A few weeks ago Lee Child was brave enough to stick his head into the lions mouth of the indie world. First he appeared on The Passive Voice. This is a courageous thing in itself and not to be taken lightly. Lee put himself before a crowd who he knew was going to be confrontational to say the least, and he endured quite a bit of trade-pub bashing while trying to have an honest debate. I have to commend him for that. Then, a few days later, he appeared in an email exchange with Joe Konrath, who then published the exchange on his blog with open comments. In both of these conversations they discuss their individual success.
One of them makes millions per book and is treated like royalty by his publisher. The other is Joe.
But Joe has not done too bad at all. His sales were enough to make him a millionaire last year. Not too shabby, but by Lee’s numbers he would be a failure. Lee and Joe obviously have different opinions about what success is.
Hugh Howey has said several times that the Indie Authors who have hit it big are not the real story. The real story is the one that gets little press. The real story is the number of authors that are now making a living by self-publishing their own work. Where a mid-list author used to have to work a day job to supplement his writing, that’s no longer the case. Now that same mid-lister, (especially if they have a healthy backlist that they’ve retrieved their rights to) can make a good living writing and self-publishing their work. The new authors that can afford to quit their day jobs to write full time are also in this boat. They can do what they love and make a living at it. Most would call that success.
Now try to put a number to that. What dollar amount does the average person require to be deemed successful? I’m not referring to their own individual definition. What’s the number for the majority?
Back in 2010 a group of Princeton researchers tried to put a figure on this.
They called it the Happiness Cap. They placed a figure of $75,000 a year on it.
They pointed out that there were two kinds of happiness. A person had a day-to-day mood, changing with several factors and several outside stimuli. My coffee is cold, its Monday, my job sucks, it’s been raining for six days, etc. Then they point out a more measurable happiness, one defined as a deeper satisfaction with the way their life was progressing. This is where the figure of $75,000 seemed to take hold.
From the article:
So, where does the $75,000 come into play? Researchers found that having a lower income did not cause sadness itself but made people feel more ground down by the problems they already had. The study found, for example, that among divorced people, about 51% who made less than $1,000 a month reported feeling sad or stressed the previous day, while only 24% of those earning more than $3,000 a month reported similar feelings. Among people with asthma, 41% of low earners reported feeling unhappy, compared with about 22% of the wealthier group. Having money clearly takes the sting out of adversities.
At $75,000, that effect disappears. For people who earn that much or more, individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money. The study doesn’t say why $75,000 is the benchmark, but “it does seem to me a plausible number at which people would think money is not an issue,” says Deaton. At that level, people probably have enough expendable cash to do things that make them feel good, like going out with friends. (The federal poverty level for a family of four, by the way, is $22,050.)
So, how does this relate to Self-Published authors? Simple really. With advances from the Big Five publishers dropping to an average of $5,000 per book, and the contracts almost guaranteeing the book will not earn out (unless it’s a runaway hit), you would need to land 15 publishing contracts to make $75,000 worth of advances. (Actually you’d need 15% more than that because your agent would get a cut, but that’s another post) Since most books take months if not years of querying agents and then more months/years of submission to publishers, who, if the book is signed to a contract, take 12 to 18 months to then publish it, the chances of reaching $75,000/year income is very small.
But the self-publishing author can skip all of this. They can publish without the wait, without the agent, without the publisher and the minuscule advance, and go directly to the reader. They start earning 70% of list price as soon as their book hits the virtual shelves.
Let’s take an average book price for a self-published author; $4.99.
A book priced at $4.99 earns a royalty (for lack of a better word) of $3.50 per sale.
$75,000 / 3.5 = 21,428 books per year. That’s 58 books a day. A fairly high number for a beginning author, but not out of reach.
But the self-published author can write and publish as fast and as often as they wish. So let’s increase the number of books published to three. Now they only have to move 7,142 of each book a year. 20 a day. Much easier.
And the more they write the easier it gets. The more books they have out there the less of each one they have to sell each day. These books are passive income, they earn money without the author having to do anything. This leaves them free to write the next book and the next book and the one after that, perpetuating the cycle and making it grow.
All while sitting at a desk in their pajamas, working for themselves.
Lee Child makes millions per book and most would call him a success. Many indie authors are making over $75,000 a year and quitting their jobs. Are they not a success as well? I bet if someone were to ask them they would respond with a smile and a YES.
I would say they are just as successful as Lee.
Oh, and happy too. Mustn’t forget that.