Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just How Much Money Can You Make Writing eBooks?

*NOTE* I write this post with the intention of helping others and sharing information. What I posted is from my perspective and from my experiences. I hope this answers some of the questions I've gotten from different people interested in pursuing writing (ebooks) as a career.

Just How Much Money Can You Make Writing eBooks?

I remember years ago how excited I was to attend my first romance conference. Everyone had so much to say about the writing process, about promotion, and about dealing with the highs and lows of writing. But no one would talk about money. At the time it was 2003,and I had not yet written a full book. I had plans to quit my unfulfilling 60 hour a week job and write for a living. I had it all planned out. I would write a category romance for Harlequin, then snag an agent, break into single title, and soon I’d have a career ready to rival Nora Roberts. (Please, hold your laughter.)

So I worked up the courage to ask an approachable author just how much money one could make from a writing career. Taking pity on me, she told me that for category romance—what she knew—an author could make anywhere from $2000-$5000 depending upon the author. Newbies made the low end, established authors made the high end. And from contract to payout, the author normally had to wait a few years.

There went my hopes for the instant Nora career.

Though much of that conference is now a blur to me, I’ll never forget that author who finally broke the taboo barrier and gave me a realistic view of the business. One book a year, which is what a lot of authors were putting out, sure the heck wouldn’t put food on my table, feed my kids, or content my husband who would have to work extra hard to make up for me quitting my job.

Fast forward seven years. It’s 2010. After a furious struggle with traditional publishing and thanks to a bottoming economy, ebooks are now an accepted and even welcomed medium through which to tell stories. I first learned about them back in 2004 and decided to give them a shot. Where the NY print world demanded I wait anywhere from 4 months to a year to hear back, the electronic world of publishing answered my queries in weeks. I sold a book. Then another. I started to devote myself more than part time to writing.

So enough. I’m getting to the point of this post right now. What most writers want to know but are afraid to ask: Just how much can you make from writing ebooks, and romance at that? Can you make a living? Is it lucrative or just ridiculous to expect any kind of earn out with ebooks? I can only speak from my experience, and here it is.

In 2005, I earned $1984, spent much more on conferences and supplies, and took a loss on my taxes. In 2009—several publishers and 35 books later—I grossed $38000, paid my friggin’ taxes (OUCH), and earned a nice profit. It might not be what the big guns are making in New York, but I’m only paid for what I sell, and I don’t have to wait a year or two to see returns. My royalty percentages range from 35-40% on every ebook I write, depending upon the publisher.

When I first started writing, I considered it part time. Between raising a baby, then adding another, and dealing with teenagers, I didn’t have as much time to write as I’d have liked. This year my littlest guy attended preK. I worked full time and managed–if not great, still acceptable—full time pay. It wasn’t easy. It was actually a lot of work. And yet, I love what I do.

I write ebooks, some of which have gone to print. I make most of my money off the ebooks, though, since my print returns are usually small and net me the lowest royalty rate. I write every day (mostly). On the days I don’t write, I do promo or fiddle with my website and blog. I have over thirty books under my belt, and I consider writing my job. The publishers I write for have great reputations. They don’t charge to edit my books, they actually EDIT my books, and they pay on time. I get monthly checks from all but one of them, and that publisher pays quarterly. All of my publishers sell through various means: the publisher’s website, third party distributors, to include Fictionwise and Amazon (Kindle), as well as other sites.

With so many epublishers out there, it’s hard to know where to submit. This is not a hobby for me, and I write because I enjoy it, but I also write to make money. Samhain and Loose Id are my major money makers. I’ve written successful series for both places, but I think I earn more at those places because they have broader readerships and are smart publishing houses. I also write for Total E-Bound, Amber Quill, and have a book with Whispers. All of my publishers act professionally, pay on time, and listen to their authors. I recently contracted a book with Ellora’s Cave and am curious to see what they’re like. So far, so good.

The formula to make money in this business is easy. Because electronic publishing is still a niche market, you need to write what the readers want and a lot of it. Backlist is more than just a word, it’s the key to financial success. So if you’re a slow writer who wants to make a lot of money writing, electronic publishing in smaller presses might not be for you.

Some facts and figures that might be of interest:

I make great money at Samhain on my backlist, even when I haven’t had a book out in months. My novella Enjoying the Show is my best seller to date. I’ve been paid monthly on this sucker, in addition to my other books, since January 2008.

