The Last Taboo: What One Writer Earns

Not much is taboo to me, speaking as a filthy sex-book writer. My characters get up to some major copulating for all the world to read about, and discussing the details with perfect strangers doesn’t make me blush. Erotic romance writers are a shameless group, generally, and we love to overshare. Except about the last real taboo: how much money we make.

When I was a new writer, there was only one place I knew of that offered a sense of what money there was to be made in this gig, and that’s the famous Brenda Hiatt blog post, Show Me the Money! Even now, I don’t really know what my closest writer friends make—and we blab in excruciating detail about nearly everything when sequestered late at night in conference hotel rooms, with our Costco merlot swirling in plastic tumblers and our achy dance-floor feet dangling off the edges of our overpopulated beds. I know random bits and pieces about their earnings, from when I’ve mustered the gall or the wine buzz to ask. I might know that a certain friend scored a certain advance from a certain publisher, but on the whole, no one really asks, and no one really offers…not unless they’re making crazy money. The people making crazy money can sometimes go a little Born Again on you. If you only had the people who talk about how much they make to go by, you’d be forced to assume that every romance writer makes six figures.

Spoiler alert: I don’t.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because toward the end of 2014, I met what I’d always imagined was a ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky professional goal—a dream more than a goal, really. I set this goal when I sold my first book, just over five years ago. I was infatuated with writing, and I told myself that I would feel satisfied and proud and legitimized forever if I could manage just this: to one day make as much money in one calendar year of writing as I’d made as my salary when I stopped being a full-time graphic designer. And this past year, I did it. With a couple thousand dollars to spare.

I say a dream more than a goal because I tend to classify dreams as things you pray for, and goals as things you accomplish through effort and discipline. Goals can be largely controlled. Goals are things like, “I will write 250,000 new words this year,” or, “I will self-publish that manuscript.” Dreams, by contrast, are things you hope will happen, likely through a combination of hard work and good fortune—and you can’t control the latter. I now consider how much I make to be somewhat beyond my control. The market’s just about impossible to predict, as is the performance of any given book. Hitting a list also falls into the dream category, and it’s one I don’t trouble myself with. (The closest I’ve knowingly come has been to break into the middle of the Amazon Top 100 Paid in Romance, with a full-priced book, which I’m led to believe is pretty hard to do. So I think if I were feeling adequately insecure, I could tape a vague but not entirely fraudulent “Bestselling Author” to my name. Time will tell if it ever comes to that.) The lists mystify me. If I ever hit one of the big two, I’ll proudly stick it in my bio, but for now it feels beyond my ability to influence, like a lightning strike—I can keep on waving a golf club around when the storm clouds roll in, but I can’t will the heavens to pick me.

Let’s Get Gauche!

Now, let’s get the figures out of the way, because in all honesty they’re probably not going to blow your mind and so I don’t want a big build-up. At the time my old office in Boston closed in 2009 and I lost my design job, my salary was $44,000 a year. I wasn’t raking it in by some standards, but hey, I went to a state art college. The kid done all right. And now my “Book Earnings 2014” spreadsheet tells me that, from January through December of last year, I earned from royalties and advances $46,517. And eighty-six cents.

I don’t have any expectations about what anyone reading this post will make of that sum. I think a few years ago, plenty of people would have been impressed because writers, aside of those at the very, very top, were largely expected to be starving artists. But since I began writing, a lot’s happened in the industry. First ebooks and then self-publishing exploded, as well as my genre specifically, and these days you can’t swing a turgid member around without whacking an article about a savvy, entrepreneurial self-pubber or fan-fic phenom who’s making millions in erotica, overnight. Hats off to them, but I suppose I’m here to let everyone know there’s a middle ground between penniless obscurity and obscene insta-wealth. It’s called being a working writer. It is a thing. I am one.

I’m comfortable writing about this because in all honesty, I don’t care what anyone thinks of what I make. Money to me is strictly about security and freedom, not prestige or worthiness or even success. I want enough money, but not much more than that. Having much more money doesn’t seem to bring people much more peace of mind. Some might think the amount I now make is great, while some others will probably try to draw me aside in the lobby at RT this spring and murmur conspiratorially, “You know, you could be making so much more by self-pubbing. Let me share with you my secrets.” My intention here isn’t to brag, as in a post-E.L. James world, I’m certainly not blowing the tits off this industry.

“Woman Writes for Several Years, Eventually Makes a Living Wage” is not a headline that’s going to inspire thousands to quit their day jobs.

