Making a life (or a living) at Writing

This group seems to have a mindset more like mine than any other writing group I hang out with; in that online fiction writers are not in it for the bucks.

We like giving our work away. Free is not just a marketing gimmick. It's something we do.

But yes, we'd all like to make a little something for this thing we do. Most of us would be happy to make a living at it. Some of us DO make a living at it (or at things related to it).

Until the middle of October I was gainfully employed, and making a living at writing was something I could ease into slowly, laying a really solid foundation in my body of work, trying out different ways of building an audience, etc. Then I got laid off.

I now have time to devote my whole life to writing. But if, say a year from now, I'm not at a point where I am making more than $30-40 a month at writing, things will start getting very tight.

So I am in a mood to start thinking about choices and money.

Unfortunately, my muse is not in such a mood, I think. She's FREE dangit! Free! I have over forty years of ideas and projects to get written, and released out into the world, and my muse wants to turn every single one of them into a serial. (And I'm not sure she's wrong, but I'll talk more about that later.)

Right now, I'd just like to hear from you guys about how you're supporting your habit, or how you hope to support your habit.


You don't ask a simple question, but I will try to give a simple answer, because it's hard to start from complication:

I make a living because of the multiple editions of multiple books.

So, basically, have lots of books available in as many outlets as you can swing it (e-book, audiobook, print, etc).

Also, series are good. :)

Certainly not making a living through my writing, but since the end of summer I've been making 6067 or so dollars a week on average ($75 earned in 8 or 9 out of 10 weeks), and I'm sort of hoping/expecting to make more in the long run, as I continue to build an audience. This is solely through donations, with a bonus chapter every time I hit a target amount. I'd had trouble keeping up & recently raised the cap, and I'm anticipating that the donations won't be rolling in quite as fast as they were for a little while.

That said, I think the donations with incentive chapters are pretty low-cost on my part as a writer (up until the point that I was having to do one pretty much every week & things IRL got too busy) and they really let readers show how much they enjoy the story - some people have donated as much as 75 or 100 dollars at a time. More important to me, they let people do that without the average reader losing anything - just the opposite. This helps foster community which helps me in the long run.

I'm seeing mentions of Worm popping up in niche geek forums and the like across the web (along with, I'm happy to say, other serials like LoN and Curveball); with the steady rate that donation totals are/were rising, I'm cautiously optimistic that I can continue to see 'revenues' increase to the point that I'm making as much as a minimum wage worker. If I supplement that by actually selling the books on the side for those who want hardcopies, maybe I could do okay.

Not to derail this thread (I'm not making a while lot of money for the record. Averaging about $30 a month on eBook purchases so far) but where are you seeing mentions of Curveball? Obviously I need to find a better ego-surfing algorithm than the one I'm using. :D

I see Worm mentioned everywhere, though. I think it's definitely gaining a lot of momentum.

It was Jim who mentioned it. Didn't realize at first - saw the name while scanning the page. Was sure I'd seen it:

M.C.A. - yeah, that's the core of it. It also goes back to "The best promotion for a book is another book."

I asked the question vaguely for a reason. Well, a couple of reasons. One: I'm not really asking for advice, because I know what I've gotta do. And everybody's situation is unique, so I think it's better to share experience than actually give advice anyway.

Two: The serials and blogging absorb me. Also the illustrations for said serials and blogs. That's what my muse really really really wants to do. I don't make any money at these.

My best shot at making more money sooner would be to do what I know and shut down the blog and the serials and just concentrate on writing books. I don't want to do that. I know that in the long term, the blog and the serials are good for my overall career -- if only creatively.

Unfortunately, my short term has changed. It doesn't overshadow the long term -- I still have the option of patience in making money -- but I also have a lot of motivation to shift into another gear.

So I'm just looking at possibilities and priorities on the micro-level.