A History of Enjoying the Show:

I submitted the story, was rejected, made the improvements suggested (thank you, Laurie), and received a contract from Samhain in January 2007. The book released from Samhain nearly a year later, in December 2007. It’s a vanilla, m/f contemporary romance with an awesome cover. The novella cost $3.50.

In 2008 (to include my Dec 2007 take), I grossed: $3670 and sold 2672 copies.

In 2009 I earned: $3901 and sold 2790 copies

And so far, in 2010, I have grossed: $1496 and sold 1069 copies.

In total, just from this one book, I have made $9067. Now, that’s over the course of two and a half years, but that’s not bad for one novella, especially since if folks like it, they might go back and purchase my other books, all of which are still listed and available through all my publishers.

But not all books sell that well. And honestly, I’ve written better books that haven’t earned half that much, so go figure. I write paranormal, futuristic, contemporary, and am making a foray into romantic suspense. But all my books are erotic romance. Readers seem to like a good story, and sex sells. Like it or not, it’s the truth.

The more your name is out there, the better your chances of making more money. People can’t buy you if they have no idea of who you are or what you write. Writing for several publishers broadens my readership and allows me to publish a book a month, or thereabouts.

I have to write constantly. There is no one book a year in my path toward financial success, not using the electronic medium to sell. But I write fast, and thus far in my short-lived career, I’ve never hurt for ideas. Some authors write one or two books a year. I write anywhere from 7-10. This year I have reissues I’ve revised and reedited. I’ll have 12 releases out this year alone by December, pending any publishing catastrophes. I normally have between 6-9 romances out a year. Some are novellas, some category-sized (40-60K words) novels.

I look at writing as a calling, a love, and a business. I do believe you have to put money into it to get money out of it. Advertising, conferences, supplies… All of it goes back into my brand and hopefully attracts new readers. Now I have to finish a contracted book before I hit another novella I have planned for June. And my fingers are crossed that Enjoying the Show continues to sell. God bless the Kindle.



Destiny Booze, Novelist said...

Girl, you work your butt off, no doubt about it. That's a lot of books. You rock! Also, let me just say that I haven't read a blog that honest in a very long time. Good for you.


Marie Harte said...

Hey Destiny. Thanks. It used to bug the crap out of me that even in the writing community no one would come out and tell anyone else what they made. It's hard to know where to submit your stuff if you want to sell a lot when folks won't at least hint at what you can make at a publisher. I know everyone's different, but are we talking a few bucks or several hundred? And I don't want to be crass talking figures, but I think a real number helps sometimes. And in this business, you never know what your numbers will be from one year to the next. :)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honesty and insight. It takes courage to say what others won't!

Anonymous said...

It took me many years in romanceland before I stumbled upon an Author who was nice enough to tell me how much she made at one of the big epublishing houses. No one wants to ever talk about it. And your right, it’s very hard to make decisions on where to submit your work when no one will talk about what they are making or what is possible.

Thanks for coming forth with your sales information. It’s much appreciated.

Something else to check out --Brenda Hiat’s Show me the Money list. She surveys authors on how much they make then posts the info -

s7anna said...

Hey Marie,
Thanks for putting up this a reader I've always been curious as to the breakdown of finances from an author's perspective. I think that there is such a skewed image of how much authors make...for a long time I really did think that all authors make HUGE amounts of money and were totally set. It wasn't until last year and I got more involved in reading blogs and yahoo groups that it really hit me that authors were just like normal people...I was that naive...what can I say? I've always held authors in such high pedestals that you all seem unreal to me...goddess like. I still think of y'all with the goddess status but with real problems and've become 3-D for me.


Marie Harte said...

Thanks Anonymous. And thanks also for the link to Brenda's site. I really like having places to go for information.

Marie Harte said...

Hey Anna.

I hate to get into the weeds on writing stuff, since a lot of readers don't much care. But others like you do. And before I wrote, I was just like many who thought anyone with a book out on a shelf had to make a lot of money. Turns out that really isn't true. Unfortunately. As much as I do like making a living from writing, I really like taking someone away from the daily humdrum of life, lost in a book I wrote. (And hopefully not throwing it against the wall!) As a reader, there's nothing I find better than escaping into a great romance. And to get paid to boot, is just the icing on the cake.

Marie :)

Jax Cassidy said...

What a great post! I even tweeted about it. Thanks Romance Junkies for sending me here :)

Anara Bella said...

Great post, Marie!! Thanks so much for this helpful information on what's mostly a taboo subject.

