writing part. You have to be willing to learn about copywriting and marketing. Otherwise, you’ll just become a writer and be paid accordingly, which is very little.
You’ve written over 20 successful eBooks. How would you define “success” when it comes to ebooks? A certain number of sales?
It depends. I have some projects that have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales, and others have only made 10K. Yet I consider them both successful, because in the 10K example, I only spent 5 hours working on it! (This was for a recipe eBook).
I consider it a success if the return on my investment in time and energy is high. For example, if I worked 100 hours on a project, and end up making 10K with it, that’s about $100 an hour. That’s pretty good, but if I consider my business expenses, then the hourly wage I make is much lower.
I find writing to be a very high ROI activity, so I aim at making at least $250 an hour from it to cover the cost of my business.
Would you encourage a writer with a successful ebook title to also have his book published in paperback? Why or why not?
Unless you have a book published in a physical form, you are not considered to be a serious writer and expert. I encourage all eBook writers and marketers to have at least one of their projects printed and available for sale to the public.
A printed book is also your best business cards. Imagine showing up at a conference with no book and trying to advertise the fact that you sell an ebook! No one will take you seriously. So yes, you need both.
What’s your experience been with CreateSpace? I’ve interviewed other writers who have used them & they’re also one of my site’s affiliates since I’ve heard nothing but great things. Would you personally recommend using them?
I use CreateSpace for most of my books now, so it’s definitely recommended especially for first-time authors.
I understand that the more titles you have under your belt, the more money will flow in. What was your lag time when you first started? For example, how long after your first book was on the market did it take before you no longer had to rely on other sources of income?
Before I answer the question, I have to mention that books also have a shelf life. Not all books, but most do.
Think about the books that were best sellers in 1995. How many are still best sellers today? Most of them are not, especially the ones about the Y2K computer bug! Most books have about a 5 year shelf life, if you’re lucky.
I’ve been lucky that some titles have kept selling well for me over the years, such as my book Raw Secrets. Although I published it in 2002, I still make good sales with it.
When a book is reaching the end of a shelf life and it would be more profitable to focus on a new project rather than trying to revive it, I recommend repurposing the content. Sometimes, just changing the name of a book will boost its sales! Or including the book as part of a larger package of products you may offer.
Now to answer your questions, I initially thought I would make a lot of money from books alone. When my first book Sunfood Cuisine came out, I was expecting it to make me a decent monthly income. Even though I have sold over 15,000 copies of it over the years, I was only getting about $3 in royalty payments per book. Not nearly enough to make a full-time living, even in 2002!
I haven’t had a book that’s been a home run and that made me a ton of money. By book I mean an actual, physical book. I’ve made more money from creating bigger products out of my writings, such as the monthly newsletter I write for my paid membership programs on my websites.
However, each book has been useful and most of them have been profitable experiences. Now I combine many of my books in larger packages of products, and I find it’s also better that way.
So to answer the question, from the moment my first book came out, I was making a full-time living less than 2 years later. However, most of my income did not come from the book but from other projects — which are all writing projects to some degree.
I have to say that if I started from scratch today, I could probably make a living only with eBooks, and it wouldn’t take me very long to do it, because I know how.
How long did it take to generate a 6-figure income solely from writing and selling ebooks?
Again, eBooks alone are just one part of my business. I sell How-To DVDs, physical books, packages of my info products, a monthly newsletter, etc.
It took me until 2005 to be able to make a 6-figure income from my writings.
What are some of the top reasons writers fail at this? What would you say are the top areas most people go wrong?
The number one reason, besides procrastination, is not learning about marketing. Many writers think that books will just market themselves. In fact, writing is only 20-30% of the work, the rest is all marketing!
How many hours a week do you set aside to work on promotion?
I don’t set aside a specific amount of time, it goes with the projects. Because I have automated a lot of processes, I normally work about one hour a week on a regular promotion, unless I’m launching a new book or product. In that case, I may work 5 to 10 hours on it.
Once a writer has his ebook finished and properly edited & packaged, what ebook sellers should he work with?
It doesn’t actually matter. I’ve known people using Paypal, but most people use Clickbank. The most important thing is to automate the process. I remember someone selling eBooks a few years ago, and after I sent the payment, I had to wait 24 hours for them to send me the eBook by email!
You want to automate the process as much as possible, using 1ShoppingCart or Clickbank. Of course, you should also have your book available on Kindle.
Any last words of advice?
You only get better at writing by writing more and reading more. So set some time every day to read and write.
You only get better at marketing by learning about marketing and implementing it. I would actually recommend my course “How to Write and Sell Your Own eBooks in 24 Hours or Less” because I think it’s the best on the subject, but that would be shameless promotion. Am I allowed? 🙂
Of course! Do you have a favorite quotation?
I don’t have the exact quote, but in one of his old books Stephen King said that he writes like some people overeat — that is compulsively.
But more recently, he said:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
I would add to that:
If you’re not writing at least 1000 words a day, then you’re not serious about writing!