Can You Make a Living by Selling Your Ebooks?

The turbulent times ushered in by the covid-19 pandemic have forced most of us to reevaluate the way we live our lives, and no matter what happens next, we’re almost certain to be part of a continued trend of spending a lot more time at home and in the digital sphere. That means people are reading ebooks in record numbers — the global ebook market was worth a smashing US$18.13 billion in 2020, and, as readers grow used to the convenience of paying for a book one second and being able to get stuck in the very next, this market is projected to round out nicely in the coming five years. 

If you’re a writer of any kind, the growing popularity of ebooks, combined with the declining stigma around self-publishing, is also bound to mean that you’re wondering how to get a slice of this ever-growing pie by writing and publishing ebooks from the comfort of your own home. Realistic and well-written guides on how to publish an ebook join a myriad of articles with a distinct get-rich-quick-scheme vibe to offer you, too, hope that you can make a full-time living from your ebooks. 

Can you really? All the marketing tropes are, to some extent, certainly true. Almost anyone can write an ebook on any topic, from trade literature to steaming-hot fantasy novels, and a few prolific writers who put in hardcore hours can make it happen in almost no time, too. After a brief learning curve, almost anyone can figure out how they should format their ebook and where the ebook can be published. Unless you do count your time as money, it is, additionally, quite possible to publish an ebook extremely cheaply. 

None of that adds up to “yes, you can definitely and easily make a full-time living by selling your ebooks”, though! That friend who heavily advertises her single sci-fi novel for sale on KDP to her 20-strong social circle has very little in common with established and successful self-published authors like LJ Ross or Bethany Atazadeh. 

You might, in future, be able to make a living from your ebooks under a very specific set of circumstances, and if this is your dream, know that the process is a whole lot more like building a local restaurant from the ground up than it is like winning the lottery. 

Truth time — you may be able to make a very decent chunk of change, and even meet all your financial needs, by selling ebooks if you check all these boxes or can work toward meeting all these goals:

  • Career ebook writers will — depending on their genre — either be true authorities in their fields, or genuinely talented and skilled creative writers. They’ll be chronically devoted to perfecting their craft and boosting their skill set. 
  • Successful ebook authors understand that, to write an ebook that will sell, they have to be deeply familiar with market trends and craft a work that meets a genuine need — whether that be entertainment and escapism or practical knowledge.
  • Authors who can actually pay their bills from their ebook revenue do not expect to conjure a fortune from nothing. They pay for professional editors and cover designers so that the ebooks they self-publish are as polished as they can possibly be. They may decide to set up an LLC for their ebook business, and may hire a lawyer and virtual personal assistant. Successful ebook authors run their businesses professionally, and welcome the upfront expenses that make their success possible.
  • Financially successful ebook authors know how to market an ebook, and understand why marketing campaigns are an essential ingredient in their success. Even if their background is in marketing, they will almost certainly partner with professionals to raise their profile and boost their sales. If these authors don’t already have a devoted following, they are certainly willing to put in backbreaking labor to win new readers over.

In short, yes! Some ebook authors are able to rake in a handsome part-time income by writing, publishing, and marketing amazing ebooks — and a few can even make a full time living from ebooks. The more realistic you are about your odds of failing spectacularly, however, the more likely you are to treat the entire process like the all-in adventure that it is if you decide to go ahead. That, in turn, has you off to a promising start. 

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