From How much is your fiction worth?

How much is your indie long fiction worth?

Finally, I work through how much your long fiction is worth.

I’m using the most of the same bases of guesstimation as two weeks ago (traditionally published) and last week (short indie fiction).

I want my indie books to pay for my time within five years. Why five years? I don’t know. I heard a local writer saying he’d paid off his advance in five years, and it sounded good. Not great, but…comparable? Ish?

And I’m assuming that you do it all yourself AND do it reasonably well AND do it quickly AND do no promotions…or at least treat promotions as an investment that may or may not pay off.

Number of words/hour on average first draft: 1000.
Words edited per hour for cleanup (NOT including client changes/revisions/copyedits/etc.): 2500.
Time taken to write/edit 10K:  10 hours writing + 4 hours cleanup = 14 hours (if everything goes smoothly, and not including submission time, and not including research/brainstorming time).
Time for copyediting/proofreading: 8 hours minimum.
Time to build cover: about 4 hours on ebooks and another hour for the full wrap cover.
Time to format: 3 hours ebook plus 3 hours POD.

For self-employed people, you have to take the hourly wages x 2 to get about the same take-home pay, due to taxes and hours spent doing non-production tasks, like managing your business.  Working for the man means you get paid to answer emails from your employer.  Working for yourself means you don’t.

Minimum wage in Colorado: $7.36/hr.  Self employed: $14.82  Skill level:  can’t spell, cardboard characters, unbelievable plot, could be outsourced to a monkey.

Average wage of HS graduate*: $25,000 women/$32,900 men ($50K women/$65.8K men–$25/hr women, $32.90/hr men).  Skill level: can spell but can’t handle grammar, has read a few of the greats in HS English, has one or two decent strengths, has no idea why things work or don’t.

Average wage of college graduate: $40,100 women/$51,000 men ($80.1K women/$101K men–$40.10/hr women, $51/hr men).  Skill level: spelling/grammar proficient, can think analytically about a text and is aware of genre requirements, is decent at all areas of writing with a few real strengths, is starting to recognize personal style and audience.

Indie sales cuts (based on Amazon rates, because I make more sales on Amazon than anywhere else, and they tend to be slightly lower than anywhere else):
$.35 for a $.99 story.
$.70 for a $1.99 story.
$2.09 for a $2.99 story.
$2.79 for a $3.99 story.
$3.49 for a $4.99 story.
$4.19 for a $5.99 story.
$4.89 for a $6.99 story.
$5.59 for a $7.99 story.
$6.29 for a $8.99 story.
$6.99 for a $9.99 story.

I won’t go above that, because I refuse to buy ebooks (unless they’re bundles) over $9.99. However, I don’t buy textbooks or other generally higher-priced books as ebooks, so I don’t want to say that a book that would normally go for $50 as a print book shouldn’t go for more than $9.99 as an ebook. I buy fiction; I mostly write fiction; I’m talking fiction.

Note: we still haven’t hit the skill level (or pay grade) of a professional writer yet.

I’m going to guesstimate my average book length as about 85K, and my average story length as 4K.

Novel (85K):

Time to write: 85 hours; time to edit: 34.
Time to copy/proof: 8 hours minimum on a novel.
Time to build cover 4 hours on a novel (front only), +1 hour for the POD wraparound.
Time to format: 3 hours novel (ebook) and 3 hours novel (POD) so about 6 hours on novels.
Total: 131 ebook + 4 POD formatting.
Minimum wage: $1941.42 ebook only, $2000.70 both.
HS graduate: $4309.90/$4441.50
College graduate: $6681/$6885
Again, not to pro writer level yet.
What’s average sales? I have no idea. I have two novels out: one did NOT take off, and the other has been out for just over a month, so I don’t know. Dean says 25 copies a month is average, but I believe he includes POD sales.

Ebooks only:
$.99 novel = 5547 copies to make minimum wage; 12,314 to make HS level; 19,089 to make college level.
$1.99 = 2774; 6157; 9544.
$2.99 = 928; 2063; 3197.
$3.99 = 696; 1545; 2395.
$4.99 = 556; 1235; 1915.
$5.99 = 464; 1029; 1595.
$6.99 = 397; 882; 1367.
$7.99 = 347; 771; 1195.
$8.99 = 309; 686; 1063.
$9.99 = 278; 617; 956.

