23 Sep

Writing is a Business

This is my current introduction to what I do for a living: “Hi. My name is Donna McDonald and I’m a independently published romance novelist.”

What I should also be saying is that I am a business person. When I am moving around in the real world and spending my book royalties paying bills and buying things, I am proud of my publishing and sales accomplishments and for being able to say that I’m a published author. I’ve waited most of my life to be one. So what’s keeping me from complete author bliss? Now and again I run across published and non-published authors who view my independently published work as a betrayal of some sort of writer’s code. Maybe they think I got out of paying my creative suffering dues and “settled”.  This is not true. And for the record, Indie publishing is most certainly not vanity publishing. I’ve heard that one, too.

I tried the traditional route twice in my lifetime without success. I know how difficult it is to send out a query letter and a 10 page synopsis along with a partial manuscript only to be told that each of the bazillion places you mailed your manuscript package to weren’t interested in it even after all the work you did to polish it.

I know what it’s like to be so close to tasting traditional publishing triumph that you are working diligently to satisfy the last nine things the acquisitions editor didn’t like about the book that maybe will get them to take another look at it. The last time I chased that golden goose, I made seven out of nine requested changes before I came to my senses on Dating A Cougar. I spent from August 2010 to December 2010 collecting soft rejections that all began with “great story premise” or “great writing” and ended with “but we just can’t place it at this time”. The heroines in my stories are older women (ages 42-50) and their stories are filled with lots of humor, but they are outside the existing norm for the genre. But I was writing the stories of my heart and believed there was an audience for my work even when it seemed no one else did.

Around Christmas time, I had three and a half unpublished manuscripts finished and potential financial ruin looming, so being a realist about earning a living I asked myself some important questions. Which did I want more? Did I want a chance to be famous and on the NYT list like my favorite romance authors Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, or Jennifer Cruise? Or did I want to save my house and pay my bills with real money earned from my writing? Since I like to eat, Indie Publishing turned out to be the only sensible, logical business choice for me. I lowered my goals just a tad and took a chance of putting up my work. Honestly, it wasn’t nearly as hard as writing a mega impressive query letter or a clever synopsis to an overwhelmed editor bombarded with hundreds of them a day.

Do you want to know what happened? It took half a year, but I did finally make enough money to pay my bills. And do you know what else happened? I found readers who like my work and frequently write to ask for more books from me. But do you want to know the biggest surprise? I am having more fun than I’ve ever had making money because these days it comes from my books. I’ve been a writer and will always be a writer, but now I’m a published author. I can’t believe I ever spent time waiting for someone in the business part of my industry to provide a validation of my craft and/or permission to make a living with it. If there is one truth I have learned as an Indie author, only readers can decide if you’re good enough and they do it with sales.

My first two books were published in March of this year. My royalties from Amazon sales the first month on one free book and one for sale was $35, second month was $123, and the third month was $450. As that was happening, I finished two more books. Downloads of the free book picked up in June and all sales jumped in July and August to what passes for me as “real money” which is enough to make my house payment and pay for my coffee shop habit.

At the time of this post, I have a total of 6 books published (5 for sale + 1 free still) and another coming out in October (Created In Fire, Book Two of my second series). I talk to my readers and write almost every day. When readers ask me how many more books I intend to write, I tell them I’ll keep writing for as long as they keep buying.  I’m in the business of making them happy.


Posted by on September 23, 2011 in books, editors, publishing


Tags: ,

20 responses to “GUEST BLOGGER: Donna McDonald

  1. Janis

    September 23, 2011 at 5:33 AM

    “If there is one truth I have learned as an Indie author, only readers can decide if you’re good enough…”

    Lovely. No matter what journey a writer is on, this is what to take away from your blog. Donna, thanks so much for visiting Gem State Writers.

  2. johannaharness

    September 23, 2011 at 6:19 AM

    Great post, Donna. It’s so good to hear from an author in control of her publishing and her finances. Thanks for this.

    • Donna Jane McDonald

      September 23, 2011 at 7:32 PM

      Johanna, having this control seems like a normal thing to me. I have had businesses of my own before and this seems very similar. The difference this time is that I am selling my creative work.

  3. Laura Dion-Jones Casey

    September 23, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    Thanks for the publishing reality check. Good to know we each do not struggle alone.

    • Donna Jane McDonald

      September 23, 2011 at 7:58 PM

      You’re welcome, Laura. What I have done, any writer can do also. There is a lot of great information out there. I owe what I have done to the helpfulness and forthrightness of other Indie authors.

  4. Liz Fredericks

    September 23, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    Thanks for blogging on GemSW. You make a strong case for independent publishing! Your comment about seeking validation resonated with me. It’s good to hear your success story.

    • Donna Jane McDonald

      September 23, 2011 at 7:39 PM

      Liz, check out the guest book on my website ( and you will know while I knew I was on the right track even before I was making money. These posts are my validation and are from real readers who bought my books. I have more in emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. These are what keep me writing.

