I’ve thought long and hard about this blog post, whether I should or shouldn’t write it. It’s one of those posts that you should only write when you’re past the point of caring, and that’s pretty much where I am with my writing career right now.
You may note a lot has gone missing from my blog again. All previous posts except for The Story because…well, it’s the truth. It happened. To delete it would feel like I was backing down, and I stand by my accusations. Plenty of people have asked who “Erika” is, and I’ve told them behind the scenes.
My non-self-published buy links above, they’re all gone, too. I can’t do anything about completely deleting my books with a publishing house until they’re out of contract, and that’s a decision I don’t have to make yet. They still exist, I’ve just removed them from my ‘books by’ list. Why not delete my self-published books from existence, as I have control of them? Hmm. A huge step, and I’m still swithering, to use a Scottishism.
I did have shit written under another pen name (pure erotica, not romance) which I have deleted in its entirety from the internet. That other pen name’s stories are all gone, its newsletter has been deleted, even their email account has been deleted. Kaput. My other self has committed internet suicide.
Why this need to minimise my online presence? The same old, same old, which I’ve been fighting against mentally for years now. Every so often I’ll give myself a good talking-to, determine that I’m going to get back in the game, get fired up, write write write, and…and I fail miserably.
What’s my definition of failure? What do I want out of writing? Well, ideally, I’d like to be able to be self-supporting through writing and before anyone says, “Now, Scarlett, don’t you think you’re being a bit entitled?” bear in mind, I live in a relatively inexpensive city, and due to the fact I am childfree with no debt, car finance, mortgage, loans or credit cards, I could live quite comfortably on approximately £200 per week.
Yes, I am prepared to talk money in this blog post. Approximations of what I’d like to earn, and the exact figures of what I actually do.
Given how long it takes to write, edit and format a novel, I don’t think around £200 a week is too much to ask. The minimum wage in this country is £7:20 per hour, so that weekly payout would equate to just under twenty-eight hours’ work. Am I willing to put in twenty-eight hours of work every single week, no holidays, to support myself? Yep. Does the payoff in erotic romance epublishing justify that? Nope.
(And if anyone out there fancies knocking me for “entitlement”, don’t bother. I don’t think wanting to work to keep a roof over my head and food on the table is “entitlement”; I think it’s desiring a fair exchange of sustenance for my labour.)
Let’s look at it the other way around. Instead of saying, “If I put in X amount of hours a week, I don’t think X number of pounds in return is unreasonable,” let’s ask, “How much money have you earned for the number of words written and hours spent doing so, Scarlett?”
Well, I was first published in May 2010 and I’m not going back seven and a half years and across four different publishers. I simply do not have the inclination to go raking through that many royalties statements and converting each one into the same currency. So for convenience’s sake, we’ll look at the figures for my self-published books, which are all available in one place:
Last night I converted each figure in the ‘Total Royalty’ column into both US dollars and GB pounds to give totals in each currency, which means since November 2014, I have earned, from books totalling around 350,000 words…
$640.65, or in pounds, £480:68.
In three years.
If we take a standard typing speed of 1k words per hour, not counting editing and formatting as well, we’re talking just shy of five hundred pounds, across three years, for 350 hours’ work. (Twelve and a half weeks’ worth, if we go back to that standard working week of twenty-eight hours. Imagine working for twelve and a half weeks and having to wait three years before you’re paid, and even then only receiving £480 or $640.)
Okay, I’m maybe stretching my hypothetical working week example there, but you can imagine how disheartening that is. Especially when you take into consideration the fact that I’ve spent more than that on computers, tech, software, pens and paper. I’m effectively in the red when it comes to writing fiction. Instead of being paid for my work, I’m paying out.
Now, if it’s a hobby, something folk do for fun, that’s fair enough, but it was always my intention that writing should pay its own way, otherwise, I’d be out of pocket and would be as well finding something more useful to do with my time. I’ve got bills to pay, after all, and I have on numerous occasions, taken jobs outside the home to get those bills paid. Every hour I spend writing for free, is basically an hour’s wage lost.
But, to actually see those figures written down, in my own handwriting, actually had me questioning what I’m doing with my life and whether or not I should even be writing at all.
The other night, a friend of mine who is a superbly talented writer informed me she had just deleted all of her books from Amazon Kindle. Why? Pretty much the same reasons I’ve discussed above. Discouragement. No return on investment.
Also a growing sense that Kindle Unlimited (the monthly subscription reading service) was fucking over authors.
And I can’t say I disagree with her.
So why are my self-published books in that scheme? I wanted to see how they’d do, whether my money would come from sales or page reads. Today, though, I terminated the automatic renewal for my books, so starting next month, my books will start to drop out of Kindle Unlimited and only be available for sale, not borrowing. (That’s if I don’t decide to delete them completely.)
When Kindle Unlimited first started out, there was a flat ‘fee’ Amazon paid authors, each time one of their books was borrowed. It varied, but usually hovered around the dollar forty mark. Each time a Kindle Unlimited subscriber borrowed one of your books, you’d get around a dollar and forty cents. Approximately 85p in ‘real’ money. 😉
The trouble was, people got wise to the fact that you were paid the same flat rate whether your book was a novel, a novella, a short story, or barely a few pages long. People started to release serialised fiction, novels chopped up into individual chapters. Why get a buck forty for a novel borrowed as a whole, when you could release each section as a separate book and get a dollar forty for each chapter as it was borrowed, right?