Not knowing how many sales to even guesstimate hinders things here. However, at $.99, it’s clear that you’re screwed, because you’d have to sell 318 copies a month for five years straight to pay for your time.
At $2.99, you’d have to sell 53 copies; at $4.99, 32 copies; at $5.99, 27 copies; at $6.99, 23 copies. At $9.99, you’d have to sell 16 copies. If 25/month is about right, then a $5.99-$6.99 price point should be okay.

…And I am so far off being able to figure out POD sales that I’m at a loss. I can figure out how many copies you’d have to sell to pay for the POD, though (note: a $25 POD expanded dist. fee is added, estimated profit $4.64 per $14.99 book of 85K novel–short story collections $9.99 because they’re only 40K and don’t cost as much to make [profit based on sales through Amazon.com]):
Minimum wage: 19.
HS grad: 34.
College grad: 50.

Okay. I’m going to assume that selling 10 PODs a year is doable and therefore worth the extra time, regardless.

A $4.99 novel pays off in: 80 years (2 copies/month); 32 years (5 copies/month); 6.38 years (25 copies/month).
A $5.99 novel pays off in: 66 years (2 copies/month); 27 years (5 copies/month); 5.31 years (25 copies/month).
A $6.99 novel pays off in: 57 years (2 copies/month); 23 years (5 copies/month); 4.56 years (25 copies/month).

(And a $.99 novel pays off in 64 years…if you sell 25 copies/month.  To be considered profitable, ~20,000 copies are required.)

To pay off an 85K novel, selling 25 copies a month over 5 years, we should sell it for at least $6.99…or write shorter novels.  Conversely, to be considered a profitable indie writer, you only need to sell ~2000 copies of a $4.99-$6.99 novel.

Note: I’m not counting any cover costs in this, either, because if you’re desperate, you can do it for free. I don’t, but there you go.

*Numbers taken from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011–033),Indicator 17.  Latest data for 2009.

 

How much is your indie short fiction worth?

Note: Forgive me, I have checked and rechecked my math, but I made so many errors the first time through that I can’t be sure I’ve caught them all. Sheesh.

All right.  This is another tense topic for me, because I suspect I’ve been doing something that makes me happy in the short term but is not going to lead me any closer to my goals:  selling stories for too little.

I think a lot of writers are doing this.  We go, “Oh, well, I have to get the readers before I get the money, and selling things for low amounts of money will get me more readers.”  And it is a seductive thought, because then you can get the validation:  lots of readers = lots of validation.  Lots of readers who are willing to pay nothing = still lots of validation!  Validation doesn’t seem to change with the amount of money the readers are paying, for me, AT ALL.  However, whenever I sell a paper book for which I, as the publisher, have paid a few bucks for, and people pay like $10 for, I feel like I’m cheating or scamming people.  I’m making like 75% profit!  (Well, because I’m buying it for author rates, to which bookstore and distributor discounts do not apply.  The profit is a lot less, like a dollar, on books that go through the distributor.)

Except, of course, I’m not really cheating people; I had to write the thing.  It didn’t just magically appear.  I am not doing this as a hobby; I want to make a living at it.  So if I repeatedly undercharge I’m just digging myself a hole.  The goal here is to get enough work selling that I can pay for my time at minimum, dammit.  And I don’t want to wait 60 years to pay for that time, either.  I want them paid for in five years or less, selling at humbly reasonable rates.  Why five years?  One, it sounded reasonable in considering how long it takes to pay off a traditional advance, and two, I want the stories to more than pay for my time, eventually.  Even writers need a rainy-day fund.  Five years sounded good on that, too.

