Discover more from Erica Drayton Writes
The Great Free VS Paid Conundrum that Faces ALL Creatives
And the arrogant way I'm choosing to look at it...
This might be considered a “hot take” but my time is valuable. I mean to say, it’s worth actual money. At my 9 to 5 job I get paid (quickly pulls out a calculator to put my salary into an hourly rate) ~$40+/hr. I get paid to do that work which involves staring at two 32” monitors for at least 8hrs a day for 5 days a week. And I won’t go into the minutia of what my job entails but let’s just say I manage the advertising budgets of ~15 clients that total in the billions of dollars on a month-to-month basis. To be off by even a penny is not acceptable. All of that to say, whatever effort I put into writing this blog (for instance) or my next short story (and someday novel) is worth actual money that I someday expect to be paid for.
WHY DO I CHOOSE TO DEFINE MYSELF BY MY CURRENT SALARY?
Because if I hope to make my writing a career I need to realize just how valuable my current salary is to keeping my present way of living possible. My wife earns money as well but even she has to admit that I cover the majority of the bills and mortgage, etc to running this household. I’d need to be earning more than I currently do if I intend to do this full time. Why? Because this path is highly unstable. I can be earning buckets today and nothing tomorrow. At least with my 9 to 5 it’s not only stable income but it comes with medical benefits that I need as it’s not just my wife I’m covering, but our son as well. This is the truth of it all, however we like to shy away from speaking it out loud to others and pretend it away. It’s the struggles and frustration we always hear from other writers who’ve taken the plunge. It’s the truth. I’m choosing to face the truth instead of taking the attitude of “I’ll worry about that if/when I reach that stage in my writing journey.” It’s a comfy place to live since in the back of my mind, at least, I say to myself I’ll never reach that stage so why worry…
HOW ICKY DOES FREE VS PAID REALLY FEEL?
Tremendously icky. And lately, the way I see it is, I am not asking for money, I’m looking for a steady income and expecting whatever I have done so far is worthy of it. I wouldn’t expect anything less from anyone else. If my subscribers feel that I have not “earned my stripes” or produced content that is worth even $5 a month then I must take that criticism and put even more time and effort into what I am doing and creating and how much time I am able to devote to that. Again, at the end of the day it all comes down to dollars and cents. What I did not mention is that my current hourly salary is before taxes and such are taken out. That means, if all I’m asking of my subscribers to be paid is $60 a year, that is just a little over what I currently earn per hour today. And yet, I see so many of us fearful of the ask. Why? Is my time not worth $60 a year? And if you are someone who scoffs and feels what I do when I’m writing, the hours I spend to spin a story that you might find halfway decent is worth nothing…Well then I might as well stick to my day job and stop this ride I willingly put myself on. Why perform at all?
AM I BEING OPTIMISTIC OR PESSIMISTIC ABOUT MY WRITING?
I’d like to think I’m being optimistic that my work speaks for itself but pessimistic because I know the likelihood of earning what I need to quit my job is still a long ways away. I have the paid feature currently ON with this Substack. I have for quite some time. I’ve just never mentioned it or promoted it. Mainly because I feel I still have a long road ahead to prove myself worthy of a mere $60 a year. Even now, as I say it, I think it’s silly. I should be more arrogant in my belief in myself. I should be worth ten times that (at least) per person who subscribes. But if I dare say such a thing I would be laughed out of the business, not just by my subscribers but even worse by my fellow writers. I was guilty of this similar thinking at one point as well. We treat the time we spend writing as if it’s not grueling work and if it’s not laborious then we have no right to ask for payment for that work. And the cycle continues in our mind till we become extremely pessimistic about ourselves, our writing, and all we do is complain that we aren’t making a dime with our work. The noise can become deafening so you’ll excuse me if I sound like I’m complaining. In a way, I am. I am complaining about our constant complaining!
HOW DO I INTEND ON HANDLING FREE VS PAID?
My approach thus far has been to make it all free, give it all away. From the non-fiction opinions I have, to the how-to articles I write, and especially my short stories or any form of fiction I write. But there is a catch to that. None of it is polished or edited or “ready for publication” in any sort of for sale format. That is to say, you won’t find what I give away on Amazon in any sort of digital or print medium. That is where I like to differentiate the two options. I will now and forever make my writing available for free. And while I feel the time I spend to write something in all it’s rough draft glory is just as time consuming as the editing and polishing that comes after, I’m willing to ask my subscribers for nothing to have access to it. However, once the packaging comes into play that is when I am now spending my own hard earned money to do it. How much of my own money does it take for me to take my work and make it available to buy on Amazon? Well, I’m glad you asked, let’s take a look, shall we. I want to preface what you are about to see with the following NOTE: These numbers can easily fluctuate based on who/what you use so please do not take my numbers as THE final numbers or cost for everyone. We would all use a different path to get to a similar end result.
WHAT WILL IT COST WHEN I PUT MY SHORT STORY COLLECTION ON AMAZON?
This list is not in any particular order of expenses. Some of these things can be used on multiple projects and I have already purchased with my own money.
Scrivener ($24/$50) - I only use Scrivener to produce a final product. Otherwise, I use free Google Docs to write my short stories and articles for Substack.
ProWritingAid ($299) - This is the Lifetime purchase so I did not have to pay annually. I will always put my stories through this process of editing at least twice prior to delivery to an editor. This is not and should not be used as a replacement for an editor in any circumstance.
Cover Art ($75 - $500) - Depending on the type of cover I require the price can range wildly. For instance, on Fiverr I can get a pretty professional non-fiction cover done that is mostly stock images and block fonts. But when I hired an illustrator for my fantasy covers that required a more artistic flare, took longer to produce, and was much more back-and-forth hands on with the illustrator, therefore, the cost was higher.
