Today, I have a great article from Yuwanda Black. She has an interesting side hustle making extra money writing romance novels. In one month, she was able to make $3,211.57 doing this! Enjoy!
I’m a freelance writer – I have been since 1993. I started publishing romance novels in 2013. Before we get into what it takes to make money writing romance, let’s start from the beginning, so you can have some context about how I started my romance writing career.
I come from a legal publishing background. I worked for Matthew Bender, a trade publisher in New York that was bought by the conglomerate that owns LexisNexis. In 1997, I left Matthew Bender for good to join my sister in a company she founded – Inkwell Editorial.
The firm started out as an editorial outsource agency. We did copy editing, proofreading, word processing and coding. We’d hire independent contractors (freelancers) to get the work done. The company expanded into on-site staffing in 1998, and it quickly became our biggest source of business; even though we still had an outsource division.
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My First Self-Published Ebook
When temps/contractors found out that we occasionally had off-site projects, they wanted to know how to land those assignments. I was getting so many questions about it that I decided to write up a pamphlet answering the most frequently asked questions about how to get freelance work as an editorial professional — mainly copy editing, proofreading and writing jobs.
This was in 2002, and that was my first ebook. It was just a simple pdf file that I uploaded to the website. It didn’t even have a cover. And when buyers ordered, they had to wait for me to send them the file. I wasn’t even savvy enough to know about instant delivery. That’s how antiquated my “self-publishing” system was back then.
In reality though, self-publishing wasn’t even “a thing” in 2002 – not like it is now. It would be seven more years (2009) before Amazon launched its self-publishing platform, and it became all the rage.
I finally got up to speed and got more sophisticated with self-publishing. I went on to write over 50 more ebooks – all of them in the how-to, non-fiction niche – mostly in/on/about freelance writing, self-publishing and small business.
Fast forward to 2013 – that’s when I wrote my first fiction book, a romance novel.
Why I Started Writing Romance Novels
Romance was never something I thought about writing. I’ve been a prolific reader of romance since my early teens. I’ve read hundreds of Harlequins and as I got older, historical romances, which are my favorites.
But it never occurred to me to write a romance until one of my sisters – who’s also a writer – wrote one. Unlike me, she’d always written fiction (and non-fiction too).
She took a trip to Texas once for a few days, and she said an idea for a romance novel came to her and just wouldn’t let go. So she wrote it just to get it out of her head. It was called Loving a Texan from New Orleans. She uploaded it to Amazon, and promptly forgot about it.
Why I Chose to Self-Publish My Romance Novels
Just to back up a minute, my sister worked at Matthew Bender, the legal publisher in New York, too. In fact, she got me the job there when we were both in college. I point this out to say, because both of us had a background in publishing, so it never occurred to us NOT to self-publish. And that’s mostly because we were well aware of what it took to get a traditional book deal.
Also, by this time (2013), we’d both been self-publishing for years; me since 2002 and my sister since 2008. So not only were we comfortable with self-publishing, we liked the freedom and control it gave us over our works.
Ironically, after self-publishing for years, I landed a traditional book deal – in 2015 for a non-fiction book. My prolific self-publishing background was one of the reasons the Acquisitions Editor who recruited me was attracted to my credentials in the first place.
So, self-publishing can lead to a traditional book deal; just throwing that out there. Now, back to how I got into writing romance.
A First-Time Romance Author Earns Over $1,100/Month in 3 Weeks
So, my sister had uploaded her book to Amazon one afternoon. She wasn’t expecting much in the way of sales. But to her surprise, when she logged into her Amazon publisher’s account the next morning, she had sold a dozen copies or so. And, throughout the day, the sales kept coming.
During the first three weeks, she sold 541 copies of this “little romance that could,” earning her over $1,100. For those who don’t know, Amazon pays authors 70 percent of all novels priced between $2.99 and $9.99. So you net about $2.09 on a novel priced at $2.99, which is where she priced hers.
As a self-published author of many non-fiction books, those kinds of sales were not common. So, I was like, “Hmmmm, this romance writing thing may have something to it. And, the books don’t have to be updated like non-fiction.”
