Working In The Red or Black

Sardine Fred and Sardine John

I am small-fry. The hard truth of my sales is something I’ve been keeping quiet about because it embarrasses me. I sell somewhere between 5-12 e-books a month. When Femme was released and I was promoting it all over the place wherever I could (for free or very cheaply), I was making about those sales, so I haven’t really changed even though I have more titles. However, I don’t do a lot of promoting anymore but am starting to focus on bigger advertising budgets. It’s only my non-fiction title that’s helping me keep my head up. It’s a pretty shabby reality.

You hear the old saying: If we wanted to make money, we wouldn’t be writers. I’ve always disliked that negativity. Some call it realism but what it

Money; more hilarious than salad
Money; more hilarious than salad

really is, is nay-saying or detracting. Unfortunately, if I rephrase it, I think I’m closer to the truth; if we wanted to make money, we wouldn’t be novelists. Writers can make good money, especially those who write non-fiction. I bought a “how to make a thousand dollars a month from your writing” seminar notes thing, with full money-back guarantee if it didn’t work, etc. Basically it’s a non-fiction formula where you hunt down the best-selling non-fiction titles and either have it ghost-written or write it yourself within a couple of weeks and then float them out to the market before the boom dies down. Yes, I can see that working, it is actually possible. It’s like making a bunch of knock-off products and selling them under a different brand name. It’s not illegal or immoral because the content isn’t plagiarised. Is that what being a writer means to me? Nope. I didn’t ask for my money back because a lot of the promotional stuff found within was helpful to me and it didn’t cost me a lot to find out this ‘magical secret formula’. There’s nothing magical or secret about it; it struck me as opportunity-based entrepreneurship.

I am an accountant. Here is my giant red calculator.
I am an accountant. Here is my serious face and giant red calculator.


When I do my budgeting for my books, I include all costs. Business cards, image costs for cover, subscription costs, membership costs to writing groups, ISBN costs and so forth. I do my best to assign them to the relevant book title, so I can see if I’m breaking even on my titles.

At the moment two of my titles are officially in the black. I consider that a success. It’s not a ‘party till your pants fall down’ success, but I feel pretty darn satisfied that I’m not throwing money down the toilet chasing my dream. I’m supporting my hobby. I’m not bringing in any funds to help the household and I do feel guilty about that (at times… most times I feel grateful and adoring of my husband who isn’t nagging me about chasing my dream, he doesn’t say a lot but his actions are supportive).


In The Black

Going for a ride on the Australian dollar
Going for a ride on the Australian dollar

Here we find my non-fiction title The Streetwise Motorcyclist which is a handbook for motorcycle traffic safety. It’s pretty amazing this even manages to sell as it does because it’s a very niche market. Most people don’t ride motorcycles, and out of them, there’s an even smaller percentage who own e-readers. I released it as e-book only for the US market, so even though it’s not making me a bucketload of cash, I made back the costs and am now profiting from every copy I sell. What I’ve covered is: Images for the book, the ISBN cost, and minor advertising costs to give it a boost on launch. I decided to sell it exclusively on Amazon’s Select, just to see how that merry-go-round worked. I might yank it out of there next year just so I can put an epub edition out there.

Axiom is also in the black because of the successful Kickstarter venture, otherwise I’d be clawing my way up for it like every other title. The paperbacks have supported themselves, selling out each shipment, but now that the Australian dollar is doing so poorly against the US dollar, my unit cost for the paperback has risen dramatically because I’m using Createspace. The latest shipment will hopefully see me through the current local events outlined in my previous blog. Regardless of whether the dollar improves, I’ve begun investigating IngramSparks. Since they have an Australian printing location, my unit cost will drop dramatically… about $3 less. I might be able to offer it to independent bookshops here and give them the margins they need to meet their overheads.

In The Red

Blue Shift is a little over $200 in the red, but I have paperbacks on inventory worth about $360 overall. In the black, kind of. Every time I print a bunch of them, I’ll have to shift the stock to get

The (publishing) house  wins!
The (publishing) house wins!

that extra little bit ahead. My margin for Blue Shift is very low, so that will take a long time. Stock is an asset though and could be used in many ways. If I wanted to assign the paperbacks to advertising, I could give them away at an event. I’ve considered doing that a few times as Blue Shift is supposed to be a drawcard. I could also sell it for cost or at events I could use it as a sweetener: “Buy Axiom, get Blue Shift free”… I haven’t yet decided.

Still quite deep in the red, at around $320 is Femme. That particular book got hit hardest because it was my debut, so it attracted a lot of establishing costs, and ‘see what works’ in advertising costs. I have about 30 copies on hand, which means I can cover my costs when they sell. Femme is in the same place as Blue Shift when it comes to being in the red. I’m kind  of clawing my way into the black with two steps forward (sell the stock, forward into the black), one step back (print more stock, back into the red but not as deep).

And then there’s the miscellaneous costs that I can’t really assign to titles. Author business cards, business card holders, book display holders, stickers, writer membership subscriptions. I’m lucky my husband’s business sells various sign-industry machines that can print giant-ass posters. I get some pretty incredible posters for free. That’s a cost other writers have to factor in and if they’re like me, I would just go without or do something dinky.


So there it is, my sore-point, my sales figures and budget. I’m kind of disappointedly happy, if that’s a thing. I feel like I’ve had success because:

  1. I’m putting my work out there
  2. People are reading my books and mostly enjoying it
  3. I can see a point in the future where I might actually make some money

The disappointment comes with the exasperation/frustration that all writers feel at times, at the marketplace, at being smothered by all these tens of thousands of titles coming up daily, at feeling ignored by the advertisers (Bookbub knocked me back, more on that in another post–I didn’t know advertisers didn’t want your money!), and wondering how to put my books in front of the readers that would love it. I know they’re out there, I know they exist, I know I can reach them eventually.

I feel like Mulder from the X-Files. I want to believe.



One thought on “Working In The Red or Black

  1. Hi, Delia~

    When I first opened my page (Btw, what happened to They’ve turned it into a worthless piece of unusable krapp.), I basically reiterated in abbreviated terms on my intro page what you’ve written here. I stated that only a few really lucky (and not necessarily the most talented) writers would make the big time and how most would be left with boxes upon boxes of unsold books in the basement. I got a lot of nasty responses via email from writers who just didn’t want to hear the truth, so I eventually moderated my introduction.



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