Self-Publishing Insight: Which Earns You More – Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Bestselling Fiction Pays Better than Bestselling Non-Fiction

J.K. Rowling was the first billionaire author, not Tina Fey, and James Patterson sells more copies of his books than Tim Ferriss does (about 200 times more). In the end, top tier fiction authors make more than top tier non-fiction authors. (Not that it’s likely I’ll experience this first hand. You might though!)

Down a Rabbit Hole of Self-Publishing Numbers

Last night (early this morning), I uploaded the 2nd edition of How to Make Money Writing Romance, an ebook I first published in the fall of 2014. I combed through 20 months of income statistics from four different outlets, ie: Amazon, B&N, Google Play and All Romance Ebooks.

For three solid days, I stared bleary-eyed at Excel sheet after Excel sheet of ebook titles, dates, copies sold, returns and earnings, I started thinking, “Hmm, I wonder what my numbers will look like a year from now?”

Why was I thinking that? Because I’ve been self-publishing ebooks since 2002 (and no, I can scarcely believe it’s been that long). Of the 90 or so titles I’ve published, 42 are fiction.

Fast Facts about My Self-Publishing Career

I didn’t start publishing fiction until 2013, when I wrote my first romance novel.

I wrote 42 fiction titles in about two-and-a half years.

My non-fiction titles were written over a 14-year period (starting in 2002), with most of them written during 2011.

So, Which Earns More: Fiction or Non-Fiction?

With all of that said, the quote at the top of this article is proving to be true. Right now, while I earn more from my non-fiction than my fiction titles, I can see how this can easily change. Following is why.

My fiction writings are romance titles, and even though Amazon’s introduction of its KU program in 2014 decimated sales for a lot of authors (me included), as I combed through 20 months of earnings, I realized that even though I haven’t published anything (fiction) since December of last year (2015), I averaged over $1,1000 per month in those 20 months.

And if you don’t include the four months where I didn’t publish anything, I averaged about $1,400 per month. So I’m diving back into romance writing with both feet. My goal is to publish 12 novelettes by year’s end, which was one of my New Year’s Resolutions.

Should You Publish Fiction or Non-Fiction?

If you’re thinking about self-publishing and can’t decide between fiction or non-fiction, following are some pros and cons that can help you decide.

Non-fiction vs. Fiction Pro: Easier to Write

I find writing non-fiction infinitely easier than writing fiction because I write about what I know. All of my non-fiction titles are written from first-hand experience, hence, it’s basically just getting the information I have in my head down on paper (or on screen, as the case may be).

How to Make Money Writing RomanceI can write with the TV on, music playing, my sisters chatting with me – it’s no bother. And again, it’s because I know the information intimately. The hardest part of writing non-fiction for me is organizing the material and knowing when to stop writing. I tend to jam pack my ebooks with as much information as I can because I like to give readers enough info on which to make a sound decision.

It’s what I like in non-fiction books and I figure if someone is plunking down their money for a “how to” book, then they’d better darned well feel like they “know how to” do it after they finish.

Writing fiction on the other hand can be like pulling teeth out of a starving tiger’s mouth! Your brain cells have to really be on to flesh characters out, massage the words from their mouth, and form a cohesive story that readers care about. This is no mean feat.

When I write fiction, I need complete and total silence. No radio, no TV, no yapping sisters. I barely breathe I’m so focused on what I’m doing because writing fiction is hard, hard work. And even when you’ve opened the proverbial vein and bled, readers might still piss all over your work, deeming it a steaming pile of horse manure.

Just wanted you to realize that going in.

Non-Fiction vs. Fiction Con: Constant Updating

One of the main reasons I love writing fiction is that once a book is finished, I never have to touch it again. Twenty years from now, I could still be earning money from the stories I publish today.

Non-Fiction, on the other hand, has to be constantly updated to sell. It is time-consuming and if a title is no longer relevant, there goes your earnings. So while non-fiction does sell more and a hot-selling title can make you a pile of cash in a hurry, it’s not evergreen income you can count on.

Non-Fiction vs. Fiction Con: They Usually Sell Fewer Copies

I write fiction and non-fiction. Although non-fiction earns me more money (to date), it sells far few copies than fiction. For example, one month, one of my best-selling fiction titles (A Lover for Beth) sold over 600 copies on Amazon alone.

I’ve never had a non-fiction title sell that many copies – not even of all of my non-fiction titles combined! However …

Non-Fiction vs. Fiction Pro: They Sell for More

My non-fiction titles have higher price points. They range in price from 99 cents, on up to $74.95. Most are in the $15 to $20 range. By comparison, my fiction ebooks sell in the 99 cents to $3.99 range.

At these price points, you can sell far fewer copies of a non-fiction book and still make good money.

Non-Fiction vs. Fiction Con: Notoriety

Even if you do make The New York Times best-seller list for writing non-fiction, it’s highly unlikely anyone will remember you for it. Alice Walker will always be remembered for her Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Color Purple (and the movie by the same name). But did you know that she’s a prolific writer of non-fiction works as well?

So if it’s notoriety you’re going for, it’s easier to go the fiction route.

You Can Do It All as a Self-Published Author

There’s no rule that says you can’t write fiction and non-fiction.

When I first started writing romance seriously a couple of years ago, my goal was to transition completely away from non-fiction to fiFiction vs Non-fiction: which sells betterction, simply because of the updating that has to be done on non-fiction books – and I have so many of them.

