The hard truth of the financials for authors…

 

Once again, the cycle has come around, and it’s come in full force.  It’s about supporting your favorite authors, buying their stuff, and not stealing it.

First, let me say, I believe the vast majority of people are good and well intentioned. It only takes a very few people to convince you though, the world needs a good cleansing zombie apocalypse.

I did X-Con at myrtle beach a couple of weeks back, and had a table talking about my books, and even selling a few. A girl in her late twenties walked over to the table and asked for one of the scattered candy bars on my table, and I told her to help herself. She did.

She wanted to know about the books, and we talked for about fifteen minutes, in which time she ate every one of the candy bars on my table (about 10) and then no so politely told me I needed to give her a free book because she couldn’t afford it. Not even the eBooks, but a paperback. I politely declined, she told me to “fuck off then” and left the pile of candy bar wrappers on my table.

I tossed the wrappers, had a small internal meltdown, wrote a few notes about how this self-entitled whiny bitch is going to wind up dying in a future book, and moved on. Never piss off a writer with a twisted sense of humor, miss going to die by starving to death while being dipped into a vat of molten chocolate, allowing it to harden, and watching you starve to death while ants eat the chocolate away. #RantOver #SanitizedVersion

At the same time, a very lovely young lady came to my table several times, a fellow writer, and we talked a lot through the weekend. She bought my eBook, and I gave her a print copy so she’d have a signed one.

I’m mostly a business and tech guy, and I’m using my knowledge and experience to write a 101 type guide about the business of being an author or artist. And yes, writers are a type of artists, but with key differences in the business models. I’m pulling a piece of that (draft) out to post here, because I think it’s relevant.

We now live in a world of open source, and where so many people think everything should be free, especially digital content. At a convention a while back, I had someone argue about why I was charging for books. Especially eBooks, because they don’t cost anything.

So let’s break down the numbers:

 

First, let’s assume I’m a traditionally published author.

My percentage of sales will be 7 – 15%. Let’s assume a blended rate of $4.99 a book between eBooks and print (Low by today’s trade pub standards, but roll with me over the life of the book). Based on this, the author will make .35 to .75 a book. I’m feeling optimistic, so let’s take $.75 a book.

An average novel is @ 80,000 words. We won’t talk about my last 2 novels in the 105k range. What does it take to crank out that 80,000 words?

A productive average is 1000 words an hour to draft, so that’s 80 hours.

But wait, that’s once you have an idea, research, have fleshed it out, and have a plan, pitched and sold. 80 hours. (And that’s fiction)

Depending on your style and productivity, editing, rewrites, and the stuff that just didn’t work? I’ve seen people estimate as little as another 30-50 of the original draft, but for a commercially published work, it’s easily equal to four or 5 times the original first draft for the author to review edits, do rewrites, proofreads, punctuation, and everything that goes along with the rest. Not to mention the editors from the publishing house side. Let’s split the difference, and call it 300 hours.

Arguing with editors, agents, cover artists, and other administrative crap? 40 hours.

So doing a little math, that’s 500 hours. Based on 40 hour weeks, that’s 12.5 weeks, so let’s cut it to three months of working time, for 80,000 words.

Based on the proposed move to go to $15 an hour, and hopefully you think creative work is worth at least that, you have to sell… hmmmm carry the one, it’s $7,500, and at .75 a copy, you need to sell 10,000 books. High producers sell 50 – 100 a week, so let’s use the 100 a week, and so that’s 2 years of sales.

Not to mention all the hours of marketing, social media, and cultivating your fan base that aren’t in there.

But wait, there’s more!

Let’s say you’re doing a self-published work.

Our productive average is 1000 words an hour to draft, so we’ll still go with 80 hours.

But wait, that’s once you have an idea, research, have fleshed it out, and have a plan, pitched and sold. 80 hours. Stuff those other people would help you with, you’re on the hook for.

Now you’re also entirely on the hook for editing, rewrites, etc., and I’m going to make the assumption you hire someone to edit, so you’re still at the same 300 hours.

Arguing with editors, cover artists, and other administrative crap? 100 hours. Why? You’re now doing it all.

So doing a little math, that’s 560 hours. Based on 40 hour weeks, that’s 14 weeks, for 80,000 words.

Plus you have to pay for cover art – $100 – $250 (minimum)

Editing ($250 – $1,500) depending on the types of editing and level of polish you want to put on it. Or you have to put in the hours. Either way, you’re spending the time and money.

I’m going to use an even $1,000 to produce the work (on the low end of what you should budget)

Here’s the good news. Depending on how you structure yourself, Amazon is going to give you 35% – 70% of your sales. The down side, you probably are maxing out at $4.99, but we’ll stick with it for equivalency. That’s $1.75 to $3.50 a book. We’re rolling in the cash now!

You’ve laid out $1000 up front. So you need to sell 286 books to pay for that.

To sell those, you’re looking at advertising, and getting reviews, another $1000. Another 286 books.

So just to cover my outlay, I need to sell 582 books.

Show me the money!

At $3.50 a book to get minimum wage for my 560 hours, I need to sell another 2400 books! So let’s round up to 3,000 books!

High producing self-pubbed average 5-50 sales a week. Let’s say you are rocking it and doing 50 a week. That means I only need 60 weeks… at the same high pace to make my $15 an hour. Oh wait, now I don’t have a publisher, or anyone else to help promote me. And most self pubbed would be happy at 5 a week after a couple of weeks. And most books are $2.99. You’re looking at 3-4 years, unless you push really hard, and get a little lucky.

And let’s talk other opportunity costs. I work a full time gig. Much of my life, it’s been 60, 70 , 80 hours a week. I do all of this at lunch, and night when everyone else is asleep. Weekends. I’m behind on TV and movies. Most of what I read is research or doing stuff for fellow authors and friends.

So yeah, oh little miss self-important snowflake who is willing to drop $5 on a latte and come over and lecture me why you can’t spend a couple of bucks for a eBook, and tell me it doesn’t cost anything?

This one went a little long. I’ll save my piracy rant for next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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