Thomas: Some authors just want to get their book “out there.” They don’t plan on writing additional books or becoming professionals. But others want to make writing a career and maybe pay the bills with income earned from their writing.

If you want to have a career as a professional writer, you have to do at least two things.

First, you must become an amazing writer. Second, you need to start acting like a business owner. Regardless of whether you’re independently or traditionally published, you’ll need to keep track of finances, payments, taxes, marketing, and a lot more.

Indie authors might make a business plan, and traditional authors make a book proposal, but both types of authors must be willing to put on their business hats to be considered professionals.

If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. I’ve invited Angela Hunt to help us walk through The Business of Writing and publishing. Angela has sold over five million copies of her books worldwide.

How do you become a professional author?

Angela: I became a writer because I needed to help put groceries on the table. I married a youth pastor, and I knew youth pastors were usually at the bottom of the salary totem pole in a church. I knew I’d have to earn additional income for us, and that’s why I became a writer.

At a conference Q & A session, a man once asked me, “What inspires you to write?” I think I burst his bubble when I said, “The mortgage.” I don’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t the answer he expected because his face fell.

Writing is a job like any other unless you’re just doing it purely for love or ministry. There aren’t many pastors who pastor for free because they have children to feed and houses to live in. Even the Apostle Paul said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”

If you want to be a serious Christian writer for the sake of ministry, you’ll still have to think about the business aspect of writing to be a good steward of your time and resources.

Thomas: This is where you have to be aware of classism. A certain kind of writer from the aristocratic class tends to hang out at a lot of writers conferences. They have high ideals, and they don’t have to work and earn money because they’re independently wealthy or married to somebody who’s paying the bills. For those writers, writing is a very expensive hobby.

If you are trying to become a professional, you can’t listen to advice from those hobbyists because their approach is not a professional one. They’re not counting the costs or trying to turn a profit. They’re just writing because they love it; it gives them good feelings, keeps them busy, and provides purpose to their aristocratic lifestyle.

Angela: I’ve seen a lot of this recently on Substack, which is geared for people who want to be professional writers. On Substack, I see so many people talk about writing, the love of writing, and how they love writing on Substack.

As I read, I keep thinking, “Are you earning a living doing this? What’s the purpose? Who’s your audience? Why are you doing this?”

I think I’m a little jaded because I’ve been a professional writer for so long. I almost want to say to those writers, “If you’re having fun writing, you’re not doing it right because it’s hard work! It’s a job.”

Not only do you have to write well in order to survive, but you also have to know how to find and reach your audience and think about your readers instead of yourself.

The other day, I read one Substack author who began by saying, “I don’t give a blankety-blank-blank about my readers,” and I almost fell over. It made me wonder why he’s writing on Substack. He could sit in a room and talk to himself and accomplish the same thing.

Thomas: He cares about himself, and he wants his readers to care about him. It’s a narcissistic way of writing. There’s a Christian version of that, where Christians say, “God put this message on my heart, and I just want to share what God gave me.” At no point do they acknowledge loving their neighbors. But as Christians, we are supposed to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Good writing comes from that place of loving God and your neighbor. If you don’t love your neighbor, you won’t have good writing. If you don’t love God, you don’t have Christian writing. You must have both.

Additionally, the writing journey is not like the Garden of Eden. It’s more like a field. You can sow, plant, and plow, but it’s all hard work. If you think writing will be like walking in the garden, you are mistaken. You may experience some garden moments, but writing is more like the true labor of farming.

Adopting a workmanlike approach is important because if you expect your writing career to be a walk in the garden or a vacation, you won’t have ears to hear anything we’re about to say because you just want it to be easy.

There’s a lot of whining, decadence, and entitlement you must fight against in your own heart. When you hear yourself asking, “Why does it have to be hard? Why can’t the publishers do all the work to market my book? Why can’t I make more money and do less work?” I hope you recognize that entitlement and nip it in the bud.

Angela: Absolutely. I discovered a metaphor for this the other day.

I recently discovered a British program on YouTube called The Hotel Inspector. The show interests me because we have two B&Bs on our property, and I have become way too familiar with scrubbing toilets and what guests expect.

On the show, this lady named Alex is from a huge hotel family. She goes to a lot of these British B&Bs and small hotels and inspects them. Typically, they call her only when they are losing money and in danger of losing their house.

