Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Day Job Thinking


(I first published this post back in 2015 or so. Had a couple of conversations that reminded me of it, so I went looking, updated it, and put it here on this fine Friday evening.)

Day-Job Thinking goes like this: I need a certain amount of money to make my bills this month and a day job gives it to me in a “secure” fashion.

Nothing at all wrong with that thinking. Nothing. We all have to live and make bills and eat and all those sorts of things.

This is survival thinking, folks, plain and simple. So again, nothing wrong with that kind of thinking. Critical.

Long-Term Thinking is the ability of a person to see a ramification of a certain action taken now into the future. And maybe even act on the action to increase the value of something in the future.

Writers in general and indie writers in particular are horrid at thinking long term.

But put that same person in a day job at the age of 35 and they will be talking about 401K investments and so on. And maybe a college fund for their children. Thinking long term.

Regular people in regular jobs are often great at long-term thinking and there are vast amounts of articles and advice to help them with the long-term planning. It is a deep part of at least the American culture.

Also, most regular people at a certain point in life do wills and estate planning. Again thinking long term.

And regular people in regular jobs are also great at short-term thinking, making sure they do budgets, pay bills on time, keep their credit scores high.

So most of the culture is geared to balance long-term and day-job thinking.

But that balance just vanishes when it comes to writers.

Weird, very weird.

The Problem With Writing and Copyright

The first problem with writing is a perception of value.

Writers, up until a certain point in a career, don’t believe their writing has any value. So to them it is just what they do for fun, their hobby, and maybe they make some dinner money at it and get to sit at a signing.

No thought beyond how many copies it might sell over the first few months.

And depending on that writing skill to pay bills and support them when they are old is not a thought most writers can have early on. They dream about it, sure. But for most writers not one lick of planning to make a dream happen.

This attitude of no value, for some reason, is very, very difficult for most writers to shake. And since a vast majority of indie writers at the moment are new to publishing, the fact that they are making money just can’t be because they can tell a good story. Nope, it has to be because they can promote or got lucky or followed someone’s advice.

Success is never because of skill and storytelling to younger writers. To most younger writers, their writing itself has no value. But wow do they put value on their promotion skills on Facebook.

The second problem is a new writer’s inability to learn or even understand copyright. 

You tell a new writer that the story they just finished will have value for seventy years past their deaths and they just stare at you with that blank look, or nod sagely and turn away, not understanding anything but the words.

Value? How can my story have value after I am dead? And why should I even think of that now?

But if that same person bought a piece of property on a corner of a subdivision and built a building on that property, that would have value to the person. And they would put the property in their will. Or as the landlord did on the building with WMG Publishing in it, he put it in a irrevocable trust for his grandkids. Thinking very long term.

So not understanding that copyright is a form of property is a problem for most writers.

And even worse, the writer will often put the value of the story based on their own experience writing it. That novel wasn’t fun, or didn’t work out the way I wanted, so it has no value.

That’s like saying some things went wrong in the construction of a house that were solved but because things went wrong in the construction, the house has no value.

Yes, writers think that way.

The third problem is that writers assign a value to a property based on short-term sales and the present audience. 

That novel is only selling five copies a month average so it has no value. It must be awful or I didn’t promote it enough.

Value assigned by short term disappointment thinking.

Writers do this with no concept that audience changes, tastes change over years, and what might only sell five copies now might be a major bestseller in ten years.

Or twenty years.

Or twenty years after the writer’s death. Happens all the time, folks.

But that takes thinking long term.


I wrote one fine July thirty-two short stories. I have them out in a book called Stories from July.

So that book sells regularly all over the place electronically. Not a hot seller, but I’m pleased.

Thirty-two short stories. I spent about 5 hours total per story by the time it was all said and done. So about 160 hours for the entire project.

So say I had a pretty decent job at $20 per hour, I would have made in short-term money for that work about $3,200.  Before taxes and all that.

A decent amount for a month.

But if I had done that, the money would be gone to use in mortgage, food, utilities, and other things needed for survival. Survival required thinking.

But instead I spent that time on long-term thinking, building property because I understand copyright.

