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A Transparency Challenge From A Bottom-List Indie Author

Effective immediately, and every month from now on, I will post my gross earnings as an independent author and creator. If you’re an indie author or otherwise make some or all of your living as an independent creator, I challenge you to do the same.

Why Indie Authors and Other Creators Should Be Transparent About Their Income

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. As with many things having to do with creativity, my motivations are at once selfish, and in the spirit of teaching.

I hope other indie authors and creators find these reasons compelling, as well:

  • Creators and consumers are peers and partners. Together, we make a community. Through commerce, at the very least, we are in a relationship, and relationships are strengthened by honesty and openness.
  • The big earners in indie publishing and other indie creative endeavors get lots of attention, and good for them. But the top of the list is defined by the middle and the bottom, and it’s important those creators are represented and have their part of the story heard.
  • This one might be more for the bottom-list majority than anyone else, but here goes: if your community sees how much (how little?) you’re making from your creative endeavors, they might spend more money on the things you make. It’s possible—just possible, mind you—that readers could be under the impression that their authors are doing just fine, or that some other person will buy your stuff. Share your gross income and show your community how much you need their financial participation.
  • Sharing your gross income from creative endeavors could keep you motivated. Are you disappointed / dissatisfied / ashamed by the amount of money your books or other indie works bring you each month? Maybe the fact that the rest of the world knows the details will push you to work harder. On the other hand, if you’re one of the lucky few making a decent living as an independent author or other indie creator, sharing your number could be inspiring to your community. Either way, the information is useful. You should share it.

The Transparency Challenge: Indie Creators, Commit To Sharing Your Income Report Each Month!

What do you say, indie author, or musician, or artist, or craftsperson, or what-have-you?

Will you commit to revealing your gross income from your creative endeavors, in public, every single month?

Declare your intention in the comments of this post by providing a link to the income reporting page on your website.

My Monthly Income Report

My monthly income report is here.

It goes back to the beginning of 2014. My goal is to earn $3,000.00 (the current minimum required to meet my financial obligations) each month from my own creative work or related sources other than work I do for others as part of my creative services business. Income earned from my freelance clients is not included.

Included are things like book and music royalties from sales, streams, and subscriptions, patron donations and membership dues, affiliate income from products and services I use in my creative work, and related sources. In other words, anything directly connected to the things I make and the people consuming the things I make.

Take a look.

If you’re an indie creator, how does it compare to your own numbers?

If you’re a consumer of indie creative endeavors, how does it stack up against your expectations?

Let’s talk about it… and please, share this idea with everyone you know!

Let’s make it a thing.

Update, August 23, 2014: Thanks to her interview on the excellent podcast The New Disruptors, I learned about polymath Nicole Dieker’s ongoing practice to post her earnings as a freelance writer, essayist, musician, and copywriter every week! While not exactly following the letter of my Transparency Challenge, she’s absolutely acting in the spirit of the thing. More like this!

If this post was valuable to you, please become my patron and support this and other creative endeavors for as little as $1.00 per month.
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9 Comments

  1. That’s an intimidating challenge… I’m intrigued!

    I’ve been discussing this with other authors, and there were a few concerns. One concern was that readers might see disappointing sales for the current month, and jump to the conclusion that the author’s work is substandard.

    An alternative might be to post a running total of sales rather than a monthly breakdown. Personally, I find it more gratifying to see that total climbing steadily upwards, rather than focusing on the erratic monthly figures.

    A five-, six-, or seven-digit sales figure (dream big, my friends) certainly looks better to a potential reader. I don’t want their sympathy; want them to wonder what the excitement is about!

    • I’m so glad you’ve commented, John! As for those other authors you mention… tell ’em to comment, too!

      You wrote, “One concern was that readers might see disappointing sales for the current month, and jump to the conclusion that the author’s work is substandard.”

      What defines disappointing sales? That’s a big question: what do readers think we make in a given month? Are my readers, for example (readers who’ve given me around five dozen five star reviews, so the quality question shouldn’t be an issue), surprised by my gross income?