So many people buy a big old house and think, “What a relaxing, fun life of being a B&B owner!” But they rarely count the costs. One couple had put a lot of money into their old house. He was the cook, and she was the decorator.

Alex came in and asked how much they had spent on all the things, but they didn’t have a clue. He didn’t know how much it cost to put a full English breakfast on the table every morning. They had never run a spreadsheet, so Alex made them sit down and count the cost.

Most writers never do that. They don’t count how much it’s going to cost them to market their book, write their book, get several rounds of editing, continue their education, or purchase equipment.

Authors need to set aside money to attend conferences, to learn, and to subscribe to newsletters. You must invest in your work before it will pay dividends.

What business costs do professional authors have?

Thomas: Authors have fixed upfront costs and ongoing costs.

A landscaper has upfront costs such as a lawnmower, pickup, shovel, and hoe. Those are expensive upfront costs. However, he also has ongoing costs, such as gasoline for the mower and marketing his services.

Authors have ongoing costs, such as buying a computer every few years. Set aside money every year and plan to buy a new computer every five years or so. If you set aside $55 per month for three years, you’ll have $2,000 to buy a new computer. Suddenly, a new computer is magically in your budget.

Your upfront costs might be education. You’ll need to learn how to write so you might purchase a course on writing, buy books on the writing craft, and attend conferences.

Once you’ve learned how to write, education gets cheaper. You never stop learning, but you shift from taking courses and attending conferences to reading books on craft. Eventually, you shift to reading competing books and learning from the masters of old and your competitors of today.

To learn more about budgeting for authors, check out the following episodes:

What are some other ongoing costs professional authors should plan for?

Angela: You’ll need reams of paper, pens, staples, and notebooks. You might need to hire an accountant, bookkeeper, or enrolled agent. Your internet provider costs money, and you’ll need a home office.

Thankfully, all these expenses are tax deductible.

Thomas: They’re tax deductible if the IRS sees you as a business rather than a hobbyist.

My dad is a CPA who’s been working with professional authors for 40 years. He and I created a course that breaks down all the tax implications for authors. You’ll find out when your travel can be deducted and when it can’t.

Right now, in June 2024, patrons of my other podcast, Novel Marketing, can get the course for free. You can also get this $200 course for free this month by becoming a patron. Taking the tax course is much cheaper than talking to a CPA, and if you still want to talk to a CPA after the course, it will allow you to have a more efficient conversation.


If you can’t afford a bookkeeper, you can use software like QuickBooks, Zero, or FreshBooks.


Research can get expensive because it often means buying and reading books by other authors in your genre. You must be familiar with the movies, tropes, and expectations of your genre so you’re not accidentally derivative. Familiarize yourself with the media landscape your readers are encountering.


At some point, you’ll start speaking at conferences, and you’ll be admitted for free, but at the start of your career, you have to pay.


Microsoft Word often has a subscription attached to it. Dropbox requires a subscription. I have a dozen different subscriptions for various tools I use as a part of my workflow as a podcaster, including audio editing, file management, and project management tools.

These ongoing expenses are well worth my money because they all save me time.

To learn more about the many writing tools that can save you time, check out my Writing Tools episodes here.

What non-financial costs will a professional author have?

Angela: You will also have non-financial costs when you set out to become a professional writer. Becoming a professional writer will cost your time and your life.

You have a finite number of hours and days to write. I have had to decline lunch invitations because I’ve had to work on my writing.

A writing career will require your time just like a career in dentistry requires a dentist’s time.

Thomas: People forget that when you’re your own boss, you’re also your own employee, which means you have to work for your business.

I love the idea of a time budget because time is a very real cost. You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. A time budget helps you determine whether writing fits your current priorities.

Famous professional authors have written their initial books during their lunch breaks. Chris Fox famously wrote his first book on his laptop while riding the bus to and from work. He had a very specific time budget. Once the bus arrived at his office, he got on, opened his writing laptop, and got to work. When the bus got to his stop, he closed his laptop, got off the bus, and went home.

You might time-box your writing and commit to writing only on Saturdays so you can work another job for the rest of the week. Maybe you’ll write from 5:00-7:00 AM every morning. Find a time block that works for you.

How does an author earn money?

Thomas: Where does the author’s money come from?

Angela: Most beginning authors who attend conferences only know that independent publishing costs you money, and traditional publishing will pay for publishing your book. Traditional publishers have distribution channels that self-published authors can’t access, so new writers are usually aiming for big traditional publishers.

