Wednesday, February 28, 2018

As An Author, Be Realistic About Your Return on Investment

Being an author isn't easy. You need to be able to produce work on a regular basis, market yourself to both employers and an audience, and you need to find some way to carve out a tiny niche for yourself while an army of other writers are out there trying to do the same. It's sort of like being a literary prospector, and if anyone gets close to your claim, that's when the shovels and shotguns come out. In that kind of environment, it's very easy to get used to just saying, "yes," to any project that comes your way.

The next time you're about to agree to a project, though, stop and ask what your return on investment is likely to be.

How many doubloons are supposed to be down there?

Always Think About Your ROI

Think about this scenario, for a moment. A client comes up to you and says, "Hey, I know you're a busy writer, but I really need a 500-word article for my magazine. If I get you all the information, could you get a completed piece to me by the end of the week? I'll pay you $50 for it."

For most of us, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal. All the research is done for us, the word count is pretty reasonable, and we've got a nice, fat price tag attached to it. However, would you do that same project if you had to have it handed in by tomorrow? What if you had to reach a 1,500-word count? Would you do that same article for $10, instead of $50?

Yeah, no, I'm sort of busy with people offering me grown-up prices right now. Best of luck!
It's very easy to get into the habit of just saying yes, especially if you don't have a lot of prospects in your work life. However, if you have a lot of stuff to do, then you might want to start trimming off the ones that aren't giving you back what you put into them.

Be Realistic With Your ROI Expectations

In the above scenario, ROI is pretty easy to figure out. You have a select price for doing the job, and you can easily weigh how much you're going to get out of doing it. If that price isn't enough for all the effort you'd have to put in, then it's time to move on to another job that's more fitting in terms of effort and reward.

However, this can get complicated when we start chucking in royalty shares, pay based on traffic, and a slew of other scenarios.

Go with the sure thing, or roll the dice and hope for the best?
This one can get tricky. For example, you might spend a year writing a novel, and another three years getting it published, only to have it earn no more than a few hundred dollars in sales. Alternatively, you might write a blog post that gets a lot of attention, and which flares up every year or so, giving you steady (if unexpected) influxes of cash and followers for no more than an hour or two's work.

Sadly, the only real way to navigate these waters is experience, and a pessimistic look at prospects.

As an example, let's say that you are contemplating submitting a 10k-word short story for an open submission call. That's a hefty chunk of work for any writer, and you're going to dedicate a lot of effort to getting that piece done. But, assuming your story gets accepted, ask what you're likely to get as a result of that acceptance. Does the publisher have a good track record for sales, or are they small, new, or relatively unknown? Do you have any big names in this collection that will draw eyes from a big fan base? Is the book widely available, or do you have to go to a dark, obscure corner of Amazon to even find the ebook? Are you being offered an advance, or are you and all the other authors just expected to split the royalty sales at the end of the year?

These are all questions you need answers for. Because if this company puts out books that regularly score in the top ten categories for sales, then you might be looking at several years of steady checks. Especially if there's a big-name contributor, like Stephen King, who will get people to pick up the book based on the strength of their brand alone.

If, on the other hand, this company is just taking whatever stories it can get, splicing them together, and spitting it out onto the market, then you are not likely to get more than a check or two. Worse, those checks are probably going to be too small to get you a cheese burger off the dollar menu. Ditto if the company offers very little support in the way of marketing, reviews, etc., and you don't have the audience strength to make sales on your own.

Spend Your Efforts Wisely

There is more to being an author than money. Sometimes it's about the satisfaction of working on a particular project, the good feeling of doing something for charity, or the street cred that comes with being attached to certain names. However, you're using a very specific kind of alchemy. So ask yourself how much time, effort, and creative juice you're willing to use up on a project before you get too invested. Otherwise you might find yourself writing ad copy for less than a penny a word, and you won't have the time or energy left over for anything else.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. It's likely old hat for a lot of folks out there, but a reminder from time to time never goes amiss. For more content by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, and follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to support me, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! There's a free book in it for you, too, as a thank you for your help.

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