Finally, I work through how much your long fiction is worth.

I’m using the most of the same bases of guesstimation as two weeks ago (traditionally published) and last week (short indie fiction).

I want my indie books to pay for my time within five years. Why five years? I don’t know. I heard a local writer saying he’d paid off his advance in five years, and it sounded good. Not great, but…comparable? Ish?

And I’m assuming that you do it all yourself AND do it reasonably well AND do it quickly AND do no promotions…or at least treat promotions as an investment that may or may not pay off.

Number of words/hour on average first draft: 1000.
Words edited per hour for cleanup (NOT including client changes/revisions/copyedits/etc.): 2500.
Time taken to write/edit 10K:  10 hours writing + 4 hours cleanup = 14 hours (if everything goes smoothly, and not including submission time, and not including research/brainstorming time).
Time for copyediting/proofreading: 8 hours minimum.
Time to build cover: about 4 hours on ebooks and another hour for the full wrap cover.
Time to format: 3 hours ebook plus 3 hours POD.

For self-employed people, you have to take the hourly wages x 2 to get about the same take-home pay, due to taxes and hours spent doing non-production tasks, like managing your business.  Working for the man means you get paid to answer emails from your employer.  Working for yourself means you don’t.

Minimum wage in Colorado: $7.36/hr.  Self employed: $14.82  Skill level:  can’t spell, cardboard characters, unbelievable plot, could be outsourced to a monkey.

Average wage of HS graduate*: $25,000 women/$32,900 men ($50K women/$65.8K men–$25/hr women, $32.90/hr men).  Skill level: can spell but can’t handle grammar, has read a few of the greats in HS English, has one or two decent strengths, has no idea why things work or don’t.

Average wage of college graduate: $40,100 women/$51,000 men ($80.1K women/$101K men–$40.10/hr women, $51/hr men).  Skill level: spelling/grammar proficient, can think analytically about a text and is aware of genre requirements, is decent at all areas of writing with a few real strengths, is starting to recognize personal style and audience.

Indie sales cuts (based on Amazon rates, because I make more sales on Amazon than anywhere else, and they tend to be slightly lower than anywhere else):
$.35 for a $.99 story.
$.70 for a $1.99 story.
$2.09 for a $2.99 story.
$2.79 for a $3.99 story.
$3.49 for a $4.99 story.
$4.19 for a $5.99 story.
$4.89 for a $6.99 story.
$5.59 for a $7.99 story.
$6.29 for a $8.99 story.
$6.99 for a $9.99 story.

I won’t go above that, because I refuse to buy ebooks (unless they’re bundles) over $9.99. However, I don’t buy textbooks or other generally higher-priced books as ebooks, so I don’t want to say that a book that would normally go for $50 as a print book shouldn’t go for more than $9.99 as an ebook. I buy fiction; I mostly write fiction; I’m talking fiction.

Note: we still haven’t hit the skill level (or pay grade) of a professional writer yet.

I’m going to guesstimate my average book length as about 85K, and my average story length as 4K.

Novel (85K):

Time to write: 85 hours; time to edit: 34.
Time to copy/proof: 8 hours minimum on a novel.
Time to build cover 4 hours on a novel (front only), +1 hour for the POD wraparound.
Time to format: 3 hours novel (ebook) and 3 hours novel (POD) so about 6 hours on novels.
Total: 131 ebook + 4 POD formatting.
Minimum wage: $1941.42 ebook only, $2000.70 both.
HS graduate: $4309.90/$4441.50
College graduate: $6681/$6885
Again, not to pro writer level yet.
What’s average sales? I have no idea. I have two novels out: one did NOT take off, and the other has been out for just over a month, so I don’t know. Dean says 25 copies a month is average, but I believe he includes POD sales.

Ebooks only:
$.99 novel = 5547 copies to make minimum wage; 12,314 to make HS level; 19,089 to make college level.
$1.99 = 2774; 6157; 9544.
$2.99 = 928; 2063; 3197.
$3.99 = 696; 1545; 2395.
$4.99 = 556; 1235; 1915.
$5.99 = 464; 1029; 1595.
$6.99 = 397; 882; 1367.
$7.99 = 347; 771; 1195.
$8.99 = 309; 686; 1063.
$9.99 = 278; 617; 956.

Not knowing how many sales to even guesstimate hinders things here. However, at $.99, it’s clear that you’re screwed, because you’d have to sell 318 copies a month for five years straight to pay for your time.
At $2.99, you’d have to sell 53 copies; at $4.99, 32 copies; at $5.99, 27 copies; at $6.99, 23 copies. At $9.99, you’d have to sell 16 copies. If 25/month is about right, then a $5.99-$6.99 price point should be okay.

…And I am so far off being able to figure out POD sales that I’m at a loss. I can figure out how many copies you’d have to sell to pay for the POD, though (note: a $25 POD expanded dist. fee is added, estimated profit $4.64 per $14.99 book of 85K novel–short story collections $9.99 because they’re only 40K and don’t cost as much to make [profit based on sales through Amazon.com]):
Minimum wage: 19.
HS grad: 34.
College grad: 50.

Okay. I’m going to assume that selling 10 PODs a year is doable and therefore worth the extra time, regardless.

A $4.99 novel pays off in: 80 years (2 copies/month); 32 years (5 copies/month); 6.38 years (25 copies/month).
A $5.99 novel pays off in: 66 years (2 copies/month); 27 years (5 copies/month); 5.31 years (25 copies/month).
A $6.99 novel pays off in: 57 years (2 copies/month); 23 years (5 copies/month); 4.56 years (25 copies/month).

(And a $.99 novel pays off in 64 years…if you sell 25 copies/month.  To be considered profitable, ~20,000 copies are required.)

To pay off an 85K novel, selling 25 copies a month over 5 years, we should sell it for at least $6.99…or write shorter novels.  Conversely, to be considered a profitable indie writer, you only need to sell ~2000 copies of a $4.99-$6.99 novel.

Note: I’m not counting any cover costs in this, either, because if you’re desperate, you can do it for free. I don’t, but there you go.

*Numbers taken from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011–033),Indicator 17.  Latest data for 2009.