The term ‘potboiler’ is an old-timey writing term for a writing project which is short or easy to do, and will result in some writing income that the writer can use for basic survival. Picture a writer in a garret, working on a project so he can buy some dried beans or lentils so he can make a pot of soup so he can keep eating even when he is between project and his REAL writing work is far from finished.
In the days when pulp magazines in every genre were on the newsstands, and they paid enough to make a difference, many writers wrote short stories for income while they were waiting for their REAL writing career to take off.
In more recent times, the common potboilers have been when a literary author writes in a popular genre, usually using a pseudonym. Stephen King’s novel The Dark Half tells about such an event. Being a Stephen King novel, of course the pseudonym who got the credit for the literary author’s violent crime novels comes to life and starts killing people, but I understand that rarely happens in real life.
Another example is when a lady author of science fiction and/or fantasy dashes off some quick romance novels to get the income flowing. I’ve known of a couple of well-known authoresses who have gone this route.
Of course, for many authors it may feel that selling a potboiler crime novel or romance is just as hard as selling other work. It’s a pretty risky source of income. Especially when you don’t have an agent yet, or a novel in your REAL genre on the market.
One trick that many modern author-bloggers do is to monetize their blog readers by selling a self-published ebook to that audience. If the author normally blogs about the process of writing, he might write some how-to-write ebook, perhaps a short one, for a little income. If the author-blogger has other non-fiction topics covered on the blog, those topics might also earn some income.
Non-fiction is often an easier sell than fiction by an unfamiliar author. Especially when you have a blog on that covers that topic. You may even be able to re-write and expand a few blog posts into something that will sell.
Perhaps you are thinking that a potboiler is all too crass and commercial. But the Bible says ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.’ (I Cor. 9:9, KJV.) A writer needs to be paid for writing, or it feels like just a hobby. An unjustifiably expensive hobby, when you buy how-to-write books or pay to attend writers’ conferences. Many writers feel that their early potboiler-writing years improved their writing skills, and made them feel like a real writer.
What kind of writing could you do, right now, that would probably make you a little money to keep the wolf away from the door?