These are the questions every writer has asked or thought or didn't know they needed to ask.....so let's get to it shall we.
I sort of have a reputation for speaking my mind. I will tell anyone anything. I don't varnish the truth. But I don't slander either. Except for that one time...okay twice...but truth isn't slander. Truth is truth. I'm not going to sugar coat this for you. Writing is not pretty. It's not. It's not glamorous. There's no million dollar contracts waiting for a romance writer. Most writers will never ever be able to quit their day jobs. And on top of that writing is hard fucking work with little to no monetary payoff in the beginning, sometimes there's never a payoff.
But there is money to be made as a writer. You can earn a decent living. You might be lucky enough to quit your day job. Might. MIGHT! MAYBE! This whole thing is one big fat fucking...well it's luck. Pure and simple. I can't say if you work hard and write the best absolute bestest greatest fucking book ever known to man and you hump your ass through the promotion jungle and pimp that book to every damned romance site known to woman....that you're going to ever make money on that book. You could very easily fling out a half assed piece of shit and it will stick to the wall and boom pow......god but there it is. Writing is luck. Publishing is luck. Selling is luck. It's fucking luck y'all. Tell me it's not. It's 99% perspiration and 1% luck and if you don't have that one percent on your side doesn't matter jack shit what you did.
But yes there is money to be made as a writer. You can earn a decent living. But most likely you'll earn a small living. One that makes things a wee bit better. Hopefully.
I think that before we go any farther that it's important for you the writer to sit down and have a hard painful talk with yourself about why you write. And if getting rich and being famous is your number one answer you need to re-evaluate yourself.
Secondly coming from a writer who has been in this business, published, for 11 years now I want you to realize that if you plan to ever make a living at this thing you need to stop treating it like a hobby and treat it like a job. As in you should know everything you need to know about publishing so that publishing does not kick your ass. Because it will. No matter how much you know. It will kick your ass. But at least you know that up front and you know what SHOULD be going on so that you know that what SHOULD be going on is not going on. As in you should know when you should be paid. How that money will come. What your percentage of royalty is. And you should know this for all publishers. Contracts aren't worth a plug nickel. They protect the publisher, not you. And you better be ready to stand up for yourself because no one else will.
Did I scare you? Good.
I've been ripped off, threatened, slandered, attacked, and ripped off some more....by a publisher. Three publishers. I have friends who've been with NY publishers who've had worse than that done to them. Dorchester Press stole their books. Their money. And laughed because there was nothing they could do about it.
I'm criticized by fellow writers because I am so anal about my book sales. I am very anal about this. I knew everything going into it, but I wasn't prepared to have a publisher steal thousands of dollars in royalties from me. I say thousands. I mean an estimated fifteen thousand for one book alone. Behind Iron Lace stayed in the top ten on Amazon for 90 days. I've had books that never sold that well for that long that I was paid triple what I was paid for Behind Iron Lace with a much lower royalty rate. I had two additional books with that publisher that I never saw a penny in royalties from (offsite...Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.) Not one penny. And I never will.
I'm telling you this so that you will know what this business is about. It's cut throat. Tell me I'm lying? I dare you. I don't lie, and I don't varnish the truth.
So can you make money writing romance? Yes. Will you get rich? No. Can you quit your day job? I did. But I did that before I made any money. I just don't have to go back. No I won't tell you how much I earn.
SO what do you need to know that I know?
How to read Amazon for one thing. So you know round about what your book is selling. That is if you don't buy your reviews and skew the shit out of the algorithm. Charts don't matter. Well they do but not as much as that little number that starts out with this symbol #. That number is what matters. There's a chart floating around somewhere that sums it up a little more accurately than I can but here's a fair estimation.
#1-#100 WOWSERS BOING BOING SPROING BING....okay seriously this is a crap shoot but between five hundred and infinity books a day. I've sold below #100 a couple of times and it was roughly 500 books those days, maybe a few less but not many.
#101-#999---less than five hundred down to around a hundred...a day. And this is damned hard to get to. Congrats if you do this.
#1000 to #2000---- you're selling roughly 50 to 100 books a day.
#3000 to #10,000 somewhere between 10 and 50 books a day.
#20,000 you're selling books. That's what counts. 5 maybe 10 depending on who's skewed the rankings by buying reviews and playing the system.
Above #20k...well congrats you have a book on Amazon. You might have a sale or two a day.
Above #50k....yeah, time to either ramp up the promo or get busy on the next book.
Now about those people who have learned to play the system by buying their reviews. I don't know if they're making the sales that should go with those numbers. Reviews do count toward your #. The more reviews and the higher they are bring you up higher in the rankings no matter how many books you're selling. You could very well be selling 10 or 50 and still be high in the rankings....but you're not going to get paid by the ranking number. You get paid by the number of actual sales. But getting higher in the rankings gets you on charts, and people shop the charts first. Sooooooo.......... and one more thing that skews the rankings....popularity...yep, Amazon will give a known seller a boost in the rankings from the moment your book comes into their line of sight. That's why getting your name out there on Amazon is now the absolute must do thing...which is why people buy reviews.....so that it looks like they are well known and it tricks Amazon's...well no one knows really how Amazon calculates the rankings, could be the way the wind blows, or if someone got laid last night...who knows. But if you don't buy your reviews and you depend on actual sales to get you where you're going the above list is maybe sort of with hopes that the algorithemer got laid last night, should give you some idea of what to expect when you get a royalty check.
About other sites. There's no hard and fast way to tell. You have to depend on your publisher to be honest. But cold hard fact is 90% of your sales are going to come from Amazon. About 5% is going to come from your publisher's website. The other 5% is all of the other vendor sites combined. That includes Barnes and Nobles. Nook sales suck. I mean seriously suck. But it's 5 or 10 books you wouldn't have sold otherwise, right.
