So here we all are, another New Year before us. My youngest daughter is five months old now, I’m another year older and I’ve actually charged my laptop and made it out of the house for a few hours.
Due to the exorbitant cost of childcare in NYC, it doesn’t make much financial sense for me to return to work right now just to spend my entire paycheck so someone else can raise our children 8 AM-6 PM. So my husband and I have an agreement: I get these four years, until both of our daughters are in school full-time, to try to achieve a reasonable level of profitability with my writing. If, by then, I’m not making a reasonable income from it I will go back to a day job to help to financially support our family.
Which is totally, completely fair. And also terrifying.
Let me just break down the numbers very roughly so you too can know my terror:
Let’s say I sell my first book on Kindle for $3.99. The current Amazon self-publishing platform lets you keep 70% of all proceeds, which equals $2.79 per book. So in order to even make $20,000 a year self-publishing, I will have to sell about 7200 books a year by year-end 2023.
SEVEN THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED BOOKS!
And that doesn’t even factor in the overhead. Which between forming an LLC, hiring a professional editor and cover artist, I’m thinking will cost around $4000. So add that in…
EIGHT THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED BOOKS!
And it’s already almost the end of January of Year One and I am still likely an entire year away (at minimum) from having a first book to even offer at market.
I decided to write YA, in large part, because I realized that was what I was already writing. My two finished plays are both about 17-year-old girls. But the other part of my decision was that, unlike playwriting, YA was a genre that can actually make money.
Although that’s still true, according to a Slate piece on the YA decade in review, young adult fiction sales reached an 11-year low in 2019. This is not entirely terrible news–the market became ridiculously popular, then oversaturated, then the attempts to enter the market became more and more ridiculous to get the attention of new readers to the point that those readers started to leave and so the money followed them. So now all the get-rich-quick writers seem to be moving to middle-grade fiction. Fine.
But add to that, social media, which is the primary marketing tool for self-published authors, seems to be on the decline. The me that believes in goodness and decency and the joy of being alive could not be happier about that! I mean, my Facebook birthday greetings this year barely topped 20, after peaking years ago somewhere around…100?
I was thrilled!
Until I remembered that the only way to become a successful writer is by having people who love your book tell their friends who love to read about your book and on and on. And with a less powerful social media, and no publishing house to boost my signal even a little bit, the first-wave readers are now going to be even harder to find, which amplifies out exponentially and becomes incredibly important when decisions will have to be made on whether or not this is profitable enough for me to continue doing by a certain month. So:
Step 1: Extend my sphere of influence beyond my mother, mother-in-law, and aunt. (Haha I kid, I kid…just not by as much as I would like.)
How am I going to accomplish Step 1? I’ve rejoined Twitter to start with. Even if it is on the decline (is it?) it’s still the go-to place for self-published authors to network so I have no reason not to try to achieve my natural saturation point there.
I’m also going to start blogging again. I experimented with frequency when I started my blog back when and I’m now convinced no one “follows blogs” anymore (did they ever?). Writing frequent blog posts burned me out, the content was middling at best, and readership was low. Last year when I had less-frequent, higher-quality posts, I got substantially more hits per post. So I’m going to aim for one blog post per month. I love the idea that people have an expectation that when they click on my blog they’re going to get some interesting, well-written content.
Which brings me to Step 2 for 2020:
Build my brand.
And if that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, we haven’t even gotten to the Most Important Step 3:
Finish my first novel!
Then, there are so many more things to do this year. I have a ton of research on the self-publishing business left to do to try to maximize my first effort to enter the market (hard deadline: year-end 2021, hoping for sooner). I’m going to start an LLC. Once I finish the second (or third?) draft, I’ll need to find beta readers and hire an editor and a cover artist. There’s also a never-ending myriad of smaller tangential tasks, like selling some stuff on eBay to create some money for this so I don’t put my family of six in the hole for something that has no actual guarantee of making back the initial investment. All while raising two tiny, adorable children (and more immediately, getting the tiniest one to sleep past 5:30 AM).
As sobering as all this is, there is a silver lining. The greater the strides I can make this year, the more each subsequent year will build on/benefit from them and there will be better news around each corner. For instance, I’m not just writing a stand-alone novel. I’m building an entire world that can hopefully sustain a series of novels. So goals like selling 8600+ books a year would seem a bit less daunting if by that time I have multiple books out…not to get ahead of myself.
Also, unlike 2019 (which I spent the entirety of pregnant and newly postpartum), at least now I can drink again.🍷