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
–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.