Tips on Becoming a Profitable Romance Author

Tips on Becoming a Profitable Romance Author

Updated December 2023

I received the following question through the WWH Weekly Call topic list and thought I’d answer it here as well.

Ugh. I just did taxes, as a first year romance author. I looooovvveeee this business, but I’m wondering if I can really make a profit and how. I work a full time job so 2021 I did All. The. Things. Because I could afford to, I tried everything, bought everything, advertised the heck out of everything. Now for 2022 I’m pulling back, focusing on the things I found that work and not spending money on things that don’t in terms of marketing my books. So I’m writing my second series now, and sifting through my data to find where to get the most bank for (budgeted) marketing dollars. I guess my question is, what are some tips to becoming profitable as a romance author?

This is the million-dollar question. Like this author, I’ve done all the things and have watched while other authors who started after me zoom (or so it seemed) to the top of the bestseller list, making money hand over fist. Why is that? What were they doing?

Before I get into tips to becoming profitable, or at least making more than you spend, here are a few things you need to consider.

  1. There is a reason most self-pub programs tell you to write to market. Some go as far as to tell you to write spicy or clean (apparently nothing in between) romance. Writing what people are devouring is, theoretically, an easier sell than to people who don’t read a subject so much. However, I’m not telling you to write to market, because sometimes chasing the sale by writing something that you’re not passionate about has it’s own problems. But it is clear that finding the right readers for your book is the crucial element to success.
  2. There is a reason most publishing gurus tell you to be in Kindle Unlimited, especially if you’re a romance writer. Romance readers are voracious. They read more than they could possibly afford if they had to pay retail. Many of these readers consume 2 or 3, maybe more books a week. Sometimes a day! It’s more affordable (and justifiable to the budget) to pay $9.99 a month and read to their heart’s content. However, while KU can be a good option for new authors, or for a 90-day release period, there are many authors who do well with wide distribution or selling directly from their websites.

So why am I giving you contradictory information? Because when it comes to success, to a certaint extent you’ll have find your own sweetspot based on your goals and readers.

What we do know it that there are two things you definitely need:

  1. A book readers love. Today, the ginormous sales of books is due in large part to readers telling others about your book and all of them loving it enough to tell more readers. This is how Colleen Hoover, Elle Kennedy, Lucy Score and others have found success.
  2. Packaging makes a difference. Covers are the first thing readers see when considering your book. It needs to appeal to them, giving them a message that your book offers what they want. My Valentine Mystery series got all new covers because I wanted to better target romance readers, who are a better fit for the books than mystery readers (because I include sexy bits!). The same cover artist did both (see below). Same interior, but totally different vibe, right? It’s important that you think of your cover as a marketing tool. Here is my take on how readers choose books. Authors they love then, with new or unknown authors: Genre > Tropes > Cover > Blurb > Reviews (often checking the lower ones first).

Deadly Valentine

Tips on Becoming a Profitable Romance Author

Okay, so now you have a sense of what you’ll right and for whom, the importance of a good story, and an appealing cover. Let’s move on to making money!

Marketing your book is different when you are brand new than when you already have a book or two or three under your belt. Let’s start with new authors (first book) and novice authors (have books but are still growing).

Marketing for New Authors

If you build it and put it on Amazon, the readers still may not come…even in KU. It’s crucial that new authors start marketing as soon as possible BEFORE publishing your book.

If you’re still writing, start talking about your book.

There are two advantages to starting your marketing now;

1) You develop a system and habit of maintaining your platforms (social media, website, email etc), so it’s easier to incorporate more marketing tasks later. You don’t want to do all the things at the same time your book is launching.

2) You have a group of people ready to buy your book when it publishes.

Learn who your readers are and where they hang out.

When it comes time to market your book, you need to reach out to these people so figuring out who they are and where you can find them is important. Follow authors that write in the same genre (social media, website/blog, email etc). This will not only help you get ideas for what you can do with your fans, but also, you can meet and learn about their readers…who are your readers too. CAUTION: Don’t promote yourself on other author’s platforms unless they say it’s okay.

Figure out the best place to find your readers, and create a profile. Publish tidbits of writing, things you’ve learned in your research, and other topics readers of your genre would be interested in.

Build your platforms and invite people to visit.