That’s why, a few years ago, Amazon Kindle was flooded with serialised fiction, each chapter cutting off abruptly. That’s because they were novels, literally hacked to pieces by their authors, and published chapter by chapter, instead of all in the one volume.
Amazon eventually got wise to this and said it wasn’t fair that short story writers were paid the same as novelists. They wanted to discourage people from publishing sliced-up novels and calling them serials or series.
I find it difficult to argue with this reasoning.
Trouble is, the way Amazon dealt with it screwed us all over. Instead of being paid by the borrow, authors would now be paid per page read. Approximately half a cent per page.
A 300-page novel would now earn an author a dollar and a half – but only if the whole book was read. And if you wrote a short story of, say, 50 pages, you’d only earn 25c.
Yep, you read that right. Twenty-five cents.
Kindle books started going the other way. Instead of slicing up novels like they were rationed pieces of cake, authors (and groups of authors) started page-stuffing. They’d display the blurb for their book, and advertise it as being “now with some added material” – other stories they’d written which may previously have been released on their own. Some ebooks now are well over 1,000 pages long.
“But how can that be gaming the system, Scarlett?” you may well ask. Little tricks, like putting the table of contents at the back of the book so that when a reader clicks on the ToC link, they’re taken to the end of the book and their Kindle registers as having just read well over a thousand pages, instantly. Boom. The author gets paid for a thousand pages read, even though you haven’t read a thing. Like flipping to the last page of a book in Waterstones to ensure the author gets paid the cover price, even if you haven’t even looked inside the book yet.
What else? Well, I used to be a member of a writers’ forum which I soon discovered was basically an internet circle jerk. Writers would post to say they had just released a book, could everyone go download it, flip to the end, then return the book, to bump up their apparent pages read, thank you and goodnight.
Writers would group together for anthologies, churning out what was effectively porn, even their own old stories with some names changed, or genders flipped, just to get those page reads. Several members got their KDP accounts suspended for not playing by Amazon’s rules.
Let me tell you this – many authors out there? They’re not authors. They’re groups of authors, who take it in turns to write quick short stories, page-stuffing with recycled, old manuscripts with the ToC at the back, and extracts from their own individual books to pad the page count.
If I protested, dared to say that it didn’t seem like anyone was bothered about improving their writing any more, a popular saying was “Look to your own paper.” In short, learn to game the system, mind your own business, or shut up.
So I left the website, disillusioned.
Let people do what they want to do, right? In theory, you’d say that, but Amazon got wise to what was happening and started restricting what authors could publish, the keywords they could use, even how much they were paid.
Yes, really. They started to suspect there were a lot of scams going on in the self-publishing world, so to “punish” authors, almost, Amazon started dropping the rate of pay per page-read. Blocked more folk from publishing on their site at all. Some were blocked justifiably, but many authors I’ve spoken to have been dinged by Amazon simply by mistake. Genuine authors who are only trying to make a living have fallen through the net. To mix my metaphors, sometimes Amazon throws the baby out with the bathwater. They’re so keen to get rid of the scam artists that genuine authors with good intentions get punished for the sins of the scammers.
Of course, that’s not the sole reason I’m disillusioned with publishing, lately. It doesn’t help, but it’s not the only reason. There are writers out there who make a living, and deservedly so, but the more writers who self-publish, the harder it is to promo, to gain any traction, because it seems like it’s becoming more and more difficult to be heard. Rightly or wrongly, people often judge erotic romance as being formulaic and when there are people (mentioned above) trying to game the system, it’s difficult to know what one has to do to stand out. Writing a book that’s as good as you can make it? But of course. You also, however, have to get it noticed.
Maybe my books are just shite, huh? 😉 I hope not. I think my writing’s good. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But when it comes to promo, honestly? I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. In the past I’ve tried blog tours, social media, interviews, asking for reviews, and I get nowhere.
There are authors I’ve spoken to privately, who have said they’re in much the same situation financially, and while I won’t name names to protect their privacy, it’s actually shocking to me, how many talented, fresh, original authors feel like they’re at the point of jacking it all in. I was nervous of posting the screenshot above, but probably not as nervous as one writer was when she confessed to me that in the same time period, she’d made approximately one third of my earnings.
No-one is owed a set amount of money, of course not. I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is, that it might not be cost-effective to spend weeks, even months, writing a novel, and to receive only a few dollars for that novel. If you look upon it as a hobby, a way of expressing oneself creatively, that’s great. But if your time could be better spent elsewhere if your main concern is making a living, then…for me, anyway, erotic romance just isn’t worth it. Would you spend hours each week working in an office if you knew your boss could turn around and say, “I only feel like giving you ten quid this month,” ?
When I started out writing (seriously, I mean, really knuckling down with the aim of getting published) I had both hope, and a sense of fun. These days, I’ve seen behind the curtain, the mechanics of how it works and…well, I’m wondering if it’s really for me.
And you never know. It might actually be a relief to find something else to do with my time. Because sometimes you can work really, really hard towards a goal, and realise you were playing the wrong game all along.