Writing Romance as a Side Hustle
Either as a primary source of income, or a side hustle to pay for an extra holiday or two a year– self-publishing is a great way to make money if you have some spare time, a laptop, and an interest in creating novels or articles.
Be warned, though, if you go down the romance writing route, it isn’t an overnight earner for most of us romance writers. EL James hit the jackpot with 50 Shades of Grey, but like Barbara Cartland, most of us writers find we rely on regular publishing to build up a devoted readership of people who are desperate to buy your new book, and if you are lucky, your whole back catalogue, and sign up to hear about your new releases as well.
Let’s dive into a few basics.
Definitely not- you don’t need to be a Tolstoy or a Virginia Woolf to write romance! You don’t need to have a degree, or even much formal education, as long as you know how to spin a yarn and come up with believable, engaging characters. I would say most romance novels I have read are actually pretty average (or worse!) in terms of their quality of writing. Erotica novels are even less so. (Erotica is a slightly different beast as apparently it requires virtually no story or characterisation at all which I don’t enjoy, but it might be right up your alley- look on Amazon kindle if you are interested in finding out more about the genre).
So, no, you don’t need to be a brilliant writer, as people who love romance, REALLY love romance, so the quality of the writing is less important than the story and the characters. Most important though, is the essential happy-ever-after ending. Even a tense cliff hanger when the gal doesn’t get her guy between books in a series is an absolute no no. Romance readers want to know their beloved characters are – at the very least – ‘happy for now’.
People love escapism, and these books give them that in spades. I mean, how often do we find ourselves seduced by a gorgeous billionaire? I don’t think I’m alone in saying it isn’t a frequent occurrence! In fact, I’m more likely to be found decluttering my house than at the casino picking up billionaire playboys!
Having said that, my opinion is that there is a lot of dross out there, and it is a good idea if you want to stand out from the crowd, to try your hardest to write a good book with no major plot holes, decent characterisation, and a juicy storyline with plenty of conflict! Not only will your readers love you for creating a story they can get their teeth into, you will probably enjoy writing it more. My favourite is writing the baddies. You can really go to town with them!
Isn’t it hard to get a book deal with a publisher?
Yes, so don’t bother trying. Sounds defeatist, right? Not at all! These days conventional publishing is a good idea if you have a magnum opus to be delivered to the world, or if you have achieved some success as a romance writer and want to move along a notch – like EL James did, and look where that got her! It is definitely a possibility at some stage. For those of us starting out, or looking to make a steady income from writing romance, self publishing is what I would recommend. Amazon is the classic self publishing house, but Draft 2 Digital is also great to distribute your books to an even wider audience such as Barnes and Noble, Apple, and a lot of other smaller outlets. I would advise to publish to both Amazon and Draft 2 Digital if you want to focus on book sales to the widest audience.
When you have built up a back catalogue of work, and you feel you might like a publishing deal, that is a good time to seek out publishing opportunities, but be aware, lots of publishers take a long time and a few rejections before they take on a new writer.
How much sex does there need to be?
However much you feel like writing! There are a million genres of romance book, from billionaire to BDSM, interracial to aliens, and that includes clean and Christian romance too which would have no sex, not even a hint. Maybe a kiss or some hand holding, a few blushes here and there. The important thing is really that you make any intimate scenes as realistic as possible (unless you write sci-fi romance in which case it’s ‘go for as many tentacles as you can fit on the page’). If you want to make the scene brief and skim over the details, that’s fine too. I would advise to avoid anything that is likely to distract a reader. For instance, a mad position that no human could realistically achieve is likely to throw your reader out of the story, and they want to be fully invested from start to finish.
How Much Money Can I Make?
This is the 64 million dollar question! It is vague I’m afraid, but there is really no way to tell what you can earn until you put out books regularly, but I will say that the sky is truly the limit- there is no payout ceiling for romance publishing which means if you have the right strategy, you could make literally any figure you care to name. I have experimented with how regularly to publish and I have found that two shortish stories a month of about 25000 words seem to keep readers engaged with my output. Lots of others choose to publish one longer book a month. It’s really up to the writer and how prolific they are.
Basically, the more you publish, the more you earn. When you get more established, you can look into running promotional ads or having your release advertised by influencers, if you decide to do so. There are writers out there making literally millions, but also plenty who publish infrequently and make a few hundred here and there. Either way, it’s worth trying, right?
How do I start?
Research by reading romance books, then decide on a genre- a heterosexual couple of the same race falling in love is the most common topic, so it will mean your book will get lost among the thousands and thousands in the same category. If you chose something like BDSM, or interracial romance, you can appeal to a smaller segment of the buying public, and your book will stand out a lot more. It is still so important that you pick a genre you like or you know something about- don’t choose BDSM if you don’t know one end of a cat-o’-nine-tails from the other- your readers will know it isn’t authentic, and they want to read about their specific interest.
Next, plot out your story, and think about your characters. Weak women like Ana in 50 Shades are going out of fashion now, but a strong man is apparently always popular, particularly if he is sensitive or troubled as well. Once you know what you want your book to look like, then it’s time to write, write, write! This is the fun part, so make sure you enjoy it. Once it’s written, you might submit it to an editor or a proofreader, or both, but you will have to pay for these options. Then, it’s upload day! Make up a cover on Canva, if you are proficient (make sure to only use images that you have purchased or are stock images), or use a cover artist on Fiverr, I have paid around £15 for a cover in the past but I make my own now.
Now all there is left is to upload your manuscript to Amazon, et voila! In just a few hours your book will be out there for purchase! Rinse and repeat, and in no time you will have yourself a little publishing business, hopefully enough to be paying off your mortgage pretty quickly!