Listen to the episode on How to Get Published with a Traditional Publishing House if you want to learn more.

But I always encourage beginning writers to start small. You can start writing articles and blog pieces for websites. You can write so many things and get paid for it, which means you can earn while you learn. That’s what I did.

My kids were babies when I started writing, so I wrote magazine articles, catalog copies, and anything anybody would pay me to write.

It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was interesting. I interviewed tons of people. Some were important, famous people, so I wrote articles about them and sold them to magazines. I would sell an article on Sandy Patty to the Baptist magazine, and after it was published, I’d turn around and sell it to the Methodist magazine.

I would sell the same articles over and over to non-competing periodicals. For five years, I wrote in the afternoons when my kids napped.

Jerry Jenkins made a vow when he started writing that he was never going to write when his kids were awake and at home. He would wait until his boys went to bed, and then he would go in and write late at night if he had to. He did not sacrifice family time.

For five years I wrote in little snatches of time. It’s much easier to write a small piece in a small amount of time. When I’m working on a novel, I need time to sink into that story world. After I’m immersed in the story, I can write for hours if need be.

In my small batches of time, I wrote children’s picture books and books for middle schoolers. Those are shorter and faster to write. You can crank those out and start earning while you’re learning. As you go, you’ll end up financing your fledgling business and the big book you want to write someday.

Learn more about How to Make a Living as a Writer and How to Become a Professional Freelancer with Sharon Norris Elliott.

How can an author get free feedback?

Thomas: The first time I wrote an article for a magazine, they pushed back and gave me a lot of edits. They paid me to write the article, and I also got free editing and feedback from a veteran magazine editor. Talk about earning while you’re learning!

If I had asked this editor to mentor me, I would never have had access to him. If I’d asked for free advice, he’d have said, “No! I’m busy editing this magazine!” But if I ask them to pay me for the article I’m pitching, I get free advice and feedback from a professional editor.

How can an author find publications that are willing to publish unpublished writers?

The Christian Writers Market Guide is a great place to get contact information for publications that want articles from writers like you. They have to put out an issue every month or every week or every quarter, and they need a new set of articles for every issue.

Many of these publications receive few submissions from writers, while Thomas Nelson and Zondervan get carpet bombed with proposals they’re not interested in.

Don’t underestimate the power of being faithful in little things, writing the short stories, and getting that feedback as part of your ongoing education.

The secular Writer’s Market Guide for the general market is huge. The first part is dedicated to teaching you how to write a query letter and approach an editor. You can also learn about writing query letters in the following episodes:

Angela: Some of those publications pay very little, but if you are published, you get a publishing credit. When you send your next query letter, you can say that your work has been published in this periodical, blog, or website. That makes the editor perk up and say, “This is an experienced writer.”

Some pay very little, but others pay well.

When you see your article published in the magazine, compare it to your original and notice what they changed. Don’t get defensive. Just note the changes and learn from them. Ask yourself, “Why does it read better?” and “Why was that more effective?”

How does the traditionally published author’s advance work?

Thomas: Authors get paid pretty quickly for short works, but for longer works, authors are paid in different ways.

If you’re traditionally published, you get paid initially with an advance, which is a lump sum paid in installments based on your progress on the book. The sum is an advance on royalties, and then there’s a chance you’ll earn additional royalties later. But it’s important to realize that for 9 out of 10 books, the advance is the only money the author ever gets. Most books never earn out the advance.

Angela: You’ll typically receive one-third of the advance upon signing the contract and one-third upon acceptance and delivery.

Acceptance and delivery means you handed it in, the editor looked at it and made suggestions, and then you acted on those suggestions by doing a rewrite and handed it in again. When the editor approves your changes, you’ll get the second third of your advance.

You’ll receive the final third within 30 days of publication. And believe me, if it says “within 30 days,” they’re going to wait until day 30 before they send you the check.

Everybody likes to hang on to their money.

Thomas: In order to earn royalties, you have to have earned the amount of royalties against the advance. For example, if your advance was $10,000 and you’re earning a royalty of $1.00 per book, you won’t earn any additional money until you’ve sold over 10,000 copies of your book. When you sell copy number 10,001, you’ll earn $1.00 on that copy.

Now, you’re not paid until six months later because most publishing houses only pay royalties once every six months. From a cash flow perspective, there’s no way to do active marketing because you’re not getting the money back, even if it’s profitable. It’s really hard for traditionally published to advertise profitably because the royalties are too low to profitably pay for any advertising.

