Saturday, January 19, 2013

Money Post--A Just How Much Money Can You Make Writing Ebooks Follow-Up

Money is such a funny thing. Everyone wants to know how much everyone else is making, yet no one wants so share answers. And when it comes to the mysterious, secretive world of publishing, people are even worse. If they don't make X amount, does that mean they aren't real writers? Or if Ms. A only make X and Ms. B make much more Y, does that make Ms. B better? (Um, no, it doesn't.)

Man, my head about explodes when dealing with these issues. But you know what? I too was guilty of money anxiety for several years when I started writing. First I had to justify to family that my writing was not a hobby--thus I had to make money at doing what I love. And that's hard to do when you're brand spankin' new. Then too, I wanted to write for a living. No more evil day job. I wanted to plant my butt in front of a computer and earn my share of the family's income from words strung together to make a story. No more sixty-hour work weeks managing  truck drivers, hazardous loads, and tank washes. (Oh boy, do I have stories to tell...)

So fast forward several years. Seven, to be exact. Each year that I've been writing, my income has increased, much to my delighted surprise. I can never tell which books will hit and which will miss. What the readers like is still pretty much a mystery to me, unfortunately. So I write the best book I can, a book I like, and cross my fingers hoping for the best.

And now to the meat of today's post...How Much Can You Make Writing Ebooks in this new 2013 book market? A few years ago, I posted information because I wanted to share what I knew with those asking me questions. When I started writing nearly ten years ago, no one talked about income. Only one friendly author who was writing series for Harlequin took the time and trouble to share some disturbing facts. In 2004, writing was hard, didn't  pay nearly enough, and was almost impossible to make a living doing. And yeah, it's still that way. For a recap, here are those posts I wrote in 2010 and 2011.

The information in this post comes to you from a full-time romance writer. I write erotic romance in several genres, and I write every day, or at least 5 days a week, though usually more. About 5,000 words a day is what I generate, though I've gone as high as 20,000 on an amazing day and 2 on a crappy day. I write on average 9-12 books a year. Some are novellas, some mid-novels, and every now and then I break out into a 90K word story. (I try to do one big project a year). All of my work started out electronic, though more than 20 of my books have gone to print. I make between 35-40% on royalties from my small press publishers, of which Samhain, Loose Id, Ellora's Cave, and Total E-Bound make up the bulk of my income. 

For the second year in a row, I have made six figures writing steamy romances. I write about straight, gay, and bisexual characters. Some are human, some are not. But all of my romances guarantee a happily ever after (HEA). And you know, I write primarily for me. So if I can't get an HEA, what the hell's the point in writing? 

The first few years I started writing, ebooks were a new phenomena.There weren't many publishers, the Kindle and Nook didn't exist,and the market wasn't flooded. I earned $1900 in 2005, $3200 in 2006, and $11,000 in 2007. Back then I was part-time, taking care of my kids full-time while writing when I managed to fit it in. In 2008 I grossed $21,000 and in 2009, $38,000.  And all the while, I wrote and wrote. I did my own taxes using Turbo Tax and ended up being VERY frugal with my income, living off my ex's, too concerned about owing on taxes.

TAXES: Someone asked how much I put aside for taxes each month. Well, it depends on my monthly income. I am not a tax person and don't know much about accounting, so please do not use my guidance as solid advice. However, when I started out, I read a terrific post by John Scalzi (who at that time had made $100K, writing, for ten years--so I took his advice to heart) about writing and the business side of things. It's still pertinent today. To that end, when I received my first royalty check, I put aside half of everything I earned. I didn't pay my taxes until the end of the year up and through 2008, owing a ton of money in April 2009. So after I took that hit, through TurboTax, I paid quarterly estimates. I still owed a lot of money the next year, but not as much, and I had a good idea of what I'd end up owing.

Writers don't normally have much in the way of write-offs. At least, I don't. I have a computer. A home office. Postage and book fees (because I have to read what's current to know what's marketable.) And the occasional conference to include travel and meal fees. That's it. 

