This post has been a long time in coming, but it's something I need to get off my chest for my own personal well-being if nothing else. I also warn you that it may sound like I'm whining at first, but please read through to the end.
It seems that hardly a week goes by without seeing another author or artist about to lose their home, have their utilities cut off, do without lifesaving surgery, or lose a pet, along with crowdfunding to help that author or artist out. It's lovely when the Internet can come together to help someone, but for those of you who aren't authors or artists, I want to ask some questions:
Did you whine when your beloved author's book sold for over three bucks, yet feel no qualms about putting more than that in on the crowd funding?
Do you moan when an artist won't drop their prices to just cover the cost of materials, and then wonder why they're in financial trouble?
Do you hire someone (independent) to mow your lawn or clean your house, then gripe that you have to pay them more than minimum wage, and that the bill is due when services are rendered?
If so, I'm talking to you. If not, and you still wonder why so many authors, artists, and independent workers are in trouble right now, then please read on.
Why yes, there are Kindle millionaires, but for every million seller there are good authors languishing. Why that happens would take a few thousand more words to explain, so we'll not go there. Just know it happens. But when you consider that the average self-published book only sells 1-200 copies - even with the Amanda Hockings of the world averaged in - and you may begin to understand. If that self-pubbed author sells their book at $2.99 and qualifies for the 70% royalty on Amazon, that's $209 or so for every 100 copies sold. Not bad, but if they only sell a couple hundred copies, that's not a lot of money.
But you say, the share an author gets from a publisher is smaller than that. True, but (in theory, at least) the publisher takes care of the editing and cover art and marketing. It's a trade-off that many authors are willing to make.
No, I'm not advocating for any particular publishing model. I'm just stating some facts, and the next paragraph is true whether an author is self-published or has a fat NY contract.
But wait: There's more! Income, FICA, and Medicare taxes must be paid. Even those who make so little that they get their income taxes back still have to pay FICA and Medicare. If you're employed by someone, you split those taxes with your employer. The self-employed get to pay the whole thing, though we do get to take about half of our FICA taxes as a deduction. Still, the self-employed are on the hook for more taxes right out of the box.
Sure, the self-employed get to deduct costs of doing business, but what if that self-pubbed author paid an editor and cover artist and still only sold 200 copies? What about the time not writing that they spend promoting their book or doing bookkeeping related to sales? What about health insurance? Business insurance? Costs to maintain a checking account and P.O. Box? Promotional bookmarks and other materials? How about buying print books to hand sell at conventions and signings, and the possible sales tax issues?
On top of everything else, independent authors, artists, and contractors have to deal with startup costs and figuring out how to live while their business takes off - if it ever does. This is why we don't give up or day jobs for a long time, are married to someone with a good job - or both.
Here's a scenario a wage-earner should never have to face:
"Congratulations! You're hired! We love your work and know you'll be an asset to our organization. We're putting you on the team for a product that's going to be released next year. Now, as a token of faith in our company and our project, we expect our employees to make an investment toward the success of our product. You will purchase your own desk and your computer. I know that sounds like we're asking a lot, but when that product starts flying off the shelves next year and we can start to pay you, you won't regret it. How do we calculate your pay? That's a good question. It will be a percentage based on how many units we sell, calculated on our profit after our expenses."
You would say "thanks, but no thanks," and rightly so, as violates many wage and hour laws. But this is something independent contractors, authors, and artists have to put up with all the time. We buy the supplies, we put out the work, and THEN we get paid, and not always on time. Try telling the electric company your employer said he would gladly pay you Tuesday for burgers you flipped a month ago, but Tuesday was three weeks ago. As a wage earner, you can report your employer to several state or federal agencies. You may still not get your money, but it doesn't cost you anything to file a report. We contractors have to sue or put a lien on goods, and that costs money on top of what we're owed. And like you, we may still not get our money. We may be able to write off the bad debts, but we have to raise our prices to cover our losses. So that $2.99 book becomes $3.99, the price on that piece of art goes up, the cost to mow your lawn or clean your house goes up...you get the idea.
So the next time you gripe about the cost of a book or a handmade good or some service like getting your hair done or your lawn mowed, consider what it *really* costs to provide those goods and services, and understand that the people behind those books, goods, and businesses really also what most wage earners have: The opportunity to live independently and pay the bills. We want health insurance (no political rants, please). We don't want to have to suffer the indignity of appealing for donations to make the rent.
Me? I'm fortunate, and here's where you may think I'm whining. I have a husband - and a good man he is! - who earns a decent living. We have a roof over our heads and we manage to pay the bills. However, there was a time when I pulled in enough money from writing to not only help pay those bills, but to enable us to save money for things like vacations. It's been ten years since our last vacation, but that's a first world problem compared to those authors who wake up every morning, look at their Amazon statements, and wonder where the next meal is going to come from. I get up some mornings and wonder if it really is worth it to push myself like crazy to produce handmade goods for the sound of crickets in my online store or to keep writing copy when the pay is less than 1/4 of what it was before the recession hit. Really, why in the hell do I bother?
I do it because I enjoy the process of creating, and I'm fortunate that I'm able to do that. But what if my husband's employer walked in today and said that his office was closing and that he wasn't losing his job, it was just being moved 1500 miles away? Or across the ocean? That did happen once. And while I honestly believe the odds of that happening again are very low, we don't have any control over the economy. If it crashed tomorrow and my husband lost his job I'd be the wage earner until he found another job. And what if something happened and he was no longer able to work? Frankly that scares the living crap out of me. Because no one wants to pay over three bucks for a book. No one wants to pay much beyond the cost of materials for my handmade goods. I keep working to bring costs down, but they're at the bone now. I'll lose money if I drop my prices.
And yeah, those problems are nothing compared to the problems other people are experiencing, but that doesn't mean my frustration isn't real.
So what do I do? You tell me. I'm out of ideas.