I’m using the most of the same bases of guesstimation as last week:

Number of words/hour on average first draft: 1000.
Words edited per hour for cleanup (NOT including client changes/revisions/copyedits/etc.): 2500.
Time taken to write/edit 10K:  10 hours writing + 4 hours cleanup = 14 hours (if everything goes smoothly, and not including submission time, and not including research/brainstorming time).
Time for copyediting/proofreading: 15 minutes minimum on a short story.
Time to build cover: about 1 hour on short stories.
Time to format: 1 hour short stories (ebook).

And I’m assuming that you do it all yourself AND do it reasonably well AND do it quickly AND do no promotions…or at least treat time spent promoting as an investment that may or may not pay off.  Also that you have not sold or will not sell your story elsewhere (which is foolish; you should go for it).

For self-employed people, you have to take the hourly wages x 2 to get about the same take-home pay, due to taxes and hours spent doing non-production tasks, like managing your business.  Working for the man means you get paid to answer emails from your employer.  Working for yourself means you don’t.

Minimum wage in Colorado: $7.36/hr.  Self employed: $14.82  Skill level:  can’t spell, cardboard characters, unbelievable plot, could be outsourced to a monkey.

Average wage of HS graduate*: $25,000 women/$32,900 men ($50K women/$65.8K men–$25/hr women, $32.90/hr men).  Skill level: can spell but can’t handle grammar, has read a few of the greats in HS English, has one or two decent strengths, has no idea why things work or don’t.

Average wage of college graduate: $40,100 women/$51,000 men ($80.1K women/$101K men–$40.10/hr women, $51/hr men).  Skill level: spelling/grammar proficient, can think analytically about a text and is aware of genre requirements, is decent at all areas of writing with a few real strengths, is starting to recognize personal style and audience.

Indie sales cuts (based on Amazon rates, because I make more sales on Amazon than anywhere else, and they tend to be slightly lower than anywhere else, and when in doubt, I try to lowball):
$.35 for a $.99 story.
$.70 for a $1.99 story.
$2.09 for a $2.99 story.
$2.79 for a $3.99 story.
$3.49 for a $4.99 story.
$4.19 for a $5.99 story.
$4.89 for a $6.99 story.
$5.59 for a $7.99 story.
$6.29 for a $8.99 story.
$6.99 for a $9.99 story.

I won’t go above that, because I refuse to buy ebooks over $9.99. However, I don’t buy textbooks or other generally higher-priced books as ebooks, so I don’t want to say that a book that would normally go for $50 as a print book shouldn’t go for more than $9.99 as an ebook. I buy fiction; I mostly write fiction; I’m talking fiction.

Note: we still haven’t hit the skill level (or pay grade) of a professional writer yet.

I’m going to guesstimate my average short story length as 4K.  This is short story week, because the combined post was so long I didn’t want to read it.

Short story (4K):

Time to write: 4 hours; time to edit: 1.6 hours; copy/proof .25 minutes; cover 1 hour; formatting 1 hour. Total: 7.85 hours.
Minimum wage: $116.37
HS graduate: $196.25 women/$258.27 men
College graduate: $314.76 women/$400.35 men.
I’m using 2 copies/month (beginner sales) and 5 copies/month (average sales) as my numbers. Five is the number that Dean Wesley Smith gives as a good average. (Not for him; he’s doing 7, I think. For his students.)

To make minimum wage on a $.99 short story, I need to sell 333 copies; to make HS graduate level, I need to sell 738 copies; to make college graduate level, I need to sell 1143 copies.
$1.99 = 167; 369;572.
$2.99 = 56; 94; 151.

Let’s say I sell about 2 copies/month. that will take me:
$.99, 13.9 years to make minimum wage, 30.8 years to make HS grad level, and 48 years to make college grad level money.  Sheesh.
$1.99 = 7 years; 15.4 years; 24 years.
$2.99 = 2.3 years; 3.9 years; 6.3 years.  Still over 5 years.

Let’s say I sell 5 copies/month.
$.99 = 5.6 years; 12.3 years; 19.1 years.
$1.99 = 2.8 years; 6.2 years; 9.5 years.
$2.99 = .9 years; 1.57 years; 2.52 years.

