The Side Hustle Report #1 – writing for money

Writing for money is something I’d like to do when I retire so I figure it’d be to give it a try again now. I went into detail about my love for writing in this post a few weeks ago so I won’t reiterate all that here.

I started writing again in December in order to get started on building up a base of stories/novellas to publish starting in 2017. This first report sets a baseline for 2017. It will show how much I earned passively in December from the work I’ve published in 2013. It’s not a lot but it’s more than 0. I’m hoping that writing and publishing again will help that grow.

The Process

The first thing to define is the amount of time spent on this side-hustle. I have a full time job and while I enjoy writing, it’s not all I want to do with my free time.

Still, if I want this to work out, I know that I have to be consistent with my writing. I need to devote at least a part of each day to it or else I’ll get lazy and stop writing. That’s what happened in 2013 and I don’t want that to happen again in 2017.

I’m pretty lazy and if I can avoid work then I will. My goal for all of 2017 is to write every day without fail. If I miss a day then I have to make up the time missed the following day.

I decided that around one hour is a reasonable amount of time to devote to writing each day. I don’t want this to cut into my personal life and other hobbies too much. This hour can include writing and/or editing a story to get it all set to be published.

To help with this goal, I downloaded a pomodoro app on my phone. That’s designed to help me manage my time and keep me focused on the writing process. If you’re not familiar with the pomodoro technique, it’s a time management technique that breaks down work into intervals followed by a short break. You can either use an app on a phone or a physical timer you can buy online.

Here’s a break down of how it works from Wikipedia.

  1. Decide on the task to be done(writing in my case).
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper(I have an app that tracks it for me).
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2(I only go for two checkmarks meaning I spend 50 minutes writing and 10 minutes resting).
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1(this last step doesn’t apply to me since I stop after 2).

The idea behind this method is to focus entirely on one task and do nothing else for the full interval. The app I have has a ticking clock sound that helps keep me focused on my task. It also allows me to easily track the amount of time I spend writing each day.

Since my goal is to spend at least an hour writing or editing each day, I went with two pomodoros(25 minute intervals). You can certainly do more if you’d like. If I was doing this full time then I’d certainly try to put in a full 8 hours each day.

In my case, I write for 25 minutes, take a break for 5 where I can do whatever, write for another 25 and then take my final break. This last one isn’t really a break since I don’t continue writing past it but I view it as such to get to the full hour! All in all, I spend at least 50 minutes writing each day. I’ll sometimes float past that if I’m enjoying a particular part of the story I’m writing.

This process not only helps me focus but also gives me a clear goal to follow. I know that I have 2 pomodoros(50 minutes) of work to do each day. I can use the app to keep my mind on the goal.

This is something I read about recently. I’m trying it for the first time with this project and I like it quite a bit. The ticking of the clock really helps me get into a rhythm. More importantly, it keeps me focused on nothing but the task at hand. I get into a zone where I just write until I hear the ring of the clock that indicates it’s time for a break.

KDP Select vs. Going Wide

I first tried self-publishing towards the end of 2013. I published wide initially then switched to Amazon once KDP Select came out. At the time, people raved about the money to be made there.

KDP select is a program through Amazon. As a writer, you give them exclusivity(you can’t publish on other websites) to be included in the Kindle Unlimited program. Using KU, people can borrow your books after they pay a 9.99 fee.

You get more exposure since people don’t have to pay each time they want to read something by you and you get paid for every borrow.

It was great at first but then the program changed from a pay per borrow structure to a pay for each page read structure. This was a necessary change. However, it was mainly a benefit for those who write longer pieces and hurt those who deal primarily in short stories and novellas.

I was in the latter but at that point I was already done with writing and didn’t really care. I kept my stories exclusive to Amazon. There were a handful of borrows and sales here and there which gave me my small monthly payment from Amazon.

Now that I’m back and writing things that are on the shorter end of the scale, I’m trying out going wide again with my entire catalog versus keeping it all on Amazon in the KDP select program.

Wide in this case means I’m publishing across the entire self-publishing spectrum instead of just on Amazon. That means including B&N, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, etc.

I’m not sure if this is the best strategy but I want to get as many eyeballs as possible on my work right now. Since I’m writing mainly shorter pieces, the per page payout that KDP select uses now doesn’t benefit me as much as it would if I were writing longer pieces.

Amazon is still a key site to publish on since it’s the biggest of the bunch. However, choosing not to enroll in KDP select gives me the option to publish everything. The plan is to start with a wide strategy and see how it goes. Then based on my success elsewhere; decide if I want to go back to Amazon only and rejoin KDP select.

If my earnings from non Amazon websites are negligible then there’s little to lose by staying in KDP select.

I removed all my stories that were eligible to be removed from KDP select and published them wide in December. I have to wait until mid-late/February to remove the rest as there’s a 90 day enrollment period for KDP select.

After that all of my stories will be wide and all the stories I publish going forward will be published everywhere.

