I briefly touched on this in an early blog post. Writing is really about more than making money. If you are a short fiction writer you’d have to do a lot of work to make a good salary.
Where you live will depend on how much you need to survive. But lets assume you’d be happy with $35,000 a year. Out in California that is a small amount of money and barely scraping by. But, if I was doing it as a writer, I’d be happy to scrape by. If you stuck to short fiction, you would need to sell 700,000 words a year at pro rates (5 cents a word). That is a lot of words. And that is words to sell, not write. You’d have to write roughly 1,900 words a day that are publishable, with no days off.
Most of us don’t put something on paper and it is instantly publishable. We need to spend time editing. We need to send it out to and listen to our Beta Readers. Now back to editing. And there is always the time it sits on submissions. But, lets assume you work part time at it. Say three hours a day, five days a week, for a year. Or 780 hours a year. And you manage to get an average of 5,000 words a month published at pro rates. You’d make roughly $3.85 an hour. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
You might argue that if you really did spent 15 hours a week on writing, they could put out more that just 5,000 words published each month. But the truth is you won’t make a lot of money publishing short stories. You will get paid in a different way. You will get paid with recognition, reader enjoyment, positive feedback, and much more. This is why I fail to understand writers who believe anything less than 5 cents a word is beneath them.
They are measuring the payment of writing in dollars and it really needs to be measured in other ways. And, in many ways the payments you gets from writing can’t be measured. Reader enjoyment is hands down my favorite method of payment. Each time a reader comments on my story, enjoys a plot point, or loves a character I feel like I have been paid again for that story. Each time some one clicks the like button for this blog, I feel like I got another payment. And when someone says they have heard of me and my writing, I feel like I hit the lotto.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a pay check too. But I don’t write for the money, I write for the enjoyment. So I wonder how can we make some money in writing. The trick is that it is a process. Just like most jobs, you start at the bottom and work your way up.
I still strongly urge anyone who writes to start with short stories. Even if you have a novel in the works, starting with short stories really puts a feather in your cap. It gets your name out there to a community of readers both before your novel hits the shelf, and after.
Now, lets talk about novels. When I release Dissolution of Peace, I have no intentions of making millions in the first release. Let us say that I sell my novel for $2.99 on Kindle. And, I doubt I would start there. But lets say that I do. I get 70% of most sales. So I would need 16,750 downloads in a year to hit that $35,000. That may not sound like a lot, 17,000 downloads, but when you are trying to market that book by yourself, it really is a lofty goal. And lets not forget that you might be more inclined to start your novel off at $0.99 or $1.99 because you may be lesser known.
But, lets consider something a bit more realistic here. Lets say you really buckle down and dedicate yourself. I don’t believe it is impossible to turn out two novels in a year and six short stories sold. I work full time, run a magazine, and volunteer a bunch of hours to Youth Soccer, but that is my goal. A goal I won’t achieve in 2012, but only because I just made it this month.
Let me assume that I sell $300 in short stories (5,000 word average at 1 cent a word for six stories). And, in those sales I get to make a quick blurb about my novels and this website. I think realistically I could expect 3,000 downloads a year per novel at $0.99 price point. So I’d get $4,200 there. For a total of $4,500 a year not counting other expenses such as marketing. So, I may not be making millions as a writer. But I think that is a good goal for 2013. And $4,500 a year to do something I love isn’t bad considering the other things I love to do, watching hockey and playing video games, don’t make me a cent.
And, if you keep building from there, soon you have more sales and more works in circulation. It is a slow process, but I do believe that eventually it can be possible to make a decent amount of money as a writer. The process takes time, you have to build a readership. But remember all the other rewards you get for your writing. The ones that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.
Now some might say that I sound like I am trying to dissuade you from writing. This is not true. Don’t be discouraged by this post. If you sole goal in writing was to make money, you might want to try your hand at different types of writing. But if you have bigger dreams than money, carry on with the craft. I firmly believe that if you write for the love of story telling, the rewards (and even the money) will follow.