But at the end of the day, I’m super fucking proud of $46,517.86. I’ll have been published for five years next month, and I worked at my old office job for just shy of five years. I now make twenty-five hundred dollars more a year as a writer, compounded by the fact that I’m 3000% more fulfilled and excited by my current gig. Whether anyone thinks that number is amazing or pathetic is neither here nor there. I only hope some new writer reading this might find it useful to hear that it’s possible to make a living at this, with some talent and ambition, and a lot of hard work and patience, and some luck, and rational expectations. But mostly hard work and patience.

Anyhow, you have now read the bulk of what I wanted to say about my earnings. From here on out, I’ll share more detailed figures, but the moral of the story has been revealed. What follows are just some numbers, for those who might find them interesting.

Let’s Get Even Gaucher!

I have been writing seriously for 6.5 years.

In that time, I have sold 39 original books and novellas to 5 publishers. (I’m not counting anthologies featuring previously released stories, foreign editions, or re-releases.) Of those 39, 6 titles are not yet released.

My first title was published just under 5 years ago, with Ellora’s Cave. (Roughly four people have read it. It’s a strange, borderline dreary novella about a WASP-y divorcée who occasionally assembles a harem of young men in her Beacon Hill brownstone, and watches them jack off. I wish I could say my books have gotten less weird with time. Just kidding. I don’t wish that at all.)

My first royalty check was for $141.00. (Always one to keep my expectations low, I had been hoping for $40, enough to pay for some celebratory drinks, so I was stoked to surpass that by a hundred and one bucks. I’m pretty sure we got Indian food that night.)

In 2010, my first year of being published, I made $11,000 from my writing, with 7 titles released and 1 more contracted. (A large chunk of that came from my first advance, with Harlequin Blaze.) That’s a lot of titles in one year. I wrote short, and quickly. I was intoxicated by this new job that I ached so badly to keep. I was on unemployment, so money wasn’t too much of a stressor between me and my husband. I was very excited to have made five figures in my debut year, considering my initial hopes of getting $40 out of that first royalty period. It was enough of a sign for me to think, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m going to fight to make this my job.”

In 2011, I made $15,000 from my writing, with 14 books out and 1 more contracted.

I used up my unemployment insurance that year (and was not-especially-secretly-pleased not to have found a new design job) and tensions began to simmer between me and my husband. I was suddenly making $30,000 less a year, after all, and the pressure was on him to provide the bulk of our income and all of our health insurance. Greater Boston isn’t a cheap place to live. It was the only time in our marriage when we’ve yet been driven to “serious talks.”

In the spring of 2012, I took a temp design job at an ad agency for a few months to bolster the coffers and prove to my husband that I wasn’t planning to leave us destitute while I traipsed about in pursuit of my dream. (Much as I would have liked to, had he offered.) I was miserable at that job, but in the midst of the misery I sold a three-book proposal to Harlequin and felt I’d finally kicked my way through a soggy, direction-less slump. Also, thanks to Fifty Shades, in 2012 publishers went a-courtin’ after somewhat-known erotic romance authors—in my case it was Penguin who called—and I wound up selling three books to them in early 2013 for the then-largest advance of my career. I also scored my agent with that offer on the table.

So in 2012, I made just under $24,000 from my writing, with 21 books out and 3 more contracted, and the Penguin deal percolating. That year started out very bleak and ended on a high note; to make $2,000 a month felt like real money. My husband relaxed some.

In 2013, I made $33,000 from my writing, with 28 titles out and 5 more contracted. 2 of those 5 contracted titles were my first non-category mass market paperback sales, which garnered me my largest advance to date, in the low five-figures per book. There have been no “serious talks” about money in our house since then.

In 2014, as I said, I made $46,517.86 from my writing, with 33 titles out and 6 more contracted. I’d round that number off, but after carrying that dream around with me for five years, I’m too proud to exclude a single cent.

As of today, I have made a little under $130,000 from my writing, in total. That gives me an average “salary” (over the 5.75 years I’ve been writing full-time) of $22,600.

My highest-earning book to date is my fourth release. As I write this, it has made me $17,800—no advance, no agent cuts. It’s been out for four and a half years, and continues to consistently bring in about $400 a month. Bear in mind, it had a three-year head start on my second-highest-earning title, which has made me $12,000, after agency fees.

My lowest-earning title has made $420, to date. My lowest-earning title that’s been out for a considerable length of time is my first novella, which has made $870 since it came out nearly five years ago. In an average month, that very first book pays for a bottle of wine. (All of my lowest earners are short, so bear in mind that they bring in less money per book sold; in terms of units sold, I’m sure they’ve all outperformed my longest, weirdest, and likely least popular book, which out-earns them only because length dictates price.)

