Since I started self publishing I’ve occasionally been asked whether I plan to become a full time writer. To date the answer has been a firm no for two reasons.
1) Without a reason to leave the house each morning I suspect I’d go barking mad inside six months.
2) Whatever the aggravations of the day job I am rather attached to the steady income that it brings.
Writing is not the easiest way to earn a living wage. The amount of money I’ve made from writing in the twenty months I’ve been active would class it as a very well paid hobby but a very badly paid job. To put a number to that, last year was my first full twelve month period. I made (after deductions) the equivalent of 20% of my day job take home pay, so like I said, well paid hobby. In my previous post I commented that being a published writer – be it indie or traditional – means being a self employed businessman(woman), which in turn means basing decisions on the best information available. So coming across a blog entitle What is Your Novel Worth by Jeff Posey, twigged my interest.
This blog revolves around the financial concept of NPV – Net Present Value. Loosely put this is a measure of what the potential revenue stream from your work is worth today. To take directly from Possey:
It’s easiest to imagine NPV in reverse. Let’s say you go to a bank and ask their financial wizard how much you’d have to give them to get, say, a $50 check every month for forty years. The number they give you is essentially the NPV of the future cash flow of $50 per month. NPV has a long track record in business and law.
We’ll make these calculations over forty years…
NPV was something I came across in university but haven’t really used since but it is a tool which has pretty solid applications for a writer. It’s useful for comparing two schemes that do the same thing in different ways. It tends to make a lot of assumptions but as a forecasting method it has its uses. Especially for a writer comparing self publishing to traditional publishing. Now it is hard to think forty years down the line. After all ten years ago who saw the rise of e-readers and self publishing as a viable means of reaching a mass audience? Well probably a few people in Amazon, who knows how many but likely no more than the number of fingers on the hand of a blind butcher. But a great many people out in the real world already do sign up to long term agreements. Do you have a mortgage? When then you’ve signed up to an agreement that is fundamentally based on the hope that you will be in a position to pay the monthly installments. Sure various financial tests are applied but basically the whole thing is based on the hope that past performance does guarantee future returns.
Anyway, how do I think this relates to writing? Prior to the e-reader revolution an individual novel had only a fairly short life span. Once a book went out of print then it was of no further financial value to to the author. Copies might float around in second hand bookshops for decades but that has no effect on the authors bottom line. True there are timeless classics that will likely stay in print indefinitely but the seventy years of copyright post death was irrelevant for the average novel since a work that stayed in print ten years was probably doing well. Now, at least in theory, a book could remain available for the whole of the copyright period. Even if the number of sales per year is small, if those continue to tick away for years on end, the sums of money could be significant in the long run. Or to put it another way be the gift that keeps on giving. Just as important a writer’s entire work could remain available and if I have noticed anything it is that the best advertizement for one of your books is the existence of another.
Success in writing has by any measure always been about the long game, with most overnight successes being the result of years of effort, the changes in nature of publishing have made it even longer. If we take on board what Jeff Posey has said then we have to think in the long term as well as the short, make sure we make best advantage of our work. With a potential earning period of decades, it becomes important to keep that in mind when asked to sign any kind of publishing contract. Certainly any request for the rights for the whole of the copyright period should be viewed with extreme suspicion.
Jeff Posey’s article can be found here and I strongly recommend a read through.
There is also an interesting series of comments on this topic on the Passive Voice.
I’ll finish off with a final word from Possey
Lesson: Write more, do other stuff less.