I tell you this so that you know. So that when you get that first check and it's ten bucks and you're like no fucking way...dude WAAYYY. We've all been there. Here's hoping your first check is at least ten bucks. Congrats you're a professional now.
And as a professional you have to pay taxes.
So what do you need to know about taxes as a writer?
I am not sure so don't quote me on this but I believe that you don't have to pay taxes on anything less than $400 in the US. But my advice to you even if your 1099 is less than $400 you should go ahead and do this......you just screamed why didn't you? Free money is free money and the IRS doesn't need to know...........uh okay so why should you when you technically don't have to? There are several reasons.
As an "artist" it's very difficult to write off expenses if you're not making any money while pursuing your craft. Okay this is going to get confusing, but it's the IRS and confusing is their middle name...after fuckheads.....but here we go as best I can explain it.....
If you spend money in pursuit of an art, such as music, painting, writing, stuff you know expensive stuff like instruments and paint and printer ink you can write all of that shit off on your taxes. If you can convince your accountant that you are serious about one day actually making money at your craft......but mostly they'll laugh and pat you on the head for trying to write off a hobby. By filing your small change not technically obligated piddling little 1099s each year you are leaving a paper trail that says you are serious about this business....and you can then write off your expenses.
So if you made say $399.99 and you're thinking Yay I don't have to file this so it will knock me into actually having to pay taxes above and beyond my day job.....but you went to a writer's conference, or belonged to a writer's group in which you paid dues...or bought Word 58....or a new laptop...or printer ink...paper....paper clips....reference books....pens....notebooks....software that reads your book back to you....a desk....a desk chair....a pool boy oh wait no, he's not deductible.....you made $399.99 but you spent a thousand on Romantic Times, or RWA or GRL....or you went to all three and spent $3000 plus a desk and printer ink...........you can deduct every penny of that almost 100% and get back way more than that piddling little $399.99. Or even if you don't spend that much, you're laying the ground work with the IRS that you are serious and this is a real job with real money and when you do spend money on furthering your writing career, your accountant won't snort and pat you on the head.
Soooo keep your receipts. If you went out to dinner with your resident football expert and you write football romance and you ate at a sports bar and you discussed football and how your character could or should or if it's possible....you can write that dinner off as having dinner with an expert to discuss research details. Keep the receipt. Keep a log book of what you discussed and who you discussed it with and the date and KEEP THE RECEIPT.
Yes you can write off research books. No you can't write off your $1000 buck a month Kindle spending habits. You can iffily write off specific to your genre fiction but that's pushing it. You can write off your office space. The printer you purchased. Your internet. Your phone if you use it as part of your job. I don't, so I don't. But my internet yes. Yes I do, because without that DSL I would not have a career. I network online every day. I promote. I send messages back and forth with my editors, my publishers, my cover artists, experts.....Amazon. Hell yeah I write off the internet fees.
The more money you make the more taxes you'll have to pay. I paid 10% last year. This year will probably be closer to 20%.....because Uncle Sam and Aunt 'Bama want their share of my money. But as someone wise said to me....spend it.... either spend it or they'll take it either way it's gone. Go to that conference. That's a thousand dollars you didn't have to pay in taxes and you got a trip out of it. And each quarter you should be putting money aside. You made $400 put $40 in a savings account.........you make $4000 put $400 in that savings account. You make $40,000 put $4000 in that account and don't touch it. Hopefully you won't have to pay it, but it's there when the time comes.
And about that savings account.....you need a bank account that is not directly connected to your household account. It can be as simple as a savings account. But you're a business now. If you plan to go into self publishing this is even more important. Set up a separate account in your real name. Not your pen name. Or file for a LLC and become a business. You are a business. You are self employed as a writer. Act like you know what you're doing.
Keep records of everything. Some people have criticized me for keeping a monthly tally of all reported book sales for every single book I have published. I keep spread sheets for sales numbers and money earned and when that money came in. I know when each vendor I have books with will pay. I know what is selling well and what isn't. And sadly since I am in the business to make money I follow what sells. Keep lists of promo sites and how much their ads cost. Know when your ads run. Make sure the ads are there for the time period you purchased and check your sales during that time.
Don't be sitting there at the end of the quarter wondering why your publisher hasn't transferred your money to you. And don't be afraid to ask for a statement for that period. You should get one but there are some publishers who don't see fit to let you know where your money is coming from or the total number of books you sold......and that brings me to one more detail....
Learn how to calculate royalty rates so you know exactly how much you're getting. If your publisher pays 40% please realize that you're only getting that actual percent on books sold on their site. You will make 40% of the percent that your publisher receives from each outside vendor. If your book sold for more than $2.99 on Amazon you'll get 40% of the 70% that Amazon paid your publisher. Barnes and Noble is 65% and All Romance is 60%. And if your publisher puts your book out in paperback you could have an incredibly small percent of those sales. But the good news is not many people are going to buy a print copy anyway so it doesn't really matter.
Don't be afraid to publish with more than one publisher. And don't be afraid to ask questions. The days when a publisher can ruin you is over. But don't be an ass either. Be nice. Be polite. But don't be a doormat. Don't expect to get rich. Be realistic....and realize that writing the book isn't the end, your job is just getting started. Learn the business. Go to conferences. Meet people. Be realistic and have a plan. And buy body armor. I suggest Kevlar. Teflon coated Kevlar. I'm sure they're both deductible as business attire.
Because this business is a dog eat dog business and you're the wiener dog.