How this 20yo uni dropout earns $50k a month
AT JUST 20 years old, Matt Rogers is making more in a month than many people earn in a year - all while still living at home with his parents in Melbourne.
While some young people make money online playing video games or selling stuff on Facebook, Rogers makes about $50,000 a month selling his words.
Since self-publishing his first book Isolated in August 2016 - an action thriller starring a Jack Reacher-style former US special forces operative named Jason King - Rogers has raked in nearly $1 million, churning out an astonishing 11 novels and nine short stories in that time.
He's sold 210,000 copies of his books through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and has racked up more than 90 million page reads on Kindle Unlimited, a $13.99-a-month subscription service where customers can read or listen as much as they want and Amazon pays the authors per page.
"It was all a bit mind-blowing to everyone - me included," Rogers said.
"I've been reading as a hobby ever since I was five years old and writing since about seven. My dad brought home a chunky old Dell laptop from work. I just started typing away - little short stories, anything I could think up."
Rogers started a law degree at Monash University but after one semester decided it "just wasn't for me".
"I decided to take six months off," he said. "I heard about this self-publishing thing so I decided to try it out, wrote a novel, put it up on Amazon and it just took off."
He's one of a growing number of young writers who are making it big in the once-derided area of self-publishing, made possible by new online distribution platforms like Amazon Kindle and Wattpad.
US author Anna Todd, who scored a massive publishing package and movie deal after her steamy One Direction-inspired fan fiction blog After went viral, is possibly the most well known of this new breed.
"When I was 16, I wrote my first full-length novel, a teen action adventure fantasy thing," Rogers said.
"I went around to all of the big publishers and agents and tried to get some attention. Obviously I was young and inexperienced so I couldn't find anything. That's what led me to the whole self-publishing thing."
With a few "practice" novels already under his belt, writing his first book was much easier. "When I got really serious I tried to sit down and treat it like a full-time job," he said. "I got the first book done in two months."
While Amazon wouldn't reveal local numbers, the e-commerce giant said it had paid out more than $US250 million ($343 million) to Kindle Direct Publishing authors over the past 12 months.
In 2017, more than 1000 authors earned over $US100,000 ($137,000).
The market is highly competitive, however. Typically in digital self-publishing, the more you write, the better chance you have of getting noticed by readers.
It's very much like a modern-day version of the American dime novels of the late 1800s that paid by the word, or science fiction magazines in the 1930s like Amazing Stories that published monthly serialised adventures.
Those publishing revolutions allowed a whole swath of mid-tier authors to enter the market and earn a living from writing - and it's the same story today.
While scoring a five-figure book deal from a major publishing house is still the goal for many, pay-as-you-go models come with the benefit of allowing authors to get their stories in front of readers quickly to test the market.
"I put the e-book up for 99 cents, basically the minimum price," Rogers said. "At that point I was trying to figure out whether I could make a viable career out of it. I wanted to actually see if people (other than my family) enjoyed my work."
He said the last two years had taught him not just about the craft of writing, but the business. "When you self-publish you have to do everything," he said.
"I was pitching promotions, emailing readers who read the same genre, trying to do anything I could to get people interested in it. It probably took a month to gain traction."
Rogers described it as the "perfect storm".
"I had a few newsletter promotions booked, got a few sales here and there. It all started to ramp up, I sold about 10,000 copies in a few months," he said.
"I was shocked but I was hard at work on the sequel already. That was a real benefit. I was just so motivated by people enjoying it that I had the sequel out one-and-a-half months after putting the first one out. One thing led to another - it was a bit of a snowball effect."
He said the best part about it was the active feedback from readers.
"Most people enjoyed the first book, some didn't," he said. "I always take the criticism on board, make the second one better, then the third and fourth."
He currently has two main book series on the go - the Jason King novels and a spin-off series featuring another character called Will Slater - but wants to try his hand at different genres.
"I'm thinking of doing a post-apocalyptic wasteland series," he said. "I also had an idea for a sort of dark fantasy series, kind of like gang warfare but with spells, mages and warlocks, gritty realism."
Rogers has "never done a creative writing course or anything formal like that". His main influences are books like the Alex Rider teen spy series and action-thriller writers including Matthew Reilly, Lee Child, and David Baldacci.
"Ever since I can remember, I've been a voracious reader. It's subconscious," he said. "I just read so much, up there in my head somewhere is the structure for a story arc and a character arc."
His advice for writer's block? "My best advice is just push through," he said.
"I struggled with that early on. I had a time where I forced myself to write for about a month. When I looked back on those words, they were the exact same quality as when I was creatively inspired. I realised it was a motivation thing."
He can now "consistently write every day". "Just push through it and get that first draft on paper, then go back and tweak it," he said.
In a statement, Amazon Australia country manager Rocco Braeuniger said books were "part of our DNA at Amazon and we have always been committed to making literature more widely accessible".
"I think the best thing about our independent publishing program, Kindle Direct Publishing, is the way in which it has empowered anyone with a story to find their audience," he said.
"It is fantastic to see Australian authors such as Matt not only connect with readers, but make a generous living by doing so."