Hello! Today, I have a great article to share from a reader of Making Sense of Cents. Kate earned $50,000 from writing novels in 2020. This all started when her car was repossessed in early 2020, and her and her husband ended up living in their vehicle. By August of 2020, they were able to rent a brand new townhome and buy a car in cash, all without her husband having to return to work. Below is her story of how she changed her financial future. Enjoy!
In January of 2020, I was forced to quit my job as a graphic artist for a local firm. The pay was decent, as were the hours, but my health issues were worsened by the stress of a “real” work environment.
I had published a few books in 2019 with little success, but I assured my husband, Jacob, that I would do better in 2020 with a rapid release schedule, which is releasing a book every thirty days or so to combat Amazon’s algorithm.
My highest royalty month to that point had been December, and I made $88 from my Young Adult books.
Still, I had hope.
I’d just discovered an extremely niche genre of romance, and readers were hungry for more. I wasn’t sure if I could write the steamy scenes I saw in many of the books I test-read, and I didn’t know if I’d hit the other tropes well enough.
It seemed an impossible feat, but I was already halfway through writing my first book. We were desperate, so I couldn’t give up. I did research, starting a private Facebook Group under my new pen name.
I polled people in other genre-specific groups, and I hosted giveaways and events before book one was even finished. My most popular post was when I asked which dress I should have my main character wear at the end of the book, and it garnered hundreds of comments.
On each of these posts, I linked my own private group, hoping to draw people in. I discovered that asking the opinions of potential readers was my biggest asset, garnering me far more attention than I ever expected as a total newbie to the game.
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First Book Launch
At the end of January, I released my first book in this all-new genre. I’d never tried to write urban fantasy romance before, and here I was trying to write a book about a lost princess being taken from New York to an island of dragons.
The concept was strange, and my heroine wasn’t the stereotypical sarcastic, fighting woman archetype. I had no idea if it would sell well. The only hints about my future were that people were expressing some interest, participating in my posts and joining my group.
By the time the book came out, I had 50 people in this Facebook Group, and I even managed to get 3 pre-orders over the course of January!
It wasn’t much to go on, but I hit publish, and it came out on January 28, 2020. It was a strange, niche genre, but I watched as I made $100 in four days from this one book. When my highest month before this was $88, I was flabbergasted. Still, I knew I wouldn’t see these funds for 60 days. Despite this, I was rejuvenated.
I got to work on book two, and it got 21 pre-orders before its end of February release.
My February royalties were $650.
At this point, my husband and I were sleeping on a mat on our friend’s floor. We had been living with my mother, but we couldn’t afford the fuel to drive thirty miles from her house to my husband’s job.
We bought a 34 year old van in January. It had holes rusted through the floor, and the motor was temperamental.
Still, we were hoping to get it converted into a tiny camper that we could live in.
A Major Change
In March, our lives, as well as millions of others’, were turned upside-down. My husband was working at a grocery store when the pandemic hit the United States, and I was terrified as numbers began to climb. Our friend was immunocompromised, so it wasn’t safe for him to be around us when Jacob was working.
Still, we had no savings, and our car payment was already months behind. Despite all that, I told my husband to go ahead and quit his job.
He fought me on it, but I showed him what was happening with my books on Amazon. It was mid-March, and I had already surpassed my February earnings. With the sequel’s release, my daily royalties doubled, and I knew it would just keep getting better as the series went on.
However, we knew that we were going to lose our car if he no longer had an income. I convinced him that the van would be enough for the moment. Reluctantly, my husband agreed.
Toward the end of the month, something happened. My earnings jumped up without a book release, and I discovered that the first book in my series was in the top 100 of several major Amazon categories.
This meant I had more eyes on my work than ever before, and I didn’t even have to do my own marketing. I was blown away by the effect on my royalties, and knew I had to do everything in my power to stay there.
It was late March when we cleaned out our car and turned it in to the dealership. We didn’t want to go through the hassle of having it towed from our friend’s house, and we wanted to keep our belongings without having to go to a storage lot to get them. The car was a 2013 Toyota Corolla. Reliable, cheap, and easy to repair.
However, it was $300 of our monthly budget, with another $150 for the full coverage we were required to keep. In comparison, the van was purchased for $1,000 cash in January, and the insurance was about $30 for basic liability as we got closer to finishing our build-out.
In April, I announced to a writers’ support group that my goal was to double March’s $1,750.
I was releasing book three in my series on April 4th, and I wanted nothing more than to clear $3,000 for the month.
Instead, I made over $5,000.
Even though I knew I wouldn’t see that money until the end of June, I cried looking at my computer screen. My first book had made it to the top 50 of those coveted Amazon categories, and that was enough to keep the rest of the books selling.
Book 3 had 34 pre-orders before its release, and book 4, which came out at the end of May, had a whopping 220.
I kept posting about my books in the genre-specific Facebook Groups, and they grew ridiculously popular. In May, partially because of my 220 pre-orders on book 4 and partially because I released the first book in a new series, I made over $7,500. I
couldn’t believe the numbers I was seeing, especially because my bank wasn’t reflecting them back at me quite yet. Amazon takes 60 days after the end of the month to pay out royalties, so January royalties were paid out at the end of March, February’s at the end of April, and so on.
Because I wasn’t living the results quite yet, it was still more a dream than anything real.
On the Road
In June, we decided to leave our friend’s house. It was too strenuous for our friendship for us to continue staying there, and we knew that we had a whole new life waiting for us.
The van wasn’t quite finished, but we had a bed, solar power, and a cheap, terrible fridge. It was enough to survive, which was good enough for the moment.