Taking together all of my titles that have been out for 12 months or longer, the average earnings to date per book is roughly $3,500. The median is $2,600.

The healthiest chunks of my income arrive as advance payment checks, not individual books’ royalties. I would not be surprised if my yearly income takes a dip in 2015, if only because I’m contracted and on deadline through the spring of 2016, and don’t imagine I’ll be seeing any juicy signing checks for selling new proposals this year.

Of my 8 books that came with advances and have been out for 12 months or more, only one has yet to earn out its advance—and even that straggler’s getting very close. Modest advances aren’t a bad thing, provided you don’t like a lot of pressure and you’re not too vain.

I won’t bother pulling out any trends I’ve noticed over the years—i.e., ménages sell better than m/f, series sales trump stand-alones, alpha heroes trounce betas in book earnings or vice versa. Write what fascinates you. Readers can taste your excitement with their eyeballs. It’s science. And it’s a facet of craft that no one talks about, but we probably should. Maybe another day, in another post.

So I will leave it here, with what little wisdom I’ve gleaned in six and a half years of writing, and five years of published-authordom, and some numbers pertaining to exactly one writer’s individual career thus far. Results will vary. Take from those figures what you will—hopefully encouragement and not despair, and maybe a little bald candidness amid all the industry murk. And best of luck to everyone with their goals—and dreams—for 2015.

About Cara McKenna

Cara McKenna writes smart erotica—sexy stories with depth. Read more >
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62 Responses to The Last Taboo: What One Writer Earns

  1. I love how frank you are in this post. I’m English, so it’s even harder for me to ask people how much money they earn. Gives me a nervous twitch just thinking about it! Anyway, thanks for your honesty it gives a very new writer a bit of an idea what to expect.
    Rebecca x

    • Cara McKenna says:

      You’re welcome! Glad it’s useful. It’s such a mystifying industry. I don’t feel it’s on anyone’s shoulders to disclose this kind of info, but as I have no shame about it, I thought maybe it would be helpful for someone, somewhere, to see. I know I would have liked to have read something like this, six years ago.

  2. Delphine Dryden says:

    Thank you so much for this, Cara. Just…so much, because I think this is a huge area of incredible stress that most of us just try to pretend doesn’t exist. Not knowing at least ball park figures makes so many of us frantic because we’re constantly wondering how we’re doing–but not “allowed” to find that out in the easiest-to-quantify way. We see what it’s possible to make in theory, but we mostly know we are not making that, and it’s like there’s this binary standard we’re held to. If we’re not making EL James money, or Sylvia Day money, or at least in the mid six figures like a few of our colleagues seem to be, we’re not “successful”.

    Like you, I only ever had the goal to make as much with writing as I had in education…a pretty modest goal, because educators don’t make all that much. And I’d actually knocked my aspiration down from there a bit; I was making in the low 50s when I left the school system, and I just wanted to get back up over 40K with the writing. Year before last was the only time I got close (I don’t have my files with me, but I made in the 30s), and like you, I achieved that mostly because of advances. I’d made in the twenties the previous year, IIRC. This past year I was back down into the 26K range with writing and editing combined, which wasn’t enough (I was finishing up contracts and none of my releases really popped in a big way), so it’s back to a day job I go. But I don’t feel like that’s a failure…because I actually managed to make what a lot of people would consider a living wage (not a great one by any stretch), just by playing with words all day. I don’t begrudge anybody’s success, but I never aspired to make six figures as an educator, so I never aspired to do that as a writer, either. Just to make a living at it–which I could be, if my own lifestyle standards were different.

    I think we all really need to hear figures like this. To hear about what’s reasonable, not necessarily what’s attainable by the few through great timing and luck, but what’s attainable by a lot of people through consistent effort. What the reasonable expectation is, what “success” can look like, for a mid-lister (which I’m actually happy to be). There’s power in knowing that, for planning purposes, for mental health purposes, and maybe also for bargaining purposes.

    You are awesome. This post was awesome.

  3. Vanessa says:

    Thank you for sharing.

    Being, ahem, somewhat less organized than you, I don’t really have a lot of data to do a similar post or I would. But I remember VERY well my first royalty check. It was $3.99 and it bought me a latte. I remember thinking I could only afford a tall.