If you’re independently published, the closest thing you get to an advance is money raised through a Kickstarter campaign before your book comes out.

Creating a Kickstarter page is like creating a book proposal, but it’s targeted at readers rather than gatekeepers and industry insiders.

Individual readers will see your Kickstarter page and decide if they want to support and read the book. If they want to support your project, they will back your project financially. Kickstarter is a great way to gauge interest in your book. Some authors make $5,000-8,000 from a few hundred backers.

Unlike an advance, which is often the only money you’ll get from your book, Kickstarter money is often just the first money you’ll make, with more to come in sales. As an independently published author, you don’t need as many readers to make the same money, but you also don’t have access to those paper distribution channels that traditional authors have.

Indie authors make most of their sales online by selling digital books. Most indies make most of their money on ebooks, then audiobooks, and then paper. Romance and women’s fiction authors make most of their money on ebooks, then paper, and finally audio.

Audiobook sales tend to skew towards male readers, so the more your genre is dominated by male readers, the more important an audiobook will be. Every genre has its own nuances in terms of which of the three primary formats provide the most income.

Angela: Audiobooks really seem to be taking off. My writer friends and I have noticed a pronounced surge in audiobooks. Even in my writer’s book club, more than half listen to the audiobook. When I talk about something on page 36, they can’t look at the page because they listened to the book.

Thomas: I love audiobooks because they are a return to the original way of reading books. Reading silently is a relatively new invention.

In Bible times and before, ancient books were always read aloud. Even in the biblical book of James, you find the verse that says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”  When James was writing, silently reading hadn’t been invented yet. The letter was effectively an audiobook somebody read aloud so others could experience it.

Check out the following epsiodes to learn more about audiobooks:

How do professional authors manage their money?

Thomas: After you have money in your bank account, whether it’s from an advance, royalties, or a Kickstarter campaign, how do you handle it as a professional writer?

I advise writers to keep your business income and expenses separated from your family budget, even when you’re in the hobbyist stage and the IRS doesn’t yet consider you a business.

Keeping your business finances separate allows you to have a helpful conversation with your spouse about how much money you want to invest in your writing career with the hope that you’ll get it back. Realize that you may not get it back. Most authors don’t. Most authors spend more money trying to become professional authors than they earn from their writing.

In the publishing industry, the winners win big, and everyone else has an expensive hobby. It’s not quite as bad as trying to become a professional golfer, but it’s almost that bad.

In your conversation with your spouse, you might determine you can afford to spend $200 per month from your family budget on writing-related activities. You should move that money from your family account to your business account.

One advantage of this method is that you don’t have to have a conversation with your spouse about whether you’re going to buy Atticusor Vellum because you’ve already had the conversation about the money. Your only question is whether you can spend it this month or if you need to wait until you’ve saved a little more next month.

Separating your family and business accounts will also make it easier for you at tax time. Once you become a business in the eyes of the IRS, having your income and expenses separated will make it much easier to generate a Schedule C on your tax return. Intermingling your family finances convolutes everything. You’ll inevitably miss a tax-deductible expenditure that you could have reported.

Setting up a separate bank account is very easy. Go to your local bank and ask for a second account.

Do authors need to set up an LLC?

Many traditionally published authors start as a sole proprietorship. They don’t necessarily have an LLC for their author business right away because most of the expenses, income, and tax liabilities are managed through their publisher. The only liability that leaks through the publisher to the author is a liable or slander-type liability. Talk to an attorney to confirm, but you can’t protect yourself from liable and slander accusations with an entity because they’ll just name you and your LLC in the lawsuit.

But if you’re independently published or if you’re a more successful, traditionally published author who’s starting to hire people and travel, various kinds of liability emerge.

If there’s a dispute over the pay, your employee could take you to small claims court. If your publisher is paying the editor, that’s not your problem, but it is your problem if you’re paying the editor.

To avoid that kind of liability, most authors form an LLC. The LLC becomes a legal entity that gets to potentially file its own tax returns and can sue and be sued. The LLC shields you from some of the liability of running a business. It can also shield your other assets from some of the potential liabilities.

Angela: Many people’s eyes just glazed over when you were explaining all of that, so let me put it down to brass tacks.

