Every beginning writer I know (including myself back about thirty plus years) is in a hurry.

Fact of publishing, sadly. But before two years ago, beginning writers knew that getting into publishing was going to be a long and hard road through the head-shaking methods of traditional publishing. Most writers who started down that road didn’t make it. And many who did make that first or even second sale quit shortly after, often because the process didn’t get easier, but actually harder.

Now let me be clear here. Like my much-missed friend Bill, I still consider a writer new until at least ten novels published. Most writers never make it to ten. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of us did in the old traditional system. Under the new indie publishing way, a ton more writers will make it to ten and far beyond. And that’s fantastic.

But writers need to understand some time factors involved in this business. Especially if the writer hopes to make a living with his fiction on either the indie or traditional road (or both roads). And understanding the time factors involved will allow a writer to keep writing and attempt to be patient and maybe make it to that tenth novel or beyond.

Compare and Contrast

There are a number of pretty major assumptions I am going to make in the following calculations.

#1 Assumption: I am going to assume that the writer is fairly smart and doesn’t go crazy self-promoting their first novel past normal Twitter, Facebook, and web site.

#2 Assumption: I am going to assume the writer just keeps writing and can finish a novel in six months. If you are faster, you can do the math.

#3 Assumption: I am going to assume the first novel is just a first novel and following books get better with practice. And the books are genre books, meaning if they sold in science fiction or mystery or romance, they would make about $5,000.00 advance.

#4 Assumption: I am going to assume sales are very low to start off on the indie side. And I count AROUND THE WORLD sales from ALL SITES, not just Kindle.

#5 Assumption: Even though I suggest writers do both indie and traditional in the real world, for the purpose of this article, the author either goes one way or the other. Not both.

Let me play some simple math games to show the point I am driving at. If I get any of these figures wrong, please correct me.

Step One: Finish First Novel. Genre Book. Ready to go on January 1st, 2012.

Traditional: Mail book to editors.

Indie: Put book up for sale on all sites.

Income while writing the second book.

Income: Traditional: No response in six months other than rejections. No money.

Income Indie:  Sales are slow because it is the only book up under that name. Maybe average 5 sales per month across all sites at $4.99 list price. $3.50 profit per sale. $3.50 x 5 sales x 6 months = $105.00.

Step Two: Finish Second Novel. Genre, Same Author Name as First Novel. Ready to go on July 1st, 2012.

Traditional: Mail book to editors. Keep first book in the mail at same time.

Indie: Put book up for sale on all sites.

Income while writing the third book.

Income: Traditional: No response in six months other than rejections on both books. No money.

Income Indie:  Sales pick up a little because a second novel is likely better than the first and there are two books under same author name. Maybe both books now average 10 sales per month across all sites at $4.99 list price. $3.50 profit per sale. $3.50 x 10 sales x 6 months = $210.00 per book. ($420.00 total for the six month period.)

Total income for first year (2012) of writing:

Traditional: Nothing

Indie: $210.00 + 210.00 + 105.00 = $525.00

Step Three: Finish Third Novel. Genre, Same Author Name as First and Second Novels. Ready to go on January 1st, 2013.

Traditional: Mail book to editors. Keep first two books in the mail, getting discouraged on first book and slowing down on submissions.

Indie: Put book up for sale on all sites.

Income while writing the 4th book.

Income: Traditional: No response in next six months other than form and personal rejections on any book. No money.

Income Indie:  Sales pick up even more because a third novel is likely better than the first two (called practice) and there are now three books under same author name for readers to find and buy. Maybe the three books now average 25 sales per month across all sites at $4.99 list price. $3.50 profit per sale. $3.50 x 25 sales x 6 months = $525.00 per book. ($1,575.00 for the six month period.)

Step Four: Finish Fourth Novel. Genre, Same Author Name as First Three Novels. Ready to go on July 1st, 2013.

Traditional: Mail book to editors. Keep first three books in the mail, getting even more discouraged on first book and slowing down.

Indie: Put book up for sale on all sites.

Income while writing the 5th book.

Income: Traditional: Sell book #4 for a $5,000 advance in November. One book deal. Three payments. No contract or money will come in before spring of 2014. So No Money.

Income Indie:  Sales pick up slightly even more because a 4th novel is likely better than the first three (called even more practice) and there are now four books under same author name for readers to find and buy. Maybe the four books now average 30 sales per month across all sites at $4.99 list price. $3.50 profit per sale. $3.50 x 30 sales x 6 months = $630.00 per book. ($2,520.00 for the six month period.)

