This topic has been voiced by many people over the course of the last year, ever since I wrote about quitting my job and giving my books away for free. Many people have asked me how I was able to do that, how do I live now, if I'm making money or not, and if I'm not making money, how can I afford to live and how do I plan to make money. Then a couple weeks ago a fellow indie writer Ron Vitale aka @ronvitale finally asked me this question point blank, requesting that I share my business plan (if you can call it that) on how I plan to survive, because obviously I can't live off of literary fumes forever. Fine, I said. I feel the pressure, I will once and for all disclose every little bit of information about my money, and will keep sharing it openly in the future to hopefully help people achieve their dream of writing full time as well, or at least see that it is possible and perhaps get inspired and do it. Are you ready for a wild ride? Yes? Strap yourself to the couch, because you're about to fall off. On 1, 2, 3... here we go.
MONEY I OWE: To all those who whine about being in debt, I'm in debt too. Let's start with the past, just so I can put your whining to rest, because a lot of you told me tearfully about student loans and such. I have started my start-up Lilipip (it's closed now) on credit cards, having first found out about the concept of credit in US (in Russia we didn't really have it back when I left country 15 years ago). To my surprise, I discovered that I can open a business, open a business credit card, and then open up another credit card to pay off the first, then open up the third to pay off the second... then, well, I will spare you the math. I think I opened close to 16 credit cards. Yeah. Long story short, I paid everyone I hired except myself and then, when my business wasn't able to pay off the debt anymore, ended up with the debt myself since I personally guaranteed it. Like a good girl, I went to my attorney to declare bankruptcy, but he said that I don't need to do that, I need to wait it out and many banks will drop charges and sell my debt to collection agencies. I was astounded, but did as he said. I still cringe and feel horrible that I owe money to banks, but there is nothing I can do. I can't pay off all of my debt, which is close to about $65K, although now that all of them sold it to collection agencies, I expect it's closer to $30K. I haven't calculated the total I owe in a while, but just so you have an idea, I get calls from collectors every day and I don't pick up the phone anymore, because I'm not making money yet. It would be interesting to see if they will read this blog post and show up at my door after I post the next piece of information about the money I have.
MONEY I HAVE: I live off of unemployment and savings. I have been fortunate enough to have high paying jobs in the past, paying anywhere from $60K to $120K a year. I have been saving money, and I also have been laid off of my last job, so I was able to claim unemployment. When I lost my job, I was also in the middle of a divorce, with 2 kids, although my divorce was amicable, still, there were monetary issues involved. I have let go of my portion of our house with my ex, and that money also contributed to my savings. On top of it, I sold my car and all of my business clothes (though only made $200 on that). I reduced my lifestyle so that I could eat less, changed my diet (based on The New Evolution Diet), and canceled my gym membership. To add to this, shortly before being laid off I got hit by a truck while bicycling home, and got a good sum of money out of that accident, so I was able to buy myself a new bike and gear. All of this combined, plus continued unemployment which is running out in the next several months, will enable me to live without making money for another 8 months to 1 year, depending on how careful I am with my spending. I can't wait to start making money and pay taxes off of it, knowing that my money might help another artist with unemployment, because it's a wonderful thing. Oh, and one more thing. Many single people tell me that it's nice to have someone who supports you. Just so I can put this question to rest, my money and my boyfriend's money are completely separate. We live together, but we each contribute to a combined budget, the details of which are below.
MONEY I NEED: I reduced my lifestyle to live on $2K a month. I already mentioned my diet, which ties into my time. Because I eat only once or twice a day, I have more time to write and read, I don't need to exercise as often, I'm healthy and I don't need to go see the doctor anymore as often, and I don't get sick like I used to. Which is a great thing because for a while I was without health insurance and it was scary. I would be able to reduce my living expenses even more, but for now I have to wait until our rent agreement is up and we can move to a smaller place, plus we are taking care of kids, used to be 5, but now that my daughter and my boyfriend's daughter have moved out of the house, we have 3 combined kids, which is easier. In any case, I don't go anywhere, I don't eat out, I don't travel, I hardly buy any new clothes, I use public transportation (and use that time to read) and I bike everywhere. I also have been fortunate enough to have been selected as a once-a-year pro-bono project by my editor, Colleen Albert, and my daughter has been illustrating my books, so technically I only have to spend money on formatting my books by wonderful book formatter Crenel Publishing who are local and very affordable. I do spend about $60 a month on hosting my website on Squarespace, keeping my customer base on Batchbook, paying for my domain and email at GoDaddy, plus other small miscellaneous stuff.
MONEY I MADE: My first $10.88 from Amazon hit my account this week. Apart from it, I have also received almost $500 in donations as of today, and made a little over $300 in sales of signed copies of BLUE SPARROW, the little book of my tweets, from pre-orders of SIREN SUICIDES, my trilogy that will be published in the next couple of weeks, and from the sale of my customized tweet t-shirt. I also can fall back on a couple contract jobs doing social media, which will both extend my unemployment once the contract is up and provide me with a little bit of money to continue living on. I usually charge $50-75 per hour depending on the company and their size. I haven't done a single project for over 1 year now but have 2 companies interested presently. Of course, it will take me away from my books, but I learned how long it takes me to write a book, and in the worst case scenario, I will bite the bullet and do it, but, ideally, here is how I hope to survive...
MONEY I WILL MAKE: How about a Kickstarter project "Support a writer for a year!"? This has been brewing in my head for a while. I have a little over 63K followers on Twitter. If just 1/3 of all those people contributed $1.20 each, I would have $24K and that would last me a whole year. One of my followers, Martin Pham aka @martinpham suggested that I do a subscription, kind of like letting people support me by subscribing to my blog for $20-30 a year, similar to how Maria Popova asks people to contribute to her blog Brain Pickings. I operate from what Hemingway said, which was something along the lines of writing for 3 years, and then, if nobody is willing to pay me money for my writing, quitting it and finding another job. I have been writing for 1 year full time now, so I have 2 more years to go. I have enough money to last me almost 1 more year, and hopefully I will be able to raise money for yet another year. If after this nobody will buy enough of my books so that I can make a living, well, I tried, I failed, I will move on. I also operate from the principle Malcolm Gladwell described in his book Outliers. He found that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at anything. I write 4 hours per day, excluding weekends and some holidays. That's about 1,000 hours a year. To get really good, I will need to write for 10 years. That means that even if I start generating money with my books after 3 years, I will have another 7 years to go to really make it. I'm prepared for that morally, hoping that my book sales will generate at least $24K a year for me to live on.
Whew. There you have it. I hope this is the information you were looking for and hopefully it will be helpful to you to. I will keep sharing the numbers on my income in the future, if there will be any. To sum this up, to date, I have made a little over $800 net total via book sales, t-shirt sales, and donations, although I'm still $160 in the negative in terms of cash flow (I calculate it via Outright folks). So far I only self-published the book of my tweets in May and have not published a single novel yet. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in comments, I will answer them all as best I can.