So I was eager to try my hand at romance writing.
Now remember, I’d never written non-fiction before – ever. It didn’t even occur to me that I could; nor did I have a burning desire to do so. But, I was intrigued and I thought, “If she can do it, so can I.” So I wrote my first one within a couple of weeks of witnessing my sister’s success. This was in March of 2013.
I had no idea about how to go about writing a romance novel, so I literally sat down and googled “How to Write a Romance Novel.” I clicked on that linked-to post because it had “First” in the headline, ie, “How to Write Your First Romance Novel.”
It was just what I needed, because I had no idea what the heck I was doing. That outline was a lifesaver; it told me exactly what to do. I followed it to the letter and 28,000+ words later, I’d seamlessly written my first love story.
Writing My First Romance Novel: Sales Results
I excitedly uploaded it. When I got the email from Amazon that it had been published and was available for purchase less than 24 hours later, I couldn’t sit still. I had ants in my pants waiting for the sales to start rolling in.
But they didn’t. I kept refreshing my screen. Nothing. I looked for it on Amazon and clicked on the link to make sure that nothing technical was going on. Oh, it was there, but apparently the only person clicking on it was me – and the six loyal souls who bought copies that first month.
Yep, in my first month, I sold six copies of my romance novel. I was crushed. I thought it was a pretty good story. Sure, my sister has always been a better writer than me, but my story wasn’t that bad, was it?
“Oh well,” I thought, “I gave it a shot.” I turned my energies back to writing non-fiction, which had provided over half my income as a freelance writer since 2010. So although romance didn’t work out, I was still making a living writing and self-publishing my own books. I thought that was the end of that.
Then, my sister said something that resonated; she said something like, “Maybe you should try writing interracial romance. Maybe that had something to do with your lack of sales.”
You see, my first romance novella had been an African American love story; my sister had written an interracial romance. But I thought, “Love is love; I can’t see it making that much of a difference.”
Boy was I wrong! In the spring of 2014, I wrote my second romance novella – an interracial love story. Bam! Sales. See?
I sold 241 copies in the first month of my second romance novella – an interracial love story. And get this, that month (March 2014), 9 copies of my first novella sold too!
The second month (April 2014), I sold 159 copies of that second romance; and 11 copies of my first one sold.
See what’s happening? That new book was spurring sales of the old one; even though they were in different genres, they were both romance novels.
How to Make Money Writing Romance: 9 Lessons Learned after Writing 40+ Novels
My head hurt from all the pinging going on when I looked at the numbers. Following are some lessons I learned about what it takes to be successful as a romance writer.
1. In Romance Writing, Genre Matters
It’s not enough to just write romance; choosing the right genre can make or break your sales. Some genres just tend to do better than others. According to Romance Writers of America, following are the most popular genre in romance – in print and ebook format:
Print: romantic suspense (53%); contemporary romance (41%); historical romance (34%); erotic romance (33%); New Adult (26%); paranormal romance (19%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (17%).
E-book: romantic suspense (48%); contemporary romance (44%); erotic romance (42%); historical romance (33%); paranormal romance (30%); New Adult (26%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (14%).
And within each genre, there are subgenres, eg., the following are common themes of Contemporary Romance:
- Baby Love
- Chick Lit
- International Lovers
- Love in the Workplace
- Rock n Roll
- Rubenesque (also Curvy or Plus Size)
- Vacation Love
I discovered that genre matters quite by accident. I’m glad my sister said something, or I might never have realized it.
2. When Writing Romance, It Helps to Publish Prolifically
At the peak of my romance writing career – between 2014 and early 2016, I published over 35 novellas; most of them were published during a 12 month span. I was publishing a novel every 7 to 14 days or so.
Yeah, it was crazy – and no, I don’t advise doing that. But every time I put out a new novel, sales of previous ones spiked. That’s the point I want to make.
You’ll find that even if a novel isn’t a “hit” (however you define that), when you publish a new book, invariably sales from previous works will go up – sometimes surpassing sales of your newest title.
