Earning Full-Time Royalties on Part-Time Hours
The 40-hour workweek is a hangover from the 1940s. Introduced by Henry Ford, who wanted his employees to justify buying his cars, it later represented a compromise between company owners and governments. However, it isn’t a necessity. Yes, many income studies report a close positive correlation between the number of hours an individual works and their income, but this is only because most rat racers stick to antiquated principles and nine-to-five bosses reward based on them. Authors, more than other professions, can actually work less due to the nature of the job, which leverages scalable income streams rather than exchanging time for money.
Despite this fact, most authors struggle to find enough hours in a day. Statistically, as an author, you’re a go-getter. If you’ve written a book, you probably also have a job or other commitments and you wish you could do less, or at least get rewarded fairly for your effort. Perhaps you want to earn a second full-time income around a day job, escape it altogether, or make a good living while being flexible for family. Maybe you’re earning a full-time author income now but want a balanced lifestyle. Either way, earning good money from part-time hours is possible. Reaching that goal, though, requires you to understand what qualities most successful authors share.
According to a recent survey of 2,000 “significant” authors (those who spend more than 50% of their work time on author activities):
- 20% have self-published 30+ books
- Those who earn $100,000 a year have typically self-published 45+ books.
Some use paid ads, some rely on content marketing, some grow an email list and some go viral on TikTok. Their only consistent factor is the number of books they’ve published. So, publish lots of high-quality books and you’ll earn a full-time income. Easy, right? But what about the part-time hours? As we all know, publishing efficiently isn’t easy, and writing is only one item on the average author’s to-do list. Thankfully, in today’s post, we’ve compiled some advice to help you streamline the rest and earn that full-time income on a part-time schedule.
Without publishing lots of books, the average author cannot make a full-time income. Working out how you do so on a consistent basis is the challenge. We’ve published articles on overcoming procrastination and writing faster first drafts but, ultimately, you need to find a process that works for you. That said, many writers who publish regularly swear by cycle editing. What is it? Say you can write or edit 1,000 words in an hour. On day one of writing a book, you write 2,000 words in two hours. On day two, you then edit the previous 2,000 and write the next 2,000 in an additional two hours. That’s four hours’ work per day, resulting in 2,000 fully-edited words.
Working in this way, an average author can produce 10,000 clean words a week, working only 20 hours over five days. That’s 500,000 clean words a year (working 50 weeks a year). Depending on your genre, that’s four to 10 books. Admittedly, those books might need a few final tweaks, including developmental changes and proofreading. But the words should be relatively clean as you iron out most kinks during your daily editorial routine. Many authors claim this process supercharges their productivity, forcing them to fix mistakes while their story is fresh in their mind. They save time re-reading and rarely get overwhelmed by a knotted, unwieldy plot.
Writing Total = 20 Hours a Week
Focus and Codify Admin
Common logic states that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Writing a book is much like eating an elephant. The problem is that elephants live in herds. And your book is not the only elephant in the room. In order to crack the full-time-income-part-time-hours equation, we must also address the other elephants: admin. Here, we’ll define admin as any author-adjacent work that supports your writing but isn’t actually writing or editing your own book. Examples include:
- Scheduling social media posts
- Creating and optimising metadata
- Managing paid ads
- Answering emails
- Proofreading manuscripts
- Adapting books for audio narrators
- Formatting print interiors
Seemingly endless, these authorial side-quests can persuade you to work 50-, 60-, 70-hour weeks. Focus on one job at a time, however — typically whatever one you need to do now to get to the next stage of your publishing process — and you’ll master the task. Once you’re at that stage, you can create templates and outline how to complete them. You can identify repeatable jobs, group related ones and outsource the processes you’ve written to a virtual assistant (VA). Working on one new admin task per week, you can create updatable process documents in hours. And providing your VA is reliable, you can focus on writing, never having to tackle those tasks again.
