Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Earning minimum wage - answering your comments


On Monday, we talked about what it takes to earn minimum wage as an author. We've had a couple of comments on twitter/ facebook about the flaws in our logic, so let's address them....

1. "No one writes a book in 7 weeks!"
We disagree - we did. That is based on two authors of course, but the 'hours required' quoted of 420 is for both of us. Either way, the return per hour is unchanged.

1b "No one writes a book every 7 weeks consistently!"
This one, we're more inclined to agree with. Speed writing is hard work, and keeping it up week in, week out, is very difficult. Our original post was a quick and dirty that basically pointed out how hard it is to earn minimum wage as an author without a day job. If we start adding in down time, holiday pay, sick days etc... then of course it gets even harder (and is not easy to quantify).

2. "Who wants to earn minimum wage?"
Again, we agree here. Minimum wage is the amount the UK government has decreed everyone's time to be worth. In my opinion a good writer is a skilled individual. Perhaps a better rate to have used would have been the £25,000 average UK salary (approx). That's about £480 a week. So for a 7 week project (from blank page to finished article) that's £3360 per writer. With two of us and production costs (editing etc) that makes a book cost around £7k to produce, so you can double all the 'required sales' figures from Monday to get to approximately the average sales required to get that sort of income.

3. "But you spend time marketing your book, writing blog posts and tweeting too, don't you?"
Yes - we do promotional work of all kinds. Again, this makes our point that writing is a very hard way to earn a living. Last year newspapers reported a few individuals making huge amounts (John Locke, Dianne Abbott etc). There are outliers. Some do make it big. But they are the exception. We can't all be the next big thing. Of course we should aim for it, but in the meantime being able to pay for electricity, heat, light, food and rent as a bare minimum would be great.

4. "What about X facet of taxation?"
Now we're just being picky. We ignored the fact that authors (who in the UK are self employed for royalties as far as HMRC cares) will pay class 2 and 4 NIC. At the volumes we're discussing this will have virtually no/ no effect, but it is a fair point if you become a successful midlist author. It's worth talking to a tax advisor if you're shifting 1500 copies a month + at £2.99 as there are 'averaging' rules in the UK and a nice 'artistic endeavour' exemption in Ireland too.

5. "Isn't it down to skill?"
Sort of. Some good books never sell. Some poorly written books fly off the shelves. There is an element of timing, an element of luck and of course an element of quality. Books in popular genres such as romance, sci fi and crime do statistically much better than niche titles (but, results are often more polarised - huge sales or none due to crowding in the kindle store). If your writing isn't well edited, doesn't have a cover or the subject is just mundane then yes it won't sell. The basics need to be covered, and writing is a risk (including a capital risk).

6. "You shouldn't get paid for doing something you love."
Why not? If I create a product the public wants, and is willing to pay for then I see no reason not to sell a book. I'd love to agree with the 'information is free' brigade, but it takes a huge amount of time and money to make a good book. To get it noticed is even harder. As Adam Smith pointed out, it is the self interest of the butcher that puts meat on the table, not his generosity.

7. "What about those who aren't indie?"
Hard one - this depends on your contract of course. Some of the big publishers use sublicensing (I'm looking at you Harlequin) and other techniques to massage royalty rates. Typical paperbacks might bring in 8% on a £6.99 sale. That's 72p. Our kindle edition at £2.99 brings in £2.02. That makes legacy print 3x harder to earn minimum wage on. You'll have an advance of course, but if you don't earn out then you won't get a second print deal as easily.  For eBook only, there's not much a publisher can do that you can't. See previous posts on this topic.

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