How much is my time worth?

This post comes out of a couple different places. One, I’ve been pondering my goals for next year. Two, I made more money from book sales this year than I ever have before. (I also spent more this year, and after almost ten years of publishing, have yet to break even.) And three, I’ve expended a whole lot of time and energy over the last couple weeks making Christmas presents.

See, secretly I’m an embroidery nerd. I’ve done cross stitch, crewelwork, needlepoint, black work, and hardanger embroidery, and to a limited extent, I’ve designed my own projects. Needlework was my main hobby in my 40s, until I blew up a disc in my back and couldn’t sit for long periods of time. I couldn’t sit and stitch, but I could lay on my belly and write. I started with journaling to keep from going crazy, moved on to short stories, and voila! A writer was born!

I also crochet, but that’s more of an addiction than anything else. It keeps my hands busy and it’s less toxic than smoking cigarettes.

This morning as I was putting the finishing touches on some hardanger embroidery ornaments – here’s the link to hardanger’s Wikipedia page in case you’re unfamiliar with the style – I started thinking about how much time it had taken to make each one. The two smaller ones took about four hours each. The larger ones took….longer. The materials don’t cost a whole lot, but even so, for me to earn at least minimum wage, I’d have to sell the small ones for around $75.

The large ones would be…more. Which is why I’m giving them as gifts and not trying to sell them on Etsy.

You can find hardanger ornaments on Etsy, though, and for a lot less than I’d charge. (This one is pretty. And so it this one.) Which means either I’m slow (probably) or the market won’t support what the sellers’ time is really worth.

I mean, if you’re selling a hand-made ornament for $10, either you can finish one in 30 minutes or you’re earning what was minimum wage when I first entered the job market – $3.35/hour.

Which brings me back to publishing. I honestly don’t know how many hours it takes me to write a book, but for the sake of discussion, I can use last month’s NaNoWriMo challenge. I wrote 50,000 words in November, or a little under 1700 words a day. It takes me about 2 hours to write 1700 words, longer if I’m distracted.

My best selling book this year, Soulmates, is about 75,000 words long. Rather than challenge you with a story problem, I’ll just say that, assuming I write 1700 words in 2 hours, it took me 90 hours to write 75,000 words. Cool. I made decent money, if I only count the writing time. That hourly rate gets lower when I add in the editing, with all the false starts and rewrites that went into the final draft.

And after I back out the cost of the editor, the cover artist, and promotion, I’m lucky if I’m making minimum wage….for 1976. ($3.35/hour!)

So why do it? Why spend all the time and thought and energy on a project with little hope of financial reward? We’re only allotted so many hours in this life, and given that I’ll turn 60 on my next birthday….well, you do the math. Is publishing where I want to spend my time?

I’ve talked about retiring from my hospital job in the next couple years, with an eye toward earning enough in book royalties so I won’t have to tap my retirement accounts right away. To do that, I’d need to do more than break even, an elusive goal so far. It means I’d need to keep up the 4-books-a-year pace, and I’d need to pay more attention to the ‘Zon categories so that my upcoming projects align with what’s selling well.

I’d also need to layer on the butter. (See 7 Figure Fiction by T. Taylor for how to use Universal Fantasies, what she calls butter, to sell books.)

But do I want to do all that? I’m still pondering. Over the last ten years, I’ve invested a lot of my time – my self, my spirit, my creative drive – in this publishing project, and I’d like to see it pay off. Or maybe it already has paid off, in the satisfaction I feel knowing I sent some really good stories out into the world.

If you need me, I’m the one with the crochet hook and the wild eyes…

2 thoughts on “How much is my time worth?

  1. Shauna Granger says:

    I wonder how many eyes just widened reading that. Slowly we’re pealing back the mask that we’re not all over-night millionaires at our desks for an hour or so every couple of days.

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