Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Making the Sausage: Bookkeeping

I know it's gauche to talk about how much money you make, but for the purposes of the first Making the Sausage post of 2018, I'm going to give you, my beloved fans, a glimpse behind the curtain and tell you what I made in 2017:


Nope, that's not a misprint, joke, error, exaggeration, or any other way you might like to dismiss that number.  Now, no one is currently in arrears, but I haven't received payment for December from one of my publishers yet, so this number will go up slightly.  My absolutely honest prediction is that that $4.94 will go up to about $50 or $60 when that last payment comes in.  So I'm not showing you a clever fluke of timing or anything, either.

Five bucks.  No sleight of hand.  I made five bucks writing in 2017.  And you know what?  I'm not only happy about that, I'm pretty ecstatic.  Obviously, I'm more excited about the symbolic value of that $5 than the latte I may buy with it later, but this is still a major milestone for me.  See, for the past four years I've actually lost money at my writing career.

You might be wondering how that's even possible, especially if you're not a writer or are new to the game yourself.  Well, first of all, it's not only possible, it's probable.  Most writers do not make a profit off their writing.  Writers who write full time for a living are so rare that in the field we call them "unicorns."  I don't know the exact figures, but I'd venture to say that even if you disregard every grandpa with a funny story and a "publish" button on Amazon, and you just look at the people legitimately trying to make a career at writing, probably 95-99% of them have day jobs.  And of those 1-5% of working writers who are making a living, most of them are making their bucks with ghostwriting, technical writing, editing, and journalism.  In other words: work for hire.  Very, very few people are writing what they want and making a living at it.

So, understanding that I'm not a unicorn, how did it take me five years to make my first five bucks?

First of all, being as this is a Making the Sausage post, let me tell you how I keep my books.  I use an Excel spreadsheet and for each book I publish create two charts: one for cost outlay and one for profit.  Here for instance is my 2017 chart for THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO:

So, on the left is where you're going to put things like shipping, ordering author copies of books, travel expenses, and if you're a self-publisher, costs for things like covers, editing, audiobook engineering, and the like.  On the right is your profits from events and, if you like to break it down by book, your monthly sales. 

Now, I picked this particular chart because it's a good example of two things.  First, you can see how I'm normally losing money.  I'm selling 1-3 of each book at an event, so at a good event I'm selling maybe 20 books.  That's not necessarily even going to cover the table cost for most events.

Second, you can see how in this business I'm essentially gambling on myself.  I bought 20 author copies of TGA, because I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to sell those at events.  You can see my unit cost is about $8.05, and I usually sell books for $10 (but sometimes $12.)  So I'll have to sell 16 books before I've even broken even on that initial purchase.  Even if everything goes perfectly, I only stand to make $40 of profit by selling that entire lot of TGAs.  And I only sold 7 this year. 

Now, the obvious question is: why don't I just sell my books for more money?  Say, $20 and double my profit?  Yeah, well, first of all, I don't see anybody shelling out $20 for an unknown author's work.  But second of all, I don't want to gouge my fans.  And third and perhaps most important of all, I'm not worried about short-term profit right now.  I'm worried about building my fanbase so that I can stand to make profit in the long term.  I'd rather take a bath on a $10 TGA today, and possibly find a fan who will go back and buy my entire backlist.  If I do that, then I've made $70 in the long run.  But also the value of a new fan can't be measured in money.

So, to close out the Making the Sausage portion of the post, if you do this for each of your novels, and use Excel's handy-dandy adding formulas, you can show how much you're spending and how much you're making for a year. 

Now, you've probably already figured out how I've been losing money for the past four years.  See, I greatly enjoy conventions, street fairs, and other events, but even with the generosity of my con partners Mary Fan and Elizabeth Corrigan opening their homes to me and splitting costs, the cost of attending six or seven events a year has always outweighed the modest profits of my books.  But the three of us have kept at it all this time, trying to get our names out there and building our respective fan bases.  As I explained earlier, you take the initial loss to plan out a career where you can start to make money.

So, every year since BRAINEATER JONES came out in 2013, I've watched my small loss decrease.  The first year (which was really only a few months, since BRAINEATER came out in October) I had a small loss.  Then in 2014 I had a little bit bigger loss, because I did a whole year of events with only one, then by the end of it, three books to sell.  Then in 2015 the gap between profit and loss grew a little tighter.  In 2016 I nearly broke even.  Now, finally, in 2017 I have the symbolic victory of a $5 profit.  So what else has been happening?  I have a backlist now.  I'm not just selling one book.  The fans I've been developing are coming back to buy all seven of my books.  My backlist is slowly generating me money as my fanbase expands and they comb back through it.  I'm just starting to tip over from the "discover me" stage into the "now that you've discovered me, read all my stuff" stage.  And it feels damn good, even if it is just $5.

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