There are benefits to both strategies but I want to get some data on how well my stuff sells outside of Amazon. Then I’ll see if I want to  commit to an Amazon only strategy. In order to do that I have to pass on KDP select and publish everywhere for a while and see how it goes.

This is going to be the primary meat of these reports going forward. I don’t have to say anything that I’ve said above again. These posts will mainly deal with how many stories I published, how many words I wrote, how many stories I sold at each outlet and how much money I made.

I do have expenses here. There are licensed stock photos to buy for my covers. Also, I pay someone on Fiverr a few bucks a pop to design my covers as I have no Photoshop skills.

I did buy a one month subscription to one of the big stock photo sites back in 2013. That means I still have a lot of photos to use. As such, my expenses will be mostly limited to cover design fees for now. There might be a time in the future(when one of the stock photo sites has a sale) that I’ll spend some more money to get some additional stock photos to work with.

 Let’s take a look at how much I produced this month. This report also sets a baseline for how many works I have live from my short stint with self-publishing in 2013.

writing for money

You can see I have 15 total items published on the various websites. That’s not a bad starting point but I want to get that number much higher. Volume is the name of the game when it comes to short stories and novellas.

I have 14 standalone works and one bundle. Bundles are a way of combing stories in the same genre and selling them as a whole for a cheaper price. It’s a good way to try to get some extra income from stories that have stopped selling.

The truth is that short stories don’t sell as well when compared to longer works. However, there is a market for them and I don’t have the urge to write a full length novel at the moment.

That might change with time. However, right now I’m trying various genres and writing what I enjoy in the short form.

I published nothing in December. That’s because I had nothing to publish so the total of 15 is all stuff I wrote years ago.

I did however write quite a bit last month. December saw a total of 56k words and I was super excited to see that number! I started early in the month and spent 50 minutes each day which to 22.5hrs of writing in December. That means I wrote at a pace of 2505 words per hour; not a bad pace at all.

I think the focus from the pomodoro method really helps that number. I’m pretty much in the zone once I hear that ticking.

I do expect that words/hr figure and # of words written to drop a lot going forward. That’s because I’ll have to spend half my time editing these stories to get them ready for publishing.

I do spend a bit more time formatting the stories and then uploading them to the various websites. That means I’m spending a bit more time on this than is reflected in this report.

Now time to see how much I made and how much I spent this month!

writing

I lost money in December! I thought I was writing for money here, not to lose money!

This is going to be common in the first few months. The long term goal is to make money each month. However, in meantime the losses aren’t anything substantial so it’s no big deal.

The starting costs for self-publishing are relatively low and that’s a good thing. You can use free stock photos and do your own work on the covers if you want your expenses to be $0 but I’d rather spend a bit more and get a higher quality cover.

The first order of business was to go wide where I could. That worked well since I sold 3 copies outside of Amazon. BIG MONEY!

I published nothing this month which means all these earnings were from stories I wrote in 2013. That’s not too bad. This shows that there’s a little bit of a shelf life on these. Adding more to the total of 15 I have will only help to improve my future passive income even if I stop writing.

$10.56 isn’t a lot but it’s better than 0. I get a lot out of the whole process by practicing my hobby and learning more about the business of self-publishing. There’s a ton of genres out there to write in too. This process will allow me to not only play around with a bunch of them but also gauge which ones sell and which ones don’t. The long term goal is to improve as a writer as well. It certainly won’t hurt to try to earn a bit of money on the side.

I won’t lie but I also get pretty excited each time I get a sale. Not only because it means a few bucks in my pocket but also because it means someone is reading something I put work into and hopefully enjoying it.

The 55k+ words I published in December went a long way to setting up January’s slate of published titles.

I’m really bad at Photoshop. A professional looking cover goes a long way to selling a self-published work. That’s why I see the $5-$6/cover I spend on fiverr.com as a good investment to spur future earnings.

I’m well into January now so I know the results for the most part and I can say that sales growth in this business is relatively slow :).

I’m not expecting to blow it out of the water in 2017 but it’ll be fun to track all this stuff, see how much I’m actually writing and how it all translates to earnings going forward.

One of the reasons I failed to stick with this in 2013 was lack of consistency. I look back at the $100+ I was getting a few months in back then and wonder what could have been if I stuck with it.

I’ve missed 1 day so far, this last Saturday due to various events and I made that up by doing double the work yesterday so I’m happy with the consistency I’ve achieved. I find that doing something becomes second nature if you commit to doing it every day and actually stick with it. I’m a different person now than I was back then and think I should be able to stick with it via self-motivation and the tracking within this blog. I’ve learned through my portfolio that I’m a lot more likely to keep track of everything if I have to document it on this blog and I hope that will be the case with my self-publishing experiment.

I’ll be back again next month with #2 which will include the January update; where I’ll actually have new titles published. Maybe this time I’ll actually be in the green!

Thanks for reading. I’ve got the January dividend update coming up next as well as my 2017 financial goals.

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