Today, author MONICA BURNS discusses her firsthand experiences with risk and reward.
I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and one of my favorite characters EVER in the franchise is Quark, a Ferengi. The Ferengi are a species who worship money and greed is king. In a lot of ways, they represent the worst of Wall Street. I chose the title for this article because it’s a quote that Quark says several times throughout several different episodes.
The greater the risk, the greater the profit. Let it whisper through your head. It sounds dangerous, daring and greedy, doesn’t it? But then corporate America has always been about making the most out of every opportunity. It’s one of the reasons self-publishing took off in late 2007 when Amazon opened up its self-publishing arm.
Like a lot of authors, my initial reaction was a shaking of my head. Self-publishing was just another means of vanity publishing. Right? Like ePublishing before it, self-publishing was considered a substandard form of publishing. I wish I’d remembered my rants during my ePublishing days. Rants that talked about how digital was only about 6 – 8 years away. If I’d paid attention to myself, I probably would have gotten in on the self-publishing craze sooner. Who knows, it might have shifted my career in a whole different direction. But you know what they say about hindsight. By the time I finally opened my eyes to the opportunities, I was already behind the curve.
My initial foray into the self-publishing arena was in 2011. I had just finished up my five book contract with Berkley, and been reading about the successes of Bella Andre, Marie Force, and Catherine Bybee. With those authors as examples, I revised a backlist title and uploaded Love’s Portrait, an erotic historical, to Amazon mid-September 2011.
Naturally, based on all the success stories I’d heard, I expected the money to roll in like it had for so many others. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. By the end of 2011, those hopes had turned to sawdust when my sales totaled a measly $377 and some change. My reaction? Oh great, this was a stupid idea. On the plus side though, I was earning money off older works that had gone off the grid. I’d made back my cover fee (I formatted the book myself, and I doubt I’ll ever do so again!) so I couldn’t complain too much about a couple hundred in change.
However, those small numbers still weren’t convincing enough for me to run full-tilt into the water. Everyone kept telling me that the more books you uploaded the more money you made, which meant taking time away from the proposal I needed to do for Berkley. I was working a full-time job from hell, and I didn’t have time to write a proposal AND revise books.
I was feeling really confused and conflicted as to what path to take. Do I focus on the proposal for Berkley or revise and upload more of my backlist to Amazon and other eRetailers? I decided to finish my proposal for Berkley, and I submitted it to my agent in February 2012. While I waited for her response, I revised another of my books, Obsession . I uploaded Obsession in July, 2012, and in an effort to drive sales for that book, I made Love’s Portrait free on Kobo. Amazon almost immediately price matched. Sales started to climb for Obsession as a result, but I was still focused on NY.
My agent really liked the premise I’d developed for my proposal for Berkley, but said it needed more work because things were tightening up in NY and publishers were being more selective about their buys. This was also during the time of the 50 Shades of Grey phenomena that was peaking. I don’t usually write to trends, but I’d been toying with the idea for a BDSM historical for almost a year. Since my agent wasn’t wild about my first proposal, I shifted tactics and changed my proposal to a historical BDSM.
I turned in the new proposal to my agent at the end of September. After several weeks, she finally got around to reading it. She said it wasn’t a slam dunk sale, and that it was time for us to end our relationship. So I sat there staring at the computer screen feeling like a total loser. My agent had just dumped me, my proposal wasn’t good enough to sell to NY, and I was stuck in the job from hell. Essentially, my writing career was over.
I even submitted my proposal to a top agent via a friend’s introduction, but that agent turned the proposal down too. So in the first part of October 2012 as I watched my relationship with my agent dying a slow, painful death, I looked at the sales for the two books I’d uploaded to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Even though Love’s Portrait was free, it was clearly driving my sales. In four months, I had more than 73,000 downloads of the book. Those freebies are responsible for my earning $4,800.00 from August to October 2012. Now remember this is Amazon only royalties for one book. My earnings from all the other eBook income (self-pub and ePub), probably averaged around $400-500 a month (my ePub royalties have doubled and tripled in sales).
So when all was said and done, I was looking at a monthly average of $1750 royalties from Amazon alone. Without doing any calculations, I’d say that all vendors considered, I was doing about $2200 a month. Whisper—the greater the risk, the greater the profit. Now let’s switch back to my life at the end of October where I have no agent, a proposal that is supposedly not good enough for NY, I’m not hitting self-pubbed sales out of the ball park like everyone else is bragging about, and I’m dealing with the job from hell. I’m feeling really down. I only needed one more element to push me over the edge. Essentially, we’re talking the Perfect Storm of Writing.
That storm hit on Halloween. I made a mistake at work, one of many, and the boss decided to write me up. At lunch, I called my husband, and he said, “Quit. We’ll find the money somewhere.” So I handed in my resignation that day (the boss immediately said she wasn’t really going to write me up). I cannot begin to tell you how terrifying handing in my resignation was.
Seriously, look at the numbers above. My husband has a good paying job, but this is still a big risk we’re taking. I had no guarantee of success in self-publishing last year any more than I do now. When I went home the night I resigned, I was thinking, O-M-effing-G, what have you done Monica. You’re walking away from a solid paycheck and for what?
