Six-Figure Science Fiction Novelist
For novelists who are serious about building a business empire centered around their fiction, they are well acquainted with the community on Facebook called 20Booksto50k. But for those of you who aren’t members yet, their description states, “Safe place to discuss how to ethically make money as authors.”¹ But the group goes much further than that: it’s really become widely known as the community with free support given by six- and seven-figure authors—with many of them posting their monthly/yearly royalty totals from Amazon with specific steps they took to get there. It’s incredibly transparent and extremely uplifting for novelists who want to earn a good living from publishing their books.
Craig Martelle is one of the co-founders of this group (though it feels more like a movement), and he sets an incredible example by being one of those six-figure novelists who is passionate about helping others get there. A Marine Corps veteran and a law school graduate, Martelle, after retiring from the military, started writing space opera, military scifi, Space Marine colonization, and genetic engineering stories.² To date, he has published at least 13 series, including one he wrote for indie authors called Successful Indie Author.
When he first started writing, he clocked a respectable 100,000 words per month—a little over 3,000 per day—but these days, he’s slowed down to about 50,000 words per month.³ That brings me back to the guiding principle of his author community: if you publish 20 books, it’s much easier to make at least $50,000 a year because you’re not relying on astronomical sales from only one book. And, curiously, it took Martelle about that many books to hit his 50k mark. So, he seems to be modeling exactly what he promotes.
When I host a conference, I tell people that I hit the $50k mark with my 19th book, without a single breakout title.⁴
Moving beyond that, Martelle really hit his six-figure stride back in 2016. In May of that year, he hit his first four-figure revenue month. By September, he had built up his writing business to earning $3,000 per month. Then, in December, he hit his biggest month of all by earning $8,000 per month. And those numbers weren’t simply a fluke. In 2017, he still held tight onto those numbers by averaging between $8,000 and $10,000 in royalties per month.⁵ And even if you’re bad at math, you can crunch the numbers and see that adds up to a six-figure income as an independently published author.
But . . . wait! I thought it was impossible to find success as an author if you weren’t Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or James Patterson.
That’s simply not true today. There are a countless number of authors regularly making mid-six-figures on up to seven figures only through writing fiction in a variety of genres. The myth of the wealthy independent author, thanks to Martelle and others like him, is no longer a myth. So, how does a brand new author do it? How do they start from nothing and build a six-figure book empire?
Martelle’s advice is simple, yet it leads to a long journey of research, hard work, and perseverance:
Join a group like 20Booksto50k and come to one of the conferences that I run (20Books Vegas, for example). Being an indie is a lonely profession, but you are not alone. There is way too much for you to learn by yourself, so join others on the journey, although yours will be different, some will be the same. And never compare yourself to someone else — what draws readers to your books may not be what draws readers to someone else’s books. Your competition is only you.⁶
On a personal note, I am a member of Martelle’s amazing community, but I have yet to build a six-figure income from my fiction alone. (My income focus right now is with freelance copywriting, book formatting, and editing fiction.) But I can say without a doubt that if you join his community—it’s free to join, by the way—you will learn about everything Martelle and his peers have done step-by-step. There are tons of detailed posts outlining various authors’ processes, screenshots of their earnings, and spreadsheets to keep track of your progress. (As I said, it’s a bit of work, but anything worthwhile will take some time.)
Going back to that myth, if you expect to publish your book and immediately become a best-seller without any other work to market, promote, or build a platform, I can almost guarantee you won’t find financial success from your efforts. (Unless you’re incredibly lucky.) This isn’t 1974, and KDP isn’t Doubleday. The publishing industry is much different now than it was when Stephen King published Carrie. However, if all you care about is writing stories and sharing them with the world, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s my current attitude. I’m just overjoyed that I finally published my first novel and am on track to finish the prequel to that book by the end of 2020.
But if you yearn to get away from the 9 to 5 life to pursue something that truly makes you happy, I encourage you to go balls-to-the-wall and do everything you can to make it happen. You can start today by looking at what you’re currently doing and do something little every day to promote your books. Then, in another month or two, add another little task onto that and keep doing that until you get into a routine that starts earning you more money. Once you start seeing your earnings go up, you won’t want to stop.
Martelle and his band of badass writers are doing it, and you can too. Check out his website to learn more about him and his books—www.craigmartelle.com. (By the way, none of the links in this article are affiliate links. So, if you happen to purchase any of his books, that all goes to Martelle himself. I just simply wanted to tell an encouraging story for any fiction authors who might be feeling a little frustrated.)
- 20Booksto50k®: https://www.facebook.com/groups/20Booksto50k/.
- Martelle, Craig. “About.” Craig Martelle. Accessed October 8, 2020. https://craigmartelle.com/about/.
- Hartley, James. “Craig Martelle Interview.” James Hartley Books. Accessed October 8, 2020. http://www.jameshartleybooks.com/craig-martelle-interview/.
- Simenson, Lois. “The Alaskan Captain Kirk of Science Fiction.” The Alaska Life. February 13, 2019. https://www.thealaskalife.com/blog/the-alaskan-captain-kirk-of-science-fiction-craig-martelle/.
- McDonnell, Jen. “TAB105: A Year in the Life of a Blue Collar Author, with Craig Martelle.” The Author Biz. February 6, 2017. http://theauthorbiz.com/a-year-in-the-life-of-a-blue-collar-author/.
- Sivils, K.C. “Interview with Author Craig Martelle.” Author K.C. Sivils. Accessed October 8, 2020. http://kcsivils.com/interviews/interview-with-author-chris-martelle/.