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, ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 readersย โ€“ by publishersย โ€“ 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. ๐Ÿ˜† Of course if you tweet it you can’t charge for the book. ๐Ÿ˜ฏ 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! ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 โ€“ mostly epublishers โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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.

Anon E Mouse

Please disregard vote for annual earnings from self-publishing of $25,100-$50,000. It was meant to be in the e-publisher category (and I’ve voted there too now).

Wave

Thanks for the clarification Anon. Maybe you should tell Erastes how you did it because she only wants to earn $15K – she needs a new strategy.

Anon E Mouse

*Maybe you should tell Erastes how you did it*

Nope. Not gonna. Because the advice would be “Don’t write historicals” and I love Erastes’ historicals!

And sorry about the error, btw. Apparently I totally fail at reading comprehension.

Kari Gregg

Thank you for doing this, Wave. Dead useful info. After you’ve been at this a few years, you get a feel for what you’re good for, what’s normal, how you’re doing, etc. But when you’re first starting out, you know bupkis.

Wave

Hi Kari

Thanks. I think it’s important for the newer authors to see what other authors make so everyone is playing from the same sheet music. Knowledge is power. I hope you completed the survey. Your colleagues need your input.

Kari Gregg

Yes, I did. ๐Ÿ˜€

EM Lynley
This is a great survey. I think the comments are interesting too. Like Angelia, so far my bigger seller and earner was my first novel in 2009. Back then everyone bought everything, because there were far fewer books out. Now, even though the readership has grown, the number of titles released each month is growing more quickly. For the readers who are checking this out, perhaps surprised at how little authors make, I’d like to strongly encourage you to buy direct from publishers for books which aren’t self-pubbed. Because Amazon also takes a cut, the author’s share is only about… Read more »
Wave
Hi M Thanks for commenting. I was very surprised when as part of my research for this post I found out that the author was low guy on the totem pole in terms of making money, standing in line behind the publisher and the re-sellers which include, ARe, Amazon etc. However, I have always noticed that as the productivity goes up the quality goes down so I don’t think that the solution to making more money is to write more books. I think the solution is to write better books so that people would buy more copies and the author… Read more »
EM Lynley
Wave, Dreamspinner and Total-E-Bound have a direct to Kindle option via Wi-Fi. No need to plug in the device. I’m sure other publishers do too. It’s usually mentioned in the download section as another option. As for quality vs quantity, the books I spent the most time on and felt were my best have sold far less than books that I wrote more quickly. A book I spent 6 months on sells less than one I wrote in a month. I was so disappointed my extra work didn’t pay off at all. There are a lot of factors in what… Read more »
Wave
I guess I have read so many books from authors who produce a book a month and they all seem the same. The characters have no depth, the plots are stale (something I read just a couple of months before) and typically the book flounders at about the half way mark – for me anyway. I find it difficult to believe that an author could have so many excellent plot bunnies running around in his/her head to produce a book a month that holds readers’ interest, or maybe it’s the execution. I agree that it takes more than a lot… Read more »
EM Lynley
Wave, For me, the process of writing has three steps: planning, writing, revising/editing. I can’t do all of those steps for the same book in one month. I will plan a book for a week or two before I start writing, but the first draft takes about a month. Then there is editing/rewriting, which can take another few weeks (much longer with a publisher). It’s possibly to be planning one book while writing another, and revising a third book and still put out a book every 4-6 weeks without them all being carbon copies of plot and character. I think… Read more »
Carol Lynne
This statement has been made before, and I think it’s incredibly unfair. A writer who actually writes full time, and I’m talking 8 to 12 hours per day, every day, is perfectly capable of releasing a novella or novel each month because that could translate easily to only 1 to 2k words per day. Yes, it does take some writers longer to put out a book, but my guess is they have a full time job that requires most of their time and attention. If you don’t like an author’s work, that’s completely up to you, but please don’t blame… Read more »
Wave
Hi Carol As someone who has been reading these books for a long time I can only go with what I’ve read. There are authors whose books I no longer read because each one seems to be a carbon copy of the other and typically these authors tend to put out an incredible number of books in a short period of time. The law of diminishing returns I guess. Obviously some authors are more creative than others and can write 20 or 30 books a year without the plots seeming to be carbon copies of the other books they have… Read more »
Sirius
That’s exactly it. I would never say that the writer who produces book a month (or book every two weeks, or every two months, any period of time) that I consider short cannot write just as well as the writer who writes say, I don’t know a book a year. Write well in term of technical writing I mean. And I am not talking about Carol Lynne’s books, I have read two stories by her, that’s about it. However, based on my reading experience it is a given that the writer who produces a book a month is bound to… Read more »
Nikki

I am with Sirius and Wave. I too have dropped a lot of previous autobuy writers for the very same reasons. Also I used to be able to tolerate 50% or more sex in my MM book but no more. These kind of MM books only cheapen the whole category.

