On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night

Topic of the Night: Day-Job Thinking


In the great comments on the last topic of the night, this new topic was brought up. So thought I would expand on the idea.

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 last July thirty-two short stories. I have them out in a book called Stories from July (which will be coming out in paper anytime now.)

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 actuallydo, 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 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.

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. Nine 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 last year, I also created twenty-seven other major properties and another ten short stories last 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.



  • Kate Pavelle

    Great post, Dean! And a good bit of encouragement to those of us who are focused on building up an inventory and cresting that magical 40-book number. The sales rates you list are eminently reasonable.
    About the perceived value of our writing: “If I can do it, any monkey can do it.” This attitude creeps through most things I do, and especially so when I need to dig deep and offer a piece of myself in the process. It’s a vulnerable feeling, knowing deep down that I am not all that special and, after all, why would anyone run and want to read a fictionalized reflection of my thoughts?
    However, the “any monkey can do it” attitude can be turned around. I’m happy to pay a plumber to fix a leak. Imagine my thrill when I save on a $85 service call by looking up what to do you YouTube, buying a $5 part, and fixing the leak myself. Sure, any monkey can do it, but I was that monkey now, and I saved eighty bucks.
    Saving money or making money feels more tangible (and deserved) when it’s the result of an unimaginative task other people charge good money for. When it comes to making money by selling a product of the imagination, of oneself, then suddenly doubt as to its worth creeps in. That’s why I grok the value of fixing a leaking toilet, but I’m eternally awed by making the same amount by having thirty people buy my book.

  • Michael La Ronn

    Great post, Dean. Probably one of your greatest. The subdivision idea and putting your properties on it—I laughed when I read it at first but wow is that a brilliant idea. I’m doing that immediately. 🙂

    I wonder what the breaking point for some authors is. What happens to make them finally shift from short term to long term thinking? Is it experience? For me it was listening to professionals like you, but not everyone does that.

  • Dane Tyler

    Great explanations, as usual, Dean. I love the property analogy. It really helped me understand how value for IP works, and made me think differently about my writing, the properties I’ve produced or will produce. It should (!) also provide motivation for doing even more writing, since I can also see it as an investment for my children and eventual grandchildren. Very eye-opening.

    I think some of the new writer devaluation of their work might come in from not seen even three or four sales a month on work they’ve produced. I think that’s why the value is on the promotion. One one particular writer board I’ve visited, it seems to be the magic bullet to help get the ball rolling with sales for a great many writers.

    You and Kris have said writing the next book is the best promotion. I have never had reason to doubt your wisdom. 🙂 I may need to do some promotion to start the ball rolling, but in order to experience the “long tail” so many talk about with promotional sales, I’ll need to have more work to offer a reader. (The short stories don’t seem to draw readers unless I make them free, but that’s a personal experience, not a broad-scoping statement of fact.)

    Thanks again for the guidance and clarity.

  • Robin Brande

    This is a great topic, Dean, and some great real-world illustrations of the value of our creative work. I especially love the idea of getting a subdivision map and writing in the name of our books and short stories so we can remember that they are actually property. You mentioned that in one of the online workshops I took from you last year, and it was an idea I really took to heart! I’ve got my map right here. The neighborhood is looking great. 🙂

      • Brian

        I love the premise here, that we should think long-term and consider IP like real property that will earn us money for a long time.
        History has shown, though, that IP and real property don’t really work the same way.

        Generally speaking, real property appreciates in value over time. A house you buy today will almost definitely be worth more in 20 – 30 years, and almost certainly worth more 70 + years after you die assuming the property continues to be maintained.

        On the other hand, most IP does not appreciate in value, nor does most of it sell in significant volume after the death of the author. Yes, you can cite examples of select authors who continue to be read to this day many years after their demise. But those are really the outliers. As a thought experiement, think of the authors that died in 1945, and then percentage-wise think about how many of them are still selling books today? I obviously don’t have that metric at my fingertips but my hunch is that, as a percentage, that number is low.

        To give a more recent example, I just discovered the great fantasy writer David Gemmell. He has over 30 novels to his name (I think) and yet I can’t find him in any local bookstores – I need to go to the used shops. The sales rankings of his Amazon books aren’t anything to write home about either. This guy was an international bestselling, beloved fantasy author that shed this mortal coil less than 10 years ago, and his stuff isn’t selling to any significant degree right now.