Total income for second year (2013) of writing:

Traditional: Nothing

Indie: $1575.00 + $2,520.00 = $4,095.00

Step Five: Finish Fifth Novel. Genre, Same Author Name as First Four Novels. Ready to go on January 1st, 2014.

Traditional: Can’t mail book to editors because your contract for the 4th novel restricts you. Must sit on book and earlier books to let editor exercise options clause on your next work in the same genre under the same name. The company doesn’t even have to look at your option book until after acceptance of the first novel in the contract in the fall of 2014.

If book sold in November, contract will arrive by February 2014 if lucky. Payment will arrive in May if lucky. 1/3 of advance on signing. Acceptance of book will be 1/3 in the last part of 2014 and publication payment will arrive, if lucky, the last half of 2015.

Indie: Put book up for sale on all sites.

Income while writing the 6th book.

Income: Traditional: 1/3 of $5,000 contract, assuming no agent. Income total spring of 2014. $1,666.00

Income Indie:  Sales pick up slightly even more because a 5th novel is likely better than the first four (called even more practice) and there are now five books under same author name for readers to find and buy. Maybe the five books now average 35 sales per month across all sites at $4.99 list price. $3.50 profit per sale. $3.50 x 35 sales x 6 months = $735.00 per book. ($3,675.00 for the six month period.)

Step Six: Finish 6th Novel. Genre, Same Author Name for Indie as First Five Novels. Traditional author will switch genre and name to get away from option clause. Ready to go on July 1st, 2014.

Traditional: Mail new name and genre book to editors. No responses other than rejections. No response from your publisher before the end of the year on the option book under your contract which is one of your first novels already written.

Indie: Put book up for sale on all sites.

Income while writing the 7th book.

Income: Traditional: 1/3 of $5,000 contract for acceptance payment, assuming no agent. Income total fall of 2014. $1,666.00

Income Indie:  Sales pick up slightly even more because a 6th novel is likely better than the first five (called even more practice) and there are now six books under same author name for readers to find and buy. Maybe the six books now average 40 sales per month across all sites at $4.99 list price. $3.50 profit per sale. $3.50 x 40 sales x 6 months = $840.00 per book. ($5,040.00 for the six month period.)

Total income for third year (2014) of writing:

Traditional: $3,332.00 (assuming no agent and $5,000 advance. Book not yet published.)

Indie: $3,675.00 + $5,040.00 = $8,715.00 (Six books published with a 7th about to go up.)

Total income for first three years of writing: 2012-2014

Traditional: $3,332.00 (assuming no agent and $5,000 advance. Book not yet published.)

Indie: $525.00 + $4,095 + $8,715.00 = $13,335.00 for three years.

 

You can keep going if you want. But I can tell you that if you keep adding 5 extra sales per book AVERAGE and keep writing two books a year, by the end of year #5 you will be making in indie publishing over twenty thousand per year, if not more.

In traditional publishing you are going to have to sell more books for far bigger advances to make $20,000.00 after five years.

And in indie publishing at 5 years you will have at least ten books published, writing two per year. In traditional publishing you will be lucky to have three published.

And those of us old-timers in publishing know that I am being very, very generous on the traditional side in regards to time and sales.

Assumption I did not mention: The traditional side did not have a home run (meaning a huge advance) and the indie side did not have a home run, meaning hundreds of sales per month per book.

My Final Point

This business takes time. On both sides.

Also, those on the indie side, just because your book only sells ten copies on Kindle the first few months, stop panicking. In six months count all sites, like iPad, Kobo, Sony, and so on to see what the total for a book was for a certain month. After all the reporting is in for all sites. And then do the long-term math like I just did, adding a new book at your normal pace to see what that “low” number will turn into.

And it drives me nuts when a writer who has sold a hundred copies of a novel in a month on Kindle alone thinks that’s bad. Stop comparing yourself to other writers and just do the long-term math on your own sales. Those other writers who sold more aren’t writing, but promoting anyway, and will be gone shortly. You can beat them by simply keeping writing and producing more product and becoming a better storyteller.

Remember, indie writers function on long-term sales. Books don’t spoil.

Traditional publishers act like your book will spoil like a piece of fruit after a few weeks. If it doesn’t sell quickly and in large numbers, your book is a failure. You need to kill that thinking. Your book is inventory that can be sold over and over and over.

Books don’t spoil. They just earn money for you over time.

So stop being in such a hurry and focus on writing great stories. If you do that and just keep going, the money will come.

And when it does, it will surprise you because all you have been caring about is the writing.

Also, not thinking about sales all the time, not checking your numbers all the time, and focusing on only telling stories is a ton more fun.

Go have fun.

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Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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Thanks, Dean