How To Make A Living From Self Publishing Romance
Or, more accurately, how I make a living from self publishing romance. This is what worked for me. Your mileage may vary.
Also – keep in mind – I am approaching this from the perspective of someone who wants to write what they love AND make money. I am shamelessly commercial. I love writing the kinds of stories that I write, but I am also deliberately doing my very best to write what I believe readers are looking for. I study best-seller lists obsessively to see what sells, and I deliberately write to trend, and that’s why I was able to quit my day job. However, there’s a little more to it than that.
I suspect that a lot of my readers are potentially writers, as well, so this post is aimed at them, as well as anybody else who is considering taking the self-publishing plunge. I can tell you that it was reading posts by J.A. Konrath (and I don’t agree with 100 percent of what he says, but overall, he does offer some very good advice), H.P. Mallory, Amanda Hocking, Selena Kitt, Bella Andre, and other self publishing phenoms, that gave me the courage and encouragement to finally get off my can and embark on my self publishing journey, so if this post inspires anyone to finally self-publish and hopefully sell a buttload of books and make money doing what they love, I will be delighted.
Note: I don’t make as much money as any of the aforementioned, at least not yet, but I do make a very comfortable living now. I do worry that it will go away, that Amazon (where I make 90 percent of my money) will somehow change the rules and the profits will dry up, or that some other disaster will fall, so I am trying to use this windfall wisely – paying off old debts first, then putting money into savings, then luxury stuff. Although I did finally move out of the two bedroom house one bathroom house where I slept in the living room so my kids could have their own bedrooms, and now I am in a lovely three bedroom three bathroom house where I will never again have to wait my turn to pee. It’s the little things.
So, how did I get to the point where I could quit my day job? Read on…
1.) First things first – To be successful as a self published author, you have to be a good writer. This is non-negotiable. You must be able to tell a good story. You have to be at the stage where you would have no qualms about sending your book off to a traditional literary agent, or showing it to an editor at any of the big publishing houses.
How do you become a good writer? Practice, practice, practice, and read lots of good books, especially in the genre in which you want to write.
I have always been a voracious reader, and several years ago I started really paying attention to story structure. What makes a hero or heroine likable? When should the conflict start? How is the conflict resolved? When should it be resolved? Every romance book has an “all is lost” moment – where in the book should it be located? How is it resolved?
A few writing books which I credit with my success – if you read these books and follow their instructions, no matter what stage of writing you are in, you will be able to build a better story:
Screenwriting Tips For Authors:
Writing For Emotional Impact:
Get feedback on your writing, and take it with a grain of salt, but if you are hearing the same thing from several people, consider that they may have a point. Be gracious about all feedback, even if you don’t agree with it. If you feel that someone is overly critical or just doesn’t get your style, thank them politely, but don’t ask them to critique your writing again. Joining an organization like Romance Writers of America or Sisters In Crime can be immensely helpful, although many of their members, perhaps most, are more geared towards traditional publishing – but what is helpful is the local chapters generally will have members who have formed critique groups that you may be able to join. There are also online RWA chapters with critique groups.
2.) When you feel that you are ready to write, study the Amazon romance bestseller list to see what’s selling. This was key to my success. There will always be numerous sub-genres that are selling well, and usually one trend that dominates the pack at the moment – new adult, for instance, is huge right now. About a year to a year and a half ago, it was all billionaire bdsm. Now, this is crucial – pick the genre that is both popular AND that you love to read, and write. Write and publish a couple of books in that genre, and if it doesn’t work – try another one. My first book published in August ranked about 2,000 on Amazon (out of several million.) It was a BBW romance, with a little thriller thrown in. It did okay, but it didn’t take off like crazy. I like cowboy books – I wrote two of them. They did also did reasonably well but not great, also ranking in the 2000s.
Now, I happen to love paranormal. I read science fiction and urban fantasy, I’m a Buffy the Vampire Slayer geek, and writing in magical alternate universes seemed like fun to me, so I wrote “Big Beautiful Witches: I Married A Warlock”, and that ranked 1200. I was excited. I’d never ranked that high before.
However, still not a big breakout hit. So I did a BBW shifter book, and that book, within two weeks, with no advertising, with a mailing list of about 45 people, with a Facebook fan page with six likes at that point, made it to the rank of FORTY in two weeks. It was stunning.
So that was what worked for me. And this happened because I kept trying out different popular genres until I found one that worked for me.