So if you want to make money writing romance, I advise publishing prolifically. Now that I’m back to writing romance regularly, my goal is one title every 30 to 60 days, which brings me to my next tip.
3. Short Romance Novels Sell – So Write Them
I write short romance novels (novellas) and that’s why I can publish so prolifically. They’re usually in the 20,000 to 30,000 word-range; although one of my most successful titles is just under 10,000 words long (Just Sex Please: 9,658 words to be exact).
Many readers will complain about the shortness of a book (know that going in); but they’ll still buy. So ignore the noise and publish short if that appeals to you. Amazon even has categories for “shorts,” eg:
Do you think Amazon would dedicate a whole category to short novels if they weren’t selling the heck out of them?!
4. Romance Novel Covers Matter – a Lot
According to a survey by BookSmugglers, 79 percent of those polled said that a book cover plays a role in their decision to buy a book. So yeah, covers matter – a lot; and authors who are serious about their romance writing careers will take heed.
Gone are the days when you can put up an amateurish cover and sell a lot of books. These days, when you look at the covers of romance novels by many self-published authors, it’s hard to tell them from the covers on books put out by large publishers.
The covers of my books won’t win any awards, but they will clue you in as to what genre I write in (interracial romance), which is the very least a cover should do, in my opinion.
FYI, here are some great tips on how to design a book cover that sells.
5. Start a Mailing List
One of the first things you should do as a romance writer is to collect the email addresses of your readers. Some authors debut at #1 on Amazon’s list in their romance category based on the strength of their list alone.
You see, reviews are one of the factors figured into Amazon’s ranking algorithm. So if you have a book that gets 30, 40 or 50 or more reviews when it’s first released, Amazon takes note of that. Its algorithm kicks in to help you sell more books. How? By “recommending” it.
Ever notice the “customers who bought this item also purchased this/these items” when you buy or browse for something on Amazon? That’s its algorithm at work.
Another reason to start a mailing list is you can pre-sell books to your subscribers. If readers like your work well enough to part with their email address, many of them will purchase when you come out with a new release – especially if you offer them a special deal for being a subscriber.
6. Write Series
My sister followed up her popular romance with successive parts, and she noticed that when she did that, a large percentage of readers would double back and pick up previous parts of the series.
This clued us in to two things: (i) new novels spur sales of previous books; and; (ii) new parts of an existing novel will sell too – especially if a book is particularly popular.
Much like a soap opera, readers get invested in the characters and even if you don’t plan on writing a series when you write the first part, most of the time, reader will practically demand successive parts.
The more I wrote and got a feel for what readers of my novellas wanted, I started to plan series from the beginning. Right now, roughly 20 percent of my catalog consists of series. My plan is to push that up to a third to half as I publish more.
Writing series is one of the easiest ways to make more money writing romance. Also, it’s cost-effective because you don’t have to come out of pocket for things like cover art. All you have to do is add Part II, Part III, etc. to the existing cover — and that’s it.
Finally, series tend to be easier to write because you’re already familiar with the characters. There’s an established history to build story lines around, so you don’t have to start from scratch.
I personally love writing romance series; you get to delve deeper into the characters, which makes for a richer reading experience in my opinion.
7. Publish On Amazon
I know a lot of self-published authors have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. But in order to be successful writing romance, especially when you’re first starting out, it’s a platform you can’t afford NOT to be on.
Earning $3,200 in One Month Writing Romance
In May of 2015, after writing 23 novellas in just over 12 months, I earned $3,211.57 – in one month. Almost $2,800 of that was from Amazon, which continues to be the site where that produces the most sales for me. Following is a breakdown of that highly successful month:
AMZ Sales: $2,763.51
- US 2,685.82
- GBP 29.68 (43.55 USD)
- CAD 26.39 (21.09)
- EUR 11.31 (13.05 USD)
- Total Units Moved: 1437
- Returns: 46
- Free Giveaways: 0
- KU/KOLL Units Borrowed: 8
- Actual Units Bought: 1429
Barnes & Noble Sales: $333.20
- Total Units Moved: 181
- Returns: 0
All Romance Ebooks (ARE) Sales: $85.51
- Total Units Moved: 48
- Returns: 0
Note: This site went out of business in December 2016
Google Play Sales: $29.35
- Total Units Moved: 18
- Returns: 0
Note: Google Play hasn’t been accepting new authors into its self-publishing platform for a while now.
