Sunday, May 29, 2011

Self-Published Author: Deadlines, Making a Living, 10-year plan

Going to be close on deadline, but I can do it! Tuesday at midnight is the deadline for my first manuscript. I'm currently sitting at 48,000 words. I have about 20,000 more to go. Then let it simmer, and work on outlining second book.

Which brings me to one of my favorite activities: GENRE SNOOPING. That's right. What are people in my genre writing? What are they pricing it at? What does it read like? I've mentioned Lucy Kevin before in regards to her ebook pricing strategy, and was surprised to realize why I couldn't find a ton of information about her. She doesn't exist. Okay, she does, but her main writing name is Bella Andre. No, I'm not unmasking a superhero, she plainly lists her pseudonyms on her main site. 

Bella Andre is an indie publishing goddess! She has over 16 titles and even better, she's like me! Let's write those modern, contemporary stories about love in the real world! Melodrama? Yuck. Weak females? Double yuck. Super strong females the male must "tame?" Super double yuck. June looks like it's going to be me devouring her entire Lucy Kevin line. It might be the first series I can put in my section of books I have personally read and like for my readers waiting in between my novels (check out my Catering to the Readers post)

So there is hope for my writing style. +1. I next played with the real numbers posted by one of the wonderful brains behind The Writer's Guide to Epublishing, D.D. Scott, and also by YA author Megg Jensen, writer of Anathema. At $2.99, Megg saw sales in the range of 50-150 books per month. D.D. Scott's $2.99 offerings, with a $.99 intro (Bootscootin' Blahniks) sees monthly sales between 200-290 books per month.

Why would I forecast my own writing? After all I have 0 data for my own books. True, but I can set goals. I know I will sell at $2.99 for a royalty of roughly $2.00, to make the math easy and to account for slight variations in royalty calculations between Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords. I currently have a publication schedule of two novels per calendar year. This year is only one, but it's my first year. I have Book #2 of the Red Ink Collection, PAST DUE, slated for March 2012, and Book #3 SERVED which is a sequel to CANCELLED slated for August 2012. 

If I average 100 books per month, per title (yes, some months might see CANCELLED sell 150, but PAST DUE only 57, and vice-versa. Calculations are based on an average, so I can even have good and bad months and not panic, Hitchhiker's style). In 2012, I will make $5,400 on my three novels. That meets my second goal of writing when I began my fiction career: Make $5,000 in one calendar year from my fiction writing. 

What if I do better than that? What if my numbers are higher, say 150 books per novel per month on average for the year? That's $8,100 in 2012. 

The highest I hoped for was to average 200 books per title per month. Again, we're talking averages, so having a few outlier months that are awesome would be enough to pull the average up. This is like big dreaming. That would be a nice $10,800 for 2012. Or 5,400 books sold in the year.

Now here is where the math gets interesting. Once I have more titles, assuming I can keep the average up (which it looks like is possible given D.D. Scott's numbers on her older titles, remember just average, not every book must sell the average number each month), in 2013 I would have 5 novels (no idea what book 4 and 5 are, but I have ideas that could flesh out, too far in advance to think concretely that far. Maybe PAST DUE gets a sequel, maybe it doesn't.) Average of 100 books per month per title (5) = $10,200 for the year. Average of 150 books per month per title = $15,300. Average of 200 books per month per title = $20,400. 

That's moving from intern to entry level hire.

I continued my two books per year production schedule up to 9 novels, or 2015, which is where I think a little burn out might occur. Then I stepped down to 1 novel per year. I calculated out for the next ten years because that is the length of my husband's naval career at the moment. Here's where I'm looking at this as a career path:

2021, ten years in the game. I'm 39 years old. 15 novels in the game. 
100 books average per month per title = 17,800 books $35,600.
150 books average per month per title = 26,700 books $53,400.
200 books average per month per title = 35,600 books $71,200.

Over my ten year career:
At 100 books avg. I would have sold 114,000 books, made $228,000.
At 150 books avg. I would have sold 170,900 books made $341,800.
At 200 books avg. I would have sold 228,000 books and made $456,000

What's The Point? My writing, while keeping me sane, doesn't come without trade-offs. For every 30 minutes of wordmongering, that's 30 minutes I'm not hanging with my family or doing something else. Some things, my writing is way more productive over, like over me playing video games. Other things, like playing with my daughter or playing a family game I wouldn't necessarily put my writing down as more important in comparison. For the record, doing laundry does not override writing time. :)

I've been writing for 4 years (non-fiction articles). I took off considerable time when I became pregnant and had my daughter. About 14 months of maternity leave :) I made $4,000 my first year writing, $2,000 my second (I became pregnant that year after struggling for over a year with fertility issues), and $1100 my third (didn't start writing again until daughter was 6 months old). Last year I claimed a $500 profit, because as she learned to walk, I got busy. Very busy. Now that she's almost 2, there is more time she is independent. 

I have to look at the monetary value of my writing and decide if it matches up with the qualitative value of my life. Does the money I make for the hours I work add to my family's well-being by giving us money to take vacations, by keeping Mommy from feeling restless/worthless, by growing a retirement fund for me to perhaps lessen the financial burden later? I think it does. 

Why forecast 10 years? In ten years, my daughter will be 12. With 15 novels, I could easily take a long hiatus and still see some money come in. There's no telling what life will be like between now and then, or even after that date. I do know most likely my husband will be leaving the Navy and that will be a big transition. That extra money will probably come in handy in reducing the stress between military and civilian job. 

10 years is also a good length of time to plan a career path. No one goes from grunt to manager level in one year. It's important as indie writers we seriously sit down and look at expectations. We're not all going to be Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, and Dean Wesley Smith. In fact, this year, I'm the equivalent of the girl getting the coffee. I'm writing my first novel, and politely talking to those ahead of me already published. Next year, I'll be the new girl in the cubicle farthest from a window, only part-time until a full-time position opens up. :)

But, we're in a growing industry. Who knows? Maybe I sell an average of 300 novels per title in 2012, breaking my highest expectations. Maybe I go from intern to full-time employee, with benefits. It's entirely possible with the double digit growth in ebooks. Of course, that also means more competition. So maybe I won't break an average of 75 books per month per title and spend more time in the windowless corner, still being asked to make the coffee once in awhile. 

I urge all of you to sit down and crunch some numbers. Have a goal. Have a realistic goal (100 books per month), a fantastic goal (150 books per month), and a super-awesome screaming from the top of the mountain goal (200 books per month). Reassess every year. 

For now, my 10 year plan is going in the front of my writing notebook (a three-ring binder with sheet protectors for my goals, current project, and next project). I will see it everyday. And work towards it every time I jump in my role as a writer and publisher.

"CANCELLED" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.


  1. Elizabeth,

    Hey there! What a great blog. I love the way you break everything do - it makes it all so real and do-able. I know you're going to be a great success.

    :) Bella Andre / Lucy Kevin

  2. Ooops, I meant "Break down" instead of "break." LOL

    :) Bella / Lucy

  3. Oh my goodness! Thanks for the vote of confidence Bella! I have purposely NOT bought the Lucy Kevin series yet because I know once I do, I will be down for the count. I loved your packaged books approach.