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.