I created the following properties with value for 70 years past my death:

Stories from July
— Story blurb book from the 32 story blurbs.
— 32 stand-alone short stories that will be in electronic and paper edition throughout the world.
— Stories helping fill about 16 issues of my magazine Smith’s Monthly using two per month.

(I will have the stories in other collections down the road, but not counting that.)

Now, taking very little sales, far under what I actually do, let me do some math for you. Sales are across all sites, not just Amazon. And also in paper.

— Stories from July (3 sales per month  x $4 income = $12.00 x 12 = $144.00 per year.)
— Story blurb book from the 32 story blurbs.  (3 sales per month  x $3 income = $9.00 x 12 = $108.00 per year.)
— 32 stand-alone short stories.  (1 sale each average per month  x $2 income = $32.00 x 12 = $384.00 per year.)
— Stories helping fill about 16 issues of my magazine Smith’s Monthly using two per month.  (3 sales per month of each issue  x $1 income for the story part = $3.00 x 12 = $36.00 per year.)

Total income per year from the 160 hours of work will end up being around $672 per year.

So thinking only short term and not believing in the value of my work or understanding copyright (notice I had 50 different properties), I would make about $4.20 per hour.

If I was a new writer, I would think that project failed right there. 

But let me go on and show you how knowing copyright and thinking long term can change everything.

After the second year, my hourly rate for July would jump to $8.40 ($672 per year for two years)

After the fifth year, my hourly rate would jump to $21.00 per hour.

After the tenth year, my hourly rate for the 160 hours of work in July, 2015 would jump to $42.00.

So when I am 85 years old, 20 years after writing those stories in July, at low sales and no other projects using them added in such as collections and such, I will be making $84.00 per hour that year FOR HOURS I WORKED TWENTY YEARS EARLIER.

That’s right, in twenty years I will still be getting paid for hours I worked in 2015.

Go ahead, tell me what day job does that for you (besides investing in retirement accounts and such.)

Property Adds Up

I created from that one month fifty properties. (so far)

Copyright is a form of property. And if you don’t do something stupid like give a traditional publisher all your rights, you get to earn from that property for a very long time.

And your kids and grandkids and their kids can earn from your work as well long after you are gone if you plan it right.

As the CFO of WMG Publishing, my focus is always on cash streams. A bunch of employees count on me to do that.

As a writer, my focus is always on cash streams in the same way. I created at least fifty cash streams going into my future in one month last summer. A very successful month, to say the least.

Not counting what I did in July, I also created twenty-seven other major properties and another ten short stories that year.

And I did about the same the year before.

So if you don’t understand how property adds up, find a map of a subdivision or an arial view of a major subdivision. Put the photo on your wall.

Then every time you finish a story or novel or another project, put the name of the story or novel or book on the top of one house.

You now own that house (story) and it earns income for you every year.

That simple little game will give you a clear training on the value of your writing and how to think long term. (And don’t forget to go learn copyright in the process.)

It is critical that we all pay attention to short term, paying bills and buying food.

But writers have the luxury (if they take it) to also think about long term. And if you really are thinking ten or twenty years down the road, trust me, it is a lot easier to make a living with stories selling small numbers if you have a lot of stories and novels.

Property adds up each year you keep going.

And one final thing to remember. Every sale is a reader, a real person showing you that your work has value.

Keep that firmly in mind and have fun.



  • emmiD

    When I read the title and first paragraph of this post, I thought I knew what you were going to say: devotion to the craft and so on. Then you transformed it into the value of Intellectual Property and exploded my whole anticipatory complacency. Boom!

    A boom I needed. I need to reject complacency–as in thinking “this is what my writing is selling. Oh well.”–and view it as future investment with future earnings. That’s a difficult mind shift. The Licensing Learn Along put all that in my head, but what to do with that knowledge did not strike until the last few videos (finished yesterday). I’m paraphrasing: “Generate stories with an eye toward creating IP and licensing it.” That’s a game changer .

    Now comes your second transformative lesson: Everything is short-, mid-, long-term investment. Think building on a plot of land. Now think a whole street, neighborhood (and in your case, Dean, city) of Intellectual properties with increasing value. Boom!

