Money in Writing Fiction

So, a couple of weeks ago, someone I don’t really know started asking me if there was actually money in writing. Then I awoke Saturday morning to a mom asking that same question. Her 15 year old daughter wants to be a writer when she grows up. And like most mom’s, her mom was worried that the stereotypical starving artist would apply if her daughter decided to become an author.

I have talked a great deal about national averages paid to an author in the US. And I have mentioned that for the last 5 years or so, I have made more than the national average. And I find most years, I make more than a teacher. I’ve also mentioned my results are not typical. I fill a niche, I write the non-romance novel. Dysfunctional Chronicles and the Strachan Series are both not sexy and frankly, D&R is the exact opposite of most novels available. This works for me. I don’t know how it would work for someone else.

One of the things I haven’t talked about is that it’s a feast or famine situation all the time. Friday, we got our tax paperwork back and my accountant asked me a question… I made $33,000 in 2018. One of my worst years in a while. Her question, did I realize I made $28,000 of that $33,000 in six months?

For the record, I didn’t know the actual numbers, but I did know that the bulk of my royalties were paid out March – September. So this is how getting paid works, Amazon pays 60 days after the end of the month, meaning January Royalties show up at the end of March. Draft2Digital which handles ibooks, Kobo, Scribd, and some others, pays out 45 days after. So January sales show up in the middle of March. And Google Play pays 15 days after the end of the month, in other words January sales pay out February 15th.

Previous years have taught me that summer adverts don’t do much good for me. Which is weird, but I get it, no one wants to sit on a beach and read about serial killers disemboweling people. June-August D&R doesn’t sell well, even if I release a new one in the series. But the Dysfunctional Chronicles does see an uptick in sales those months.

October is considered a bad month for book releases by the publishing industry. For whatever reason, authors just don’t sell well in October. Except me. I sell great in October. Even without adverts, October is usually my recovery month from summer. If I can run a few adverts in September and October then October is usually a month when I make in the thousands. And the bulk of it pays out in December. Halloween sales make Christmas presents possible.

November is a slow month, except oddly for The Dysfunctional Chronicles. Because one of them takes place at Thanksgiving (an unusual holiday to put in a book), I do see an increase in sales of Dysfunctional that month, but not a huge one, just enough to be noticed and I do know it’s because of The Dysfunctional Holiday because I sell more copies of it than the others, then they realize they have to read the first 3 to figure out what’s going on in that book, and they grab the first which is free.

While my summer sales are never great, November and December pay out the next year given the time delays, and they are traditionally my worst months. In January 2019, after all my royalty checks had gone through, I’d cleared a whopping $700. I had 6 months in 2018 when my checks totaled less than a $1,200 a month.

However, there is still money in it. I have to budget (which was a problem in 2018). For instance in May 2018, my checks totaled $5,700. In June, my checks were $8,000. Same for July. August saw $5,000. September was $3,000. I released Ritual Dreams in March 2019 and I’ve commented that I had the best pre-order for it of any book. I had 800 pre-orders. This means my March 2019 royalties are higher than the first 3 months of being paid combined. In real numbers, I cleared $700 (January), $800 (February) and $900 (March), but my March sales totaled $5,5000, because of the release of Ritual Dreams and the BookBub advert I was able to run for Elysium Dreams.

Here’s some more real numbers for you, in the first 5 days of April, I had sold $400 on Amazon, $375 on Draft2Digital, and an unknown amount on Google and Barnes & Noble. So those two are weird. Google takes out taxes (only one that does) at about 40%, sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. But as a result, of fluctuating currencies (I sell a ton of books in South Africa on Google Play) and the variable tax rate, I can only estimate what I made on Google Play before it shows up in my bank account. When we bought our house in 2017, I had to give up my long time email address because I had to switch internet providers. And at that time I lost access to my B&N account. Which pays out 60 days after the end of a sales month. Since I can’t get into that account, I release all my books to B&N via Draft2Digital these days. I make a little less that way, but at least I get to release to the platform. It also means I can’t check sales for the books I do have available on the site. The first 10 D&R books, plus Dysfunctional, and Strachan were released directly through B&N. I get a check from them at the same time as I get my Amazon check, but I can’t look at the sales. Meaning it’s always a surprise.

I mentioned that $33,000 was the lowest I’d made in a couple of years. In 2017, I made $36,000. In 2016, I made $60,000. In 2015, I made $46,000. I have 5 more books scheduled to release in 2019. 4 of them are completely written and I have begun co-writing a trilogy of fun-light hearted not-quite-cozy-mysteries. See post about those ridiculous requirements. I find years I release more books (2016 saw the release of 3 Dreams, 1 Reality, 1 Dysfunctional, and 1 short story collection) I tend to make more money. Which is totally logical. Meaning I expect 2019 will be a little closer to what I made in 2016 than what I made in 2017 or 2018.

So, yes, you can make money as a writer. Sometimes, damn good money. Sometimes, just barely enough to scrape by. Now, remember, I’m a niche writer and so my sales aren’t always comparable to others. I know a half dozen romance novelists that have far more consistent sales than I do (month to month) and who make more money than me. I also know about a half dozen who make far less than me every year.

A good deal of my success is that I’m on all platforms and I have a lot of books. Books, books and more books, and a wide range of readers, seem to be big contributors to success. My comment about Google and South Africa was significant. With the release of Ritual Dreams, I actually looked at my Google numbers and compared them to the release of Demonic Dreams. I have 45ish dedicated readers in South Africa. Well, I had 45 pre-orders for Demonic and Ritual out of South Africa. I could go back and look at previous books, but I’m lazy. I’ve had interactions with 12 readers out of South Africa, because I threatened to not release on Google anymore. They only buy from Google, because it’s the easiest platform for them to use for ebooks. Meaning anyone that’s an Amazon only author, will never pick up those 12 readers.

How many sales can 45 dedicated D&R readers actually drum up when I’m only releasing one or two D&R books a year has been asked of me. My answer is more than you think. Yes, they pre-ordered Demonic and Ritual, but they tell others they love the books and they buy my non-D&R books. For instance, Natural Born Exorcist sold well in South Africa. I know that at least a portion of those 45 readers bought Natural Born Exorcist even though it wasn’t a D&R book. Because readers may love one series by an author, but usually they try other things by said author, because they like the writing style.

Okay, there are the hard numbers for my book sales the past couple of years. And why I say there is money in writing, if you are willing to put in the effort. I think the best advertisement to sell books is writing more books. Which is why I get a little giddy when I’m about to release a book.

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