Updated: Jan 15, 2021
It is possible. I've seen it.
You can make a million dollars (or more) selling fiction, good fiction even, on Amazon.
I consistently see many of the same authors in the top 100 in various categories, and the top 100 in the entire Kindle store. You can get there yourself. I've been in multiple Top 100 lists on Amazon throughout my six years in publishing.
The only problem is, you often have to spend a bit of money to get there, whether it's spent on sending out ARCs, various forms of advertising/promotion, and/or commissioning a great cover/decent editing. All of these can get your books onto the top 100 lists, and possibly even into the Top 100 of all ebooks on Amazon. (I've never reached that spot personally, though I have come close during Bookbub ads.)
Usually, it takes a lot of money to stay there.
I'm a part of a group on Facebook which I won't name, and I see success posts almost every day from authors making 5 to 6 figures a month. It's often a great group, sometimes helpful. Depending on your perspective, you can look at these posts as motivation or a massive buzzkil. The latter especially, I'd imagine, when your own sales are in the shitter.
But it's clear when you see how much some of these people spend
on advertising that you might have to spend a lot of money
to make a lot of money.
Here are a few recent examples I found in the group, from year-end wrap ups:
Those are some absolutely astounding figures for revenue, so it's clear the readers are out there. Readers are hungry for fiction. And these are just a handful of the people who are making upwards of 100k a year selling fiction. I can't speak to the genre these specific writers are working in (though I suspect Cowboy Romance, Paranormal Romance or Shifter Romance - though possibly fantasy/urban fantasy/thrillers), but I know of several authors in horror who swear by Facebook ads, and who are making a serious - if not quite as much as this - go at the business of writing.
Look, it may seem like the purpose of this post is to denigrate people who spend thousands of dollars a month to advertise their books, but it really isn't. There's nothing at all wrong with advertising. I'd say it's wise, if you have the revenue to support it. All of the traditional publishers do it - although they spend the most money advertising books that don't need it, the Coca-Colas and McDonald'ses of literature - and even some small press. I even dabble in it myself (though my current marketing campaign is a loss leader, generating website sign-ups).
Hell, the reason James Patterson is a household name today is he was the first author to harness the power of television ads. He worked for 25 years as an advertising executive and saw the huge potential for TV ads that traditional publishing had theretofore neglected. Forbes says he's now making $95-million a year, which he certainly wasn't making at J Walter Thompson, even as CEO.
Again, I don't say this to disrespect him. I don't personally enjoy his books but I respect the hell out of his marketing savvy. Patterson found a niche and filled it. Plus, some of his ads are great.
Why I wrote this is to give you - the indie, small-press or midlist author - a glimmer of hope. Every day I see at least a handful of authors, from full-indie to "midlist" (if that tier even exists for authors anymore these days), bemoaning their lack of sales in this New World of Publishing. Their book is great - if only more people would read it, they would discover it for themselves!
Amazon has made it incredibly easy for writers of any skill level to reach an audience. But with so many writers vying for the attention of readers, it's become even more difficult to stand out from the crowd.
Whether you're with Simon & Schuster or publishing from your home office (or your couch!), we all eventually face that same obstacle: visibility. Two theoretical authors with exactly the same quality of cover, story and editing can have a vastly different experience in the market simply due to the visibility - or invisibility - of their product.
There are many ways to increase the visibility of your books. Word of mouth. A stunning cover. A successful book launch. Reviews in major venues. Contest wins. A quote from Stephen King. A movie/TV deal. Bookbub Featured Deals (I swear by these, though many people say they are becoming less of a successful marketing tool, since the trad pubs infiltrated them, and my own experience testifies to it). Many of these are attainable no matter what level you're at in your writing career. A few might be pipe dreams, at least for now.
But none of these boosts - aside from maybe a produced film or series - will last. Sooner or later, those great sales will invariably start to wane. If your latest book doesn't fall off that 30-day cliff, it's likely to plummet off the 60- or 90-day one. Many of us, maybe even most of us, would be lucky to shift 100 copies a year.
That's why many of the most successful authors advertise. Even then it's no guarantee (I've had minimal to no success with ads), and even the power of ads can diminish over time, requiring constant tweaks. But if you can master those metrics and keep up with the changes, it can get you one step closer to that million-dollar retirement plan, if that's your goal.
I have a feeling you'll know when it's time to take that step.
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