    I had read the Magic Bakery. I took advantage of the freebie for the course. I did the Licensing Learn Along. understood it all
    Comprehending it, though? Hell of a ton of info on all of these on slow missile launch toward me. This blog? The missile finally reached my brain.

    Wow. Wow! I need to climb out of my happy little neighborhood and start doing my zoning development. And I thought it was hard to change my mind set about writing from” frittery entertainment” to ” job with fun perks”.

    Here’s me unpacking the drone so I can get an aerial view of my neighborhood.

    Thank you. That sounds so inadequate right now.

  • Philip

    I love when you break down the numbers because it’s like an Atomic Bomb dropped on the Myths! You can’t argue with cold, hard facts.

    Part of the short-term gold rush thinking I see among indies nowadays is the fact that so many people say things like, “I’ve only made $3,000 in my first entire year of writing. That’s a failure!” They stop writing, and it’s that stopping that kills them.

    Let’s be honest, this new world of publishing is loaded with snake oil salesmen. They tell you you need to “write to market,” sell your soul to Amazon with Kindle Unlimited, charge 99 cents, and spend thousands on ads. Then you’ll replace your day job and earn $250,000/year.

    It makes no sense. In the world of day jobs, no one says, “hey I have zero experience, I’m fresh out of school, so can you pay me 6 figures out of the gate? And oh by the way, I don’t want to work hard. Can we make my job easy? Thanks.”

  • Kate Pavelle

    Well said, Dean. Since I’m on the licensing train, the biggest challenge I have now is, I think, the settling of “day job thinking” into my writing. But for me, “day job thinking” isn’t just financial survival.
    It’s also transferring some day job habits to my writing and publishing, and those habits aren’t always the best ones, to be honest.
    Right now there is so much to learn it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose and all that water keeps short-circuiting my writing circuits.
    I’m doing the inventory and the corporate structure and submissions tracker.
    I’m setting up a better accounting system.
    I keep learning about marketing and audience-building, I still have audio stories to review, and all that is horribly distracting. That joyful calm zen-like state I used to get from writing, well… it doesn’t come as often anymore. I’m excited about the stories I write, I’m excited about the new stories that keep popping up in my head, but it’s as though my sense of focus to actually get them into a written form has taken a serious hit.
    I resumed dictating. That helps a lot, because I can stand and pace around, and because having my ear phones on cuts me off from the world some more and I can immerse myself into the story again.

    There is a lot of excitement over all the changes and workshops and challenges and licensing. I wonder how many other writers out there feel suddenly scatter-brained?

      • Kate Pavelle

        SIgh. Well, a bit of structure, a bit of effort and it will resolve itself. As I was doing my pre-sleep puzzle, I realized what has happened on my end. I am running two unrelated businesses (my day job) and those are *business.* Writing has been a (occasionally lucrative) hobby. I had been only fooling myself that I was being “professional.” Involved? Yes. Organized? Not so much.

        With the licensing mindset, my business brain has kicked in, full force like, like Tigger. My writing brain is bouncing in the air behind it like Piglet on its unraveling sweater. And my inner Poo says, “I want some honey, y’all are crazy.” It’s been a while since I had started a company from scratch. It’s all coming back to me now, the necessity for streamlining tasks, organizing time, ejecting useless activities, carving out time for self-care as well as protecting the that needed time from all comers. What I need to figure out is how to reel Piglet back to earth, fix his sweater, and teach Piglet to write during scheduled time instead of whenever. Moreover, how to make Poo shut up about self-indulgent treats because the job looks pretty darn big. I think my critical voice is freaking out 🙂

  • Susan

    I understand your post. I’ve seen my day job take up years of my time. I get the numbers. But I can’t find anyone else who agrees with me. Everyone I talk to – thinks that NOT holding on to a “job with everything” is crazy. Even artists I know are like, hey don’t change because “at least you aren’t worried about money.” Then I am happy for while, saying Phew! I remember what its like to starve! And then my job takes over and I wake up to how fast time is slipping by. Slipping by!

    • dwsmith


      It is always about choices.