    My checks are bigger now, but nowhere near what I made in technology sales. I would *love* to hit that milestone someday. :)

  4. This is why I love the wonk-o-mancers. (Oooh, PNR plot bunny!)

    I’m always humbled by your generosity of spirit, and this post cements your place in my heart. We write because we love/have/need to tell our stories. But we also must live–mamma likes her cheesecake. And paying the electric bill is pretty rad.

    When people find out I write, they always ask: so when are you going to break into THE BIG TIME? I’d like to point them to this post.

    You’re so BIG TIME in my eyes. That 3000% more fulfillment and excitement? Invaluable.

    Congratulations on hitting a milestone. Please get back to work so I can buy more books. xxoo

  5. Dee Carney says:

    “The people making crazy money can sometimes go a little Born Again on you.”

    Amen, sister.

    Anyweighs, I just wanted to applaud you for writing this. My first royalty check from around six years ago? Ten dollars and change.

  6. marjorie says:


    I’m not even in the same field – I ghost-write, write for magazines (less and less), have a regular paid gig at an online mag, and am doing my first non-fiction book solely under my own name for the first time in many years — but I love and appreciate the honesty here. So helpful of you to share this info!

  7. Thank you so much for this post! Congrats on meeting your dream!

  8. Lee says:

    Can I just say “I love you guurrrl!”. I’m curious on average how many hours a week you work on writing (writing, editing bidness stuffs etc.).


    • Cara McKenna says:

      It varies a lot! If I’m approaching deadline, and my flow is good, I probably write 2,000–3,500 words a day, which takes me roughly an hour per thousand words. Then I probably spend two or three more hours polishing what I’ve already written, so a super productive week like that probably sees me working 30 to 40 hours. Much more than that and I burn out, and the writing becomes twice as hard and half as clever. The sex scenes I draft when I’m on deadline probably read like two cardboard dress-up dolls getting mashed together, again and again.

      Revisions are the worst, for me. When I’m mired in revisions I probably spend ten hours a day just on those, desperate to get them done with. They always burn me out.

      I think a more average week for me is about eight to twelve hours of pure writing, five or ten hours of edits, and ten hours of random writer tasks—doing web updates, drafting blurbs, proofing AAs, writing blog posts, catching up on publisher admin, accounting, mailing stuff, doing my newsletter. It’s a full-time gig, but I don’t do well if I work much more than 40 hours. And I can’t procrastinate—I work terribly under pressure. I have to set weekly goals to make sure I don’t get stuck writing 5,000 words a day in the run up to a deadline, since I can’t physically do that. I thrive on discipline, not adrenaline.

      • Lee says:

        Thank you!!! Juggling a writing career, plus freelance work and two kids. Just trying to get a feel for how others do it.

  9. Megan Coakley says:

    Thank you for the honesty. I’m forwarding to my husband who seems to think we’ll retire on my writing. And I will never be as prolific as you!

    • Cara McKenna says:

      Yes, my husband likes to ask me when I’m going to make a million dollars, so he can retire. I like to reply with something like, “Probably shortly after you shut up and let me work.”

  10. Mary Anne says:

    I’m just a reader. One who joyfully buys books on pre-order to be sure I never miss publication dates, and gleefully buys up all formats of my favorite authors’ work. And there are many, many of you. How can it be worth so little to you? You, the creators of my biggest joy in life! I just don’t understand, and I had no idea. Thank you for opening my eyes, Cara. This is important for readers to know, too. I know that there are many more readers like me, who marvel at how little we pay for something so important to us. That you, and thank you all for letting us in on your dream.
    *humbly buys all the books*

    • Jessi Gage says:

      Mary Ann, I feel the same way. I’m a writer, but a reader first, and I like to pay the authors who give me so much enjoyment. Your attitude is so generous and refreshing. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Mia West says:

    Thanks, Cara. I think it’s super valuable for folks to see that your number of books available and your income rose together in step each year. Even though you had significant events along the way that affected how your income came in (first advance, first multi-book contract, agency fees), that incremental increase is a big takeaway. It speaks to perseverance and work ethic. Awesome.

  12. I have very few auto-buy authors. Cara, you are one of them. I promise to keep happily sending my money your way :-)

  13. Thanks so much for your openness, Cara. My very first royalty check was $34 and change. We laughed a lot about that. And my boss had been worried I’d up and quit once I got that first one (HAH!) but here I am, still working my EDJ.

    I think so many people believe that one book will give them all they need to write full time, but seriously…backlist, backlist, backlist.

    Will I ever be able to write full time? Probably not. because mortgage and food and bills. Do I wish I could? Sometimes. Will I stop writing if I can’t? Nope.

