Posted On February 22, 2013 by Print This Post

Author Monica Burns: The Greater the Risk — The Greater the Profit

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.
Loves Portrait monica burns

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.

Love’s RevengeLRevengeRIR-NOOK

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:


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.

Read more about Monica at her website Monica is on Facebook and Twitter

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85 Responses to “Author Monica Burns: The Greater the Risk — The Greater the Profit”

  1. Monica – I’m going to kick this off with a shallow remark: these book covers are GORGEOUS! I’m so glad you left your day job to write. It’s hard to give writing the time it requires. You made a brave choice and I hope it pays off. I have a good feeling about this…

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 22, 2013, 1:12 am
  2. Great article, Monica! I’m just dipping my toe in the publishing waters with one release, but who knows what will happen?

    Posted by Jessica Lemmon | February 22, 2013, 7:00 am
  3. Dear Monica,

    Thank you so much for sharing the details
    of your financial gains with readers here!

    Your courage and example will help those of
    us still undecided to “seize the day” (as a famous
    writer once said) to make our own Fates.

    Many thanks again!

    Posted by Síle Post | February 22, 2013, 7:29 am
  4. Hopefully the article will be of big help. Here’s a new piece of info that might be of interest as well. It makes getting noticed all that much harder.

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 8:10 am
  5. Morning Monica! =)

    Thanks for having the courage to post your numbers – that makes it REAL to the rest of us who are debating on which way to go!

    And I’m glad you quit your job too. =) If it’s the job from hell, then losing the high stress level you had when working there is worth it.

    Best of luck in your sales Monica! You deserve the greater profit for being brave enough to risk!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 22, 2013, 8:21 am
  6. Thanks Carrie. Shall I just say I wish Quark were around to guide me through the quagmire!! LOL

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 8:28 am
  7. Maybe that could be your next book, Monica – The World According to Quark!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 22, 2013, 8:34 am
  8. *snort* Becke, I don’t write comedy well. Although wish I could. Funny in person to a select few doesn’t translate to page. LOL

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 8:35 am
  9. Hi, Monica!

    I’m with you on the self-pubbing. I’m about to bring out both books in a totally new, contemporary, two-book series, having self-pubbed all my backlist and the two contracted books my former publisher decided not to put out. It’s a rollercoaster, and I’m not making a boatload of $$$ by any means, but I love the feeling of freedom and determining my own fate.

    According to The Rules of Acquisition book that I have:
    #9 Opportunity plus instinct equal profit.
    #13 Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.

    Or as the Vulcans say, Live Long and Prosper!


    Posted by Ann Macela | February 22, 2013, 8:40 am
  10. ROTFLMAO Ann!! A fellow Trekkie!! LOVE it! Both Rules are music to the ears of this Klingon/Ferengi hybrid. LOL

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 8:52 am
  11. Hi Monica,

    Congratulations on your courage and success! Thanks for adding some numbers to the mix too! So many options and so much to consider.

    Star Trek fav, Khan all the way!!!

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 22, 2013, 9:00 am
  12. You can get the book here:

    I got mine at The Star Trek Experience Museum and simulator ride in the Hilton in Las Vegas. I don’t think the Trek stuff is there anymore, and that’s a shame.


    Posted by Ann Macela | February 22, 2013, 9:40 am
  13. I hope my experience info was helpful And Ricardo Montalban was awesome in that role!! True professional. Terrible back pain, but kept on despite it.

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 9:42 am
  14. oops! That last post was to Mary Jo!

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 9:43 am
  15. ooohhh! Thanks for that link Ann, will put on my wishlist!!

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 9:44 am
  16. Oh and to prove my point, Becke…I just now noticed there is a FRICKING REPLY TO THIS COMMENT button on the blog! *banging head on desk*

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 9:59 am
  17. Congratulations, Monica, on quitting the job from hell and going after your dreams. I like to tell my kids that life isn’t a dress rehearsal. All we have is RIGHT NOW, so even if things don’t happen as quickly as you might like, at least you are following your dream and living your passion.That’s far more than most people will ever achieve in their lives!

    Posted by Marie Force | February 22, 2013, 10:00 am
  18. Great article, Monica. Nice and balanced. When we hear only about the uber-successful – whether in self- or traditional publishing – it’s easy to believe that everyone gets $50,000 Big Six contracts right off the bat or sell 40K worth of 99 cent books their first month self-pubbing. For most of us, it’s a much slower build, and we never see those lofty heights. But we manage to make a living at what we love to do, and that in itself is a victory.

    Posted by Jenna Bennett | February 22, 2013, 10:04 am
  19. Hey Monica! Saw you were blogging and wanted to drop in and say hi.