We’re back to that “if you build it, they will come” concept. It doesn’t work except in A Field of Dreams. In the real world, Ray would have had to go out and tell the world about his baseball field in a cornfield.

Of course, first he needed his baseball field, which you do to in the form of a website and email list.

But next, you need to find people to invite to your cornfield…or in this case, website and email list. People won’t come by cosmic magic of Shoeless Joe Jackson. You need to go out and find readers where they are, and invite them to join you at your place. This leads us to two goals in marketing:

  1. Sell books
  2. Build community

Selling books is first because that’s your ultimate goal. But it’s transactional; one person, one sale. What happens with your next book? You’re starting from scratch again. This is were building a community is your best bet. Sure you may get people who accidentally find you on Amazon and buy, but most successful authors (the big money makers) are making their money from existing readers buying new releases. They got those existing readers by creating places for the readers to come visit them and giving them a reason to stay. These authors stay actively involved with their readers so that when a new book comes; the readers are ready to buy.

The challenge of building a community is that you need to give readers a reason to want to follow you (i.e. a free novella or other romance-related freebie) and continue to give them things (entertainment, fun, and books) so they keep on following you. This is the equivalent of the slow burn romance (sorry, changing metaphors). It takes time to woo them, but when you do, they’re loyal and loving!

Think of it this way; some of the most successful romance writers have 20,000 to 100,000 email subscribers on their list. When they have a release, how many people do you think buy when they get an email on the new release? Probably not all 20k to 100k but I bet it’s more than anyone who doesn’t have a list, except Nora Roberts and her ilk. If only a thousand to five thousand bought, that would still be a lot. A $3.99 Kindle book, would earn (@2.99 profit/book) $2,990 to $14,950. If they’re KU readers, the earnings come through page reads. Two-hundred and fifty page reads over 1000 people would earn approximately $1,100. However, consider that more people may grab the KU version, which could lead to more downloads than if the book was purchased, in which case, you’d earn more. With a single email, these authors are making $2,500 and more.

So, I’ve taken the long route to say that you want to think beyond book sales and instead in terms of building a community of readers around you. You want to give them something they want and to engage with them regularly, and when book releases happen, they’ll be there to buy.

What is a community?

Community is where you readers can congregate to hang out with each other and you based around the writing you do. There are basically two ways to build a reader community and you should consider both.

The email list is crucial since you have readers’ email addresses. When a reader give you an email address, that’s a bigger commitment and show of support than a simple follow on social media. However, you can build a group on Facebook, Discord, or some other place where readers can engage with you (you could build your own reader group here on Write With Harte!).

So how do you find people to join  your community?

If you have ZERO readers, followers, fans…

  1. Create something readers in your genre would like. Ideally it’s a book or novella you’ve written, but it can be something else as long as it’s something your target market (the people who read your type of book) reads.
  2. Create an email list. This is a big topic. I have a link to an article here to tell you more about email and how you can use it to become a profitable author. Put the email list sign up on a website, blog, FB page or other place you can tell people where to get it. Note that Aweber has an easy way to make a landing page so you don’t need to build another site. You can get a free trial of Aweber here
  3. Start a Facebook or Discord group under your author name and invite people to join. Consider making it private and offer some extra stuff you don’t share elsewhere. It will make it seem more exclusive.
  4. Pick a limited number of places to hangout on social media. You can’t be everywhere all the time and tryin to do so will lead to burnout and lower results. Facebook, for all its faults, is a good place to be unless you can prove your reader isn’t on Facebook. IOf course, if your reader is under 35 years old or younger, TikTok is a prime location. After that, think of other places your reader hangs out to learn or talk about romance books, and decide if you can actively maintain participation on the platform. The active participation is important. If your reader is on TikTok but you can’t stay consistent on the platform, maybe that’s not the place for you or you need to figure out how to you can be consistant.

Once you have your “ball field” in place, it’s time to get people to visit you:

  1. Ads aren’t free but can be effective at quickly building a community if you have offers readers like and you can effectively target those readers.
  2. Giveaway programs such as Bookfunnel or  Prolific Works offer an easy way to build your list while helping others build their list as well.
  3. As your email list grows, do newsletter swaps, where you tell your readers about another author and they tell their readers about you. You’ll need to swap with lists that are a similar size to yours. If you have 1000 subscribers, you’ll swap with someone in the same genre with around 1000 subscribers. There are Facebook groups that have authors who want to swap, or use Bookfunnel or Bookclicker.
  4. Tell your friends and family to share with others they think would be interested in what you’re doing.

