Tao Wong Shares His Secrets for Making the Full-Time Gig Work Financially
Tao Wong never meant to be a full-time author. Now he helps other authors move closer to realizing the same dream he never thought he’d achieve, all while advocating the necessity of income diversification.
His backlist speaks for itself. Tao currently has more than five series, though he is probably best known for his Post-apocalyptic LitRPG series, The System Apocalypse, and his Chinese Xianxia Fantasy series, A Thousand Li. His book, A Thousand Li: The Second Sect was short-listed for the UK Kindle Storyteller in 2021. Xianxia Fantasy, also sometimes referred to as Cultivation Fantasy, is a martial arts novel genre heavily influenced by Chinese mythology—on his website (https://MyLifeMyTao.com), Tao describes it as something akin to “Eastern Fantasy.”
Tao credits his early success to the fact that he published “at a time when LitRPG was very much in demand at Amazon, and people found my work and enjoyed reading it.”
Asked what he thinks makes a good story, Tao replied that “hitting the tropes of whatever genre you’re writing in” will help you connect with your readership. Personally, he says he writes characters who are like himself but slightly different. A common theme in his books is “the price of choices”—often, his characters are forced to grapple with the consequences of decisions they’ve made.
“I write heroes, partly because I believe we need more of them in our world, but also, the choices that we make, and the decisions that we make, knowing that there is a consequence to all of these decisions … is important to learn and to write about,” Tao says.
Look Before You Leap
When it comes to writing, Tao says it took him five years to figure out he was a “plantser”—not creating an outline for his books in the traditional sense, but not necessarily diving in without a plan either. “I have a beginning and an end,” he says, but he doesn’t plot out what happens in between. The characters take the story and run with it. He’s also tried discovery writing, in which he didn’t know what the ending would be, but he found it wasted time, and he would consistently have to cut thousands of words from his final manuscript.
On the business side of authorship, Tao waited before he started advertising. “For the first two years, all I did was write, publish, write, publish,” Tao says. After building a steady backlist with about five books in each series, Tao dived into Facebook advertising and AMS ads. He’s a firm believer that an author shouldn’t advertise or push a book too soon because it doesn’t get a solid return on investment. He advocates having the marketing platform of a website and a newsletter, but he believes an author’s focus should be on writing.
When it comes to giving guidance to authors hoping to go full time, “make sure you have a backlist,” Tao says. His second piece of advice is practical: Make sure your minimum income suffices to handle your bills. He didn’t go full time until the lowest month of earnings in the previous year was enough to settle his bills. For himself, Tao needed to ensure he had sufficient funds to cover all his costs. He admits that he could have gone full time a little earlier, but he had a secondary business, an e-commerce game retailer, he had to wind down first. He recommends creators have at least six months of savings before making the leap, though he prefers a year’s worth of funds to cover expenses and savings. “Running a business is generally more expensive than you will ever expect, and it’s hard to know how much it’s going to cost until you’ve done it a couple of years running,” Tao says.
Authors should also account for the transition from part-time to full-time status. He shares that everyone thinks they will get more words down when they go full time, but it’s difficult to do. More time does not necessarily equate to more words.
As a savvy businessman and author, Tao emphasizes diversifying sources of income. “It plays a big part in determining your business and marketing strategies, not just in the sheer volume of processes needed but also the kinds of audiences you touch,” he says. He insists that “diversification and income streams is risk management” that every author should take into account.
Tao learned the necessity for income diversification the hard way with his previous venture, Starlit Citadel. One of the income streams for his e-commerce business was Amazon, and it shut his seller account down without cause for three months until the company eventually reinstated it. “If we weren’t diversified, that would have destroyed us,” he says. It’s the reason he’s keen to ensure he has multiple revenue streams.
At the moment, Tao makes a large percentage of his earnings from Kindle Unlimited and Audible, but he always looks for ways to diversify his cash flow because he doesn’t want to be in a position where he has zero revenue.
A visit to his website, https://MyLifeMyTao.com, shows multiple business posts teaching authors how to grow the potential of their intellectual property. Authors can channel a novel through various touchpoints in a pipeline designed to maximize reach and earnings.
Tao uses Patreon, Kickstarter, and direct sales from his website to supplement the compensation he generates from Amazon. There are multiple benefits of extending the book publication pipeline, he says, such as rewards for readers, the ability to have stress-free deadlines, and consistently generated income.
Tao explains that he’s able to write a clean initial draft, and as a result, “Patreon gets my first draft immediately as I write it.” This pleases his most ardent fans, desperate to read the next book in the series. Offering loyal readers the opportunity to get an early look at chapters as he finishes them builds stronger bonds besides providing a steady income.
Eventually, Tao plans to add Kickstarter as another marketing tool in his wheelhouse, mainly because readers on Kickstarter are different from the Amazon audience. It’s also “a way of touching the wide readership” and expanding his income stream, he says, since his books are usually exclusively in Kindle Unlimited. Kickstarter backers would get the first version of the novel after the chapters are edited.
Direct Sales Through His Website
The third touchstone, Tao’s publishing company, Starlit Publishing, allows readers to buy a book directly from him without having to go through Kickstarter. The various funnels in the pipeline allow Tao to touch upon different audiences, a method of expanding his readership.
A couple of months after distributing a new novel directly, Tao publishes it on Amazon, and his Kindle Unlimited readership is able to consume the book through the retailer.
Some of this pipeline resulted from Tao’s realization that he was pushing himself too hard and falling behind on releases, having to rush because he had editors, proofreaders, narrators, and other people he’d contracted who were waiting for his manuscript. The updated publishing timeline relieves the stress of hitting deadlines by extending his time frame for creating a final product, all while allowing him to continue generating revenue.
A Word to the Wise
Another mode of income diversification resulted in Tao branching into co-authoring projects. He approached others to write in his worlds. Asked about his process, Tao admits the relationship differs with each co-author; however, in most cases, he comes in afterward as a developmental editor. There is “a lot of communication involved,” he says, but “co-authoring is another avenue of splitting income, working with new people, helping some [authors] up, and improving your craft.”
Early in 2021, Tao ran a grant offering one writer a chance to get up to two thousand dollars to put toward their publishing goals. He says he believes in giving back to the community and extending a supporting hand to authors. In the future, he hopes to offer more people the opportunity by increasing the number of grants.
“We talk a lot about the business side,” Tao says. “We need to be working on our craft, and that is a continuous thing.” After all, having a good story is the first step to success.