Although I don’t try to make my living through my writing, I consider myself a professional author. The Internal Revenue Service agrees. Every year for the last decade and a half, I’ve dutifully tallied up my royalties, subtracted my expenses, and reported my income on Schedule C.
Every year, I’ve managed to make a small profit—until 2017. When I finished the computations for this past year, I discovered that for the first time ever, my writing business is in the red. I spent more on promotion and publicity than I received from sales.
Strangely, I’m not upset by this. For one thing, I know that independent authors everywhere are seeing their incomes decline. Plus I haven’t had as many releases as I’d like, mostly due to outside demands on my time.
Also, I realize that I’ve been less than frugal in my expenditures. For instance, I spent over $200 on gift certificates and books used as prizes for my fans and blog followers. What can I say? I get joy from giving things to people who take the trouble to read my stuff. Next year I plan to cut back on this. I’ll offer free books that don’t cost me anything as prizes where I can. I will also reconsider some of my advertising choices. This past year I devoted quite a bit of cash to promoting two major releases. It’s not at all clear that the costs justified the benefits. I’m sure that with more judicious management of my funds, I can turn my red ink to black in 2018.
The main reason I’m not depressed, though, is that I’m having more fun writing than I have in years. My main difficulty is finding the time to write, given my real world responsibilities. When I do manage to sit down with a work in progress, my stories seem to flow—perhaps not effortlessly, but with far less friction than a few years ago. I’m writing in a variety of styles, each one aimed at a different audience. My intuitions are stronger. I revel in my sense of control over my craft. I’m not sure whether my readers would agree, but I feel as though I’ve become significantly more skilled as a writer.
I’ve moved almost entirely to self-publishing. Why not? The work I’ve released in the past through established publishers has never done particularly well, and I have sufficient editing and graphics skills to either do things myself or barter for editing and art services. Of course, the profits are higher on self-published books, as well, and the turnaround time a lot faster.
Meanwhile, I can now write what I want, even if my books don’t fit neatly into the established genre categories. I find this freedom truly exhilarating.
No longer do my lusty heroines need to restrict themselves to only one lover—even if they ultimately end up in a committed “romantic” relationship. No longer do I need to worry that an editor will object to my mixing lesbian or gay or even transgender content in with straight sex. I can write dark sex, taboo sex, silly sex, or deeply meaningful sex, depending on my mood. Not every reader will be comfortable with my erotic visions, but that’s okay. At least what I’m producing now is genuine, not a compromise based on genre “rules”.
I never planned to be an author. When I published my first novel, almost as a lark, I didn’t expect I’d become addicted to the thrill of sharing my fantasies with the world. Sure, the money is nice, a concrete validation of my talent, but the real payoff is the occasional rapturous reader email or breathlessly enthusiastic review.
I can’t afford to treat writing as an expensive hobby. If I started to lose a lot of money, I’d have to stop. As long as I can break even, though—or close—I’ll do it for the joy.
(My latest releases, in case you’re interested, are Butterfly: Asian Adventures Book 4, and Hot Brides in Vegas. The former is romantic literary erotica with a transgender theme. The latter is a light-hearted, smutty romp with very little redeeming social value, set in the world of swingers created by Larry Archer.)