        My point here is that it’s important to think long-term but also not to fall into a trap of overstating the long-term value of your IP. The majority of what you write today will in likelihood not be read to any significant degree in 100 years. That is not to cast judgments on the quality of the IP; I think it’s more a reflection of how tastes and trends change over time.

        • dwsmith

          Brian, I love how you ignore the one major fact that is different. The authors more then seven years ago had gatekeepers and limited shelf space. Of course the older books got pushed aside. Duh.

          And you are really confused as to the value and appreciation. As a lot of people learned in 2008, housing prices do go down. And you could buy a nice house in 1955 for $12,000, sure, and a paperback for 25 cents. Now the $12,000 house would cost you $150,000 (using my parents old home in Boise, Idaho). About 13 times increase. Well, same rate of increase for a book would $3.25 and trust me, you haven’t seen a paperback at that cost in a very, very long time.

          So not at all sure what you point is here. So if I missed it, please do try again. But you can’t just ignore limited shelf space and gatekeepers. Just can’t. Of course, if you are going into traditional publishing, then yes, what you are saying is correct. Your books will be gone in short order. But I was talking about the new world of writers being in charge of their own future, not some publisher.

          • Brian

            Dean – Yes, paperbacks released today sell for significantly more money than those released 100 years ago. But the paperback that was written 100 years ago? It will almost certainly not be selling today. So where is the appreciation in value of that IP? There is none if the book is not selling.

            In order to do a true apples-to-apples comparison between IP and real property from a forecasting perspective, you need to factor in the likelihood or unlikelihood of both types of property selling in the future. This is my hunch–a house built 50 years ago is significantly more likely to sell today than a book written 50 years ago. My other hunch is that as more time elapses, the wider the gap grows in selling potential between houses and IP.

            And even if that older book sells, how many copies is it likely to move?

            I agree that gatekeepers and limited shelf space caused books to disappear in the old days. But just because those gatekeepers and shelving limitations no longer exist doesn’t mean that IP will suddenly sell forever in significant volume. Sure, the potential is greater now than in years past for books to have a longer life but what’s the likelihood that books we write today will still be selling in 50 years? If history is any indication, it’s unlikely. That was the point of my example with David Gemmell. He was an internationally best-selling author, gone for only 10 years, I can’t get his books in bookstores by me, and his Amazon sales rankings aren’t setting the world on fire.

            From a commercial perspective, people generally prefer the big, bright, new shiny object as opposed to that dusty tome that was written eons ago.

            I stated my point in the original post, but since you asked me what it was I’ll restate it here: it’s important to think long-term, but we also shouldn’t overstate the future value of our IP, when history suggests books we write today won’t move the needle in 50 or 100 years. Nobody knows what is going to stand the test of time so you have to be realistic about what that actual value is. Likening IP to real property is a bit misleading.

          • dwsmith

            Just a legal fact, Brian. Copyright is a property right in its own way.

            So you build a house and do nothing to it for twenty years. It won’t be worth much. It will have leaks and a ton of other problems. You do the same for a piece of IP and it won’t be worth much either. That I agree.

            But with any property, you need upkeep. So I have a challenge for you and your oh-shiny excuse… Walk into any store with a mass market section and actually look at the books that were written 75 years ago or more. Before 1950. I bet you think you won’t find a one, but the reality is that you will find a bunch. At times more than half the shelf that modern readers are buying. To name just a few on those shelves are writers like Tolkein, ER Burroughs, Max Brand and number other western writers, Asimov, Hubbard, some Heinlein, and on and on. All on the very limited shelf space of a regular book rack. And heavens, don’t forget all the Disney writing, or Brother’s Grimm, and so on and so on.

            And wow, do you know the amount of money those books are still pulling in would far, far, far exceed any price for a house. Some of those books have earned more than entire towns would cost to build.

            So sorry, you are flat wrong about readers. Good stories are good stories and readers love them when they discover them. And there are always new readers.