    Thanks again, and congratulations on hitting your goal! That’s fabulous! :)

  14. Just Me says:

    Seems sweet, doesn’t it? Let me tell you MY story.

    My first book got a $10k advance from a big publisher. I made $65k my first full year published because it sold so damned well.

    And three very short years later, my career was dead in the water because by publisher borked it up. They actually screwed it up from that very first book. I sold out of most stores in DAYS, and they never reshipped or asked them to reorder unless the bookstores specially requested a reorder. (Not all had the automatic systems back then that did so…but at the same time, individual people in stores were rarely authorized to ask for more. I remember the day **a month** after release I went into a mall chain that’s now dead to do a quick signing, and the person said, “Oh, yes, EVERYONE’S asking for that book!” “Okay, well, I couldn’t find it on the shelves….” “That’s because we’ve sold out!” “When will the next shipment come in?” “Um…it won’t?” At that moment, I began to understand how very fucked I was.)

    It was an editorial nightmare, too. I ended up with editors who didn’t understand series, who didn’t even understand the GENRE, demanding changes that readers would specifically point out as spoiling the books.


    This “middle ground” of which you speak is quicksand. Yes, it exists. Yes, there are many authors there. And it eats them alive. With Bookscan, you’re only as good as your last book numbers, and all it takes is one screw up to destroy your career–maybe for a pen name, and maybe forever.

    The only safe place is at the top, and it’s only relatively safe. Or in, yes, self-publishing, where I make more in a month than my best year ever traditionally published…after less than a year.

    You haven’t hit your first career-destroying “speedbump.” Very, very few are lucky enough to escape it. You might be one. But that’s rare, and when it hits, it’s financially devastating, and you lose almost EVERYTHING you’ve worked so damned hard to build because someone, somewhere couldn’t be bothered to do their job right.

    • Mia West says:

      I don’t imagine Cara wants me speaking for her, so I’ll pipe up for folks coming along the path in her footsteps. I’m not naive. But I found her post hopeful in its focus on hard work and her growth despite the storms she’s already weathered. I find your comment selfish and toxic within the context of her post.

      • Just Me says:

        You know what’s selfish? Just laughing at her. That’s what a lot of people with trad pub backgrounds who have been where she is and believed the same things are doing.

        “Oh, haha! I remember those days when I thought that. And then Harlequin changed their accounting and left me without income for three months, and I lost my car and had so much credit card debt that it took a year to shovel out of, and then my Superromance deal fell through. Wow, that sucked!”

        I guess they’re right. She’ll get lucky and hit bestseller lists…or she’ll get unlucky and stand in the cat food aisle wondering if it would really be SO bad to eat.

        But, yeah, I’m selfish.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      As I said, results will vary. I’m not advocating traditional publishing over self-publishing—I can only speak to traditional, as it’s been my path thus far. For every person who’s happy in traditional publishing, there may be someone like you who was not. For every writer who shares your rapid success in self-publishing, there’s going to be the guy who sold three copies of his book last year.

      What I had intended with the post was to dispel what I feel is a harmful illusion surrounding our industry—that publishing at this moment is an all-or-nothing Gold Rush. That you’re either making bonkers money, or you’re broke. Our culture is fixated on wild success versus spectacular failure—the extremes. It didn’t feel as though there were any “working-class” writers out there, talking about making a modest-to-healthy living at their jobs. (And somewhat understandably—it doesn’t sound very glamorous or sexy, set beside the overnight-success stories.) I was merely volunteering to be that person, representing the middle. And true, my career is young and this is only a snapshot of it—heck, the bottom could fall out of my genre next month. But focusing on contingencies doesn’t feel like a wise investment of my energy.

      No writer’s path will look quite like any other writer’s path. No “right way” for one person will necessarily be the right way for her neighbor. We’re all just individuals, finding our way in a land with few and unreliable maps. Talking about my journey may help some people, and you talking about yours may help others. At the end of the day, we all benefit from sharing our experiences.

      • Just Me says:

        I’d like you to talk to people who have been in the midlist for 10+ years, IF they will talk frankly to you. (Most are so scared of repercussions from editors and publishers that they won’t.) As them how many career-bombs they’ve lived through. As them how many times they looked at their quarterly earnings and cried because even though they made $80k last year, suddenly, they’re looking foreclosure in the face.

        Holly Lisle will tell you the truth. Few others will.