I’m glad I didn’t because when Amazon dropped the KU hammer in the summer of 2014, it impacted my fiction sales dramatically. I was glad I had my non-fiction earnings to fall back on.

Also, every time it seems that I try to drift away from publishing non-fiction, an idea for an ebook will pop into my head and I feel obligated to write it. And the feeling you get from dispensing helpful information that changes people’s lives … well you can’t put a price on that.

My Self-Publishing Business Plan Moving Forward

I’ll probably always publish fiction and non-fiction ebooks. But what I won’t do is go crazy in the non-fiction department. About four non-fiction titles account for the vast majority of my sales. Those will continue to be updated and promoted.

The rest will be thrown into a “virtual bargain basement book bin” because there’s still a lot of great, first-hand information in them.

Transitioning from Writing Non-Fiction to Fiction: 3 Tips

The bulk of my publishing going forward will be fiction titles (romance). I fully expect this stream of income to outpace my non-fiction income within the next two years as I produce new titles consistently. If you’re looking to make the switch, following are a few tips.

1. Select a Niche

I kind of stumbled into romance writing. A friend of mine had great success with it, and I decided to give it a try when I saw her sales numbers. So I guess you could say my niche chose me.

However, I’ve been a prolific reader of romance for years and knew that it was the best-selling genre of all time. And once I started to do some digging on the industry I (this was back in 2013), I saw how much money self-published/erotica writers were making, so it got me excited to give it a try.

As I discuss it the “How to Make Money Writing Romance” ebook, I’ve never sold so many books so fast. One month, I earned over $3,000, and I had just been writing romance seriously for just over a year. So if making money is important to you, be sure to choose your fiction niche well.

If you’re writing for the love of writing fiction, then of course, write what you love. Luckily, I’ve always loved romance novels!

2. Carve Out Writing Time

If you’re a freelance writer like me, and you blog, write non-fiction and still have a life you like to enjoy on occasion, it can be hard to fit in one more thing. So carve out a writing schedule that will allow you to complete your book(s).

One thing I do is give myself a word count to complete each day. Usually, this is done first thing in the morning so that if I don’t accomplish anything else, then at least that is done. Here’s some great insight on how to find time to write.

3. Invest Time in Learning

Writing fiction is a whole lot different than writing non-fiction, so invest some time in learning how to become a better writer, especially in your genre.

I’d read hundreds of romance novels, so had an idea about what was supposed to happen in them, but constructing a well-written, fully developed romance was hard. Luckily, I found an outline that helped, but one of the things I did was start reading romance again. Good writers read – a lot – and I hadn’t read a romance in a long time when I wrote that first one in 2013.

Now, I go to the thrift store and pick them up in bundles of three or four. While I’m enjoying the story, these days when I read a romance, I’m taking note of things like character development; story arc; dialogue; and descriptions of people, places and things.

On my list of things to do is take a romance writing class. I don’t want to do an online one, but as there are none in Jamaica, where I currently live, I just may be forced to do so.

Self-publishing is one of my main revenue streams, in addition to writing for clients. It took me years to feel like a writer. With over 90 books under my belt, saying “I’m a writer” rolls easily off my tongue these days. 🙂

Your Insight?

Have you ever thought about publishing a book – fiction or non-fiction? What’s stopping you? Have questions about self-publishing? You can share/ask in the comments section below.

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    1. Sonia Scott says:

      Very well written and well thought out article!

    2. Hi Yuwanda,

      Great post — this is an area I’ve struggled with for a while. I’ve been planning for a year or so to get something consistent going with Kindle, and most advice I read says fiction has far greater earning potential. But when I consulted a fiction writing expert several months back, he advised me that if I didn’t like to read fiction, it would be very hard for me to get into writing it. So I set out then to try to cultivate the habit of reading fiction, but it never really stuck.

      Recently, I’ve concluded that fiction, though potentially lucrative, is probably just not for me. I have to admit, I’ve never really enjoyed reading it (though I do enjoy some of the movies adapted from fiction books like the Hunger Games series). On the other hand, non-fiction is what I do already in my writing business, so it’s a much more natural fit.

      I think either way (and I could be wrong here because I have no experience doing this successfully), the key is to write consistently in a particular niche or genre and get well-established. Other keys I think have to do with how you market yourself. I’ve heard Facebook ads can be effective. Also making some of your eBooks “permafree” for the purpose of list-building, building an audience, and marketing paid books down the road to that same loyal audience.

      I haven’t totally hashed this out yet, but right now I’m strongly leaning toward non-fiction for the aforementioned reasons.

      • Paul,

        It definitely helps to enjoy reading in the genre you want to write in; that’s why romance writing has been such a good fit for me.

        I’d say equally important though is being disciplined. For fiction, it’s harder to tell if a book is going to sell; hence, you have to be much more disciplined to sit down to write. It’s much easier to sit down to write when you know you’re going to have some sales coming. That’s what non-fiction is like for me.

        With my fiction, I never know if a book is going to be a hit or a dud. Even when I feel like I’ve put out a good story, sometimes, readers just don’t take to it. So, it’s a crap shoot … and that’s where loving the genre you write in gives you the “oomph” you need to sit down and write the next novel — in hopes of a different result.

        You’re smart to recognize your “writer personality” before delving into the self-publishing waters. Writing is hard work (as you know), so knowing what your limitations are and where your best talent lies gives you a huge advantage, making you much more likely to succeed.

        Thanks for dropping by. I always get a smile on my face when I see your name in the comments section. 🙂