And as for your productivity as a writer, my hat's off to you. I want to be you when I grow up. =)


Kayelle Allen said...

Thank you for sharing this info. It was encouraging to me. I also discovered you write exactly what I like to read! Will be checking out that backlist. ^_^

Marie Harte said...

Hey Jax. Thanks for checking out the post. And Anara, sometimes I want to be me when I grow up. My productivity vacillates from really good during the rest of the year to ... what little I did this week. Ack. Summer is so hard for me when it comes to writing!


Marie Harte said...

Hey Kayelle. I see you write for Loose Id too. It's so hard to keep up with who writes what for whom, isn't it? I love writing for them. I'm always holding my breath when it comes to cover art time. And your covers look stellar!!


TeriC said...

Hi Marie, thanks for posting. It was very informative and honest. I appreciate the fact that you were brave enough to actually put some $$$$ to some stats. Most authors hem and haw but never actually give some real figures. Thank you so much.

Marie Harte said...

Hey Teri. Glad I could be of help!!


Selah said...

Whether your intended it to be or not, your post is very inspiring for those of us who don't necessarily want to get rich, but do want to earn decent compensation for our writing. Hard work and dedication (plus talent, of course) do pay off in the end!

Thanks. :)

Marie Harte said...

Hey Selah.

Glad you found something to help you from the post. I too am inspired when I hear someone making a living writing. Now granted, I'd LOVE to be rich, but I'm content with working my way to get there. ha ha My greatest dream is to be able to live wherever I want to, not constrained to a location because of a job. Writing can be done anywhere anymore, so long as you have Internet access. It just takes a lot of work. And for a lazy person like myself, that's hard. :)


Jaxx Steele said...

This was amazingly helpful, Marie. Thanks for posting this and shining some light on the money side of things


Marie Harte said...

Hey Jaxx. I'm glad it helped. :)


Lisa Pietsch said...

Marie, you are awesome!
I'm just beginning my writing career with an epublisher and this was exactly what I needed to read. I've never been afraid of the hard work but I did want to know if it was possible to earn a living on just ebooks.

Thank you!


Sandra Parshall said...

I've heard over and over that writers must never, ever talk openly about money. But we need more openness and honesty, not more secrecy, if we're going to survive all the changes taking place in publishing. Thanks for your informative post.

Marie Harte said...

Hey Sandra.

Yeah, you always hear not to talk about money. And for the most part, I don't. Not that many folks would really care anyway, or so I thought.

But after attending a conference and getting a lot more emails lately than I normally do about writing, I decided to open up a bit. Just a "here I made this, and now I've made that." And at the rate I've been lolly-gagging lately, I doubt I'll be near last year's earnings at the end of 2010! But it helps me to know what's a realistic goal when I can read a post about what a NY Times bestseller made from her book, and it's not what I'd thought it would be. (Lynn Viehl's excellent post.) Or to hear from other electronically published authors to know what one can earn at a particular publishing house. Every little bit of knowledge helps.


Marie Harte said...

Hey Lisa.

I do think it's possible to earn a living writing ebooks. Of course, everyone's definition of "a living" varies. A lot of successful authors seem to be writing for NY print publishers and electronic books for smaller presses. Pretty smart, I'd say.

I do think smaller electronic presses can get a bad rap just because it's so easy for anyone to claim they're a publisher. But the successful presses are the ones in business with happy authors. And happy authors are usually authors who make money.

Thanks for posting, Lisa!


Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Marie, thanks for the honesty.

Since I'm not in your category as far as being able to write fast, I don't make as much on my ebooks. Not that I don't need the money, yep, I do.

I'm certainly not lacking for ideas, just the time to write them. Still, I do the best I can, and keep on truckin'... as they say.

Cara Bristol said...

THANK YOU for addressing the topic of money. Everyone tiptoes around the money elephant in the room. For some reason, in our culture, money is more taboo than sex!

Marie Harte said...

Glad to help, Cara!


Marie Harte said...

You know, Savanna, that's all you can do. Keep on truckin'! I know writers who write faster than I do, and those who write slower. To my way of thinking, the best thing you can do is write when you can and make notes of all the ideas you can't get to. :) Like you, I have a ton of stuff I'd love to write about, if only I had the time.

Right now I'm just hoping I can stop procrastinating and finish my current WIP. So much for being a fast writer. sigh. I really don't like summer.

Cheers. Marie