Admin Total = Four Hours a Week
Plan and Re-Calibrate
Productivity experts agree the best way to ensure you achieve your goals is to plan ahead. That way, you will establish your priorities and make yourself much less likely to digress. This is the reason why many fast-growing companies set yearly, quarterly and monthly goals. It ensures everyone knows what the company’s priorities are and how their efforts must feed into achieving those outcomes. As an author, it helps to do yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals the night before you begin. That way, you won’t spend your most productive early morning energy planning when you could be actually executing on those goals.
You needn’t spend more than two hours a week planning. Even then, that might sound like a lot. What you need to remember, though, is that short-term plans quickly go out of date. Yes, you might be able to use yearly goals as a North Star — “write six books” is unlikely to change — but daily nuts-and-bolts activities require regular overhauls as best practices evolve. A side-project might even end up requiring more time than you anticipate if it does well and it makes sense to write an unplanned sequel. Trust this process, though. Planning seems like a waste of time but, if it keeps you on track, the investment will save you wasting even more time in the long run.
Planning Your Work = Two hours a week.
Don’t Waste Resources
Your biggest challenge in pursuing a full-time author income on part-time hours might not be sticking to your plan; it might be identifying what bits of your plan are actually working. Create a Profit & Loss spreadsheet on the first day of every month, however, and you can easily separate the profitable activities from the time wasters. Collecting data is key. Do you understand basic accounting? It takes less than two hours a month and, analysing the books, you can typically work out what projects or activities grow or drain your cash reserves. Once you do it, you can streamline your efforts to scale profitable activities and abandon whatever doesn’t work.
Remember: Execute, track, optimise. The more you do this, the more you’ll earn and the less you’ll need to work. Just don’t take it too far because data — especially short-term data — doesn’t always tell the full story. As successful advertising executive Rory Sutherland said in a recent interview:
“The number of people who think they understand statistics dangerously dwarfs those who actually do, and maths can cause fundamental problems when badly used.”
In this case, Sutherland refers to the trap many data-focused business owner fall into when focusing entirely on data to make decisions. At first, they make their businesses efficient but eventually this approach causes them to miss opportunities. They refuse to start new projects or maintain advertising streams that don’t deliver immediate, trackable benefits despite them being good for them long term. Hence, track and optimise but also prepare to invest some energy into projects that deliver untraceable “awareness.” It’ll keep you growing.
Creating a Profit & Loss = 0.5 Hours a Week
Prepare for Hard Times
Follow the advice in this article and you should eventually reach your lifestyle goal. That said, your existence might be precarious long term unless you put some contingencies in place to help you tackle market-level disruptions. Depending on the commercial potential of your books, this might happen naturally as your backlist grows. If each new title pays a baseline of $1,000 a year in income, for instance, then 50 books will stop your income from ever dropping below $50,000 a year. However, that isn’t the only way to ensure you never have to overwork to stay in the black. Another way is to manage your finances responsibly.
Take, for example, financial freedom expert Dave Ramsey’s well-tested “Baby Steps,” which were formulated after tracking the activities of thousands of high-net-worth individuals. They go as follows:
Step 1: Save a $1,000 emergency fund
Step 2: Pay off all consumer debt (except your mortgage)
Step 3: Create a savings stash that covers 3-6 months’ expenses
Step 4: Invest 15% of your monthly take-home pay for retirement
Step 5: Save cash to pay for your kids’ college (if you have them)
Step 6: Pay off your mortgage
Step 7: Keep building until you have financial abundance
While this advice isn’t strictly designed for authors, it is particularly relevant because many of our self-employed community end up living paycheque to paycheque with no emergency fund or retirement plans. Follow these steps, however, and any recession, pandemic or other storm you endure will have minimal impact, meaning you’ll never have to make rash decisions that force you to overwork to put out financial fires. Altogether, it should take you no more than two hours each month to allocate funds to follow these guiding principles.
Preparing for Hard Times = 0.5 hrs a week.
In total, this plan equates to 27 hours of work each week and should eventually get you your desired outcome, providing you write high-quality books for a hungry audience and follow best publishing practices. Will the plan generate your desired income and lifestyle from day one? No. Getting there will take time, discipline and patience. That said, these principles should help you improve your situation over time until you get to a place where you can earn a full-time author income while only working part-time hours.
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