Writing is a great career but ….. how much does it pay?

author 2Many romance readers seem to think that a writing career is something that is not only glamorous but a way to make pots of money quickly in their spare time and, if they’re very lucky, they can parlay writing into a full time career. However, only the most successful authors can afford to write full time and there are not that many of those rare beings in this genre, so it’s important to know what you can expect to make as a writer before you jump in.

And the dreams don’t stop. Readers also have visions of their books turning into movie scripts like one very famous (or infamous) writer who recently did just that! They figure they can write in their pyjamas and not have to commute to work, as the commute would be from their bedroom to the den/office, 🙂 after they catch up with the morning shows and drink their second cappuccino or latte. Doesn’t that sound idyllic? However the truth may not be the picture I just painted because writing is hard work if you do it right and produce quality work, as any experienced author will tell you. So this post is an attempt to find out if there’s any money to be made from all that hard work, and if so, how much.

Where to publish? We used to think that there was only one way to get your literary works of art into the hands of readers – by publishers – but as current events and trends have shown us, publishers are facing stiff competition from an unlikely source: self publishing. Seems authors are doing it for themselves. To demonstrate how far we have come in this business, I’m enclosing a link my friend TJ sent me to a New York Times article about Steven Soderbergh, the well known filmmaker, who is publishing a hard-boiled suspense novella on Twitter, tweet by tweet, called “Glue”. So far, he has published seven chapters. Twitter may be the next mountain in publishing for writers to conquer, but not today. 😆 Of course if you tweet it you can’t charge for the book. 😯 Here’s the link to the article

http://tinyurl.com/cynwe76

Just how much money can be made? This started out as an article about self publishing and I’m still going to write that essay soon, but today I want author 3to zero in on how much money M/M writers make. This post is directed to all our writers out there, novice and experienced, and I’m looking for their help in completing the enclosed survey which could be used to develop a database of what M/M authors make, before taxes. There is no definitive or credible information around currently and this database of author salaries would be a boon to every M/M writer, either current or aspiring. With the incredible influx of new authors into the genre I thought this would be useful comparative information for everyone. I should say right off the bat that I’m sure it’s not just the money that attracts people to writing as a career because many writers have told me that they can sooner stop breathing before they can stop writing. However, conversely I know that a lot of authors write to supplement the incomes from their full-time or part-time jobs. Can a romance writing career be based on something so unromantic and prosaic? Surely creativity and art must play a major role! 🙂 I’m sure it does.

authorThere are two important sides to the revenue coin. The first is that most M/M authors still currently publish their books through publishers – mostly epublishers – but this is changing. Today more and more authors are discovering self publishing. The main reason for this shift is money. If the writers are good at what they do and/or have a large fan base they typically make a lot more money by self pubbing. Royalties through an epublisher are usually between 30 – 45% of what the publisher nets (not grosses), meaning sales through a third party like Amazon earn an author less when the author is going through a publisher middleman.

By self publishing through Amazon Digital Services, on the other hand, an author can make as much as 70% of the gross receipts, depending on the pricing structure of the books. As writers get back their rights to books that were previously under contract with a publisher, the likelihood of them going the self publishing route rather than renewing their contracts is very real and publishers are bleeding a lot of their more popular writers. Likewise, some new writers choose to self publish from the getgo because they believe they can make more money that way rather than the traditional one through a publisher, and going by the numbers they may have the right idea. However, if you’re an aspiring writer don’t quit your day job without doing a lot of research, and the data from this survey could be part of that research in terms of the answer to the question: How much does an M/M writer make from his/her books?

Money, money, money. So how much does an author really make and is there a huge difference between releasing his/her books through an epublisher vs. self publishing? The enclosed short survey should provide some useful data on writer income that I hope will benefit all m/m authors. You can help your fellow authors and yourself by completing the survey which will also be on the right hand sidebar. BTW, no one will know how much anyone makes individually because the poll is completely anonymous: Here it is:

How long have you been published as an M/M author?

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How many stories/books are in your backlist?

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How much did your first book earn?

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Was it a:

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Do you currently use an epublisher?

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How much do you currently earn on average using an epublisher? > Per novel

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> Per novella

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> Per novelette/short story

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If you currently self publish how much do you earn? > Per novel

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> Per novella

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> Per novelette/short story?

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Do you plan to continue self publishing exclusively?