So: If I sell my stories at $.99 cents each and sell five copies a month, It’s still going to take me three times as long to make about the same money as I would selling 2 copies a month at $2.99 each.  However, I have convinced myself that I would never buy a short story for $2.99, so…I doubt I’ll get many takers at $2.99. I am going to have to work myself up to trying it sometime to see. If it’s given that getting that 70% royalty at $2.99 is the sweet spot, and that I wouldn’t buy a short story for more than $.99, what’s the answer?

Here are the numbers on selling $2.99 bundles of five short stories AND the same, freestanding short stories:
2 copies/month on short stories AND on bundles:
–$4.18 on bundles (2 copies total)
–$.35 on each story sale (2 copies for each of five stories, 10 total), or $3.50 total
–Grand total $7.68/month
–Hours on stories: 39.25
–Additional hours for bundle (with new cover): 1.5 editing (yes, I redo it), 1 hour cover, 1.5 hours formatting–4 hours additional.
–Total hours: 43.25
–Need to make: $640.97 minimum wage/$1422.93 HS level/$2205.75 college level.
–Pay for time at: 7 years/15.4 years/24 years (vs. 13.9 years/30.8 years/48 years)
5 copies/month on short stories AND on bundles:
–$10.45 on bundles (5 copies total)
–$.35 on each short story sale (5 copies for each of five stories, 25 total), or $8.75 total.
–Grand total $19.20/month.
–Pay for time at 2.8 years/6.2 years/9.5 years (vs. 5.6 years/12.3 years/19.1 years)

Here are the numbers on a 10-story collection: the short story collection (something of a length that I can turn into a book).
–10 short stories, $.99 each when purchased separately.
–1 ebook of 10 stories for $4.99 each (I’m not pricing them at this point at the moment, but I’m going to say that two $2.99 bundles of stories is a bargain at $4.99).
–1 POD of 10 stories for $9.99 each ($3.20 profit when Creatspace sold through Amazon)
2 copies/month on short stories AND ebook collection AND POD:
–$6.98 on collections (2 copies total)
–$6.40 on PODs sold via Amazon.com (2 copies total on a $9.99 POD with $3.20 profit each)
–$.35 on each short story sale (2 copies each of 10 stories, 20 total), or $7.00
–Grand total $20.38/month
–Hours: 70.85 for short stories alone, 11 hours for ebook, additional 4 hours for POD (1 hour wrap-cover formatting [back and spine], 3 formatting interior POD), total 85.85
–$1272.30min/$2824.47HS/$4378.35college
–Pay for time at 5.2 years/11.5 years/18 years.
5 copies/month on short stories AND ebook collection AND POD:
–$17.45 on collections (5 copies total)
–$16 on PODs sold via Amazon.com
–$.35 on each short story sale (5 copies of 10 stories, 50 total), or $17.50
–Grand total $50.95
–Pay for time at 2.1 years/4.6 years/7.2 years.

Conclusion: The only way I can afford to sell short stories for $.99 each is to either sell short stories at $.99 with 2 5-story bundles or with a 10-story collection and a POD. The only way to make a short story pay off at college level in under five years (on average) is to sell ~2.5 copies a month at $2.99 each or to write significantly shorter stories.  They probably aren’t worth the time, except I love writing them.


How much is your fiction worth?

When you write a story, how much should you sell it for?  Whatever the market will bear, right?  It’s a capitalistic society, so we can make a ton of money!  Huzzah!

Well, it turns out that a lot of writers (including me) will sell a story for whatever the market will give us, not what it’s worth by any reasonable standard of the work we put into it.  Take a look at standard royalty rates: anywhere from 7-12.5% gross, right?

Why is it that low?  Because as writers, we all know that what publishers do is at least seven times more important than what we do:  without publishers, there would be no product!  And we all know that most of us won’t make the publisher any money–we won’t earn out our advances.  Poor, poor publishers, doing all this for…well, what turns out to be nice profits in 2010, and will probably be better in 2011.  They’re so noble, giving us the chance to get published–not!

I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to try to get published rather than doing it yourself.  That’s a decision you have to make yourself; there’s a lot of cachet in getting published, and it does build a resume that will help with other freelance work.  So I can’t say that I won’t be tempted by a low advance and crappy rates; I have been before, and I will be again.  However, know that when you’re considering a publisher, even a big publisher, you may not be getting paid minimum wage to write.

