Articles - 29th November 2019

How I make a living writing smutty vampire novels

Words by Steff Green
Illustration by Jon McCormack

As a creative person, you probably believe you have a novel inside you. What if that novel ended up full of dark, brooding vampires, sexy shapeshifters, and kickass heroines? Like me, you could make a living self-publishing steamy romance novels as ebooks.


My journey into self-publishing romance novels

After five years of working with a big publisher on a science fiction series, I was rejected in 2013. I was faced with the possibility of having to start pitching these novels all over again and waiting five more years to see them in print. The prospect filled me with dread.

I started reading about authors like Amanda Hocking and Bella Andre who were making millions publishing their novels as ebooks on Amazon. I thought it sounded like fun. I devoured everything I could read about self-publishing and released my science fiction series in 2014. The first book sold less than 300 copies, but I was hooked on the high of seeing readers enjoying my books.

In 2015, as a personal challenge, I decided to write a steamy paranormal romance book about a reclusive artist who also happened to be a shapeshifting fox. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing this book – it was something I did for fun. I had a blast creating a paranormal world and shapeshifter wars and thrusting an unlikely couple in the middle of the action. The sex was wild and filthy, and I did not want my mother or any of my friends to read it. I paid $50 for a cover and published it under a secret pen name, figuring it would be something I’d laugh about in a few months’ time.

That book sold 1000 copies in a week. 

I had to sheepishly tell my husband that I’d made a lot of money – not from my super serious science fiction but from a 32,000-word steamy romance about shapeshifting foxes.

After he finished laughing, he said, “So, are you going to write more?”

Damn right I wrote more. 

It’s now 2019. My paranormal romance pen name Steffanie Holmes has over 30 novels published. My latest series hit the top 25 books on Amazon, and I travel all over the world talking to other authors about how they can self-publish their work.

The reality of writing romance novels

If you want to write romance novels, you need to understand what your readers want. You’re not writing erotica – it’s not sex, sex, sex with a flimsy plot holding things together. 

Romance readers are discerning and evangelical. They know exactly what they want and they know a good story from something churned out to make a quick buck. If they love your work, they will spread the word and make you popular, but if you belittle them they will come after you with claws. Study the market and the popular books and choose genres and tropes you enjoy.

Because romance fans are voracious – many of my readers devour a book a day – they want new books as quickly as possible. Most romance writers who self-publish will produce at least four books a year. Some – like me – aim for a book a month or more. 

It sounds tough, but like any other skill, you’ll get better at writing with practice. To produce six books a year, you have to be writing around 2000 words a day, which isn’t that much at all!


How to build your author brand

The world of romance is divided into sub-genres. The three main ones are contemporary, historical, and paranormal. 

Within those sub-genres are tropes, conventions, trends, and popular themes readers return to again and again. Establish yourself as an author who satisfies readers’ desires for certain tropes and themes – whether that’s a secret baby, a BDSM relationship, or a sexy vampire.

The top romance authors focus on putting out regular books in a series with consistent branding and great covers. They know their readers can’t get enough of their world and characters.


Where to find work

If you want to write romance novels, you’ve got a few options:

  1. Traditional publishing. You can write a manuscript and pitch it to publishers. They provide editing, formatting, publishing/distribution, and some marketing for your book, and give you 10-25% of the profits. 
  2. Self-publishing. More romance than ever is self-published, and it’s one of the most successful genres for self-published authors. You take over the responsibility of editing and publishing the book, but you keep all the profit.
  3. Ghostwriting. If you want to write romance but don’t want to market your own work, you can make a decent living ghostwriting for popular authors. You’ll have to be good at writing to an outline and producing a certain number of words per day.
  4. Providing services. Authors like me also hire freelancers to design our book covers, swag, and websites, to run our advertising, to act as our PAs, and many other related tasks. An entire freelance service industry has sprung up to service the self-publishing community. Can you provide value to authors?

The rewards

There has never been a better time to be an author than right now. Because self-publishing allows you to keep 70% of your royalties (as opposed to the 10-25% you’d get from a traditional publisher), you can make a decent living as an author with a small audience. The more books you produce and the more you can grow that audience, the better.

Creating your own worlds and writing about people falling in love and overcoming adversity is the most fun you could possibly imagine. Not only do you satisfy your creative spirit, but you can also inspire readers to make positive changes in their lives and to seek out their own happy ending. Reading fan mail saying, “Your books helped me through a hard time in my life,” or, “The heroine has helped me to feel stronger,” makes all those long days and words worthwhile.

Learn more about the world of self-publishing by listening to the Creative Penn podcast, visiting the Self Publishing Formula Youtube channel, or hanging out in the Rage Against The Manuscript FB group.

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