Do you really think you can do this? But then I started to calculate. Okay, so you’re making an average of $2200 a month. The day job brings in about $3200 a month. That’s almost a $1000 difference. Actually, it’s less than that because I’ll be eliminating the monthly $75 parking fee, $60 in monthly tolls, and the monthly $225 in gas will be cut in half or more. So I’m now down to around $750 a month difference.
Hey, maybe I can do this. Whisper—the greater the risk, the greater the profit. Without a day job, I can write more and faster. I write faster because I’m in charge of my destiny, and I see the royalty figures daily. When they drop, I panic and write faster. But wait, you say, what about NY, aren’t you focused there anymore? My answer is sure. When they want to pay me a lot of money. Let’s look at some facts based on my experiences.
NY Publishing Facts (my experience – others may differ)
Fact — I made $7000 for each of my five books, 15% went to my agent.
Fact — I got no marketing help with any of the five traditional books I sold except for my ad designs. I paid for the ad; the house designed the ad and sent it to the advertiser.
Fact — the editing of my traditional book has been relatively equal to my self-published experience, because I’m the one who did the majority of all my editorial content. I got some suggestions from my editor, but I didn’t receive them until about two weeks before the final edits were due.
Fact — Traditional books take on average, 18 months from contract to publication. Your advance is divided up based time events such as contract signing, final draft submission date, final edits due date, and publication date.
Fact — traditional publication has a stronger shot at getting you foreign rights, and those averaged around $1800 a book depending on the market and the author. But out of that $1800 you pay 25% commissions to your agent and the foreign rights agent.
Fact— NY tends to throw you out to the wolves and if you survive then they build you. There are a couple of houses that build their authors from the ground up, but not many.
Fact — I have YET to sell through on my NY trade paperback contracts. I’ve not earned one penny of royalties off of those contracts. $35,000 for five books is what I earned. I made more than that working the day job.
Self-publishing Facts (my experience – others may differ)
Fact — From August to December 2012, I made $8810 off of two books (I uploaded my Christmas novella in mid-November). That’s $1810 more than one advance of a traditional book earned in five months for just two books. Remember, I get that money in 60 days.
Fact — I have complete control over my cover (I confess that my Berkley covers are AWESOME and hard to top)
Fact — release dates are mine to select, and the most important item of all – price point. I can see how well my price point is doing, and I can adjust it at any time.
Fact— Foreign rights for all my self-published books go through me and I don’t have to give up 25% of the money. Confession: I have a husband who does multi-million dollar contracts for a living, and together we can manage contracts, because we both add our expertise into the mix, and there is very little leeway in financial negotiations with foreign rights.
The more books you upload the more sales you make. Royalty percentages depend on how you price, and they also depend on eRetailers keeping the generous percentages that are currently offered.
Fact — I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul ** Wm. Earnest Henley
All of the above points are a reflection of my experiences only. I know authors who made the NYT and USA Today lists with .99 books. I know authors who are making $250,000 a year off of three books. It all depends on the genre, being in the right place at the right time and exposure. Just like NY, it’s all about luck and timing. Self-publishing may or may not be right for you. For me, I’m still trying to figure out if I’ve made the right choice, but I keep hearing Quark in the back of my head whispering —the greater the risk, the greater the profit.
So ask your questions, I’ll try to answer, clarify, or correct anything in this post. I’ll give away one copy of Love’s Revenge via coupon at Smashwords to one of today’s commenters.
When Quentin Blackwell, Earl of Devlyn, discovered the woman he loved was carrying another man’s child, he refused to marry her. In retaliation, her father ruined Devlyn. When Sophie Hamilton, the man’s eldest daughter, comes to him with an unexpected offer, Devlyn seizes the chance for vengeance. What he doesn’t bargain on is how revenge could cost him the one thing he wants the most. Sophie’s love.
All her life, Sophie’s tried to earn her father’s love to no avail. Even her one chance for happiness was crushed beneath his tyrannical thumb, leaving her firmly on the shelf at forty-one. Sophie accepts her fate until she impulsively uses her father’s criminal activities to escape a life of servitude and right a wrong at the same time. She never really expected the Devil of Devlyn to actually accept her rash proposal, and she certainly hadn’t planned on falling in love with a younger man.
Read an excerpt of Love’s Revenge here: http://monicaburns.com/bookshelf/loves-revenge/loves-revenge-excerpt/
Have any of you tried self-publishing? What was your experience like?
Author Valerie Parv discusses “Three Ways to Make Your Villains Come to Life” on Monday, February 25
An award-winning author of spicy historical and paranormal romance, Monica Burns penned her first short romance story at the age of nine when she selected the pseudonym she uses today. Her awards include the 2011 RT BookReviews Reviewers Choice Award and the 2012 Gayle Wilson Heart of Excellence Award for Pleasure Me. A workaholic wife and mother, Monica believes it’s possible for the good guy to win if they work hard enough.
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