Vellum/Adobe InDesign (~$600+) - Adobe I pay for monthly and Vellum was a one-time cost of $200 as I did not pay for the full package, just ebook. I have always formatted my own books. I actually enjoy using InDesign to format the print version of my books, always have. I don’t see the need for using Vellum in that regard. However, I’m not a fan of ebooks, and therefore I appreciate that I can create all the necessary ebook files I need in under 5 minutes. At the moment, Vellum is a Mac only software.
Editor(s) ($2k - $20k) - This can fluctuate wildly but what I will say is that depending on the project there will be multiple editors who each do different things. If you can find an editor who wears more than one hat that would be ideal. All editors charge per word depending on what they are being paid to do. There are copy, line, developmental, proofreaders, etc. All editors will provide a sample of what there work, usually by taking a chapter or two of what you want them to work on and editing it.
ISBNs ($575) - 100 ISBNs. Of course, not everyone should do this unless you foresee needing that many. Keep in mind that ONE book will require at least THREE ISBN’s (ebook, paperback, hard cover). And if you’re thinking ahead then you can have anniversary editions, mass market paperback, graphic novel, etc. For every change in medium or even in content a NEW ISBN is required. You’d be surprised how quickly getting a 10 pack of ISBNs (the most popular option for $295) can go. Of course, if you go through Amazon then they can assign you an ISBN, however, you can’t list that book/ISBN anywhere else. Consider your options!
That’s all that I can think of right now and none of that calculates the hours I will have spent writing each story, editing each story, working on formatting for the final product. So, for one book I’m guessing it will cost (just for editing, cover art, and my valuable time as well) ~$15k+. All of it will be out of my own pocket and I will likely never recoup the cost. Even if I were to cut corners (somewhere) to bring that cost down it wouldn’t matter. So, at the end of the day, if I were to turn on PAID and ask my subscribers for $5/m or the full $60/yr I would need at least 250 paid subscribers to just break even. To earn a living? Meaning be able to pay my bills every month and buy groceries and clothing for a child who has at least another 16 years of growing left to do (that’s supposing my wife and I go all that time without buying anything for ourselves ever), I would need at least 1250 paid subscribers and that’s being generous as I have not calculated the cut that Substack would take, cost of health care, taxes I would be paying, etc. I would feel more comfortable with 2000 paid subscribers.
WHY NOT JUST CHARGE MORE PER MONTH?
I’ve thought about that. Patreon is great in that regard where I can have tiers of $5/$10/$15. But let’s be honest, if I know it will be a really hard sell to get someone to go “all-in” with just $5 a month, it will be a near impossible sell to ask for $10. As much as I’d hate to have that attitude it just will be. At least, until I start believing I am worth that much. I’m worth way more actually, but my arrogance in my abilities can only extend so far.
BUT WHAT IF ALL YOUR SUBSCRIBERS JUST CAN’T AFFORD IT?
I understand there are people who are currently on hard times. Believe me, I know. Every single month my wife and I have to sit down and go over what we spent last month and how the forecast looks for next month. What we can afford to cut. We get really excited when winter ends because that means no more filling our tanks with oil (this last winter cost us $6000 to fill our tanks and keep us warm throughout!?) but then Spring and Summer comes around and it’s grass cutting season! They aren’t nearly as much but they still sting. And yet, we manage to not only get by but we keep Paramount+, HBO Max, Disney+ (without it our son would probably murder us in our sleep), and a bunch of other streaming services. We did cut Netflix and Acorn TV (for the 5th time) to see if we’d notice. So far so good.
Even I have to admit, after coming from a life where my wife and I had to go to food banks because we couldn’t afford groceries (probably the lowest we’ve ever been), that spending $5 a month truly doesn’t break the bank. And I am also a paid subscriber to people I like because I want to support them, not because of the content they provide as a result of my money.
PAID VS FREE IS LESS ABOUT CONTENT AND MORE ABOUT THE PERSON
I’d like to think I’m a good person and my personality comes through in my work whether fiction or non-fiction and therefore if you want to support me as a person, now you can. Sure, I’ll still provide content on a fairly regular basis, but at the end of the day to be a monthly subscriber I think it has to be more than just for the content and it has to be more because you believe in what that person is doing and you want to help them continue doing it, because they’re good at it.
WOULD I EVER CONSIDER USING A PAYWALL? WHY or WHY NOT?
I never could see the purpose or benefit of a paywall. To me that is much more sneaky and underhanded than simply putting an entire post or story as paid content. There is nothing I hate more than starting to read something, getting into it, formulating an opinion on it in my head that I fully intend to leave in the comments section only to discover what I’m reading is cut off or comments are for paid only. Seriously?! Therefore, if it annoys me I’m sure it would annoy someone else and so I just would never do it. I will also say that I have never had a moment in my life of reading things where I said to myself, “let me just be a paid subscriber so I can unlock the rest of this article and finish it.” I’m sure that is the hope that anyone who uses a paywall would hope a subscriber or person who encounters their article would have. I’ve just never had that inclination and I can’t see that I ever would. If I’m going to go through the trouble of writing something to be read by others then I’m going to put the whole thing up. It is like literally putting up a wall to the reader that they must now climb to continue to participate. I don’t want to create barriers to my subscribers, I want to eliminate them. Hence why I feel if you can afford to be a paid subscriber monthly and support all of my creative work, I am grateful. Otherwise, no worries, it’s all free anyhow. Maybe one day you can afford it.