    You know, we’ve been like sisters through this. We both started at Samhain, moved on to Berkley, and while I haven’t tried self publishing yet, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a consideration. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Now I’m off to drive more people over here to read your blog. It’s wonderful information.

    Posted by Donna MacMeans | February 22, 2013, 10:11 am
  20. Great post, Monica!

    Congratulations on quitting your day job, too! I don’t know how you did both for so long.

    I’m loving indie publishing and I don’t put 5% of the effort into promo that you do. I’m sure you’ll be covering that income gap in no time at all. Go, Monica!

    also writing as Deborah

    Posted by Claire Delacroix | February 22, 2013, 10:37 am
  21. Becke,
    You make a very good point. A lot of people are looking for get-rich-quick results when in fact it takes YEARS (no matter how you enter the business) to find the audience and take off with big numbers. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and those who get that will stick it out long enough to get where they want to be. The ones looking for fast results tend to flame out when it doesn’t happen right away.

    Another point that can’t be overlooked in the new world order is the very important need to be a savvy business person IN ADDITION TO writing great books that people want to read. The author wears many, many hats these days.

    Posted by Marie Force | February 22, 2013, 10:39 am
  22. Monica – A great post and CONGRATULATIONS on writing full time. It’s very exciting to be able to turn all of those hours into books! 🙂 And I foresee your self-pub numbers and $s going up dramatically with every new ebook you put out over the next year!!

    Congrats again.
    🙂 Bella

    Posted by Bella Andre | February 22, 2013, 10:41 am
  23. You are very lucky to have his assistance!

    Posted by Marie Force | February 22, 2013, 10:46 am
  24. Enjoyed your post, Monica! Congrats on having the guts to take control of your career.

    Posted by Julianne MacLean | February 22, 2013, 10:47 am
  25. Thanks so much for sharing your story! Ever since I heard Marie Force speak at the New England RWA, I’ve been excited to pursue self publishing, even though I still have a long way to go!

    Posted by Laurie Evans | February 22, 2013, 10:50 am
  26. Thank you for sharing your journey, Monica. I love the concrete details!

    A question for you: when you took Love’s Portrait perma-free, did you submit it to Pixel of Ink, E-News Today, and/or other advertising sites to get the word out, or did you let things percolate on their own? And a corollary question: did you wait till you had some reviews, or did you jump right into free with it?

    I’m hoping to start indie publishing in the fall, and am in the intensive information gathering stage. (And yes, I’m on Indie Romance Ink. Love that group.)

    Posted by Talia Quinn Daniels | February 22, 2013, 12:59 pm
    • Talia, sorry for the delay in responding. When I took LP free, I didn’t anything, but tweet, post it was free on loops, and Facebook’d it.

      I do know that when I changed the title on Amazon to “Erotic Historical Romance” it started to climb higher and faster until it was a “bestseller” in the freebie section and made it as high as #3 in the top 100. There were already some reviews from it’s initial release way back when as this was a reissue, maybe five or six at that point.

      I made the book free simply to give readers a taste of my writing. I’ve gained some new readers doing that. But I didn’t do it until just before Obsession was released at a higher price point. You don’t have to sell as many books at the 70% royalty to make as much if not more $$$ on a book. It’s why going free has been beneficial for me.

      When the book started to climb it started garnering reviews. There are 100+ and counting at this point.

      Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 5:48 pm
  27. Great article, Monica! I am at the crossroads right now, trying to decide whether to pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing – so it is great when people who’ve worked through the same question are so candid and willing to share their experiences. It isn’t an easy decision to make (at least not for me), but it sounds like it is working for you. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Posted by Lorraine Paton | February 22, 2013, 1:30 pm
  28. I moved to indie publishing after one of my publishers remaindered a book I had with them. Since I had the rights, and a few hundred hard cover copies in my basement that weren’t selling despite my low price, I figured I had little to lose by going indie (JA Konrath had just started making it big). I can’t say I raked in the dollars, but I started seeing royalty checks. Last year, one of my indie titles hit #15 at Barnes & Noble thanks to their Nook First program. I had to start paying quarterly taxes, hire an accountant, and I think I’m losing my Social Security checks. I consider the B&N money a windfall, and things have dropped considerably, but I never made much money with my small press and e-publishers, so it’s nice to get those royalty checks.

    Posted by Terry Odell | February 22, 2013, 4:10 pm
  29. Bravo, Monica! Many accolades to you for going this route. And for encouraging others toward their dreams!

    One of the most obvious reasons I faced, and I think many others do as well, is that this is our TRUE profession, so we never are quite happy doing any other job. So that’s maybe one of your final bullet points: the inevitability of doing what your meant to do. And what you love most!