As I made more money each year, I realized paying quarterly estimates and Turbo Tax weren't cutting it. In 2010 I earned $64,000 and got hit hard by Uncle Sam. I also learned that I was getting crushed by not having incorporated, since my Schedule C was having me pay at an astronomically large tax rate. (Note, at this time I was also married and filing jointly with two incomes.)

I learned my lesson and hired an accountant. (I somehow remember someone saying that once you hit that $50-60K mark, it's time to incorporate. But DON'T do this without talking to a qualified expert.) I am now incorporated and it's giving me huge advantages in tax savings. I use Quick Books. I pay myself a monthly salary, in addition to withholdings and unemployment to state and federal every month, and am finally comfortable that at tax time I am not going to have to bend over and take a reaming.

Two years, 6 figures in earnings. How? Why? Most people don't know my name. Megan Hart? Treva Harte? No. Marie Harte. But I have books that have done me proud and allowed me to work from home, writing all day long. Best. Job. Ever. In my opinion, there are a few keys to making it in this business on your own. Again, I'm not an expert, but I listen, I read the loops, and I watch and continue to learn.
1. Write what you love. If you don't like it, readers will sense it. Those idiots who decide to write erotica just because it sells and it's "easy" (don't get me started) aren't living on easy street and sipping margaritas in between books. Trust me.
2. You need backlist. If you're new, backlist takes time. But it's rare to find a brand new author making millions from just one book. Even Amanda Hocking put her time in, marketed the hell out of her books, and continued to write.
3.  If you go with a small publisher, find one with a decent track record, or at least an audience. It's easy nowadays to find small electronic publishers all over the place. But if you're getting paid monthly or quarterly, and their bestseller earns $20 in three months, you aren't going to see a huge income. Yes, third party distributors like Amazon and Kobo are great, but if your publisher is small and has no audience, I'm also betting edits are crappy and the cover art is shoddy. (For example--in it's first month with Ellora's Cave, Namesake earned me $3,435. This was a nice shock, and it hasn't happened since with my other books there, but it's possible.)
4.  Covers sell books. Period. Sad to say, but a crappy cover does you no favors. With the amount of books out there now, you have to stand out. And not in a bad way.
5.  Edits are a must. If you can't spell or use commas and are self-publishing, hire someone who knows grammar. And if you're with a traditional print or e-publisher and their edits suck, time to bail.
6.  Build your audience. That means promotion. Even the Big 6--or what's left of them--have most of their authors doing all their own promotion. It's the way of the world nowadays. Facebook, Twitter, a website, newsletters. You have to get out there. Not to the extent that your writing suffers, however.
7. Write. This goes without saying, but you can't write one book, spend a year promoting, it, and sit back and expect to hit billions. Not writing ebooks. Again, backlist is the magic word.
8. Luck. Hate to say it, but I still don't know why Enjoying the Show (ETS)has sold more than any of my other books. I love it, don't get me wrong. It's a light male/female romance. No one's hanging from chandeliers. It's enjoyable and the Warren brothers are a trip, but I've written better books since then. Yet ETS has sold over 48,000 copies since it's publication in Dec 2007. (Note: The book went on sale at Amazon in 2011, I believe. I wonder how well ETS would have done if it had been in a print without that electronic shelf life?) 

I have a life outside of writing, one that involves kids that eat like there's no tomorrow, writer friends, the PTA (don't laugh), a hard road of exercise as I struggle back to fitness, and a lazy disposition I constantly struggle to overcome with discipline. It is now Saturday. I have seen my 4th grader's first basketball game, and I'm typing up this blog post. I've been working hard on a new Facebook street team to help promote my work, and as soon as I publish this post, I will work on a project I meant to have finished yesterday. On Monday, I start a new novella I'm hoping to have done in two weeks, three max. 

Writing for a living is possible, but it won't happen if you don't work for it. Not lecturing, just stating fact. Oh,and have a large pot of coffee on hand before you type that first word. I forgot to mention that. 

