Sunday, January 18, 2009

Making a living wage as an e-book author

By Angela Knight

One of the hardest problems for writers is the question of how to support yourself. I am going to be blunt, based on my experience as a writer over the past 12 years.

First off, writing is not a way to get rich quick. Some really lucky people – like me – are able to support themselves really, really well as writers, but the majority are not that fortunate.

I have been writing erotic romance professionally for 12 years. Of those 12 years, I have only been able to support the family on my income for the past three. The other nine was spent getting to this point. Then there were the eight years prior to that when I was working intensively on learning how to write romance and erotic romance and getting my work rejected.

Yeah, you’re right. That’s 20 years of work.

Now, the point of this blog is not to tell you that your dreams are a waste of time, or that you won’t be a success for 20 years, because I do not believe that. What I want to do is tell you what I discovered by trial and error that worked for me, so you can do these things NOW and make your dreams come true a little faster.

So here goes.

First, learning to write takes time. People look at your average category romance and think, “Boy, this is a piece of crap. I could do this. Hey, romances are just a formula, right? Just plug in a girl and a boy, and sex, and at the end they get married and live happily ever after. I write that and boom-ya – I’ll make a ton of money.”

Yeah, people say that. But people are IDIOTS. As they quickly discover when they write that simple formula and it gets rejected by every editor in New York. A good story involves writing smooth, clean, clear prose that is lyrical enough to be interesting; heroes and heroines with internal, external and romantic conflicts just serious enough to be resolved in the story’s length; minor characters who complicate the heroes’ lives; a villain who appears too powerful to be defeated, and yet who IS defeated believably; and a romance that inspires the reader and causes her to dream.

That’s a lot of stuff to do in 400 pages. Doing it well is even harder. So you need to practice shorter pieces that are simpler to do. My first published work was a three-book comic book mini-series, which is about as stripped down as prose gets.

Write a series of 20-page love scenes, then stories about a character solving a particular problem in 20 pages. That will teach you a lot, because once you can do a 20-page story that works emotionally, you have jumped the first hurdle. Then SAVE those stories, because you can use them later.

Then write longer stories – 50 pages, 100 pages, 200, 400. Learn how to construct a plot for longer lengths.

Join a critique group online. In my case, I did this in 1990, which was before the widespread Internet. I found a bulletin board for erotica writers called Cat 9. I submitted my stories and read other people’s stories, and I listened to the reaction I got. I paid attention to the criticism and worked on making my stories more erotic. I read and critiqued other people’s stories and learned from THEIR mistakes.

I wrote about 20 or so short stories for Cat 9, and I had a ball doing it.

Then in 1995, I saw a flyer at a convention for a little company called Red Sage, which was acquiring erotic romance novellas for a collection called SECRETS. I had just had a crushing rejection from a Harlequin editor, so I was really depressed. But I thought, “Hey, I know I can write erotica! Why not give it a shot?” So I did. Within a week, I got a delighted call from the publisher, Alexandria Kendall, who bought the novella. I proceeded to sell her several more novellas and a novel. This started building the core of my fan base.

Then in 2001, I started a very, very small Yahoo group (only 25 people at first). I took all those kinky short stories for Cat 9 and posted them on my yahoo group. All the sudden, people started joining my group in droves. Today there are almost 2000 people on that group. Give people free erotica, and they will come. The addy is:

I had to take the stories down eventually, because I sold them to Berkley in a two-book deal that will eventually be published under another name. Not bad for a bunch of smut I wrote as a learning exercise.

Now, that little yahoo group helped me in another way. When I stared publishing e-books, I’d announce that a book was coming out, and every soul on my Yahoo group would flood the site and buy the book. This was really early in e-pubbing, so at that time, 100 sales in a day was a serious triumph. In fact, my group has been known to break shopping carts. I am proud of that.

My first e-book was called BODICE RIPPERS, published by Renaissance E-books. It was, by the way, my three favorite Cat 9 stories, rewritten. My publisher e-mailed me the day the book came out, astonished, because my group pounced on Renaissance and bought the hell out of it. I was very pleased.

I didn’t make a lot of money off it, but packaging those stories was the smartest thing I ever did.

A month later, my publisher e-mailed me again. “Hey, somebody from Penguin Putnam just bought your book.” It turned out to be Cindy Hwang, who had read my Secrets books from Red Sage. She was looking somebody who could write romance in a hot, erotic way, and BODICE RIPPERS convinced her I could do that. She later said something to the effect of, “If you could make those pieces of smut romantic, you can write erotic romance.”

She e-mailed me and asked if I’d like to write for Berkley. I, of course, said yes. I submitted two story ideas I wrote THAT WEEKEND, and she bought them. (All that practice writing stories paid off in allowing me to brainstorm the ideas really fast.) Those ideas became the Mageverse series and the Warlord series, and now I’m making a hell of a lot of money off both of them.

My point is that none of the short stories I wrote was a waste of time. I learned from writing those stories, building my writing skill. Then I used those stories and the Internet to build my fan base, which was one of the things that attracted Cindy Hwang. She figured if I could build a good fan base with the small exposure I had, I could build an even bigger one with the big print runs of New York.

You can do the same thing. You just have to be willing to work.

Take your short erotic fiction to publishers like Changeling Press, which specializes in works of 12,000 words or about 50 pages. Buy a couple of their e-books, see what they publish and if your work fits. Follow their submission guidelines here:

I like Changeling because they publish short works, they have good editors, and they won’t screw you. This is a key point, because a lot of authors have been screwed by publishers (including me.) You want an honest one.

Next, you need to concentrate on getting a lot of books written. Write five pages a day every day, and write as many books as you can back to back. Writing is like everything else: you get better with practice.

If you would like detailed advice on writing, there are a lot of books out there. One of them is by me: PASSIONATE INK: A GUIDE TO WRITING EROTIC ROMANCE, here:

The more books you write, the faster you write them (as long as you don’t sacrifice quality for speed) – the more chances you give readers to discover your books. Then once they read one of your books, they’ll go out and buy more.

The first month an e-book is out is when you make the most money. Back several years ago, I’d make about $800 that first month a book was out. (Most e-publishers pay monthly, instead of every six months, like print pubs.)

After that, I found I’d make about $100 a month per book. So to support myself, I figured I’d need about 20 e-books out to make $2000 a month.

Back before she became a New York author Lora Leigh was the Nora Roberts of e-publishing. She had a lot of books and a huge fan base, and she made serious money as an e-book author. That’s really the key.

So work your ass off. Find a publisher like Changeling or Loose Id at (They’re great for longer fiction.) Get yourself a yahoo group, give away stories to build your readership, then write a lot of books. And use the internet, which is the best low-cost advertising means possible to promote your books.

You’ll probably need a day job to support yourself, but eventually, you will find yourself with a very nice second source of income. I can’t tell you whether you’ll be able to support yourself solely off your writing, because that’s up to you. It’s certainly possible.

Best of luck!

Angela Knight