Stuff I've done? Well, I have ebooks, and one paper edition. I have a donation button, which has only been used once. (And ironically, I had broken the button just before she tried to donate, and she had to be super determined to get the money to me. Only donation that ever came in, came in when the button was broken!) I have affiliate links (which I don't use enough). And I have affiliate links on other, older blogs, which still get traffic and the occasional click.

I have designed t-shirts through Printfection, but I am not sufficiently into it to actually sell them. I wrote SEO articles for an article farm for a while, that actually was a nice little income in residuals, but the place shut down and I sold the articles to them for a lump sum.

I'd like to do inexpensive "pre-designed" cover art for the booming business in cheapie self-publishing, but I suspect that market is crowded. I might work on clip art for stock companies.

I will, eventually, play with audio books, but other things come ahead of that. (Except I do want to play with reading excerpts from some of my work as "Book Trailer" experiments. But that's for fun.)

Mostly, though, I've just got to get more writing done. I'm in "surplus paralysis" right now. For reasons I won't go into, I have first books of a bazillion series in my trunk. The quickest way to get more books out would be to put more books that are unrelated to the existing books out there. But I think it's more important to get follow ups to the existing books done. And that's slower.


I sympathize, Camille. When traditional publishing was the only game in town I wrote a ton of "book 1"s myself, knowing there wouldn't be any point in investing the energy in the next books unless the first got picked up. I'm still solving that problem, years later, now that I can do it all myself. :P

I'm one of those stay at home moms being supported by their husband, but I know that we could be doing so much better if I started working too. We live in LA so housing is impossibly expensive. The only way to buy a house is to pretty much be a millionaire. :( I'm in talks with a big publisher on shaping another book of mine for traditional publishing but there no promise of anything. Still, I'll be doing my best to make it something they can sell. Rema is where I get to play, tho. So grateful to have that outlet.

Before I got married I made a living doing character designs/animations for games and drawing/writing my own comics. Haven't done freelance in a long time, although if this thing doesn't work out with the publisher I'll probably cave and ask my agent to give me some illustration gigs to support my writing hobby. Right now I'm stubbornly wanting to have my cake and eat it too. I figure I have a few years left before the kids start going to kindergarten.... :x

Whibbage, have you considered the webcomic route?

Also, I've noticed a distinct lack of merchandise with most online writing. Has anyone tried it? Stickers, shirts, toys, ect. A lot of comics make most of their money that way, but then, it IS a more visual medium.

Whibbage is a former webcomicer.

I do some merchandising with my writing, and it gives me a trickle of royalties right now (all trickles are good). The problem with doing that is that you need to license the artwork if you don't do it yourself, and that can cost more than what you make back. :)

If you have a good arrangement with the artist, you -are- the artist, or you're just going to put text quotes or other things you can put together yourself onto the merchandise, then there's no reason not to. My biggest sellers are mugs, postcards and mousepads, with clothes a distant second.

Hogarth, thanks. Since my current project is a webcomic, the artist comes with. (Of course, split two ways, and I'll have to double check, I think merch with art gets split 50 30 20, him me advertising/growth) So not TOO much money at that point, but like you said, every trickle is good.

You see? This is why I asked about individual experiences.

I myself don't buy mugs, postcards or mousepads, so I never would have thought to make them. (On the other hand, I have a t-shirt closet that rival's Emelda Marcos' shoe closet.)

But you know, when I think about when I used to sell buttons for a living, it makes sense. A lot of people at science fiction conventions wear buttons, but a whole lot MORE of them buy and collect buttons. And those who do wear them usually buy many more than they wear. A mug, it seems to me, is a more flexible "item of sentiment."

Now I'm wondering if I should do some mugs for Miss Leech and The Yard. (That's a monthly comic strip I do -- cozy mystery about a competitive little old lady sleuth, and the Scotland Yard inspector she drives nuts.)


Buttons and magnets sell well too. :)

The whole "I'd never buy that" phenomenon is why I've gotten into the habit of asking my readers that question. If it wasn't for that I wouldn't be selling half the things I am (including audiobooks!).

