An Honest Look at the Finances of an Indie Author

Photo by Bart Heird.
Photo by Bart Heird.

One of the things I love about the writing community, and the indie author community in particular, is its transparency. Gone are the days when discussions about contracts and money were things you just did not do. I applaud authors who are forthright with what contracts say and how much they make. This transparency helps us all learn and be realistic about our prospects.

I have had books on sale for over a year and I completed my first tax return in which I had sales to report. Since today is officially tax day, I thought it would be beneficial to share what taxes look like, honestly, for newbie indie author.

This was not an easy post to write. I will admit that being this transparent is nerve-wracking, but I believe it is important.

Disclaimer: I did not become an author to make gobs of money. I became an author because I have stories to tell and I love writing. Yes, I want people to read my books and like them, but even if I never published another book, I would keep writing. It is part of who I am.

Another Disclaimer: I am in this writing books thing for the long haul. I have done my industry research and I know I will need more books in my backlist before I start making any meaningful money. I define “meaningful money” as my books pay for themselves and that book reading habit I have.

Here are the numbers:

First, I tracked how much production cost for each book I have produced. This only includes my outside costs. It does not include my own labor cost for things like formatting.

book cost totals




Content Edits include developmental edits and line edits.
Copy Edits are the last round of edits and include copy editing only.
Covers also includes all the Twitter and Facebook banners and other graphics for each book.

These numbers do not include an entire hosts of other expenses which includes, but is not limited to the costs of: ISBNs (I used to be a librarian. I think these are expensive but important.), proof copies of the paperbacks, software I use to compile the ebooks, traveling to a writers conference, traveling for research, copies of the print books I order to do giveaways, other giveaway items, envelopes for mailing, postage, marketing, writing classes, books on writing, domain costs, web server costs, professional organization dues, or the sheer amount of caffeine I consume in the form of tea and coffee per year.

If you total up the production costs (not including anything from the paragraph above) of putting out three books, the total is a whopping $3,965, averaging $1,321.67 per book.

There are cheaper ways to make books. You can forgo hiring a professional editor. You can hire a cheaper editor. You can buy stock covers or make your own. You can rely on readers or beta readers to do your copy editing.

You can. You can do all those things, but I do not. I want to put out the best possible book I can write. That means, I contract out the best people I can find and pay them decent money for the very hard work they do for my books. Some authors pay more than I do. Some pay less. The best thing about being an indie is I choose, and this is the path I have chosen. Your path may differ and that is okay.

Now for the hard truth. My tax returns included sales for the first two books which combined cost me $2,630.50 to produce. The third book, Letters in the Snow, did not go on sale until early in 2016. I included it here for comparison purposes.

With two books on sale, I made a whopping $448 last year.*

I did not forget any digits. That is $448 before taxes.

This is the hard truth of self-publishing, but I have friends who have gone the traditional route and their finances do not look that much better than mine.

What it means:

I am not going to lie. The numbers are disheartening, but I know they can get better. They will, eventually.

I still have a ton of work to do. I have mountains of words to write. If I want to make more money, I have to write more books. Good books, maybe even great ones. Books people want to keep reading at any rate. The ones out already get fabulous reviews, so I know I have the start of an audience and that is an amazing thing all by itself.

If you are new to publishing or thinking of jumping in, it is absolutely worth it. I did not write this post to scare you. I did it so you do not work under the belief that writing, packaging, and marketing books is an easy wave your wand thing to do. Mrs. Weasley is not going to do all that work for you, my dear. It is work, rewarding, but work.

For most of us, it also takes time. This is not my full-time job. It is another job I do, in addition to many other things that require my attention. I wish I did hide in a little hut all day and write, but that is not reality. I am learning to be content with the time I am have and be wise in my use of it.

My best advice? Do your homework and make an informed choice. Even more than that, find a circle of cheerleaders who will jump down the rabbit hole with you.

The even better advice? Keep writing, my friends.

*Updated: That is gross, not net. I lost money in the long run.

Crowdfunding and Libraries

I am over at the ITI Books Blog today talking about crowdfunding and libraries.

Budgets continue to be a major issue for most libraries. Lack of funding for programs, books, and staff has caused many libraries to make major cuts. As librarians, we know that the worse the economic times, the more people need the resources we offer. How do we bridge the funding gap?

Do you have a success story to share involving crowdfunding? Is there a project you would love to put into motion in your library but you just need some cash? Consider crowdfunding as an option.

–Jane, Happy Monday!

To whom does this belong?

Last week something happened that did not make big news, but it should have.

Timothy Vernor, an eBay vendor, won a court case in the state of Washington against Autodesk, the makers of AutoCAD.

Verner was selling used versions, not copies, of AutoCAD in his eBay store. Autodesk contended that because software is licensed by users and not owned, that Vernor had no right to sell the software to a third party.

The court ruled against Autodesk, saying that by calling the purchase transaction a lease does not make it one. The court said that the purchase of software is a purchase and the owner, the buyer, has the right to resell the item.

This court ruling could have very far flung implications within the software market. Charging ridiculous amounts of money and using licensing agreements instead of transferring ownership are how the software industry makes money. If I actually own the software on my computer, I should be free to copy it for my personal use or sell the item once I am done with it.