My guesstimated numbers:

Number of words/hour on average first draft: 1000.
Words edited per hour for cleanup (NOT including client changes/revisions/copyedits/etc.): 2500.
Time taken to write/edit 10K:  10 hours writing + 4 hours cleanup = 14 hours (if everything goes smoothly, and not including submission time, and not including research/brainstorming time).

For self-employed people, you have to take the hourly wages x 2 to get about the same take-home pay, due to taxes and hours spent doing non-production tasks, like managing your business.  Working for the man means you get paid to answer emails from your employer.  Working for yourself means you don’t.

Minimum wage in Colorado: $7.36/hr.  Self employed: $14.82  Skill level:  can’t spell, cardboard characters, unbelievable plot, could be outsourced to a monkey.

Average wage of HS graduate*: $25,000 women/$32,900 men ($50K women/$65.8K men–$25/hr women, $32.90/hr men).  Skill level: can spell but can’t handle grammar, has read a few of the greats in HS English, has one or two decent strengths, has no idea why things work or don’t.

Average wage of college graduate: $40,100 women/$51,000 men ($80.1K women/$101K men–$40.10/hr women, $51/hr men).  Skill level: spelling/grammar proficient, can think analytically about a text and is aware of genre requirements, is decent at all areas of writing with a few real strengths, is starting to recognize personal style and audience.

Note: we still haven’t hit the skill level (or pay grade) of a professional writer yet.

I’m going to guesstimate my average book length as about 85K, and my average story length as 4K.

Short story (4K):

Time to write: 4 hours; time to edit: 1.6 hours.  Total: 5.6 hours.
Minimum wage: $82.42 (just over 2 cents/word)
HS graduate: $140 women (3.5c/w)/$184.24 men (4.6c/w).
College graduate: $224.56 women (5.6c/w)/$285.60 men (7.1c/w).
Note:  still not to pro writer skill level yet.

Conclusion: assuming that writers are fast and work cheap, and the editors ask for no changes or help with promotions, semi-pro rates should be 7.1 cents/word.

Pro rates should be more than that; the fact that pro rates are generally defined at 5c/word implies that pro writers are more skilled than a monkey but are only writing at the same level as a high-school graduate.

Novel (85K):
Time to write: 85 hours; time to edit: 34.  Total: 119.
Minimum wage: $1751.68
HS graduate: $2975/$3915.10
College graduate: $4771.90/$6069
Again, not to pro writer level yet.

Conclusion: assuming that writers are fast and work cheap, and the editors ask for no changes or help with promotions, an advance at a smaller publishing house should be $6K.  Advances at large publishing houses should be proportionately larger.  Advances for books requiring research should be proportionately larger.

But wait! The publishers are taking all the risk, right? No.

The writers are taking the risk that the publisher will ask for edits (and they will); they are taking the risk that the publisher will ask us to do promotions (and they will).  If the publisher is taking all the risks, the writer should be paid hourly for those tasks–at $101/hour, for smaller publishing houses and more for larger houses.

If that work is worth nothing, then writers with platforms (or track records) are not worth more than writers without platforms or track records, and that is clearly not the case.  The writers are also taking the risk that the publisher will screw up somehow on the book.  The writer is investing in the publisher as well: if the publisher isn’t making money for the writer, why?  Is the publisher incompetent?  The publisher thought the book was good enough to make them money, or they wouldn’t have bought it.  Or shouldn’t have bought it.

How important is the writer to a book?

Is the writer more or less important than the publisher when it comes to a project?

Let’s (generously) say that the publisher and writer each contribute about half the value of a book, that what they do is equally important to the success of a book.  Then why aren’t writers making 50% net, with net being “retail minus the physical cost of the book, if any, and bookseller discount”?

Because the publishers will pay us whatever we will put up with; that’s capitalism for you.  They can make a ton of money!  Huzzah!

I mean, I can’t blame them:  wouldn’t you?

*Numbers taken from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011–033),Indicator 17.  Latest data for 2009.