Carol Lynne

And that’s fine. My response was not a judgement on quality because, in my opinion, that’s completely subjective. It’s obvious to me from reading your posts that we don’t have the same taste in books. That’s why it’s a good thing that writers write something for everyone. I’m saying that you cannot compare the output of a full time writer to one who has to also deal with a day job. I believe the annual earnings part of the poll is skewed because of that.

Princess so
Amazon was working great for my brother, {not posts numbers to brag but i think the info is significant} his second book which was a super novel was bringing in over 800.00/month within 6months of release. now mind you no other book of his was selling as well. But we both agreed it was riding on the shirt-tails of the 50Shades of Grey book. And then in December when Amazon dropped the ‘tag word’ search, instantly in the first month sales dropped by 40% and continued to drop. Now that same book which gets really good reviews is only selling… Read more »
Wave

So the “tag word” search affected the sales of your brother’s book. Does anyone know why Amazon changed their policy in this area? I read recently about a woman from Canada who published a het romance that was self pubbed (very little sex) that I believe eiher made $150K or sold 150K copies. Obviously there’s a workaround which, while not ideal, helps to mitigate the problem.

Princess so
the answers from Amazon have been as vague as “we’re are redesigning the book pages’ to “We became increasingly aware that some authors were having tag word parties on facebook and felt that such misuse of the feature was unfair to other authors.” I thought that was absolutely ludicrous since I went to an Amazon seminar about marketing on Amazon and using the tag words was one of the things they focused on. Some author discussions feel Amazon was pushed to remove it by Publishers to diminish the success rates of Indie published authors (ex: 50 Shades is Indy and… Read more »
Josh Lanyon

How long will the poll run, Wave?

Wave

Josh
i don’t plan to close the poll in the foreseeable future which is why we also have it on the sidebar. This way authors who are late can still enter their information. I do plan to provide an update on the results periodically.

Josh Lanyon

Great! I keep hearing that authors are having trouble with the page loading, etc. so I’m guessing we’re still a long way from any solid figures.

Wave

Hey Josh

Posts like this one put a heavy load on the server so it’s not uncommon to have problems with page loading. Currently we have over 1 million page loads a month, and while other sites would kill for these stats they are creating a huge burden for our systems. The only solution is to upgrade our hosting package yet again, however the costs are so high for a site of this size, based on the latest estimates, we may have to look at other options.

So yes, the survey will be kept open for a while.

Anne Brooke
The voting button is very slow – so I’ve had to cancel out my attempt but, in truth, it’s pretty easy – the answers are the highest number for the number of years I’ve been writing, and the lowest all the way through in terms of the salary earned. I only make, all in, about UK ยฃ1,000 to ยฃ1,500pa (and that only in the last 2 or 3 years though – with grateful thanks to Amber Allure!) – so writing is definitely not what I’d recommend if you’re in it for the money. And certainly not for a decent career… Read more »
Wave

Hi Anne

I just restarted the server for what seems like the umpteenth time, so I hope you can input your information. Every little bit counts. Only the data in the survey is recognized by the system. Thanks.

Erastes

I’m amazed that so many people are making money – If anyone can give me advice as to how to earn $15k a year I’d be very grateful. that is beyond my wildest dreams, and would make me able to pay my bills. *depressed* ๐Ÿ™

Erastes
I’ve now filled in my stats using publisher/epub interchangably so i hope it helps. My sales have always been rather low , but I’m not really able to say how much any one book has done because they are all still in print and still earning money – Standish has earned me over $6k and has just been re-issued so it will be interesting to see how it does in the new version. Transgressions had a $4k advance but never repaid even half of that, last royalty statement was for about three quid, I think. My ebook primarily sales have… Read more »
Wave
I think the historical market is geared towards print books. Whenever I talk to readers who love historical they all talk about waiting to get the print copies so that could be the reason your ebook sales are so low. I found that the fans of each genre have wildly differing tastes when it comes to format. It’s a shame that authors work so hard writing their stories and in the end, in terms of return on investment (their time) it hardly seems worth it. Contemporary authors have a much better sales record because that genre is more popular and… Read more »
Sarah_Madison
Interesting survey. I will have to confess, my royalties have paid the mortgage over ten times–but then again, I live in a pretty crappy house. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It was good to discover that I’m selling on a par with a lot of other people. I’ve just stepped a toe into the self-publishing waters. I was curious and I had a project that was a bit different, so I thought I would give it a try. It was definitely a long learning curve for me. Not sure I will do it again, unless I hire people to help me do the formatting… Read more »
Wave
Hi Sarah You’re one of the lucky ones. A lot of authors have it rough, but I think that depends on the demand for the type of book you publish as well as your reputation. I’ve been in love with your writing since you first published as are many other readers, so we’re happy to buy your books (and pay your mortgage) . ๐Ÿ˜† Raincheck will always be one of my favourite books and I absolutely adore Rodney. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s amazing how one book just resonates. As for the self publishing experiment, i understand that formatting expertise is available for… Read more »
Sarah_Madison
Aw, you are seriously making me blush here! :blush: Thank you, that is very kind of you to say! (I love Rodney too, I keep thinking he deserves a sequel so we can find out what happens next…) Lordy, it took me nine hours to format the self-pubbed venture (and that was with help!) and when I discovered that I had *still* managed to screw it up, well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. Before reading this post, I would have sworn up and down that I’d never self-pub again (despite the fact I love the end result), but reading… Read more »
Wave