        You’re either on your way up, if nothing bad happens, or you’re sitting on a career-bomb and you don’t even know it. If you need $50k a year, then you’re in big financial trouble because you NEED to be saving at least 20% of your income every year against the bad times.

        Do as you please. I hope to see you on the bestseller lists. But for every one person who ends up there, ten end up with careers in ashes and had NO idea it was coming. And in publishing, you’re either rising or falling.

        There IS no “healthy working class” status as a writer. This is a HUGE delusion, one that pretty much all writers have…until the first time their career evaporates and they’re left with nothing.

        There are many, many writers who make a “healthy working-class income” for a few years. It pretty much never lasts. Up. Or down. It’s a brutal business. You have to pick one.

        • Lisa says:

          Hi JustMe,
          Am intrigued by your info. I’m waiting to hear back from agents on my first ms. Your comments have left me with questions: So, do you recommend self-pubbing once you’ve sold one or two mss to traditional publishers? Or just self-pubbing from the get-go??
          Signed, Eagerly interested in advice from all sides.

        • Victoria Dahl says:

          This is a weird view of working class. Working class isn’t a guarantee of anything in any field. Neither is middle class. In any career you can be laid off or run into serious financial troubles, especially if you’re not in a salaried position. And you’re rarely (never?) in sole control of your income or fate. So what is your point?

      • Hi there Cara,
        Thank you for writing this post and congratulations on meeting your personal financial goal *fist bump*!

        I really agree with your comment that the perception on the publishing industry is feast or famine right now. As you’ve said, who knows the truth because we don’t talk to each other about earnings. Kudos to you.

        Just Me, I’m so sorry that your hard earned experience has left you anticipating the next free fall. I am wishing you success in 2015 and the return of your backlist rights.

        IMO, Cara’s post is to the good and doesn’t imply her (or anyone else’s)career will be without downturns.

  15. Oh, man. This couldn’t have come at a better time. Two days ago, I said to a writer friend, “I just want to make an ok living at it.” Of course, I haven’t yet published dozens of awesome books (or even one), but this gives me hope, along with a very realistic perspective. Thank you so much for this. I’m sending the link along to all my fellow newbies.

  16. Christine Maria Rose says:

    Great Post Cara! I think making a living wage as an author is an amazing accomplishment with the number of authors trying to break into the romance genre in the last few years. Out of curiosity, which are your lowest and highest earning titles? I’d like to make sure I have them both :-)

    • Cara McKenna says:

      My lowest-earning title that’s been out for a decent amount of time is called Brazen—my first novella. I believe my worst selling book is Skin Game (it’s made more money than Brazen because it’s 100,000 words longer, and so costs more.) My highest earner is currently Willing Victim, though After Hours is rapidly gaining ground, despite my agent getting a cut and the royalty rate being lower. The math is squirrelly!

      • Christine Maria Rose says:

        Thanks Cara! I know I have Willing Victim and After Hours, but I’m not sure about Brazen or Skin Game – I’ll have to check my reader. One of the dilemmas of me finding new to me authors in 2014 (as you were for me) is that there is all this great backlist to catch up on, while at the same time keeping up with new releases. It’s a never ending battle (but enjoyable none-the-less).

  17. Elinor Aspen says:

    Congratulations, and THANK YOU so much for sharing this. I have amazingly similar dreams. When my job was outsourced in 2013, I had a salary in the mid-40Ks, and I hope to be able to replace it with my writing. I have been seriously pursuing it for just over a year, and I am still unpublished, but I have learned a great deal. I am a better writer than I was when I started, and I am also learning more about self-publishing. I have bookmarked this post so that I can periodically re-read it for inspiration.

  18. Jackie Horne says:

    Thanks, Cara, for your willingness to write about the last taboo. Here in the States so many of us have been socialized to believe (or at least to pretend to believe) that there are no class differences that to talk specifics about the money we earn (which would definitely reveal financial class differences) is pretty much verboten. You’re not afraid to talk about class in your books; so glad to see you tackling it here, as well. It is really really appreciated!

  19. Thanks for sharing and being so open about your experiences.

  20. Pingback: Jennifer Lohmann – The Money Report 2014

  21. Victoria Dahl says:

    Thanks from me, too, Cara. As always, you are amazing. If only you had chest hair… *sigh*

  22. Bobbie Massa says:

    I love the way you write.

  23. I’ve been mad about you since we shared cock at dinner that time in Salem. This just proves I have excellent taste. And you don’t implants for me. ;)

    Great post, thank you so much. A dose of perspective is something we all need. I feel like my approach to what my income should be ping-pongs between Miles Gloriosus in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (Stand back, I take large steps!) and Oliver (Please sir, may I have some more?)

