Romance Novel Genre Sales and Printing

Some of my readers would be amused to know how often I respond to an e-mail about self publishing with an additional comment to the effect of "Why not take a couple months and run it by the trades?" I've never made that suggestion to the author of a romance novel because my impression of the romance genre is it offers the worst publishing contracts on earth. I've heard tell of royalties as low as 3% and even forced authors to write under a pen name that belongs to the publisher. It's bad enough that most authors have to argue about next edition clauses. Work-a-day romance novel authors have to worry that if they don't toe the line, the publisher will slide a new author in place!

I've seen estimates on the web that romance genre sales account for over half of total book sales, but that is a mistake based on a misreading and is a good 2000% too high. In other words, romance novels account for less than 5% of book sales and are probably losing marketshare. I think the error starts with a number published by the Romance Writers of America in which they stated "romance fiction comprises 54.9% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America." Popular paperbacks are also known as mass market fiction, which does huge sales in supermarkets, airports, etc, but the books are relatively low cost, especially compared to hardcovers. I don't want to get into a long winded rant about how poorly the book industry seems to deal with numbers, I just don't want you thinking that the romance genre is the be all of publishing. The RWA put romance sales at $1.2 billion in 2004 and I wouldn't be shocked it that's optimistic. The total North American book market is up in the mid twenty-billions to $30 billion range, which is how I'm confident romance is well less than 5%.

Some authors get very rich writing romance fiction, but it's not a big number and they probably aren't in a hurry to share. If your ambition as a romance writer is to win the lottery, this blog isn't going to help you because I write mainly about clawing your way up to making a living writing and self publishing. What's even worse is I tend to come down on the side of slow and steady wins the race. The problem with my model when it comes to the romance genre is that romance novel buyers are accustomed to mass market pricing. Self publishing is poorly suited to mass market printing or distribution through the supermarkets and similar outlets.

Fortunately, today's romance writers have access to the Amazon and through the Internet, directly to their customers. Printing a romance novel is no challenge at all, making money at mass market pricing is nearly impossible. Getting back to my earlier comment to go with the picture, I can't offer specific advice about succeeding as a self publisher in the romance genre because I couldn't know less about something. What I believe is, if you can find a niche in which readers will be searching for your subject matter, be it location, historical period or protagonists of specific types, you can attract readers and buyers on the web. How about a book about a heroic self publisher who wins the heart of a nice Jewish woman without having to date? I'll buy a copy, as long as you promise to ship it in a brown paper wrapper

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