  5. Meredith Conner

    September 23, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    Hear, hear! I love your journey and your decisions. Sometimes we can’t always wait for our dreams to come true, we have to change our focus just a bit and make it happen. Thanks for blogging with us today.

    • Donna Jane McDonald

      September 23, 2011 at 7:35 PM

      My non-writer friends who watched me dig for the courage to put my writing out there for sale by myself were wringing their hands initially and kept checking in with me. I am in a local writer’s group and when I shared my sales success at the three month mark with them, I could barely talk for crying because I was so happy that people were buying my book. I do not take this for granted, not a single minute. But I am living my dream.

  6. Peggy Staggs

    September 23, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    Thanks for blogging with us. With the feet of the publishing industry firmly planted in midair it’s nice to know there are other choices out there.

    • Donna Jane McDonald

      September 28, 2011 at 6:47 AM

      Peggy, sorry I missed replying to you before! You make a good point. Declaring that you Indie publish rather than traditionally publish creates the same quagmire that used to happen when you declared yourself a feminism. Both are really about allowing everyone the “choice” to be what they need to be to meet their needs.

  7. Marsha R. West

    September 23, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    Great post, Donna. The validation point resonated with me, too. Having a fragile ego has no place in writing, and yet, many of us have one. The rejection letters and some contest judges take chunks out of our hide. Four years ago, my son-in-law told me I should look into self-publishihg. He’d identified some guy who started that way but grew into making a 6 figure income. Well, that kind of thinking was too advanced for me at the time, but is looking more and more like a possiblity. In the meantime, I’ve been learning the craft and have received some of that outside validation from contests.
    Congrats on your sales, Donna. Are you at B & N, too? I don’t usually buy on Amazon, but will make an exception in your case. I too write about older heroines. Mine are 40 to 55. I know there have to be folks out there who are a little tired of reading about the 20 somethings having all the fun. If your books are straight romances, you might want to check in with The Wild Rose Press. They have a section for older heroines, but not with subplots of suspense, which my books have. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Donna Jane McDonald

      September 23, 2011 at 7:53 PM

      Marsha, yes I am on Barnes and Noble. I’m also at Apple, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and ScrollMotion.

      Wild Rose press (and others who have lines featuring older characters) thought my characters were too sexy. I also have adult children in my books and I had a editor tell me grown daughters (age 28-30) would never talk or joke with their mothers (age 45-55) about sex. I was 52 with two adult daughters and we talked about everything. This is why I believed in what I wrote. I had still other presses and publishers tell me that older love stories needed to be “sweet” and lovemaking had to be slow–no getting carried away, I guess. I can tell you for sure that no “Baby Boomer” feels like that.

      I had two books finished and loved them both before I sent them out. I was so very, very sure that my romances would fit the “older” niche. And they do, but no one I sent them to thought so.

      Look at my reply to Liz about validation. Many of the comments on my guest book are from readers thanking me for telling the “truth” about love, romance, and sexual interest in older couples. I have husband and wife fans. I have daughters and sons sharing with their mothers and aunts. People do want these stories. I am absolutely sure about that. When you publish your books with older characters, let me know. If you want to try my first book “Dating A Cougar”, it’s still free. Smashwords had it in PDF if you don’t have an ereader.

      • Marsha R. West

        September 24, 2011 at 1:46 PM

        Donna, I have a Nook and will buy your book from B & N. I got one because I had many writer friends whose books I wanted to read, and they were e-pubbed.

        While my daughters are not thrilled I write about sex, I have plenty of friends who do have a relationship with their kids where they talk about everything. We talk and joke about everything else. 🙂 Sometimes, in my stories the mother embarrasses the daughter and vice versa. Do you think these agents/editors believe they won’t be having sex when they get older? They should be happy to read what we’re writing. LOL Donna, may I put a link to your web site on mine?

        Also, Gem State folks, I’d like to do that with this web site, too, if that’s okay. Let me know. (I spend entirely too much time hanging out with you guys. LOL) Marsha

  8. Carley Ash

    September 23, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    This is such great information, and I love how successful you’ve been with this approach. Thanks for blogging with us today.

    • Donna Jane McDonald

      September 23, 2011 at 7:55 PM

      Thanks for the invite, Carley! I put up my own blog post about Indie publishing today and linked this one to it. It may drive some visitors to this blog. I am very honored to be hosted here by your group. Everyone is so lovely. 🙂

  9. louellanelson

    September 23, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    Many of the writers I mentor are choosing the same path as you and doing well. Congratulations for having the courage.

  10. Hallee Bridgeman

    March 8, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    I was scrolling through my newly filled Google+ circles (newly like last night) and stumbled on a link to this post. It made me smile to think how small the writing world really is. Even knowing this story, I loved reading it again.

    You’re amazing, Donna. Thank you for being so willing to share your stories, methods, and success with us.


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