      I have a degree in architecture, went to three years of law school. But I knew in that last year of law school I wanted to be a writer. Everyone told me to finish the last two tests and get the degree, but instead I stayed working tending bar. I was in my thirties and to everyone around me a total failure. But I only worked four nights a week, about six hours a night to make enough to live, and the rest of the time I pushed my writing, learning how to tell stories, treating it as if I had finished the law degree and hung out a shingle. I worked just as hard at the writing and learning the writing as I had done in law school.

      I was offered great jobs over those years, but I turned them all down to the disgust of my friends and family. My mother even asked me at one point after I started selling stories when I was going to get a real job and stop wasting my potential and education. (She was a mean old bitch and I didn’t see her the last five years of her life, thankfully.)

      I stayed living cheap and working at a brain-dead-job that didn’t suck my time from my writing. So the key is to find a job that does not chew up 60 or more hours a week, and then spend all the extra time with the writing. This post on day job thinking is to try to get writers to think long term a little bit, think about how when you create a property (story) it lasts a long, long time.

      Trying to get writers to understand that what they do has value.

      Writing is an international profession. Just as if a person decided to go be a lawyer and went to seven years of school and paid a lot of money for the education and moved to a different town, just to get the degree, writing takes the same kind of commitment, but the problem is that no one in the real world thinks it has value until you get to where I am at, then they think you were just born this way.

      I went through two marriages as well along the way to this point, marriages where I was expected to be someone I was not. Both my ex-spouses are great people and I like them a lot, but the pressure to get the real job, to not be me, was too much. (I went to law school in the first place because of my first wife.) Kris just lets me be me, she understands the sacrifice it takes to get to this point. And that’s why we have been together now for 33 plus years.

      Easy answers? Nope. But writing has value, long, long term value, far more than any day job. I sort of always knew that. But day jobs have short term value of making money and comfortable survival. And between those points are the tough decisions.

      • Susan

        That is quite a feat. That took real courage. It paid off.
        I guess I’m afraid to let go of anything. I don’t want to give up any security.
        Maybe when we lose things or can’t get what we want, we are forced not have it, and have to deal with the situation.
        But when we have to give the things away we worked for away, it is harder.
        I’ll keep plugging along I guess. I’ll start by counting my successes for this year.
        The Short Story Challenge and Licensing have been excellent.

        • dwsmith

          Exactly, Susan. Accepting where you are at and tucking the job off into a corner is a great way to free up your mind for the writing stuff. And remember, plugging along often wins races. There is no time clock on this profession. (grin)

  • James Palmer

    Good stuff here, Dean. This really resonates with me. I’ve been stuck in long term thining versus short term financial realities as of late. It’s hard to create and publish projects to make money down the road when you don’t even half enough money to cover all of your monthly bills, let alone purchase covers. But I will get there. You make a great point about the increasing value over time, and about having a lot of content out in the world. I can’t help thinking I’d be a lot further along if I had had some books ready to publish right when the Kindle came out. But I’m hardly a rank beginner either. I’m just going to keep on keeping on. Thanks for everything you do for indie authors.

  • Pamela Kenney

    Thank you for writing this post Dean! And also for sharing your journey to get to this point in your writing life.

    I totally get where you’re coming from. In my day to day existence, I’m surrounded by people who think I’m an idiot for ‘wasting my time writing’ and that I’ll ‘never get anywhere’. None of them can see the bigger picture which includes great feedback from readers and high praise from industry professionals for my work. And the long term potential of each and every writing project I do.

    The problem is that the highs that come from great feedback are short lived while the lows of everyday drudgery seem to last forever. It’s a real struggle having to fight off all the naysayers and the haters day after day. Especially when I don’t have someone who has my back, like you have with Kris (you two are so lucky!)

    How did you keep your enthusiasm, and your inner drive intact, in those early years when there did not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel?

    • dwsmith


      You don’t, at least not every minute of every day. A lot of what keeps writers going isn’t the highs or the feedback from others, but simply the fun of creation. And the belief you know what you are doing, even though you feel you don’t and have a lot to learn.

      This is a major attitude thing, something we are finally going to deal with in the upcoming attitude workshop. You can’t let others be your motivation, it has to come from inside. The outside stuff is nice when it happens, but fleeting.