This is a question I get every now and then. Now, I'm not the Stephen King of Femdom fiction or anything (Stephanie Queen?) but I'm farther along than someone who's never published for money before, and since the numbers are in for 2015, I thought sharing this data might help some first timers out.
I'm going to part the kimono and show you all my sales numbers, what prices I've charged and why, and go over some other self-publishing tips, hopefully convincing some of you potential authors to get in on the fun!
I mainly self publish on Smashwords.com. I've got some of my books on Amazon too, but even though the potential audience is a million times bigger on the Big A, my Smashwords books outsell them 100x. Don't know why. But Smashwords does seem a more welcoming gathering place for all sorts of erotica.
One nice thing about Smashwords is the sales reporting, which they report instantly and pay after each quarter of a year. Here are my numbers for the four quarters of 2015:
A couple of interesting things stand out. First, there are two high quarters and two low quarters, and they correlate to when I release my books.
Sex Powers University #2 was released on February 14th, and its sales gave a bump to the Q2 payment (the Q1 sales), of $459.86. My Sister Forced Me Into CFNM was published June 29th, and it gave a bump to the Q4 earnings (Q3 sales), of $444.87.
(Even though 'My Sister' was published before the 7-16 cutoff date of the Q3 earnings, most of the sales happened after that, rolling into the Q4 earnings. The CockSitter's Club #1, published Dec 26th 2015, will show up in early 2016's earnings.)
So that's one data point: each new book I publish causes a spike of about $200-250 in the next quarter's earnings. But much more importantly, in quarters where I DON'T publish any new books, I still have sales of around $200, from new readers just finding my old works!
This 'long tail' is what tips self-publishing from 'not worth it' to 'worth it', if you can produce quality. It's totally worth it to spend 3 months of nights and weekends making an awesome ebook, going over draft after draft even when you don't want to, making it more and more polished, if it will make you $50 every three months for the rest of your life.
(The 'long tail' is a business idea that, since electronic products cost almost nothing to stock, the real value comes not from the initial burst of sales, which a lot of authors stress over, but from the next 10 years of slow, trickle-in sales. My ebooks on Smashwords may very well sell tiny numbers for the next 100 years, long after my death. It doesn't cost me anything, it doesn't cost Smashwords anything, and if people still get joy from it, why not?)
But what does it take to create that long, somewhat dependable stream of revenue?
1. A LOT of titles.
I've got 11 ebooks on sale at Smashworks right now, so many that I can't fit my entire Smashwords dashboard into one screenshot:
|(And there's more!)|
Back a few years ago, when I only had 4-5 titles, my dependable quarterly revenue was about $75-100. If some reader suddenly finds you, and loves you, the process of them slowly buying your books in sequence is what causes that 'long tail'.
2. Quality Work
There is a LOT of free femdom fiction out there. Some of it is okay (and inspires me!) but a LOT of it is worth exactly what you pay for it: free.
I've always felt that, if you're paying for a book, it should be much, much better than all those free stories out there. What do I mean?
Well, finish the story by paying off those character arcs! If the main character starts the story with a problem, have them grow and learn something by the end! (See The Cocksitter's Club #1, or The Sissy Sort #1 for when I did this.)
Take the time to actually write out the dialogue scenes, don't just 'plot summary' over the best parts! (i.e, "The hot girls kept the boys nude all day, teasing them about their needy, erect penises constantly, in ways that would totally be super hot to hear and are the whole point of the story if I wasn't too lazy to write out an example of them right now...")
We've talked before about why Dialogue is hard, but hot. It's the soul of your characters, and many free stories skimp on it, because they're not being paid by the word. But you are.
Let's talk about prices.
My general rule has been, charge about $0.99 per 10,000 words. Sometimes I go higher, sometimes lower, but that's what I shoot for. I believe ebooks should always cost less than a paperback book. Paperbacks of 100,000 word sci-fi novels (my other vice) go for about $7-10 at Barnes and Noble. So that's why I shoot for the 30,000 word, $3.99 range.
Also, that seems to be about the length where I can stretch out and really explore the idea without losing tension or beating the premise into a dead horse. Your mileage may vary, but that's what I'd shoot for if I was a new author.
Finally, let's talk about FREE.
I believe that the first book in a series should be free. Not right away, but when the second book in a series comes out. Why? Because there is a LOT of bad erotic fiction out there. Readers have to trust you to spend money on yours.
And if you want to earn a reader's trust, first give them trust. Give them that free ebook. If you're as good as you think you are, they'll buy more. Check out the sales of my first book ever, "Gods at Eighteen #1: Kylie's story":
Yep, all of 40 people bought it when I was charging money. But after I made it free, 2691 people downloaded it! (Probably less, since for some reason folks download these books 2-3 times).
But still, that's about 1,000 readers who tried my work, because it was free! My best selling book, BTW, is the one right after that, "Gods At Eighteen #2: the Drake Cheerleaders Incident,":
So maybe 1,000 people downloaded the first free book in the series, and then I sold 163 copies of my second. That's a better deal than any advertising, marketing, or "social media" I could ever pay for. It pays to make your first book free. Do it.
(Not saying I don't want fans to talk on forums about me or do social media marketing if they feel like it. I'm just saying the kinds of social media marketing I could PAY for are dwarfed by the return on investment of making my first book free.)
But how much does it COST to be a self-published erotic author?Time, mostly. A 30,000 word ebook takes me about 3 months of nights and weekends to write, edit, edit, format, edit and edit again, if I'm doing anything else in life. Maybe one month if I focus only on the work.
That's the only cost, your time really. Smashwords and Amazon are free to list on, and covers are pretty cheap.
I don't believe starting femdom authors need to pay someone to design their covers. Just go to www.shutterstock.com and put in a search for 'sexy' and 'isolated'. The 'isolated' tag means your image will come up with a white background, and then it's pretty simple to put text to make a simple, but sexy cover that fits the tone of your book:
You can get the rights to 5 images like that on shutterstock.com for $50, which is $10/image. If you write quality work in the $3.99 range, you'll make that back in 3 sales, so yeah, not much of a cost there.
Once you become the next Stephanie Queen (payoff of joke!) you can hire someone to make you professional covers that look horrible, but if you're starting out, I say go with the simple, isolated look.
So what have we learned from all this?
I could look at those earning numbers two ways.
I could say: "I spent all year writing femdom fiction and all I got from it was a lousy $1,345.90! I'm so pissed- that's not even a minimum wage job!"
OR I could say: "Holy shit! I just got paid $1,345.90 to do something I love, that I would probably do for free anyway, and that hundreds of people really enjoy! Life is awesome!"
I choose the second path, and any author that wants to make it has to as well. This is a hobby, one that I love, but would do less of without that financial incentive. The fact that I can get paid anything at all is bonus, and those dollars cover the cost of covers and force me to do that fifth editing/rewriting pass that I really hate but still do, because if people are paying me money for this, I'm going to make the best product I can!
I hope any aspiring erotic/femdom authors got something out of seeing my earning numbers for 2015, and if you want me to do this again in 2016, let me know!
(We'll see what affect releasing a new Sex Powers University Episode every month for the first six months of the year has on earnings. For those looking for an update, the first draft of SPU 3.1 just got done this week, and now I begin the horrible but necessary process of cutting the fat out of the story. Five. Times. In. A. Row.)
**EDIT 3/20/16** Doing taxes on self-published writing income BLOWS. Make sure you save receipts of any possible writing related expenses, or you'll lose about HALF of your income to taxes. BLOWS.
**END OF EDIT**