It's a sad reality that many writers are unable to make a living wage off of their craft. This often means supporting their writing habits with a day job - or multiple day jobs - which seriously gets in the way of making progress on your epic fantasy series.
And yet, there's still no shortage of published authors and even more who aspire to such a title. For many writers, the reality is that they don't do it for the hope of money; they do it because, to them, writing is life.
How many books does it take?
Here's a number for you: 100. What do you do with that number? Write that many books. That's all you need to do to make it financially as an author. Simple, right?
Wait, what?! One, hundred??? That's right. Various sources say that an author needs to write 100 books in order to support themself.
Is this really feasible? Could a person really be that creative and keep their fingers glued to the keys for that long, keep their mind focused on fictional worlds - not to mention the endless hours of editing, checking continuity, revising, consulting with experts, sensitivity readers? And that's to say nothing of spelling and grammar.
Who has ever even written 100 books???
Even Stephen King has only written 63 novels, and not even he knows how much booze and cocaine (and eventually, thankfully, sobriety) it took him to pump out that many literary nightmares.
(In case you're wondering, the winner of the coveted "I Wrote More Books Than Humanly Possible" award is Brazilian author Ryoki Inoue, who published 1,075 books. All he had to do was deprive himself of sleep until he finished each book. If that's the kind of lifestyle for you, you should do fine.)
Differing Definitions of Success
Something to bear in mind is different publishing companies - and different individual authors, if you're self-published - have different ideas of what it means to have good-looking book sales. As an independent writer, you have to set your own goals. It depends on how much you're asking per copy. Usually, with ebooks, $1 is a good standard.
But you also need to consider how much money you need to make to support yourself. $50,000 per year is the goal that many are shooting for, but far fewer actually hit that monetary mark.
Royalty reports collected by literary agencies - genuine data from real writers out there in the wild - show that copies sold per title may vary widely. Generally, though, writers who have more books on the market have greater lifetime sales per title.
The overall average number of copies sold per title with a major publisher is 10,000. However, publishers wouldn't be able to stay in business if every author sold 10,000 copies per book, so it stands to reason that each publishing company has some notable outliers. In this way, what's "average" may be deceiving.
There is no shortage of purported statistics on the number of books indie writers sell. Again, there are no clear-cut rules, making it impossible to predict how well your book is going to sell. A commonly referenced number is 250 - that's how many books self-published writers should expect to sell, according to some sources.
Book sales depend on a confluence of factors: from the publisher to the author to the genre - or specific subject matter or topic. If a certain genre - say, for instance, steamy teenage vampire books - is trending at the moment, and you catch the wave at just the right time, you may find your sales significantly outstripping the average.
It's also important to remember that certain genres have a captive audience. Devotional or religious books are prime examples. Authors in these niche genres automatically know that they're going to do reasonably well.
All this cold, hard data may seem to serve no purpose other than to depress struggling writers. This is why so many aspiring authors tend to avoid the subject altogether, but this is a big mistake. The only way to achieve success as a writer is to plan for the difficult road ahead, and keep picking up your pen - or hammering the keys - so you can keep the lights on.