A Rodney sequel??? I am so there. ๐Ÿ˜€

Formatting help is available from $50 I understand. I hope to get information on other resources for my post on self pubbing.

Why do authors think that because they can write they have the skills for all the other elements that go into publishing. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Stick with what you know. ๐Ÿ˜†

Sarah_Madison

Ah, I tried to do it all myself because of financial constraints at the moment. But yeah, lesson learned.

Hah, that’s two votes for a sequel to Rodney’s story! Maybe it’s not such a far-fetched idea after all! ๐Ÿ™‚

Kaje Harper
You might specify for “books in your backlist” whether you want to include freebies or only works for sale. I’m not sure how you’re using the data. I put in my for-sale books (12 including the shorts) but my total would be 25 if you include the freebies. I’ll be interested to see the data. I had no expectations whatsoever when I started publishing. I was taken a bit aback by how much of a cut Amazon, ARe and other retailers take – 40 to 60% off the top, for listing and selling the book. Considering the low overhead for… Read more »
Wave
Hi Kaje Since this survey is related to income I’m assuming that any books listed by an author are those offered for sale, otherwise it would skew the data. It’s a real eye opener to see how much is the split between publisher/author in terms of royalties paid to the author. Of course the publisher invests the money for the cover, editing, listing the book, promotion etc., but it’s still the author’s proprietary work and the income split doesn’t seem to favour the author. A few authors told me that the sunk costs for the “publishing” elements when they self… Read more »
Kaje Harper

It’s more the bookseller portion that was an eye-opener for me. I expected the publisher to take their cut – they do the editing/art/formatting/distribution/publicity. But the distributer basically lists the book on their database, and maintains records – it seems crazy that for that, they often get more off my books than the publisher and I earn together. But that’s the way it works.

Kaje Harper
Also “How much did your first book earn” will continue to increase somewhat over time. My books earn most of their return in the first six months, but my first book is still selling slowly but steadily, two years after release. One of the things about ebooks and POD that is nice, is that the books don’t go out of print. Unlike the old days, where most genre books had a limited time to sell, most of our backlists can be kept available indefinitely. So building a backlist can result in a slowly increasing annual income, as long as you… Read more »
Wave

Angel

Thanks for the information but did you enter it in the survey? That’s the only way your information can be integrated, and while it might skew the results it’s still very important to include the good, the bad and the ugly.

I guess, since your books don’t sell well you’re one of those authors who love writing too much to give it up. ๐Ÿ™‚

Angelia Sparrow

I did the survey with no glitches.

I write because when I stop I end up with a very expensive vacation to Sunny Rancho Loco in beautiful Downtown Memphis, with lots of fingerpaints and all the psychotropic meds I can eat. (Enough meds and the fingerpaints taste better than the “food” they’re serving.)

Angelia Sparrow
I use both a publisher, and self publish my reprints. I have 12 novels currently out, and over 70 short stories. The absolute most I have ever made on a book is $1300 (2600, split between Naomi and me). It came out before mid 2009, when the bottom seemed to drop out from under every publisher. I have never had numbers that good since. My top-selling book has sold 1831 copies. It was an Ellora’s Cavemen anthology. My top selling solo endeavor is Glad Hands, at 1320 copies. My worst selling title (as myself) is Hard Reboot, a het cyberpunk… Read more »
Princess so

I wasnt able to finish. One one of the questions the processing froze up on me, and even trying to fresh to start over it still says it is processing the last vote. Its been this way for over an hour. ??? I tried. Sorry
๐Ÿ˜•

Princess so

Gah! lol … it finally let me finish.. perseverance ๐Ÿ˜€ !

Wave

Thank you for persevering. Much appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚

Wave

I’m really sorry Princess. Sometimes the server is slow. I hope that you can try again because everyone’s input is needed.

Josephine Myles

Thanks for doing this, Wave. It’s hugely useful information, if only to see what’s a realistic guess at my possible income over the next few years. Budgeting when you’re self-employed as an author is an incredibly tricky thing!