    Posted by Christine M. Fairchild | February 22, 2013, 4:40 pm
  30. Monica asked me to let you know that she’ll be back to respond to comments shortly. Don’t forget, Monica will be drawing one of today’s commenters as the winner of her giveaway!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 22, 2013, 5:25 pm
  31. Sorry for the delay. Between doctor’s office, traffic and delays with the pharmacy, oy! Moving through the comments now~

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 5:37 pm
  32. Hey Monica, fantastic article!!! Thanks for sharing your experience with such candor. I’ve heard people in the industry say how you’ll never be able to sell as many books self publishing as you would if you were traditionally published. However, in looking at my royalty statements, I don’t need to. If my self published books sell just a fraction of what my traditional books do, I’ll still make more money…and readers will be pay less. I think that’s pretty cool!

    Posted by Laurie London | February 22, 2013, 6:06 pm
    • It’s nice that readers AND authors have all these options now. Confusing, but at least there are options. It wasn’t that long ago self-publishing was looked on with disdain. Now it gets the respect it deserves! (Now that even newbie authors are realizing it pays to put time and effort into edits, formatting and proofreading, that is.)

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 22, 2013, 6:50 pm
      • Options is very important, Becke, but there is still a lot of work out there that doesn’t come up to standard. I’ve tried to read a couple, but have had to put them aside. Writing a good story is still the first and foremost thing.

        Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 6:58 pm
        • True, but remind me to show you a book I bought years ago that I later determined was self-published. I won’t mention the title or author, but it was without a doubt the worst book I’ve ever read. (Or should I say, attempted to read.)

          The story is of primary importance, but terrible formatting and editing can keep me from reading even the best-written book.

          Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 22, 2013, 7:51 pm
    • I hear you Laurie, the fact that I made only $7K off of one book with NY tells me I would have been better off self-publishing them a long time ago. I’m not completely dissing NY, but they do make it difficult for me to love them with they’re high priced digital books and not growing their authors. Frustrating

      Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 6:56 pm
  33. Hi Monica. Thanks so much for sharing. As a newbie writer I find it very hard to find out this kind of valuable information. I’m curious – you mention that only a couple of NY publishers “build their authors from the ground up”. Do you mind sharing which houses you believe are good at this?
    Thanks, Donna

    Posted by Donna South | February 22, 2013, 8:42 pm
    • Hi Donna, I think St. Martins is the best house in NY that knows how to grow the career of an author. I based this observation on the way authors I know have been sold to St. Martins and they’ve been groomed for a strong presence in the market. I think St. Martins is the best house doing this. Avon has a good grasp on their specific target audience, and when they find an author that they believe fits their business model, they push this author.

      Keep in mind though that these are my observations, not fact and that I could be REALLY way off. Although I don’t think I’m too far off the mark with St. Martins. Their reputation precedes them

      Posted by Monica Burns | February 22, 2013, 9:04 pm
  34. Monica – Do you want to draw the name of a winner from the names of the commenters here? Or would you rather have one of us do that?

    Check back, folks, and we’ll announce the winner in a separate post.

    Thanks for a fabulous post, Monica, and thank you all for joining us today!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 23, 2013, 12:45 am
  35. Becke would you do it please. Thanks

    Posted by Monica Burns | February 23, 2013, 8:36 am
  36. Monica: Major congrats on taking the big leap! I’m in a similar situation to the one you described, and have been letting my frustration keep me from being as pro-active as I need to be. This was a nice kick in the rear. Thank you, and continued success!

    Posted by Lynda Hilburn | February 23, 2013, 12:03 pm
  37. I put the names in a hat and my husband drew the winner: Lynda Hilburn! Congratulations, Lynda.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 23, 2013, 2:27 pm
  38. Monica, thank you for your post–and your honesty. And thank you Donna for referring us here today.

    Hi, Becke!

    Libby McCord

    Posted by Libby McCord | February 23, 2013, 10:31 pm
  39. Thanks for sharing. After 20 years of writing for children, I started writing romantic suspense. Looking at the growing opportunities in self-publishing, and the dwindling opportunities in traditional publishing, I decided to go it alone. It is a big risk – but with the potential for a big reward. I’m still trying to build name recognition and get more of my adult books published. The money isn’t pouring in yet, but I don’t regret the path I’ve chosen (and I did make a few thousand last year).

    Posted by Kris Bock | February 24, 2013, 1:15 pm
  40. Monica,
    Fantastic article! Really appreciate you sharing your experience. Loved your breakdown between NY and SP.

    Posted by Erin Kellison | February 26, 2013, 10:33 pm

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