But, but, you say – there are people who have written weird quirky different books which don’t fit into any genre, that have become huge breakout hits!
That is true, and if that is your passion, write that weird quirky book. But if you want commercial success, it helps to write within an already existing and proven genre, and it helps to see what is selling now. That’s part of the joy of self publishing. You can see what is selling now, and quickly write a book that is in that genre and have it on sale while the trend is still hot.
If you look at even traditionally published bestselling romance writers, you’ll see that many of them have followed the trends over the years – from paranormal, to YA, to New Adult, to romantic thriller. Some do it all under their own pen name, some branch out and try different pen names for different genres. They want to make a living. There’s no shame in it.
There’s also no reason not to try your weird quirky books if that’s what you want to write, but if you want commercial success, you may need to alternate that with more commercial, or traditional, or whatever you want to call them, books, possibly under different pen names, and see what sticks.
3.) When you find success, do more of what your readers love. I had a long mental list of other genres to explore, but once I realized how much my readers liked that particular style of book that I’d written, I mentally shelved that list. I may try some of the books later, but for now, as long as my readers are asking for more paranormal romance, why would I write anything else? Oh, I forgot to mention – I did write one New Adult book under another pen name, but it only climbed to a rank of about 2300, at 99 cents, and it got nowhere near the reaction, the reader mail, the comments, etc., that my shifter book had. So, what would make more sense – keep trying to write in a super popular romance genre where I’d only had moderate success, or write in a genre where I’d had stellar success?
I’m not going to name names, but I’ve seen writers find huge success writing a specific type of book that fits into a specific genre, and then follow that up with something completely different – and fall horribly, horribly flat.
If I buy James Rollins, I want thrilling international adventure. I do not want a cosy romance, I do not want a western, I want stories in the same general vein that he’s written before. I don’t go to a Robin Williams movie to see a sci fi thriller – I want Robin Williams brand of comedy. And I don’t go to a Sly Stallone movie for Robin Williams style comedy.
You get my point.
4.) To help ensure that readers are willing to take a chance on you, the unknown author: pay for a good attractive book cover and make sure you write a compelling blurb, which is harder than you’d think. To learn how to write a good blurb, read dozens of blurbs of bestselling authors, and see how they sum up the story, how they show what the conflict is and what the stakes are, how they quickly describe the hero and heroine. Covers – I pay $90 plus the fee for pictures from a stock photo site. You can also buy “pre-made” book covers which are very attractive and professional looking.
5.) Marketing – I literally have never discovered any marketing method that will help boost the book of an unknown author. To be blunt, the most important thing, and the hardest thing, is to just write the book that readers want to read.
There is an advertising service called bookbub which has been known to deliver huge results – to already established books. They require at least 50 reviews, and most of the reviews must be positive. I do recommend that authors establish some kind of internet presence, and set up a mailing list form on a website, so that if and when their books take off, it is easier for their readers to find them.
So how do you “write the book that readers want to read”? Experiment. Try different things until something sticks. I spent a year and a half experimenting with different genres and different pen names before I finally found the formula that worked for me, personally. I got good reviews with my earlier books, I made decent sales of a few thousand dollars a month, which was hugely helpful and let me finally start paying off bills and buy my kids new clothing and live much more comfortably, but it wasn’t quit-your-day-job money. I wanted a breakout hit, so I kept trying new things until I found what worked for me.
Different types of books work for different people. What worked for me happens to be shifter romances – but I’ve seen other people try that, and bomb. I wrote books in popular genres – new adult, cowboy, mystery – that have made fortunes for other people, but only did moderately well for me.
In other words, unfortunately, there is no magic solution that works for every author. You just have to do your market research, write the best book that you can, and keep trying until something clicks.
6.) And finally, this is the “do as I say, not as I did”, portion of today’s lecture. I really should have done a better job editing and copy-editing with my earlier books. I did not have the money to hire a copy editor until recently( Amazon and B&N payments come 60 days after the close of the month that the books were sold in, so I just recently started getting my big checks), and the number one complaint I get in my reviews is the copy editing errors in my books. And that is very fair, and true. I have vowed from now on to force myself to wait until I can get my books professionally copy edited before I release them, even though I’m the least patient person in the universe and the second my book is done I’m desperate to upload it. So – do whatever you can to ensure that your writing is clean and error free and well edited before you upload it.
That’s all I can think of right now, but feel free to ask me any questions. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to critique people’s books and blurbs, but any questions about self-pubbing, I’m happy to answer.