  24. Pingback: Links: Tuesday, January 6th | Love in the Margins

  25. Sarah Wynde says:

    I had sort of hoped that this comment thread would be filled with other people talking about money, but alas. Still, I’m going to speak up on behalf of self-published “working class” writers. I started writing in 2011 and published my first book in December of that year. Right now, I’ve got four books and a short story available. In 2012, with two books out, I spent no money — I did my own covers, formatting and editing. I made about $8,000. In 2013, I earned almost $4,000. In 2014, I will have earned about $16,000. I also spent about $2000 on covers, editing, and marketing expenses. I feel like I should note that my books have gotten some great reviews — my first has over 300 five-star reviews on Amazon — and that I’m doing very well compared to most of the indie authors I know in real life. But the rumors of infinite riches in the self-publishing world seem to me to come largely from people with either extensive backlists from traditional publishing or with the same type of lottery bestseller win as traditional publishing has always had. And you can ask HM Ward about the vagaries and ups-and-downs of indie publishing — she is definitely one of the big winners, but she’s been very public about the fact that her income plummeted this summer. Indie writers are very capable of having bad years, too, with or without the help of publishers and distributors.

    Needless to say, I’d probably be doing better if I’d written as many books as you have, Cara! But since I have to edit my books, format my books, and design my covers, I have less time for writing. (Also, I’m not nearly as fast as I would like to be.) I don’t know whether this comment will ever get read. But I thought I’d share anyway, because people need the window into the indie world, too.

  26. Tigris Eden says:

    Best post of 2015! Thanks for sharing!

  27. Ann Aguirre says:

    I’ll talk money.

    I’m traditionally published. I got my first New York contract in 2007. Since then I’ve sold… 9 science fiction, 5 urban fantasy, 2 steampunk, 10 romances, 7 young adult. That’s…. 33 novels. Of those, only 1 is unwritten. So that’s 32 completed novels, 3 forthcoming in 2015, 1 in 2016 (the unwritten one).

    In 2007, I made 8K.
    In 2008, I made 17K.
    In 2009, I made 32K.
    In 2010, I made 6 figures. I’ve made over 6 figures on all tax returns since then (2011, 2012, 2013), though not always more than the year before. Variations like, 165K, 145K, 185K, etc. (I’m not trying to be coy, I just don’t remember exactly, and I’m too lazy to look it up.) I don’t have numbers for 2014, but I was busy as fuck, so I’m expecting six figures again.

    Not sure how helpful that is, but there you go.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      Thank you so much for sharing, Ann! I’ve always found you to be an uncommonly generous and frank voice in the romance community. This is just further proof that you rock.

  28. Thank you – all of you – for this thread!

    What I’m getting from Cara and Ann and everyone is that even for traditionally published writers, it’s a volume game. I understand that for the indie world – there was a NY Times article over the weekend about Kindle Unlimited and the economics of indie writers, and I certainly know many people out there doing it on their own. But it’s daunting to see how many books each of you has out there to be reaching those royalties.

    A little bit of me entertains the idea that “if only” my books were print published instead of digital, the numbers would be different – but it seems like it’s really having a lot of books that contributes to the royalty difference, not merely having print books.

    I’m at the very beginning of a career – first published in 2014 with Carina, and so far only receiving royalties on one book (the second was late in 2014 so royalties won’t come in until 2015 and the third comes out this month, so no royalties from it until summer). Like Cara, my expectations for royalties were pretty low so I’ve been pleasantly surprised – my December check was $477 when I had expected about half that, but Audible royalties were an unexpected bonus. I have to say I feel like my publisher is very organized and I understand what’s going on quite well, the royalty statement has the details I want, things like Audible royalties show up with absolutely no effort on my part, and I can see some weekly sales figures on line, etc. But with only one book paying so far, the numbers total less than $1K in 2014. No digits missing in that figure!

    My “bigger” fall sales numbers, when my second book gave a boost to the first one and Carina offered a 99 cent promo that I managed to get on BookBub, won’t be paying until next quarter. Intellectually I understand that I sold a lot more books than the 2014 royalties reflect, but I can say that people starting out shouldn’t be surprised if their first ebook with a digital publisher earns around $1K in its first year. I don’t think my experience is unusual in that respect – it’s more and more clear to me from reading posts like this that earning enough money to make a difference in my family finances is about having A LOT of books.