Wave
Hi Jo For some reason authors’ annual income, or even earnings per book are closely guarded secrets and no one knows what to expect when they start writing. For example I was surprised to learn the large difference between author royalties from a publisher vs. self publishing. Of course there is a huge learning curve for the first self pubbed book and some upfront sunk costs, but the money is soon recovered if the book sells well. I thought that authors like yourself who are new to writing would appreciate this information as it comes from their colleagues, and the… Read more »
Elliott Mackle
Erastes and I have chewed through the epublish-only situation before. I’m happy that my publisher (Lethe Press) produces both print and cyber versions of my work. Royalties on ebooks are better because they cost little or nothing to produce. For my own reading and reviewing, however, I don’t WANT to use a Nook or Kindle, and I’m disinclined to read works on my laptop because I spend a great deal of time there on my own work and play. Recently, I’ve had to miss fiction I want to read by, for example, Alex Beecroft and Aleksander Voinov because they were… Read more »
Lou Harper

Samhain puts their books out in print a year after the electronic release, but only the ones that are 50k words long or more.

I’ve self-pubbed one novella so far, and plan on a couple more. With all of them I make print versions through CreateSpace. There’s not much money in print but it’s worth to do for the few readers who still prefer the feel of paper. Plus you can take them to conferences, etc.

Wave

I thought Samhain offered print books 8/9 months after the electronic release – guess they have extended that time. They have always only made just novels available in print.

I used to buy a lot of print books but I have run out of bookshelf space now so I have 3 Kindles. ๐Ÿ˜†

Lou Harper

Technically, mine was 11 months later. Maybe it varies.

I’ve run out shelf space too, but some books that I really love I have in both formats. I grew up in a house full of books, and seeing them around me fills me with comfort.

Wave
Hi Elliott The larger epublishers offer their books in both print and ebook except for Carina. Riptide is fairly small, they call themselves a boutique publisher, but I don’t know what their policy is on print. However I believe only novels are generally available in print (with exceptions, because there are always exceptions) because it would probably be uneconomical to print shorter books such as novellas. However I do know that some publishers offer a compendium of several books by the same author in print in form of an anthology, or a series. I think it’s strictly a matter of… Read more »
Angelia Sparrow

Ellora’s Cave is very slow to offer their books in paperback, choosing to wait 2-3 years after the ebook comes out. This is a holdover from the days when their contract was not life of copyright, but 3 years for ebook and 5 for print. They tried hanging on to the rights as long as possible.

Most other publishers offer them simultaneously.

Wave

Hi Angel
I was not aware of EC’s policy on print. Samhain provides print copies 8/9 months after ebook release.

Sara York

What jumpstarts earning is as variable as each authors name. There is no rhyme or reason why one of my books sells well and another doesn’t. The best way to earn more money is to write another book.

I will add that a friend IRL had no idea that “these types of books” were out there. He’s elated to find stories with characters like him. So even now, with all the internet advertising, FB’ing and Twitter there are readers who have no idea gay books are out there.

Wave
Hi Sara As you indicated, obviously there are many factors that contribute to an author’s earnings and the more well-known the author the better the sales in most cases if the product is good. Also, knowledge of what’s available in this market has a lot to do with it. Many readers are still not aware that male/male romances exist and the more we advertise through different media and word of mouth, the better the likelihood that someone will buy the books. However M/M has been around for 10 years and there has been a lot of exponential growth since I… Read more »
Josh Lanyon

Hmm. Good point. I just went by ebook sales since that’s where the bulk of income is earned for most m/m authors. Or at least it’s where I earn the bulk of my income now. For the total revenue earned, I did lump it all together. But even if I removed those numbers, I’d still fall in the same tier, so maybe it’s moot?

Thanks for doing this, Wave. I hope we get lots of good data. It would be so helpful to have realistic numbers.

Wave

Hey Josh

Many readers buy the same books in ebook format as well as print, especially if they are part of a series. For example, I have all of the Adrien English Mysteries in both print and ebook as well as your Collected Novellas. So even though they are called epublishers, and that’s the majority of their business, they also publish their books in print using POD .

I, too, hope that the authors will respond in large numbers so that there’s a big enough sample to provide some definitive data.

Thanks for responding.

Erastes

unsure about the poll – my books are published in eform, but I’m careful to only use publishers these days that will publish in all possible formats, I wouldn’t use one now that didn’t publish in paper as well – so I couldn’t leave answers to the final set of questions.

Wave

Hi Erastes

I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the majority of epublishers, if not all of them, offered their novels in print (POD) as well as in ebook form. I buy a lot of print books from epublishers that originally published them as ebooks. e.g. Samhain, Dreamspinner and Amber Allure. I also buy books directly from Amazon that were originally released as ebooks.

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