Convention sales are all about impulse buys and visually appealing stuff.

Online sales are much more difficult to deal with because you have to compete against similar products on the entire internet D:.

I've only a few sales online . I don't aggressively shove product though in front of my readers because a lot of them can't really afford it (or think they can't). I had a storenvy for a while with charms and still maintain my deviantart for prints. However, now that I'm almost done with the charms I'm going to phase them out. (Most people at cons are moving away from them too since the smartphones have kind of killed interest in charms.)

Sample of prints: +

Sample stuff: (charms, buttons, keyrings, other random things)

As far as prints, I've only made a few sales online. The majority of the time I sell prints at fan conventions that has a component devoted to original art. Fanwork always kills original art at conventions, but I have enough people who like fantasy to do okay. (And repeat customers who ask me for my new things every year, bless their heart.)

One or two people told me they read the story and came to buy a print when I posted I would be somewhere. That was cool, but again, a bit rare since I only cover cons here in my region and my readers come from all over.

Then there are the random people who just pick up something and think it's interesting. A good portion really think about buying whenI explain to them what I'm doing. THey think of me and my original work as a cause xD. (There's a whole dynamic about anime art alleys in which people endlessly debate sale of fanwork vs. original work. and feel compelled to support artists who do their own work.)

IN the end, I would say "don't invest" in anything expensive. The cost of setup, packaging, and shipping plus the mess with time is a huge problem with online sales. Look for mechanisms that allow someone else to take care of everything for you from production, inventory, to shipping. That said, if they are expensive, don't bother. I"ve already refused to deal with some of the cafepress/zazzle products because I know people will balk at the prices unless they really love you the creator and want to support you.

Also, having done the art alley vending thing for the last 5 years on a consistent basis, my study is a disaster. Any excess inventory tends to haunt you until you get rid of it. So beware the slippery slope of merchandise. D:

tl;dr - No to charms, no to anything that requires you to front the costs (go with the groups that handle everything), for cons consider small items like stickers, magnets, buttons and bookmarks that can be handmade, sold inexpensively.

Zazzle can be expensive but I've had surprising success with it because they're constantly running these enormous sales. On any given day something will be between 15% and 60% off (and they usually keep a ton of coupons posted at their page). I usually wait until they post a coupon for something I have a lot of (like mugs or cards) and then mention the sale to people. $16 for a mug might seem expensive; $8 for a mug that's on Great Sale is kind of irresistible. Even to me, and I don't need More Stuff. -_-

That's really good to know. I looked at your merchandise page, and noted that the mugs were from Zazzle, so I checked them out. I used Printfection for t-shirts. They seemed pretty expensive too.

I think Miss Leech is a natural fit with a mug. (The teapots would probably be more of a fit, but they are less of an impulse buy, and they also aren't classic teapot shape.) And I have to admit, the idea of having an Awarshi beer mug amuses me greatly. (As does the idea of a "Niko's Blootchkes" apron....)

Of course, an amusement factor can be important: if you have a high priced item that tickles the funny bone, that can get people to stick around your page longer and buy something else. Especially if there are a couple of them.

As for investment.... I myself am not prepared to get into anything outside of "passive income" stuff. I can't do the con thing any more. If I only make a few bucks here and there, that's a few bucks I would not have had. (Also, Zazzle has puzzles. Even if I don't do them for sale, _I_ like puzzles. As do my cats....)


OOO, i have a friend doing some zazzle stuff, I should tell her about teh coupons page!

I have a couple friends in the biotech industry using to raise some money for lab equipment, It looks pretty interesting for tshirts.

The other handy Zazzle bookmark is:

That shows you the latest products you can make. Seriously, throw pillows and dog bowls. Lol. What next. :)

found this! on the sticker front, but cooler. I intend to get a bunch and give them out to people to wear at booths at cons. have a sponge handy!