TOTAL ROMANCE SALES FOR MAY 2015: $3,211.57
I had a couple of popular series — A Lover for Beth and Priced Out of Love — that caught fire. See how continuous publishing equals rising profits? You just never know what book will take off on you, or when. So publish regularly.
8. Diversify Where You Publish Your Romance Novels
As you can see from the numbers above, most of my sales come from Amazon. This is still the case, but I like to “publish wide;” ie, on many outlets.
I tried their Amazon’s exclusive program (KDP Select), and it didn’t work for me. When you’re in KDP Select, your ebook (not paper) can’t be published any place else – not even on your own website.
I’m a big believer in diversification. While Amazon remains the big kahuna, the markets for self-publishers continue to grow. And, via outlets like Draft2Digital (which I use and recommend), you can have your book(s) published on many of these outlets just by uploading it once.
What is Draft2Digital?
They're an ebook distributor for writers who can't, or don’t want to, directly publish their works to a particular platform. I upload my books to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google Play myself. For all other outlets, I use Draft2Digital, which will publish your book to the following markets for you.
- Barnes & Noble*
- Kobo (including Kobo Plus)
- Inktera (formally Page Foundry)
- OverDrive (libraries)
*Because I’m familiar with Barnes & Noble’s platform, like I said above, I upload my books myself to this outlet. I figure, why give someone a cut of what I already know how to do.
But for the other outlets, I have no idea about how to upload a book there. Sure, I could learn, but I’d rather spend my energy writing new books and marketing existing titles, not formatting books for a dozen different outlets.
FYI, it’s free to upload a book to Draft2Digital. They get paid by taking a percentage of each of your books’ sales; so they don’t make money unless you make money. Their fee is roughly 10 percent of the retail price (technically 15 percent of net royalties). And, they pay out like clockwork every month.
9. Price Your Romance Novels: The Simple Formula I Use
I keep pricing pretty simple for my romance novellas. For the more erotic, steamy ones, I charge $3.99. For the less spicy, regular contemporary stories, I price them at $2.99.
Also, if a book is longer – I have one that’s almost 40,000 words — I’ll price it at $3.99. This simple formula has worked well for me.
About Pricing Romance Series
For the first book in a series, after it’s been out a while and is performing pretty well — and hence warrants a successive part — I’ll drop the price to 99 cents (from $2.99), when successive parts come out. That’s because research shows that readers are more likely to give a series a chance if the first book is priced lower than successive versions.
Your head can spin there’s so much info on how to price romance novels out there. But as my books are in a particular genre and are a defined length, this pricing has worked pretty well for me.
Maybe I could earn more if I experimented with pricing more, but as I have a lot of books out now, I rely more on volume than anything else to make sales.
FYI, here’s some good insight into how to price your romance novel to maximize sales.
Conclusion on making money writing romance
One of the things I enjoy about writing romance is that there’s a ready-made audience. Romance readers are some of the most prolific readers around. Proof?
According to statistics from Romance Writers of America, 64 percent of readers in this genre read more than one book per month, and 35 percent buy romance more than once a month. And, they’re long-time fans of the genre; over a third (35.1 percent) have been reading romance for 20 years or more.
All you have to do if you want to make money writing romance is find your niche in this genre – and feed them new material regularly. And if you choose to go the self-publishing route, you get to keep the lion’s share of the profits, as well as complete control.
Making money writing romance just doesn’t get much better than that.
About the Author: Yuwanda Black is the publisher of InkwellEditorial.com, a site devoted to teaching people how to make money writing … for themselves (eg, self-publishing, ecourse development), or for others (eg, freelancing). If romance writing appeals to you, check out her free course on How to Make Money Writing Romance to learn more.
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