We decided we could make it work, but Missouri’s summer heat was unfair to our pair of double-coated Australian Shepherds. The only way we could live in our van was to relocate, and that was not an easy task.
It took a week of heat and anxiety, but we powered through and made the drive out to the mountains of Colorado. We had to change our transmission fluid in Kansas and replace our fuel pump in a grocery store parking lot in Colorado, but we made it.
During our relatively short time in Colorado, we stayed as socially distant as possible, camping in National Forests despite our total lack of amenities in the van. The only people we spoke to on our six week trip were a pair of van-lifers we met in Idaho Springs, and we didn’t stand within ten feet of each other at any point in time. We went grocery shopping once a week, showered with frigid water from a solar shower bag, and went on a ton of walks since we couldn’t stand up in our low-roof van.
When it was a hundred degrees Fahrenheit in Missouri, it was about seventy in the mountains—less if we went to a higher altitude.
July was our best month on the road.
I saw my royalties shoot up to nearly $10,000, more than I’d ever made in my life, and we found a lovely town called Silverthorne, where we could park and work without worrying about being forced to leave. One day, I was able to text my mother that I had to bundle up because it was only sixty out. She responded with a sarcastic comment, as she was suffering the Midwestern heat and humidity.
We even finished our first (and only) YouTube video, showing our first week of #VanLife to the world (or, more accurately, to our parents and a few friends).
The Real Problem With Our Van Living
Still, we weren’t really content. Van life can be great in so many ways, but it’s also not a very secure way to live. At least, that was how we felt in our ancient cargo van.
I was struggling to write when I was worried about where we’d sleep, and we barely had enough internet access to do the work that needed to get done. I was sitting in a gazebo trying to type out my books, although I got better work done in the uncomfortable passenger seat of the van most of the time.
I was desperate to keep up my book-per-month pace, but it was impossible with the added stresses caused by living in a 60 square foot home where I couldn’t cook, use the restroom, or even stand up.
In mid-August, we just couldn’t do it anymore.
The heat, even in the mountains, grew to be too much, and fires raged across the state. We had no way to remain in Colorado and also escape the smoke that was not only choking us, but our animals. Therefore, we packed everything in a U-Haul, laughing at how little space our lives took up at this point. Instead of filling the cargo area, everything was in a single layer on the floor.
We sold the van for less than it cost us to install the interior, and we headed back east.
Overnight, we made it home. At least, back to my mom’s house. We bought a mattress an hour after we pulled into town, tossed it in the U-Haul, and unloaded the important things in my mom’s spare room before returning the truck.
Luckily, we had a storage unit where we could store most of our other belongings, and we stewed over what was going to happen next.
We considered an actual RV, as it would have a proper kitchen and bathroom, but my fear of a breakdown still haunted me, and it’s a lot harder to get a motorhome fixed than a van. I didn’t want to end up homeless if we lost our rig, so, with a credit score of 500 (yes, you’re reading that right. Five. Zero. Zero) and no car, we started looking at rental houses in our hometown.
Change of Plans
Anyone who rents knows that it can be difficult to find a place when you have pets, and our search was no different. Every available place online had a prominent NO PETS policy, and we own two dogs that are over the common thirty-pound weight limit.
Despite the fact that I had an actual savings account for the first time in my life and proof of income, there was nowhere for us to live.
Until there was.
The final day of August, we looked at an expensive townhouse in a nice neighborhood. It was absolutely massive at 1,650 square feet, and it was only a year old. We spoke with the landlord, who happened to have gone to the same church as my husband a decade ago. Despite the fact that we didn’t own a car yet, he agreed to rent to us. After our appointment, we went and bought a used vehicle for just under $4,000, an overpriced Jeep Patriot with a ton of miles.
We loved it though, because it was ours, and nobody could take it from us this time. Within four days, we signed the lease on the three-bedroom townhouse and moved in. It wasn’t long before we realized that we barely owned anything, and we went out in search of furniture and decor. This is the first time we’ve had our own place since 2016, so we didn’t own any furniture when we signed the papers.
Even though we’ve officially lived in this townhouse for four months, it’s still pretty sparse, but it’s our home. Now, we’re starting to really plan for our future. We were able to finally get health insurance, which has been a huge weight off our backs, and I have a private office where I can work without being stressed. I can sit down, do my timed writing sprints, and be done before lunch.
After I realized that I could make good money publishing my books without spending thousands, I created a separate Facebook group to help others realize their self-publishing dreams.
I want to share what I’ve learned so that others can make money publishing on a budget, as a lot of the advice out there involves hundreds or even thousands of dollars just to get your first book on Amazon.
I’ve shared the drafting method that allows me to write faster, which is a simple sixteen-step outline that helps me, and now others, get organized. I also host digital writing sprints where my students and I work on our books together and share our progress.
This is a great way for me to connect with other writers, and I’m able to figure out what needs they have and how I can help solve them.
I go over my exact writing process in more detail in my short, concise guide called A Book A Week, which is my method to write a book in the span of five to seven days.
I’ve used this method since 2019, but it’s paid off far more in 2020 and 2021.
Not only do I finish my books faster than I used to, but they’re better than anything I wrote before. I now have dozens of students and readers who use this exact method, and it has worked for many of them. I’m releasing a sequel about free marketing soon, and I hope it helps just as much!
I don’t want the self-publishing experience to be daunting, and, more importantly, I want others who may be struggling to find financial success.
Author Bio: I’m Kate, and I’m a full-time author and self-publishing consultant. I write romance novels as well as guides on self-publishing, and share self-publishing tips on my YouTube channel as well. I made most of my money in 2020 by writing books quickly and marketing them for free.
Are you interested in writing novels to make extra money? What questions do you have for Kate?