            So I know you are looking for an excuse to not believe your writing has long-term value. Might want to ask yourself why you are so wedded to false information like that. Just saying.

            And learn copyright. It is a property. And can be bought, sold, leased, rented, and loaned just as with any real property.

          • Michael Kingswood

            Well yeah, there’s unlimited shelf space now, and no gatekeepers, so the book will technically be available for 70 years after death. But unless the writer or his heirs do something to maintain them, they will functionally be taken off the shelf in that they’ll be buried so deep beneath millions of other newer and actively promoted books that few if any people will ever see or hear about them.

            Which gets to your points about maintenance, and about thinking long term. Without new releases, the books won’t magically keep selling without updated covers and blurbs as tastes change, or without the occasional promo to send eyes their way. And that won’t happen after the writer passes without proper estate planning and clear instructions left to the heirs about how and why to do it.

            So yeah, long term thinking = good.


  • Harvey

    I’ve been thinking this way for awhile now (a couple years) and planning for my grandchildren to make the money. But I get the fun to telling the stories, so it’s a win-win to me. Still, this is hands-down the best, most concise Topic you’ve done in awhile. I refer many to my 600+ contacts to your posts regularly, but I referred this one with this note:

    “Oh good lord. If you’re a writer and you want to read something great, do yourself a major favor and read Dean’s post on Day-Job Thinking vs. Long-Term Thinking [with the link]. Absolutely excellent.”

    Thank you seems so inadequate, but there it is. Thank you, Dean. And that’s long-term as well.

  • Prasenjeet

    A wonderful blog post. I am not so much affected by the traditional publishing way of thinking (which is to sell quickly) than by day job thinking. I used to earn $1000 a month in a day job and now earn $100 a month so it sounds like failure but I forget that value appreciates. Thank you so much for reminding me of that.

  • J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Every sale is a reader, a real person showing you that your work has value.

    Excellent reminder.

    I remember when I was in what Leah Cutter calls the “drips” stage of indie publishing: a sale here, another there. Each time was an absolute thrill. Wow! A reader bought one of my stories to read! Reaching Cutter’s “trickle” stage was just as exciting. It was amazing to me that a small, but steady flow of readers were choosing my books every single month.

    I’m still in the “trickle” stage, haven’t yet reached “streams,” and reading your words made me realize that I’d gotten a bit jaded. I may be wishing that more readers were reading my books right now, but I need to remember that each one of the less numerous readers reading my work is still special. Being jaded is a choice, and I can make a different one. I’m choosing now to take joy in my readers. Each individual one.

    Thanks, Dean!

  • MariaM

    Dean, thanks for all you do educating authors about intellectual property and copyright. No one else seems to understand it. Certainly most authors haven’t a clue about how it works.

    I only understood it fully (finally) because I worked for a music publishing company for several years on the IT systems that handle royalties. There is a whole industry dedicated to royalty payouts in music, and the greatest difficulty they encounter there is dealing with payments where they can’t find the heirs to the estate (money is kept in an escrow account), or the estate is insanely divided by feuding heirs disputing ownerhsip of the money. But that’s another story!

    I was published by several small presses so I’m not as experienced in book publishing as in music publishing, but intellectual property is intellectual property whether it is music, books, video games, movies, etc. It’s all the entertainment industry and intellectual property works the same at every level of it. And yes, it is an international business, which very few authors seem to understand – a lot of intellectual property makes most of it’s money OUTSIDE its country of origin. And it’s called “exploiting” intellectual property – that is, making use of the rights that are licensed by the copyright owner (the creator and his heirs) to the copyright holder (the publisher or other media company) who exploits those rights for financial gain. And for the right to exploit their intellectual property, the publisher or media company gives the copyright owner (the creator or heirs) a royalty on earnings made in the previous 3-6 months, or an advance on future earnings based on the perceived value they (the publisher or media company) will receive in the future exploitation of that copyright.

    To see how this works, we need only look at Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland. Why these authors in particular? Because I’m a fan :), because I’ve read their auto/biographies, but also because they have 3 things in common (apart from being British!): they had extremely long careers, they were extremely prolific (both Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland were in the Guinness Book of Records for being prolific), and they are no longer alive and their estates are run by their heirs.