If you have questions, let me know. I'm also happy to talk about anything else, to include my experiences with various publishing houses, offline.

Marie Harte
website | blog | facebook
follow me on twitter @MHarte_Author


Cathryn Cade said...


Thanks for sharing your experience so generously. You give me hope, and that's something that every dedicated writer needs.

I love to write, and can't imagine going back to my day job, but this is a scary place out here on the limb!

Cathryn Cade

Julie Golden said...

Thanks for writing about this hush-hush topic - money. The amount of work you produce is impressive. I wonder, do you type in your dreams?

Sabrina York said...

WOW. What a GREAT article. Every author should read this. I loved it.

Thank you so much for sharing.

And yes, it always surprises me what the readers like. I suppose I always expect they will love my favorites--but not always. Ya never know!

Will be sharing this!

Sabrina York

Marie Harte said...

Hey Cathryn. Yeah, I can't imagine going back to a day job either. But some months are better than others, so I stockpile for when--not if--those bad selling days come. "Work smarter not harder." :) I'm all about staying sane and happy while working, so a big NO on the EDJ. Fingers crossed...

Marie Harte said...

Hey Julie. That's funny. Yes, sometimes I am writing in my dreams, but darned if I can remember what I've typed. But I don't write nearly as much as a lot of people I see mentioning word count on FB. Not consistently, anyway. What helps is I'm a fast writer with more ideas than I know what to do with. I do try to get at least 5K a day done. But just last week, one day I wrote nothing. The next, 8K. So it all evens out. Usually. Thanks!

Marie Harte said...

Thanks Sabrina. Yeah, I remember my first RWA conference. In Atlanta. I was going from workshop to workshop trying to get info on royalties and actual net pay, but no one would say a damn thing about it. This is back when I envisioned quitting my job and becoming an instant Nora Roberts. *snort* Thankfully, that one author actually told me what to expect, money-wise. Otherwise, I'd be totally screwed thinking I would make hundreds of thousands from the starting gate. People need to share more about the reality of writing, I think. I learn a lot from other authors just talking about their experiences with publishing houses. That's pretty much my reason for attending conferences, honestly. :)

Ayla Ruse said...

Great post as always, Marie. As writers, we do live a bit in a fantasy world. It's nice to have an open dose of reality once in awhile. And, as one who's known you since way back when, I've enjoyed watching your success grow, year after year. Here's a toast to you and your continued success (and great info you can pass on)!

Marie Harte said...

Thanks, Ayla. I'm still waiting for you to come move to Oregon so we can hang out again. Sigh. I miss the old days of Huddle House. :)

Kayelle Allen said...

I appreciate your openness, Marie. You are a good writer, and have stories that stick with you. A writer without those won't make it no matter how well they promote. There are some good writers who say nothing about their own work and make no money because it really doesn't sell itself. It takes *some* kind of promotion to get it out there. You mentioned a street team -- that's what it takes. A coordinated effort. Thank you for sharing this part of your writing life.

Marie Harte said...

Thanks, Kayelle. That is a good point. You need to have some ability to tell a good story. Because a lot of crap is just that--crap. Then again, a good book is sometimes in the hands of the beholder. I've read tons of great books that don't seem to catch on with other readers, and I've never understood why. Then there are some I've tried to like and just can't, yet others hem and haw about how wonderful they are. Who knows? It's all subjective.

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks and congratulations you've done so well. I've got 30 books out there and can't say much yet about my income. I keep hoping though....

Marie Harte said...

Hey Jean. Well, you know, it took a while for me to build up a backlist and a readership. (Heck, it's still taking a while to build. *grin*) But I really think if you have that ONE book that hits, that's when it happens. For me, as well as my other stuff has done, Enjoying the Show helped me segue into writing full time. Sure you have to write what people want to read, but I think we're all trying to do that. Wish I had that magic formula! Readers know what they want. I keep crossing my fingers that each next book is it. :) Thanks for commenting. *smile*