Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Making a Fortune

An Old Belief or Myth…

I had two people repeat a bad myth to me today. The myth is that writing is NOT the fastest way to make a buck.

I suppose over the very short term, that is true… sort of.

Say you want to be a lawyer. Your first buck will come in around year eight.

Doctor around year nine.

Plumber, after some training, as an apprentice, maybe the first year.

Architect, year six.

Being a waiter or tending bar, or a janitor, or any other hourly job, you get paid in two weeks after you start, so I suppose those are the quickest way to making a buck. Get an hourly job or a salaried job.

But making a fortune? Sure, you can save for retirement, invest in the stock market, but most of those day jobs will not make you a fortune. They might make you comfortable over time, but not a fortune.

Writing, on the other hand, can make you a fortune.

Sure, the money coming in is slow to start, but the more you write, the more property you own and over time, the more property you own, the more you make, if you understand what you are doing.

The reason is that the hours you spent writing a story continue to earn for a very, very long time.

EXAMPLE… (caution, math)

Say I have a day job that is making me $12 per hour. I work for three hours, get $36 minus taxes and all that, and that’s the end of it.

Period. Those hours had a finite value. Nothing more, nothing less.

Say I am a writer and I spend three hours writing a 3,000 word short story.

First I sell it to a major magazine for $180, thus making $60 per hour. Nice.

But then after the magazine publishes it, I put it up for sale electronically for $2.99. In all the places around the world, over an entire year, it sells 10 copies and after fees I make another $20 that year on those same three hours.

And over 20 years it averages (not in collections or anything else) 10 sales a year worldwide, making me $400. (10 sales x $2 x 20=$400)

And over another 20 years it averages 10 sales a year making me another $400. (I have stories that have done this exact same thing, and they are not stopping.)

So forty years after I spent those three hours working a day job, I still only earned $36 minus taxes.

But forty years after I spent those three hours writing a short story, a piece of IP, I have earned $960 at least. So for those three hours, I made $320 per hour.

And it is not ending and that is not counting sales of collections or many other ways of using that IP.

Once a writer understands this simple concept, they will never spout the myth that writing is not a way to make a buck.

If you want short term money that goes away quickly, get a day job.

If you want to make a fortune over time, write faster.




  • Mihnea Manduteanu

    So after how many novels written (the around 40k one) should I start to research self publishing and selling? Is there a sort of break even number, or comfortable number so that if a novel gets some interest, I have a few others ready to go.

  • Kelley

    Thank you for posts like this. When I ask myself if I should put all my eggs in the KU basket, I’ll think of this post.

    Side note, I’d love to read a whole post (okay, rant) about why KU is dangerous for authors in your opinion.

    It’s hard for many writers to resist when you see so many indies going that route.

    Thanks as always! Truly. You’ve changed my writing career with the work you do.

    • dwsmith

      Kelly, yup, the short-term value of having a small amount of money coming in really talks to some writers. But it is like a paycheck at a day job, does you zero good in the long run for your writing.

      In the reading and publishing world, there have always been two types of readers. The free readers, who will only read something if they get it for free, and the readers who will pay for a book. The readers who pay for a book value the story and the author and remember the author name. Free readers could not care about the author and never value anything.

      Old true joke in publishing… Best way to get a bad review is to give a book away for free.

      Plus “Page Reads”…. Seriously??

  • Philip

    This is especially encouraging to those of us who primarily write short stories because we can build a back catalog quite fast. For example, when I first got into indie publishing, I wrote and published 30 stories. I also bundled them various ways to produce another 10 books for sale. So in only 30 days, I had a catalog of 40 books. Admittedly, Critical Voice halted me from keeping that pace, but I’m getting back into it now. Can you imagine the scary math and financial possibilities of me continuing that pace and having at least 480 books for sale worldwide at the end of just one year?

    • dwsmith

      Yup, great fun. I have often written 30 stories in 30 days. I even blogged about it one month while doing it and then put all thirty in a book called Stories from July with all the blogs as well. Fun book.

  • Dale T. Phillips

    Some of us listen, so thank you. Though I’m not making a lot right now, I’m still getting income from writing I did years back, and I’m increasing my IP more and more. Though I may not live to see the big river of income, my kids should have good money every year for a long time. I’ve instructed my elder daughter about the immense value of IP, and how to deal with that.

    • dwsmith

      Dale, great attitude and yup, estate stuff with this kind of property gets to be real fun, especially finding someone who understands it. For example, twenty years after his death, I am still paying Kent Patterson’s family money to publish his short stories, thanks completely to writer Jerry Oltion who understands IP and the value of Kent’s stories and who Kent was smart enough to put in charge of the literary side.

  • Suzan Harden

    I admit I’ve repeated a variation of that particular myth.

    I still see myself as a new writer, but folks who are even wetter behind the ears think I’ve learned the secret handshake. I tell them the secret is BICFOK (butt in chair, fingers on keyboard), something that more experienced writers have been telling me for the last twenty years.

    But most people don’t want to hear that. They want the lottery win. The instant fame. The millions of dollars. The castle in Ireland or the estate in Hawaii.

    So I tell them there are easier ways to get that type of money, but 99% of them are illegal. *grin*

  • Kate Pavelle

    Yes, long-term. Very long-term. This requires writing with a pro-level commitment, which is what we should be doing. Where I fail is the “renew and refresh” end of things. Some stories don’t sell, and the way to make them pull their weight is to make collections. (Hello, Publishing Challenge!) I’d hate to admit how much time I spend dithering over what to put into which collection, the process of publishing that collection, and also the *tracking* of which story is where at the time.
    Now, admittedly, I had to build an infrastructure, which took me 2 years. I have to update my inventory every so often. But every time I open those spreadsheets, I get bogged down in them, dreaming of projects to come and it takes a lot longer than it should.
    I’ve learned not to open them until my words are done for the day 😉