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.
- 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 an easier sell than to people who don’t read a subject so much. I’m not telling you to write to market, but it’s clear that finding the right readers for your book is the crucial element to success.
- 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. It’s more affordable (and justifiable to the budget) to pay $9.99 a month and read to their heart’s content. (NOTE: There are many successful indie authors who distribute their books wide, but most consensus is to publish on Amazon and in KU as a new author. When you get the fans, you can go wide).
- Packaging makes a difference. My Valentine Mystery series got all new ebook covers (and shortly will have new print covers) so I could better target romance readers, who were 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).
Marketing your book is different when you are brand new than when you already have a book or two or three under your belt. So in this article I’ll 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. 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.
Create a FB and Instagram page with your author name. Publish tidbits of writing, things you’ve learned in your research, and other topics readers of your genre would be interested in. Consider creating a website and email list. You need to do it soon, so why not start now?
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.
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 of 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. You need to do the same. A website and social profiles are the equivalent to having a baseball field in the cornfield. You need to get people to come visit you. That won’t happen 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:
- Sell books
- Build community
Selling books is first because that’s your ultimate goal. But in reality, building community is the best way to achieve that. 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 taking 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 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…
- 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.
- 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
- Start a Facebook 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.
- 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 the place to be unless you can prove your reader isn’t on Facebook. After that, think of other places your reader hangs out 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:
- 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.
- Giveaway programs such as Bookfunnel or Prolific Works offer an easy way to build your list while helping others build their list as well.
- 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.
- 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 however 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. I’ve heard lately they’re not as good, but the woman I’m hiring to be my new PA insists that with the right group, they work well. 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. I recently had a book marketing specialist tell me they’d never met an author that didn’t have success with 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:
- Evaluate your results regularly. Data is your friend. It’s what will tell 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.
- 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.
So, where I’m I spending my time?
I currently have 12 books published (plus a novella), with new releases in May and August.
For the last year or so, I’ve been focused mostly on building my list, which I do mostly through social media and Bookfunnel giveaways. When I’m at events, I have a paper on a clipboard where people can sign up for my list as well.
I ran FB ads for nearly year, but stopped because results weren’t as great as I’d hoped. With that said, I recently started a new ad for my next release. I’ve also been looking at trying Amazon ads.
I’ve just hired a new PA who tells me her other clients are having success with FB takeovers and Bookbub, so I’ll be making room for that. But as I add a new strategy, I take my baseline stats so I can know what new efforts are making a difference.
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?