There are more ideas in the email email article posted here

For first-time authors (first book coming out):

  • Continue to build your list and community how ever you’ve done it before (as long as it’s working).
  • Join Bookbub and start keeping it updated with your books and asking your community to follow you. It’s free to have a Bookbub profile and its where many romance readers keep track of what they read and their favorite authors.
  • Be a guest. Go on podcasts and guest blog. Try to focus on outlets that target your reader, not other writers. This is a great way to share your new book and even better, it’s free.
  • Takeover events. I did a lot of takeovers when I started and many of my fans came from it. These are free and can be really fun.
  • Run ads. Successful authors I know run ads nearly all the time. But for a new author on a budget, consider running your ad during your presale and a few days after launch. Ads more than anything can jack up your sales if you don’t have a large community of readers. If you have been building a BookBub following and have around 1000 followers, try to get a Bookbub ad.

For novice authors:

If you’ve already been doing the above and other tasks to market your books, you’ll want to start first by looking at the results of your efforts. Did the FB ad bring new subscribers or sales? Is your Facebook group engaged and if not, is it because you need to be more interesting? Is your email list responsive? If your list has a low open rate all around (17% or less) and/or low click through rate or high unsubscribes, then you’ll want to figure out why.

As you grow your author business, there are two things you need to do to make the big bucks:

  1. Evaluate your results regularly. Data is your friend. It’s what will tell you what’s working and what isn’t. However, if something isn’t working, consider tweaking or assessing why. Maybe you need to make a simple change to get results. So don’t abandon a strategy without determining if you can make it work.
  2. Keep on top of new trends in book marketing. Things that worked last year, may not work this year. There might be a brand new service or idea (i.e. BookTok) that you should consider. Staying active in author marketing resources, especially romance ones, will help you keep on top of what is working and not working for others. Note, that you can’t do all the things, but you may need to shift and change as time goes on, but you need to use your data to help you decide when and what to change.

Think Outside the Box

Recently, Amazon messed up payments to its authors. If you hang out with authors on social media, you may come across authors who’ve been banned for reasons they don’t understand from Amazon.

One of the challenges of making a living as an author is that you rely on Amazon and/or other retailers to sell your books. But things have been changing and more and more authors are taking advantage of alternative ways to reach readers. Regardless of if you’re new, struggling, or successful, you should consider diversifying your book distribution and how you engage with readers through options such as:

Direct sales (setting up your own storefront)

Subscription (e.g. Ream or Patreon)

Serials (e.g. Vella, Radish, etc)

To learn more, check out 12 New and Emerging Opportunities for Romance Authors


So, where I’m I spending my time?

I spend much of my time building my email list, which I do mostly through social media and Bookfunnel giveaways and occasional swaps (set up through Bookfunnel). When I’m at events, I have a paper on a clipboard and a QR code where people can sign up for my list as well.

I run ads off and on. They don’t seem to do as well as they used to, so they’re something that needs to be monitored daily. I usually run ads when I have something new or want to re-introduce book one when a later book in the series is coming out.

I spent this year doing a ton of FB takeovers. They were a blast and did increase my subscribers and following. I don’t necessarily see it reflected in my sales though.

For 2024, I’m refocusing my time with my reader group and street team, building a subscription income option, as well as selling wide and direct. This requires me to make some shifts in marketing which includes spending more time with my reader group and offering cool stuff, and restarting blogging.

I have also hired PR help who is assisting me in getting books out to reviewers and influencers. Admittedly, after nearly 8 months, I’m not seeing the results I’d hoped for.

Writing a book is hard, but selling it is harder (I think). It’s important to see author success as a marathon. It might look like some authors hit the bullseye on first try, but even those who say they were shot to success will tell you they were working hard on all the things until the one thing bumped them to the next level. The question you have to figure out is the “one thing” that will propel you to the next level?

What are your current marketing strategies? Please share here and in the Marketing and Promotion group here at Write with Harte.

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