If you're interested in being a self-published author, you've probably heard it said more than once that success means different things to different people. Maybe it's just the personal satisfaction of having written a book. Maybe it's touching a single soul with the power of your words. Maybe it's a butterfly landing on your shoulder or some shit.
Bullshit. For the purposes of this blog post, success will be strictly defined as making enough money from your writing alone to support you and your family.
You've probably also heard it said that there are no secret formulas for success. Bullshit on that as well. In fact, the math is so simple, I wrote it with a goddamn crayon on a Post-It note.
W = The amount of money per year you need to make to support yourself and your family.
X = The average number of books you sell in a year.
Y = The average royalties you make from each book sale.
Z = The number of books you need to publish in order to make a living.
Note: Before you get started, know that Z, with very few exceptions (No, you're not an exception, so get it out of your head right now.) will always be greater than 1.
Z > 1
Ready to plug in some numbers? Let's go!
Wikipedia tells me that the current median household income in the United States is around $50,000, so that's how we'll define W for now.
Starting with an example at the extreme of shittiness, let's say you sell one book a month, and you make $2 in royalties per sale. Twelve months in a year (X), times $2 per sale (Y) gives you $24. Bump that up to $25 to make the math easier.
$50,000/$25 = 2,000
That means you have to write and publish two thousand books before you reach your stated career goals.
Look, I never said it was going to be easy. But take heart, because I'm also not saying you actually need to write two thousand goddamn books before you can make a living as a writer. We use letters in math for a reason. They're called variables, which means they can be fucked with.
Ultimately, our goal is to fuck with the Z variable. That's the one that's going to gain us our financial independence. But we don't have any direct control on that side of the equation. It's merely a function of the factors on the other side.
Depending on what kind of lifestyle sacrifices you're willing to make, you could adjust W right down to the poverty line and feed your kids store brand cat food. But that's no fun, and I'm not big on moderation and restraint, so let's look more closely at the other variables.
You have a little wiggle room with pricing your books, but increasing Y too much is likely to lower X, and Y has a lower limit that an increase in X (of which there is no guarantee) may not make up for. The X variable is the one you have the most freedom to fuck with.
Just so we're clear, this isn't just some theoretical horseshit that I'm pulling out of my ass in hindsight after having achieved success. I was focused on this equation from the beginning. My desire to not be dependent upon an employer was such that I did the math, and I did it often. I wanted to know exactly how much work I had to do before I could quit my job and write full time. I had my future all mapped out, and a pretty good idea of when it was going to happen.
My calculations were off by years.
As it turned out, the more novels and short stories I wrote, the more complicated the equation began to get. Other factors were coming into play. Unforeseen sub-variables which were effecting X... in a good way.
As is true with any activity, the more books you write and publish, the better you get at writing and publishing books. Simple as that.
You're not writing this shit in a vacuum.
Well played, sir. But I was speaking metaphorically. Writing is a time consuming process, but you're not spending that entire time doing it. You've got other shit going on in your life. There's that shitty job, your pestering family who keep nagging you about wanting to be "fed" and "loved". And there are porn breaks and cigarette breaks, usually in that order.
But there's also the time you spend reading blog posts and tutorials about marketing by people who are more successful than you are. You're learning shit as you go, and applying it to your own marketing strategies.
Not everyone who sees your book is going to buy it. Maybe the ratio amounts to only a fraction of a percent. If I remembered more high school math, I could probably throw in another equation here. But as long as the "people buying your book" side of your ratio is higher than zero, it's a seed that you can nurture.
Every blog post you write. Every shitty meme you share on your Facebook author page. Every comment you make on a forum which allows you to have your book links in your signature. Each of these is a small gust of wind, blowing your seeds over new soil.
When you start gathering a few fans, your gusts become exponentially larger. Get enough people to grab a new release at the same time, and it could land on an Amazon bestseller list. Depending on how you categorized your books, that isn't as insurmountable an obstacle as you might think.
Can anyone make a living as a writer? Sure.
Will everyone who wants to make a living as a writer make a living as a writer? Fuck no.
Where do you fall on the spectrum?
People who would like to make a living at writing.
People who would like to make a living at writing, and are willing to take the time and the effort it takes to write, edit, and publish a novel, sacrificing the things they'd rather be doing at any given moment during the process.
People who would like to make a living at writing, and are willing to take the time and the effort it takes to write, edit, and publish a novel, sacrificing the things they'd rather be doing at any given moment during the process, and who aren't going to give up after their first novel doesn't take off like wildfire.
People who are going to continue along this path until they reach Z.
This isn't an easy gig to break into. But if you throw enough experience, knowledge, exposure, and perseverance at your X variable, you'll find that the path toward Z gets increasingly less steep the further you travel. It'll look like a parabolic or hyperbolic curve or something. I don't know. I used up all my math knowledge on the Post-It note above.