Here's the thing with the authors writing a book a month and claiming to be making thousands. Some of them are doing both, and some of that is perfectly legit. Some is questionable.
Writing a book a month isn't out of line for a prolific author. I was writing two a month for a while, and working a full time job. How? They weren't long books, for one thing. We're talking 40K average. And they were in a series, so I had my background and character profiles done for the town. I had ongoing storylines to guide me along. Siren wanted certain things in each book because that's what sold. That's what their readers wanted. And the owner was savvy enough to understand that and demand it from her exclusive authors. And she was right. As long as I didn't stray from that, the books sold well. Siren isn't the only publisher like this. And from a marketing standpoint, it's not a terrible business model. Readers, after all, drive the sales. Without them, it wouldn't matter what your authors wrote. If they didn't sell, you would soon be out of business.
But it was brutal on me. And it didn't take long for me to hate it. I didn't want to write that way. I never have wanted to write that way. While I understand from a marketing perspective there is a large audience out there who is fine reading the same old book, as long as there's hot sex in it, over and over again, it wasn't what I wanted to spend my time doing. I was forcing the writing, and if you read those books, it shows. At least I believe it does. Because I know I'm capable of much better stories.
When I started writing for Evernight, and launched the third pen name - Ravenna Tate - I slowed down to give my muse freer reign. The thing with these digital first publishers whose primary sales come from erotic romance is that they each have a distinct set of readers, with slightly different expectations. Evernight didn't have exclusive authors, so I was able to write different kinds of stories. Some sold, some did not. But when I wrote something I knew might not be as popular with readers, I also knew going in it was a gamble. The thing is, for me, it's always been about writing what I want to write. Not what I know will get me sales. Writing a book a month wasn't difficult when I was doing it the way I wanted to do it. It took every spare moment I had, but I kept it up for a long time because it made me happy to write the stories.
At least in the erotic romance sub-genre, a lot of the negative connotations associated with a formula have come about because there are many authors in that sub-genre, both with digital first publishers and self publishing, who write the same book, over and over again. Why some of those authors continue to sell so well is a mystery to me. Because for most of them, the writing is not good. It's boring. It's predictable. The books are riddled with mistakes. I can't even read some of them, I'm sorry to say. There's no spark to pull me in, because it's the same story from them that I've read dozens of times already. But there is an audience for it, and like I said, I don't know why. I have my theories, but I'm trying not to be too unkind here so I'll keep them to myself.
After I grew tired of banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out those points above, I stopped giving a hoot why and wrote what I wanted to write, regardless of who might like it or not. Of course, there's no real money in that. And because I'm now experimenting with trying my hand at other genres, it's a whole new ballgame for me.
Now we come to the questionable side of this coin. The authors who game the system and spend beaucoup bucks on advertising, all with the intention of climbing the lists on Amazon. The higher up you can position your book, the more likely you are to sell. It's a numbers game, and they have learned how to work it. They teach others how to do it. Does the writing matter? To a point. Again, there is an audience of readers out there who don't like to work too hard to read a book. They want easy, fast-paced stories they can get through in an hour or less. Yes. They read those 30K, 40K, 50K books that quickly. That's why someone who writes like me, with, you know... actual plots and twists and turns, was never a superstar. My books are not quick or easy to read. You actually have to concentrate. You have to know big words. You have to appreciate subtleties.
Not to mention I am not going to spend hard-earned money to game a system and take a gamble like that. No thank you. I've been in enough Facebook groups and classes where this is what they teach people to do to know it's all bullshit in the end. But it's how the self-publishing game is played, and it's out of control. It's not for me.
I know a lot of authors. Mostly romance authors, but some who write outside the genre. Of the romance authors I know, most of them also write erotic romance, but not all of them do. The ones making enough money to live on I can count on one hand. Of those, only one isn't gaming the system. She's simply clueless about anything except writing what she's told to write, over and over again. For reasons I will never understand her books sell well. The others are playing the numbers game. And they can have it, thank you very much. Because one day when Amazon crashes and burns because of all the crap going on over there, those authors will be caught up in the mess.
Most US agents won't even take romance anymore because the market has become a self-publishing numbers game, and it's not profitable for them to try to sell a book to a publisher. Everything has changed, and not for the better. The romance writers who have been around longer than a couple of decades, and are still writing and selling, are doing all right. But aside from authors like Nora Roberts, the days of the superstar romance writers who have agents and whose books first come out in hardback or mass market paperback are long gone.
I've had 95 titles published under three pen names. Of those, 82 are still out there selling, meaning the rights have not reverted to me yet. I have no plans to take those books whose rights I now own and self publish them. I could, but the idea of it makes me break out in hives. I do no marketing anymore. None. If I did, I might sell a few more books, but probably not a large amount. At the height of me all over social media and spending money on advertising, it never made that much of a dent in sales. I make roughly $150 a month in royalties off those 82 titles without doing a thing to sell the books. At the height of my sales about five years ago, before the market took a huge downturn in terms of sales across the board, I was averaging $1500 a month. But to keep that up, I would have had to work like a fiend and get to the point where I was the one writing the exact same thing, over and over again. I chose not to.
I know one author who is a decent writer, and who was selling very well around that time I spoke of in the paragraph above. She kept working like a fiend even when her sales plummeted along with everyone else's. But even her books a few years ago starting sounding exactly the same. It was the only way she could keep up and sell books as well. She works her ass off, cranking out two books a month for Siren, plus books under another pen name that she self-publishes. She's gone her own way a few times, too, and the sales have tanked. She's been published longer than I have, and she's very popular, but she still has trouble living off her royalties. She has over 200 titles out there. And like I said, this author can actually write well.
Writing is hard work. We all know that. Getting published is hard work. But staying there, and writing what readers want, is equally difficult. Even when you do, it's no guarantee of income. I think we look at people like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, who have built empires, and think that's how it is for anyone who sits down to write a book. Not true. Not even close. Am I knocking them or others? No. Absolutely not. They wrote the right books, at the right time, for the right audience. They have the talent to tell stories that people want to read. And they each got into this industry at times when the stars aligned just right.
Am I trying to discourage anyone who wants to try their hand at romance? Absolutely not. Go for it. But please understand it's not an "easy" genre to write, and it's definitely not a get rich quick scheme. I don't think anything in writing is either easy or a guaranteed money maker.