The easiest way to track income and expenses is to get yourself a ledger notebook. Designate one sheet for income, then write the date you received a payment, the name of the person who paid you, and the amount they paid.

Designate a second ledger page for expenses. Write the date and what the expense was. Write every transaction of income or expense for a year, and refer back to your notebook at tax time.

You don’t have to use paper. You can use Quicken to do the same thing. In fact, it’s probably easier on the computer because, at the end of the year, you push a button and have all your totals.

You can learn more about the nitty gritty business of publishing in the following episodes:

Why would a traditionally published author want an agent?

Thomas: If you’re going to be traditionally published, your literary agent is probably the first person you want to add to your team or your company.

Angela: You don’t technically need an agent to sell a book, but most of the larger publishing houses will not even accept a manuscript unless it’s sent in by an agent. The agent provides a layer of vetting. Publishers know that if an agent sends it, the manuscript will be in good shape.

Some smaller houses will accept un-agented manuscripts. I sold 11 books without an agent when I was getting started, but I sold them to smaller companies.  

When I started to get royalty statements for those 11 books, I quickly realized I needed someone to help me track the contracts and royalty payments so that I could spend my time writing.

An agent will help you keep track of the contracts and when royalty payments are due and whether you’re paid on time.

Most agents charge 15% when they sell your book. It isn’t normal for an agent to charge you a “reading fee” to read your manuscript. I would never send anything to an agent who says, “I’ll look at it, but it’s going to cost you X number of dollars.”

A reputable agent will take the manuscript, read it, and either agree to take you on as a client or not.

Most agents only represent certain genres. Many of them don’t represent children’s books. Some won’t do Christian books, and others won’t do romance. Every agent specializes in a certain field, so do your research and don’t send the wrong sort of proposals to certain agents.

After they’ve ready your manuscript and liked it, they’ll make you an offer of representation and say, “I’d like to represent you.”

If you have a good rapport with that agent, you can sign a contract for representation. The usual fee is 15% of anything they sell, so you don’t pay money upfront.

If they sell your book, they’ll get a 15% commission on your total advance, and you’ll get the other 85%.

Most agents are skilled negotiators and will get you more money than you could have gotten on your own, so they pretty much pay for themselves.

Thomas: Authors must remember that 85% of an orange is more than 100% of a grape. That’s often the difference between having an agent and not having one.

New authors often pay far too much attention to percentages and not enough attention to the actual number of dollars. They’d rather have 100% of $1,000 than 85% of $10,000. To learn about finding an agent, listen to my episode on How to Find a Good Literary Agent with Mary DeMuth.

As you become more successful, you can spread that wealth between more people because you’ll require a bigger team.

Brandon Sanderson is a successful author whose Kickstarters earn $20-40 million, but he also employs 150 people. He’s not spending those millions of dollars at Disney World. He deposits the money into a business bank account and uses it to pay editors and printers, shippers, and marketers.  He pays a whole team of artists to do various art for his books.

It’s an interesting Kingdom principle. The more you’re blessed, the more you’re able to bless others. But if you’re unwilling to bless others, that unwillingness limits the amount of blessing you can receive because you can only be responsible for a limited number of tasks.

You’re limited to 24 hours per day. If you’re willing to share some of your money to pay a housekeeper, you’ll have more time to write more books and potentially have more money.

If you can make $50 per hour writing and you can hire a housekeeper for $25 per hour, you and the world are better off. You wrote during that hour, and you created a job for someone. At the end of the hour, you’ll still have $25 as well as your writing and a clean house.

Our civilization works that way. We don’t grow our own food. We don’t change our oil. We all need each other’s specialties to function. It’s okay to need other people. You don’t have to do it all.

When you’re getting started and have little money, you have to do more things yourself. But as you succeed and grow, the rewards of success (money) allow you to do more things and hire more people. It’s good to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

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Tell us about your book, The Business of Writing, which just came out.

Angela: It’s the bare essentials you need to learn about business for writing. It’s one of my short, succinct books from my Writing Lessons from the Front books.

I am not a CPA or lawyer, but I’ve been running a writing business for 20 years, and I know what has worked for me and my family in our business plan.

You’ll learn to think like a businessperson, like a writer, and view the entire thing as your career and make it work for you and your family.

Thomas: Your books are concise and to the point. Each of the 14 books in the Writing Lessons from the Front series is laser-focused on a specific topic.

I highly recommend The Business of Writing by Dr. Angela Hunt.

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