    My biggest challenge is writing faster and writing more. That’s it, plain and simple. I don’t think going indie would make me significantly more money, unless I wrote more/faster, and if I can do that, then I can make more with a publisher too. Going indie and writing one or two books a year seems like it wouldn’t be particularly more money, just even more work, and I do like my publisher.

    Thanks again for the reality check (and kick in the pants to write more … which I shall go off and do now).

    (And waving at Ann Aguirre and Victoria Dahl from Emerald City Writers Conference 2014 – you were both great keynote speakers!)

    • Cara McKenna says:

      Thank you for sharing, Anna, and congrats on your debut!

      Bear in mind, Ann and I are just two authors, with two experiences. While being prolific is certainly helpful, you should always respect your own flow and schedule and mental health. I’ve slowed down a lot in the last six months, because of some major life events, and I’m trying really hard not to feel guilty or panicked about it. Real life is suddenly more interesting than what my characters are up to! I’ve been so distracted some days, I’m lucky if I get 500 words written, when in the past, when writing was the most dynamic thing happening in a given week, I could manage six times that.

      I have some friends who can write 10K in a day if they’re on a tear, and that boggles my brain! I also have friends with busy lives or a more modest word flow, and they might only aim for banking 200 words on a weekday, because that’s what they can realistically handle. What I’m saying is, writing fast is all well and good, but only if it’s all well and good for a given writer. Just make sure you’re still having fun—that’s rule number one.

  29. Jessi Gage says:

    Thank you for being gauche, Cara! You SHOULD be proud.

  30. You are awesome. Thank you to all who shared. It is very frustrating to be an unpublished author and have NO clue what is possible.

  31. Nina Milne says:

    Thank you so much everyone for these posts. It gives real perspective and whilst I get its a different journey for everyone it does really help to have some actual figures. And Cara – I am in awe of you – I don’t know you but from reading this I am so stoked for you that you hit your dream goal doing something you love! Way to go!

  32. I also appreciated this post and the sharing in the comments. When I first saw it I tweeted that most authors (myself included) don’t make this much. And it’s true, most don’t make a living wage. You inspired me to add up my advances, just off the top of my head. So here they are in thousands. Since 2008.
    1. 3.5
    2. 12
    3. 12
    4. 15
    5. 15
    6. 4
    7. 6
    8. 3
    9. 10
    10. 10
    11. 2.5
    12. 10
    13. 10
    14. 1
    15. 10
    16. 10
    17. 0

    Some of these are novellas, some category romance, most full length novels. The zero is for a digital only title with no advance. I’ve made a very small amount with 2 self-pub titles (not included), like a few hundred. I’ve also made maybe 5k on royalties so far. The total is about 130k, or 22k per year.

    Just to give an idea of another working class author. Or maybe I’m a starving artist. Somewhere in between? ;) Congrats to you on meeting that goal.

  33. Oh wait. I should have divided my total by 7 years not 6, which makes it about 18k a year. Before agent fees. I’m not counting the three years I wrote before I was published either. At any rate it’s not a lot, but still more than many. I read somewhere that most authors make less than 10k/yr.

  34. Fiona McGier says:

    One son just graduated from college, and the last child is still there for another year. We had 3 in college when I first got published. I work 2 part-time jobs regularly, and do another one on-line from home when there are projects. I’ve been published for almost 6 years and have never made more than pocket change. So I have to keep working the other jobs to pay the bills.

    I don’t write menage…I don’t write M/M. I don’t write BDSM. They say to write what you know, and that’s what I do. I’ve had other writers tell me that I need to drop my prices, but I’m published by small internet pubs so I have no control over that. I don’t have the time to work on self-publishing because of my other jobs. Husband calls what I do my “hobby”, and an expensive one at that, since any promotions I do have to come out of my pocket, including paying for my website every couple of years.

    I’m not bitter. I started writing because I love to write, and it gets the voices out of my head…until other ones start up! I write what I like to read, but I seem to be in a minority. Or else I’m just not yelling loud enough to draw attention in my direction.

    When I read about folks who make so much more just writing than I do with my 3 other jobs AND my writing, I admit I do get kind of discouraged. But someday the kids will all be out of college and we can get to paying off all of the bills. Maybe we’ll get to retire, then I’ll have time to write. Until then, I squeeze it in when I can.

    And congrats to those of you who have been able to make the jump to just writing, and who manage to pay the bills with it. That’s the Holy Grail for me…my impossible dream. But if you’ve done it, then maybe?

  35. Fantastic post! Thanks, Cara!

  36. Rachel says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this info. And congrats.