    The importance of having long careers is not to be underestimated. All three of these authors were NOT overnight successes – they were paid a pittance for their first novels, and it took them years to make a full-time living on writing alone. The long-term nature of their careers also meant that they had decades of writing time, and increasingly to become more well-known, and then to be famous simply for being around a long time and being extremely prolific (not entirely true, but it certainly it wasn’t for the quality of their writing according to literary critics).

    Where their estates differ from other author’s whose estates are are no longer visible, is that the heirs understood the VALUE of intellectual property as assets to be exploited – because their mothers were famous, and because they understood how much money she made. And they exercised those rights, either by exploiting them themselves or by licensing their exploitation to dedicated media companies, who fully understood the value of exploiting those estates and had the means to do so.

    Agatha Christie’s estate is the most aggressive in exploiting those rights. It is run by her grandson, who owns 36% of the copyright, the rest was sold to Chorion Ltd (a media company whose main function was to acquire and exploit intellectual property assets) who sold it to Acorn Media Group (in the same business as Chorion) in 2012, who are exploiting that copyright ruthlessly as can be seen in the recent slew of Agatha Christie films and series: And Then There Were None, which came out as a 3-part mini-series last December based on a book first published in 1939, and Partners in Crime (6 episodes of which also screened recently) based on the Tommy and Tuppence stories, the first book of which was published in 1922. They only have 30 years left to exploit those rights before Agatha Christie’s books fall into the public domain in the US (probably time enough for Acorn to sell off the rights to another media company for exploitation!).

    Enid Blyton’s estate was also bought and exploited by Chorion Ltd, who sold almost all of it to Hachette. Despite the controversy of Blyton’s out-of-date (racist, sexist, etc) views, Hachette knew how to exploit assets like the Mallory Towers books (which take place in a girl’s boarding school), first published in 1946. I note this series in particular because I read it via the library as a child almost 40 years ago and I have never seen them in a bookshop since (and I’ve looked). So Harry Potter comes along, boarding school stories are in vogue, and voila! the Mallory Towers series is republished (yes, I snapped up the boxset as soon as I saw them to give to my nieces) and sequels are written by a writer-for-hire. A classic case of exploiting assets at the right time and at the right place.

    Barbara Cartland’s estate is run by her son and his daugher, apparently by themselves. They sell the print books via their website by subscription and mail order, and have recently made her books available as ebooks. On Amazon (they’re distributed widely, not just on Amazon) I clicked on a few books and they rank from around 54,000 to 150,000 overall on the store. Not bad, especially when Barbara Cartland wrote 700 books! I snapped up the first volume as soon as I noticed it, and the writing still holds up. Of the three I expected Barbara Cartland’s books to fade into obscurity fastest due to her reputation as a writer of “fluffy pink” novels.Yet here she is, 16 years after her death, her assets still making a good living for her heirs – heirs who understand the value of her intellectual property and how to exploit it.

    These three authors could all have fallen into obscurity at their deaths if their heirs hadn’t understood that the intellectual property that they inherited had a value that was exploitable. And then exploited it. How many heirs don’t understand the value of these assets at all?

    And how many authors don’t understand that a long and prolific career is more likely to make them and their heirs more money in the long term? Who don’t understand that your name needs to be visible even after your death to be a valuable exploitable asset? Who don’t comprehend that one never knows what exploitable opportunities might be available after your death (eg digital publishing) that aren’t available in your lifetime? That there may be a resurging interest in boarding school stories 60 years after you wrote one?

    This, as you say Dean, is a long-term international business. And no one can predict anything about it. So, authors, keep your assets close, and make sure your heirs understand their value and how to exploit them when you’re gone!

    • dwsmith

      Wow, thanks, MariaM. Wonderful comment. Folks, read this comment carefully to actually get great examples of some of what I have been talking about. Thanks, MariaM for taking the time to help on this. Appreciated.

  • Vera Soroka

    Wow, that was a great comment! Another author’s work that is still going is VC Andrews novels. The family has kept those alive. They did hire a ghost writer but I don’t care for those new novels. I guess because I knew she didn’t write them maybe. But all of this is food for thought and those authors were prolific! Yay! That makes me feel so much better when I know I can easily write two novels a month!