The title for this post I stole from myself. It is one the vanity subheadings off a writer’s forum I frequent at Absolutewrite.com. It’s funny how such a simple statement about one’s desire to attain one of the basic necessities of life is so insurmountable in the context of the writing profession. Most of my friends are fairly amazed at what an austere lifestyle I manage to lead. And lot of that can be credited with the amazing set of supportive friends that I do have.
The statement implies I would like to write for a living, so not just write for food, but write as if it were my job that pays all the bills. As cheap as I manage to live, it will still take a whole lot for me to earn a living at writing. In this post, I’ll describe my living expenses and show that even I probably will never be able to earn a living off my writing.
First off, I have been given a house to live in. It’s a long story, but speaking of one of the basic necessities of life: shelter. I have managed to finagle for free at the moment. Really, it is a perk of my job in helping run a hotel, but even if I were to quit that job, my friends would let me stay in the house if I wanted. So we can pretend that I don’t have a mortgage or have to pay rent. I do have to pay the utilities and for the upkeep and such. Basically my friends own the house without a mortgage, they pay the taxes and that’s it. So as long as they don’t see any other expenses, I can live in the house.
My housing expenses consist of:
Gas & Electric: $100
Cable internet (no TV): $50
Water, sewer, garbage, other town expenses paid on same bill: $100
Or about $250 a month, sometimes a bit more, but why quibble considering how cheap it is? At some point, I will have to invest in some sort of upkeep, but for now the house is not falling apart. Though it c0uld use some carpet in the living room and bedroom. At the moment, it’s just a bare wooden floor. I’ve pulled up all the staples and stuff that could stick in my feet, but it’s pretty ugly. Doesn’t bother me, but most people like their houses to feel cozy or whatever. I mention this only to point out that I wasn’t given a palace to live in. It’s a partially remodeled, one story bedroom; maybe 600-700 square feet. And I haven’t bothered to finish remodeling it.
Next, I have a PhD in Math, so I have student loans. Fortunately, I was paid to go to school in a lot of ways with scholarships, teaching classes, and even some grading assignments. I walked away from 11 years worth of school with about $32,000 in loans. That’s actually amazing. Most people under those circumstances have between 200-300 thousand dollars in loans. More than they can ever pay off with the degree they get, but that’s another story and one of the reasons I am no longer in the field of education. That’s a lot of preface to say my student loans are an extraordinarily low $200/month.
The last category is the actual food category and for good measure I’ll throw in clothing. I probably spend about $350 dollars a month on this. Food itself, I’d guess $200-$300. I honestly don’t keep track. Once or twice a year I’ll buy a new pair of shoes/sneakers for work/play. A couple of cheap Chinese Walmart shirts for work per year. Shorts in the summer. So after all is said and done, I’d say I probably average at least $350 a month for food and clothing. If I were to keep track, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were under estimating and it turned out to be $400, but for now, let’s just go with $350.
So there you have it. I live on about $800/month. I would guess this is atypical for most people not living with their parents. I actually need this money to survive, so to earn a “living” I have to account for taxes, and I’m not going to get into the tax return nonsense, I’m just going to point out that I’d need to gross a little more than $1100 to earn $800 cash. We can pretend that future income tax returns go into the upkeep of the house. Sound fair? For simplicity, I’m sticking with that.
Now the question is, how much does one have to sell to be able to live like the glorious king that I live like?
At the moment, I am selling Dim Speak for 99 cents. Is it worth that? I think so. For an unproven author and a book that was not edited by a professional, I think that price is more than fair in terms of the “risk” a reader incurs for taking a chance on such a novel. If someone orders the book at Smashwords, I get about 79 cents per copy, and if someone orders at Amazon, I get about 35 cents per copy.
Thus for me to earn a “living”, I’d have to sell about 3150 copies at Amazon per month. Clearly, that’s ridiculous. Those are George R. R. Martin type numbers. Even if we pretended that I sold a small percentage from Smashwords, I’d have to sell around 3000 copies to live like a pauper.
Suppose now, I sold the book for $2.99. At this threshold, Amazon gives the author 70% minus a small fee for the kindle transfer, so I would get about $2 per book (plus a few pennies). At this price the Smashwords royalty rate is comparable to Amazon’s, and I’d get about $2.30 per book. Things are looking up. I would only need to sell about 550 copies at Amazon, or let’s pretend about 500 copies between the two distribution methods.
Though it might not sound like a lot, those kinds of sales would put me in the top 5 or 10 in the fantasy section at Amazon pretty much round the clock. A lot of good authors are not selling at these rates. They might be if they have a backlist with five or ten books to draw from, but if they have one book like me, not so much. This is why I haven’t really pushed Dim Speak. I figure why spend a few hundred in advertising, with only one product to sell. I need to have more to offer readers to justify that sort of expense.
Another common price point is $3.99 retail, or about $2.75 from Amazon and about $3.05 from Smashwords to the author. Monthly sales to earn a living is about 400 copies per month.
This price seems a bit high for my current copy of Dim Speak. As I said, my current work is an amateur endeavor. I wouldn’t feel right about charging such a steep price. Then, again, I spent the better part of three years off and on working on the project, so if someone else said they felt they deserved that much for their work, I wouldn’t argue.
I hope this gives people an idea of how difficult it is for an author to actually earn a living from writing alone. In this context, it seems even more daunting. I guess I’d better get to work!