Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Making a Living as a Writer: The Sad and Hopeful

Prior to publishing my first erotic short story, I read a lot about what it'd be like. To help the process, naturally, but also to manage my own expectations. For me, the author, publishing my first story was an unknown. It was thrilling. And to the great world beyond, it was a drop of water in an ocean. It took several days before I got my first sale. I had just begun to get used to the disappointed lump in my stomach when 2 people tore that out of me and sent me to the giddy heights of emotion for several hours.

2 sales equals about 4$ of royalties when you sell your books at 2,99$ on Amazon. Still, those inconsequential 4$ still stand out as a better emotional experience to me than checking my sales on a weekly basis now. I'm numbed and tempered by experience, now. I know what to expect. 5 copies sold per month per story is my baseline, an expectation level that was set after reading a post on Dean Wesley Smith's excellent blog.

Now, I do actually sell a little bit more than that on average. With 4 stories published, you can figure out how rich that's making me yourself. The answer won't impress you. The average month, so far, has seen me sell around 25 copies. This equates to around 50$ in royalties. That's great, obviously, but the terrible little room I live in right now costs 360$ a month. Then there's insurance, transport, food, phone bills, and even more things to pay. We all know this.

Out of my 50$/month earnings must also come the 35$ cost of new covers. This is an expense that a lot of authors do without, but after trying my luck with one such cover once, the boost in sales (The major reason I'm still selling as well as I am is that cover, I believe) is worth the cost. Ideally, I'd like to release 2 short stories a month. 70$ for covers. More expense.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make once more is that to live off your writing, you must write a lot. The romantic image of a writer sitting with his/her typewriter in a candlelit room, struggling with the wording of a single sentence for hours doesn't exist. At least, the writer wouldn't be in a room, and she'd most likely have sold his typewriter. She might have candles, though.

Just to pay my rent, I'd have to sell 130 copies a month. Suppose, then, that I live in a very spartan manner, and add another 360$ on top for expenses (A lot of oatmeal and pasta, but go with me). Then 70$ for covers. I arrive at the modest sum of 790$ a month. In other words, the need to sell 390 copies at 2$ royalty every month without fail. Just to break even. Again figuring with the average of 5 sales/month that I've found to be mostly true, you'll need a staggering 78 short stories published just to be able to live very modestly (10.000$/year).

Now, by the time you have 78 stories out there (2 years if you're fairly diligent), hopefully you'll have enough of a name and following that you'll move beyond the 5 sales/month figure. You might not, however. You might never. And this is the thing that you have to both know and forget to try to live as an indie writer. The mountain you must climb may seem insurmountable. You must remember to climb, one foot in front of the other, but you cannot spend too much time looking up, or you'll discouraged and abandon the effort. Only those who truly have the drive and will to write will make it.

I'm not sure I do. I'm trying to climb right now, but I remain unsure. There's a joy in seeing another week pass with a few sales, usually around 5-6, but it has become routine nonetheless. There's such a long way to go, still.

Along with everything else you must do as an indie writer, you have to factor this in and learn to moderate your expectations. Expect and prepare for the long climb, because only 1 writer in 100.000 or 1.000.000 is lucky enough to be carried to the top (Immediate bestseller). You, you'll have to slog through the mud alongside the rest of us. You'll have to put in the hard work. You'll have to be the one coming home from a hard day at work, only to sit down and write for 2 hours. You have to want it enough to do that. Do you?

Part 2


  1. Stop doing maths and write more! :D

    More seriously, I know very well that problem of fighting the bills with an activity without a paycheck with a definite number at the end of the month. And it's really hell on Earth when you're starting. Yet, everyone began there, so you can only hope you will climb the mountain and never fall back by laziness or lack of efforts (and I'm the one preaching... Need to follow my words sometimes ^^).

    Anyway, there is only one truth: whatever is your method of working, your natural skills for writing or your motivations, not everyone who works hard is rewarded. However, all those who succeed have worked hard.

    ... I should go work too, now.

    1. I've gotten back to writing quite well, actually. I average around 2000 words a day right now, after my break. Not exactly huge, but it'll get better, and it's better than nothing.

      And I do actually believe that those who work hard are rewarded, eventually. It's the eventually that's the problem, though. Because it might be in 20 years of hard work, not, say, 3. And I don't want to work in an office for 20 years. :)

      So, yes. I'll get to that writing, now.