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How much do you earn now annually from your writing career? > Using an epublisher

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> Self Publishing

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NOTE: The term “epublisher” is used interchangeably in this post with “publisher” since the majority of epublishers also publish their novels in print.

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

138 comments

  • I wish all writers will complain to Amazon about the kindle ebook refund within 7 days. This is encouraging free reading. I know people who finished reading and returned their kindle ebooks within 7 days. I did complain to Amazon but all they said was it was part of their return policy ?? It is a library for free lending!
    I am a fan of the gay/MM romance genre and this Amazon ridiculous policy is not helping you guys at all!

  • I think a lot depends on if your chosen sub genre happens to be popular at any given moment. I’ve been pretty lucky that BDSM erotic romance seems to have been doing okay over the last few years. (Although I think I’m starting to see hints that the tide might be receeding for it.)

    In general I find that longer books do better than shorter titles, paranormal books do better than contemporary ones, Christmas books generally do pretty badly, and, strangely enough, I’ve also noticed that books where the royalties are to go to charity do less well than non-charity titles.

  • Wow, some awesome responses here. I’m doing okay, I guess, but not thinking of quitting the day job yet. Not with a mortgage and that damn cat who keeps running up expensive vets bills, at any rate…

    But I didn’t get into this for the money. And I think every writing class I’ve ever taken has warned me that if you think you’re going to make a bucketload of cash, you’re in the wrong game. And that’s okay. I think it’s a slow process to build up a fan base and really start seeing great returns. Self-publishing looks great, royalties-wise, but there is so much self-pubbed stuff out there that I think a lot of authors are struggling to get noticed. And that’s a benefit of having a publisher that I’m sot sure anyone has mentioned yet — you get to borrow their reputation while you get yourself established.

    As for promos and stuff…well, if I spent all my time on that, when would I find time to write? I think that some new writers make the mistake of concentrating too much on Facebooking and tweeting and blogging, when your best advertisement is a solid backlist. At least I hope it is, because that’s the theory I’m working on.

    My worst seller so far has been my one and only historical, which is no surprise going on the above comments. But will we see a turn around in the popularity of historicals? I hope so, because I love them and want to write more!

    Any my best seller so far, I think, will be The Good Boy, written with J.A. Rock. I’m only saying that because it actually hit Number 1 for a few days on the Amazon Gay Romance rankings, and hung in for a long time in the top numbers. But of course, I haven’t seen any money from Amazon yet, since I think it takes them three months to pass the royalties on to the publisher. So it’ll be interesting to see how that translates into a payment.

    But as for how it hit Number 1…well, I have no idea. I guess sometimes you just get lucky.

    And now I’m off to give the cat his expensive medication… 🙂

  • I filled out the survey (though it kept getting stuck and I had to keep reloading the page. I hope that doesn’t mess up the end result.)

    I don’t know how much benefit there may be in offering specifics, but I don’t mind doing so (not to discourage you if you’re starting out by writing sweet romance or historical romance or :death knell: sweet, historical romance. I think there must be writers who do all right with it. Aren’t there?)
    Over a four year period, my second novel, Whistling in the Dark, made approximately $3,400.00 in royalties; so, less than a thousand a year. I think that comes out to about 30 copies a month (but I may be wrong. I got the lowest math scores in the history of the SAT. And I know I’m not figuring POD vs. ebook correctly.)

    In Whistling’s first year of sales, it sold 122 copies. It did better in subsequent years.

    My first novel, Downtime, does about the same–30 copies in a good month, but usually 15-20 copies (although when it was first published, it sold almost nothing. Only in the past couple of years has it picked up some sales; helped, I think, by word-of-mouth on Goodreads. And having a modern-day POV character.)

    My third novel, The Only Gold, sells about 1 copy to every three of Downtime. So it’s doing poorly–but I probably should have known a story about stodgy bankers in love was not destined for big sales. 🙂

    My sales are at their current level because I’ve been fortunate enough to be reviewed at m/m review sites and m/f review sites, including DA.
    But good reviews don’t bring my sales anywhere near the level of contemporaries or books with sex scenes in them; nor will they, because what I write isn’t the type of story most readers of m/m are looking for.

