Pulling Back the Curtain

Pulling Back the Curtain

I'm often asked how "things" are going with my writing career and, to be honest, I'm never sure how to answer.

I generally give a vague mention of books sold, then launch into an upbeat speech about all the great friends I've made around the world, the amazing reviews I've gotten and how much I enjoy writing.

But that's not really the whole story. Because, while I'm incredibly grateful for the friends and the reviews that have kept me going in these last months, those numbers—book sold, dollars earned—they mean something. I'm not looking to get rich off my writing, but if I am to continue pouring my time and money into publishing novels, I do, ultimately need to build a sustainable author business that pays for itself. And in the long term, I need to make a small profit to contribute to my family's coffers.

But what can one expect when launching an out-of-the-box indie historical romance career? There are simply too many variables, and too many unknowns to build any kind of solid business plan. One is left to weed through all the conflicting advice out there, choose what seems right, and experiment. Throw spaghetti at the wall, and see what sticks.

And that's what I've done. Six months of spaghetti throwing.

I'm not going to lie, it's been frustrating.

Mostly because I'm a numbers person. I thrive on data. For years, I worked at a $60 million business, managing pricing, budgets, margins, inventory and strategic goals. Working blindly with no guideposts, no history and no data was, and is, frankly, terrifying.

So, though it feels a bit like stripping naked front of a crowd, I've posted my numbers, and the story behind them, below. This is for anyone out there thinking of taking the same plunge I did—so you don't have to make the same mistakes—and for those readers who are curious what might actually be going on behind all those pretty, upbeat promo posts on social media.

Hint: the numbers aren't that pretty, at least mine aren't. Not by a long shot.
Before I dive in, a few points of information:
  1. I've chosen to be a "wide" author in a genre that is heavily tilted toward Kindle Unlimited. Enrolling in KU would probably make me more money, but it would also mean that I'd be barred from selling my ebooks on other platforms, including libraries. And I believe strongly that my books, and my readership, should be as inclusive as possible.

  2. I don't write to market, or to trend. This is another conscious decision that's probably holding back my sales numbers. I don't troll TikTok for the most popular hooks, then embed them in my novels. I don't choose my tropes, or cover designs based on what's "hot" right now. And I don't dwell on the "likability" of my characters. I selfishly write books that come from my heart and tell the stories I want to tell. Full stop.

  3. I'm impatient. I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to write full time, but that won't last forever if the writing can't start paying for itself. I also come from a business (the grocery business) where promotions are the name of the game. I'm comfortable with the idea that one has to spend money to make money. For these reason I've been quick to try (and pay for) promotions before I probably should have. Many experts advise new authors hold off on any paid advertising until they have 3-4 books under their belt. I have not followed that advise, though I may be better off if I had.
SO. Given all that. What exactly are those numbers?

Let's break it down by month:

  • Income: None.

  • Expenses: $3,238. Includes editing/sensitivity reading and cover design for both Roses in Red Wax and Swept Into the Storm. An annual subscription to Adobe Suite (where I make my marketing images), other software and website fees, a bulk purchase of ISBNs, and a bunch of other miscellaneous startup expenses.

March. Roses in Red Wax, my first novel, debuted on March 3rd.

  • Income: $233 for the sale of 45 books

  • Expenses: $803. Mosty for the final editing of Swept Into the Storm, as well as some smaller marketing expenses from the Roses in Red Wax launch.


  • Income: $215 for the sale of 33 books. A family friend purchased 11 paperbacks directly from me for their book club. This accounts for half of the sales dollars.

  • Expenses: $1,257. Includes cover design for Swept Into the Storm, but mostly a lot of marketing. The very end of this month marked my first foray into Facebook ad tests, and I also paid for a very expensive Instagram book tour promoting Roses in Red Wax. The tour sold zero books.

May: Swept Into the Storm was published on May 5th.

  • Income: $245 for the sale of 53 books. 2/3 of these were Roses in Red Wax sold via Facebook ads.

  • Expenses: $200, almost entirely spent on those Facebook ads.


  • Income: $84 for the sale of 25 books. The Facebook ads were not consistently breaking even, so I gave up early in the month and started planning a $0.99 sale on Roses in Red Wax with the hope that people would purchase it, then buy Swept Into the Storm at full price.

  • Expenses: $388 for Facebook ads and the fees for paid newsletter services (such as Robin Reads and Red Feather Romance), which I used to advertise the upcoming $0.99 sale.


  • Income$96 for the sale of 138 books. The vast majority of these were ebook copies of Roses in Red Wax sold at $0.99 on sale. (When a book's price goes under $1, Amazon and most other retailers reduce author royalties from 70% to 35%, so I made $0.35 per book.) The sell through rate (percentage of people who bought Roses on sale, then bought Swept Into the Storm at full price) was just over 5%, and seems to have stalled out.

  • Expenses: $1,560 for editing of A Radical Affair, as well as some money for Facebook ads that I ran to promote the $0.99 sale.

So, for the first half of 2023, that brings me to:

  • $943 in income

  • $7,447 in expenses

You can see what an incredibly privileged thing it is to indie publish books. The numbers are grim, but I went in with the idea that I'd have $10K to invest in my new business. Not everyone can do that.

Do I consider it a failure? Not really. Not yet. I'm only six months in, and I've still got a few strands of spaghetti left to throw. My new website, where I can sell books directly to readers, is one of them; and I also plan to start applying for BookBub Feature Deals in September once Book 3 is published.

But yeah, it's been hard. Not only financially, but emotionally. For the majority of my adult life, I worked in a very challenging industry and I excelled in every way. Now, I'm happy when I make $3 in a day. There have absolutely been times when I just want throw my hands up and quit, and quite frankly, I don't know where the money to publish Book 4, the last in the Darnalay Castle series will come from.

Good thing I'm stubborn. I'll find a way.
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.