Here’s how you can make writing a career:
1. The Right Team
You need the right people around you to make it work. You need an agent that you trust and connect with. And your agent needs a team that can support you: contracts expert, sub rights manager, film and TV agent, publicity contacts, editorial contacts and much more. You are not alone when you have an agent that is well connected, has their finger on the pulse of your career and is aware of what’s going on in the industry.
2. Sub Rights
This is the #1 way that authors can make writing a full-time job. Sub rights include selling film and TV rights, audio rights, dramatic rights, translation and foreign rights, and many more. When you have multiple books earning money from multiple sources in multiple countries you are on the road to financial sustainability. One good advance isn’t enough; making money year after year is based on revenue earned in sub rights and royalties. The more hands you have pots in the bigger your success will be.
3. Understanding the business
When writers start out in the business they shy away from asking questions that they really should. There are no stupid questions. Ask your agent about everything including contracts, royalty statements (some e-publishers mail them out every month, but most traditional publishers mail them every 6 months), and everything that goes on behind the scenes. The more you know, the more involved you will be in your career. Agents work for writers and we have their best interests in mind, but writers have to know what those interests are. Do you know how royalties work? (You only get them once your advance has been earned back.) Do you know the increments your advance is split into? (Usually 1/3 signing, 1/3 delivery and acceptance of the manuscript, and 1/3 on publication.)
4. Publish a book every year or two
Very few authors can publish literary fiction every few years and make a full time living at it. If they win awards, perhaps. But, if you aren’t writing super quickly then you already know it will take years to build up a backlist (meaning previously published books) that will support you and earn you royalties. (Other ways literary fiction authors make money is teaching and grants.) If you can publish a book every year or two (or more than once a year for many types of genre fiction) you will make the most of your fan’s attention and consistently trigger advance payments, delivery payments and on publication payments. The bigger your backlist–and the more successful it is–the more you’ll earn in the present and in the future. So write! Write everyday!
5. Branding–and growing with it
If you aren’t involved in your marketing and branding then you’re missing out. Branding means everything from (the very simple) online presence consistency, to the (more complex) paid marketing and advertising of your books. There will be a public perception of you as a writer and you have the ability to control and manage it. Branding in publishing includes cover design, the writers you’re associated with, and efficiently managing that public perception. Many writers hire teams to help which bolster their publisher’s marketing and publicity teams.
6. Your writing has to connect with people
There is no career if your books don’t connect with its audience. You have to be able to write well, and write with a goal in mind. When you connect with your audience it will lead to conferences, teaching opportunities, and speaking engagement invitations. When you connect with your fans they want to support you and help you reach a bigger audience each time. They will become your advocates and buy book after book.
These are NOT hard and fast rules. This is a fluid business and these are merely my experiences. There are exceptions like the writers who get million dollar advances. However, most writers will never be that person and they know it. Most authors will have to work for every step up the ladder.
I didn’t touch on perseverance and all the emotional characteristics needed for a writing career, but I’m sure you can imagine the determination, patience, dedication and craft it needs.
From Men With Pens: Why some people make money writing and others never will