    At this point, I’m not anticipating a day when I’ll make a living at writing. I’m not sure a writer can, if she produces only one novel a year (unless she’s writing the type of Twilighty story that has a ready-made market.)
    I don’t believe a writer can make a living selling “sweet” m/m, either (but I’d certainly love to have someone prove me wrong.) I don’t know if m/f historical authors make a living at it. Maybe for them, too, it depends on whether they include sex scenes. I really don’t know.

    I feel like I’m at a crossroads. Compromise and write explicit sex?
    Don’t compromise and write inspirationals? 🙂 Plod on for another ten years and hope I get to the point where I’ll sell forty copies a month?
    In my case, I think trying out other genres and perhaps failing to succeed in them will give me a better idea of whether hoping for a more substantial career is realistic.

    I do agree with your post title. Writing *is* a great career if you love telling stories. But if you write a niche (sweet) in a niche (historical) in a niche (m/m,) the finding-an-audience part is just killer.

    • Mara is my favorite mm writer – there are a lot of authors whose work I like and enjoy, and couple that come close, but for quite some time she had been number one for me. Not that I find it a shocking surprise that sweet historicals are not selling well, but I still find it depressing that the stories which are written so well are not selling well.

      I will follow Mara into any genre she decides to try, that goes without saying (cookbook? So there :-)), but I still feel that it is mm genre loss if she leaves it. Too bad there are apparently not enough readers who feel like I do 🙁

      • I hope you don’t change your stories too much, and that appreciation grows for your backlist – I put Tamara Allen as my choice on the new Goodreads thread of “What book (or author) makes you wonder why more people aren’t reading it” In general, I think historicals are under-appreciated. Several of my all-time favorite M/M have been historicals.

      • I’m with Sirius! It’s a damn shame that Mara’s books aren’t making her millions. She’s one of my inspirations. I can only hope that I’ll write anything as perfect as one of her novels. (I LOVE stodgy bankers…well, she MADE me love stodgy bankers is her real talent!) I’m sorry to gush, but I, too, will follow her to any genre she tries.

    • I think 30 copies a month of an old title is quite respectable.

      The advice I give my mentorees (is that a word?) is 4 books a year, ideally novels. In other words, a new, quality release every quarter. If you can do that (and it is NOT an easy thing to do) you will steadily build your backlist at the same time you are steadily acquiring new readers. You keep your name out there — very necessary — and you keep the quality high. More than four books a year, well, I think very few writers in this genre or any other can write more than four quality full length titles a year.

      The key to a lucrative career in this or any other genre is the consistent and regular production of top notch commercial fiction.

      Next question: what is “commercial” fiction.

  • I must be one of those weird outliers who gets frustrated when sex overwhelms the plot. Frankly, I’m kinda over writing sex scenes. I’m more interested in exploring the dynamics between my characters.

    I’m not even sure what I write is romance. Very few of my books have a traditional HEA ending. There’s just something in me that rebels against tying everything up in a pretty pink bow.

    RE: sales… I’ve had books that have done remarkably well, and some that have barely moved 200 copies.

    As for promo, I don’t think it makes much difference. My current Riptide book’s doing fine, and they didn’t even schedule a blog tour.

    In my experience, readers are interested in a very narrow range of subjects. They love military heroes, cowboys – basically, any kind of alpha male. They want sex, and plenty of it. And if there’s a woman in the story, she’d better be the hero’s mother or sister.

    • As for promo, I don’t think it makes much difference. My current Riptide book’s doing fine, and they didn’t even schedule a blog tour.

      The difference on the months I do promo and the months I don’t is easily 1 – 2K. It matters. But it is not the only thing that matters.

  • Given that the majority of the votes are “Under $1000” it might be good to do a follow-up with categories by $200 intervals in addition to the larger amounts. Many readers will be surprised to see how many books only earn $100-200, even novels and novellas from well-known authors.

    I know one who admitted that her recent book sold on 13 copies the first month. I have books that have not earned more than $200. The number of copies sold for many books is surprisingly low, on average. For example, the Going for Gold Olympic anthology I edited (even though it contains wonderful long (20+k) novellas by Kaje Harper and Sarah Madison, among others) has probably sold fewer than 50 copies in the 9 months since it came out. It’s gotten very good reviews and ratings, but not much attention or sales. Other books from big names, with poor reviews, sell in the thousands.

    In my experience the publisher makes a big difference in terms of exposure and perceived quality. (That’s probably another topic for discussion). I won’t name names here, but the lowest-sellers of mine all came from the same publisher.

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