The Rochester house is dealing with some software issues at the moment. Mr. R is building a computer and wants to run Windows 7 as the OS. Unfortunately, only the upgrade version of Windows 7 is sold at an educational discount. This means we can not get the drastically cheaper educational version and use it on a clean hardrive. Mr. R has determined that we will have to pay for a full version of Windows for our new PC. Frankly, I would love to just use Linux and be done with it, but then we would not have a gaming PC.

Because of some issues I have been having with my laptop, I am going to, soon and very soon, wipe it clean and install all open source software. Goodbye Windows. Goodbye IE. Goodbye Office. Farewell Windows Media player. Good riddance to you all.

–Jane, who owns this?

Where the Money Goes

I have complained about paper newsletters before. I know that there is a demographic that like them and would get the information no other way, however, I still contend that the ROI is too low and the cost way, way too high.

I have never received a newsletter that could not easily and more conveniently, for me, be replaced by some electronic format.

In my mailbox, every month, I receive a community newsletter, whose sole use is the amusement of reading it as the President of the Homeowner’s Association wags her finger at people driving motorized vehicles on the grass, people parking over the sidewalks, and a retelling of how unmentionable, naughty things were found by the lake. *gasp* (My imagination is probably leagues dirtier than what is actually found out by the lake. In a way, I am glad the President is too prude to tell us exactly what is found in the recesses of the lake’s shores.) It is quite diverting. Mr. R chuckles with me as I read this part aloud. The newsletter is about 10-15 pages long and glossy. However, the 5 minutes of smiles I get does not equal the effort that goes into printing it. While it does have local club meeting information, I could easily get that information online at a central site.

My church used to send a biweekly newsletter, but we recently received the newsletter with an announcement saying that particular issue would be our last. Many things have gone up in cost and the church is trying to reduce costs where it can so we can continue to spend money on things that matter and fit with our mission as a church. Newsletters to members cost an annual $25,000. Our church staff believed this money could be better spent on missions and programs. Amen!

In contrast, this week I also received a newsletter from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation. It was glossy and in full color. Newsletters like that cost a lot of money to print, hours upon hours of staff time, and money for postage. I would rather the New Orleans Public Libraries spend money on things like new books, new buildings, and more staff. I should mention that there was an option on the back page to not receive the newsletter anymore. It was worded like an unsubscribe message at the bottom of an email which I found interesting.

When I give presentations on technology in libraries, I almost always get asked with what time do I suggest staff learn these new tools and skills. “Where does the time and money come from?” they want to know. I always tell them that we have to decide what is important. We put our time and money into things we think are important.

Yes, decisions are sometimes hard, but will we evolve and learn new skills or will we continue to spend time and money on things that may not matter as much as we think they do. Are the things we think are important really important to the people that matter, the communities we serve?

My church knows me better than my community association. I am glad my church wants to spend that $25,000 on something more substantial than a newsletter. I wonder what my community organization could buy for the money our newsletter costs? New playground equipment?

What could you do at your library of you found an extra $25,000?

–Jane, wants $25,000 to appear in her mailbox. someone start writing her a check already

ALA, You Now Have No Excuses

On the heels of Meredith and Jason, I have to throw my hat in the ring.

Jason describes a conversation we had at Internet Librarian in which we hatched the most brilliant of all schemes ever. Well, we think so anyway.

Jason describes very well the meat of our plan: ALA should offer a virtual conference at the cost of the profit they would normally net from physical attendance.

One added benefit Jason did not mention would be far fewer physical rooms and hotels needed for conferences. It is possible ALA could actually have the conference someplace nice, during a nice time of year. Milwaukee in Summer or anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line for that matter when the rest of us are boiling. We might even be able to do away with Midwinter. Oh, be still my heart!

I would only add to his description this: ALA not allowing true virtual membership and using revenue as an excuse is not longer a reason. You can not hide behind money anymore. Stop trying to do it. We all know that this is simply an excuse not to look for alternative revenue streams. In less then 24 hours, you have now had three independent members offer you alternative revenue. Think out of the box and stop torturing us with F2F meetings that are unnecessary, not to mention personally, blindingly expensive.

I also would like to take the idea a step further by wedding it to Meredith’s post. She talks about online ads and sponsorships. Not only could ALA charge the amount they would normally net from physical attendance for online participation from members, they could also pimp the vendors with everything from banner ads to sponsoring talks and themes. As Meredith said, this does not mean letting the vendors talk, it means letting them be sponsors, much like NPR does on the radio with a short little commercial blurb that does not interfere with content.

Online ads are big money and so are online sponsorships. MySpace will make over a billion dollars in ads this year. Why can’t an organization of smart professionals figure out how to do what the twenty somethings have already figured out?

The great thing about a conference with virtual content is that many, many more people will have access to it and would be willing to pay for it. I know so very many librarians who can simply not afford to go to an ALA conference, but they could afford $50 of their own money to attend a virtual conference.

Bless your heart ALA, we love you, but you really need to consider these things. Seriously. And you should do that now. Not with a million committees that will mull over it for years only producing a useless report. We are asking for some action. I believe our future is riding on the decisions that get made about this issue. Please make them soon.

–Jane, please keep in mind Jane is not very patient