      The problem I see with posting a running total of sales is this: what time period is covered? $10,000.00 in three months is impressive. $10,000.00 in three years? Not so much.

      I think providing a running total is counter to the idea of being transparent, unless a monthly total was also provided.

      Also, if the author is providing samples of their work… if their work has good reviews… if there’s other social proof like a decent mailing list subscriber count, or active and engaged social media followers… that should counter any subjective impression that an arbitrary income number equals substandard work.

      Not for nothing, let’s not rule out the possibility that our work might just be substandard..! That’s part of the challenge: forcing ourselves to ask, “what could I be doing better?”

      You wrote, “Personally, I find it more gratifying to see that total climbing steadily upwards, rather than focusing on the erratic monthly figures.”

      Ah, but I’m not seeking gratification (or sympathy) with this challenge. I’m seeking communication, and a greater degree of mutual understanding between creators and consumers (in part). I want all involved to get a realistic picture.

      Over to you, John! 🙂

  2. I’ve thought for a while that this would be helpful, because I think the perception is that writers, if published, are making a living at it, which is more often *not* the case. There’s no shame in sharing. It’s gutsy. Go for it.

    I think many authors simply have not found their audience, which is an elusive task. I self-published a book of house plans (www.smallerhouseplans.com) for my husband a year ago July, and just checked on his sales, which have been less than $500. My novel was picked up by a traditional publisher, and I won’t have sales figures until April. I’m looking for readers just like everyone else. jmf

  3. So you’re doing the gross number but wouldn’t you need that $3,000 a month to be net?

    I’m interested in participating, but very nervous about it too. I’m not just an author, I’m also a publishing company and I’m afraid of being judged based on numbers, I guess.

    • Hi Carolyn; thanks for commenting! The number I report each month represent income actually received in a bank or PayPal account. I’m calling it “gross” because some of that income will go to pay contributing authors of The Sovereign Era: Year One and some will go to taxes… but the $3,000.00 I need to meet expenses each month takes those variables into account (roughly).

      I decided to report income without subtracting indie creative endeavors-related expenses because I can do that calculation fairly quickly right at the beginning of the month, and because it’s cash-on-hand. Hope that makes sense.

      As for your nervousness regarding your publishing company, I’d say that anything creative you do for others wouldn’t be included in the tally. This is why I don’t include the income I make from my creative services work or work-for-hire writing and editing.

      I understand that you’re afraid of being judged based on numbers. It’s a very common reaction to the challenge. Keep in mind that if the numbers aren’t out there, you’re being judged based on people’s assumptions, negative or positive.

      Transparency = vulnerability. That’s scary, sure. But in my experience, at least, vulnerability draws respect and trust into your community of readers, friends, and fans. And those are the folks who will sustain your career over the long term.

      • I guess part of it too is I’m not sure there’s that much of a benefit to sharing these things. All our numbers will be different. We already know that some indie authors are making nothing, some are making $20 a month, some are making $50 a month, some are making $5,000 a month, etc.

        But as I said at FB, perhaps I’ll do this challenge with just my individual author portion income rather than the income of the whole company.

        • “I guess part of it too is I’m not sure there’s that much of a benefit to sharing these things.”

          I spelled out a number of benefits in the post, summarized here:

          • Through commerce, at the very least, we are in a relationship, and relationships are strengthened by honesty and openness
          • Big earners get a lot of individual attention; the middle and bottom-rung authors deserve to be heard from as well, as they define the list
          • Sharing income educates your community and shows them just how much you need their patronage
          • Making public the degree to which you are meeting your financial goals could inspire you to work harder

          Given that list, are there specific reasons you don’t think there would be much benefit to sharing income reports? I’d love to hear your arguments against the reasons I’ve listed; your perspective might be enlightening for readers.

          Thanks again for commenting, Carolyn!

          • Yes. I did read your post. I don’t find most of those reasons compelling. That might be just me, though! Most of them just feel like…well, begging. It’s either asking readers to feel sorry for how little we’re making or showing off how well we’re doing without them (since it is public a lot of the people reading the post won’t be people who have already bought your work). The last reason is one that does appeal to me, but I’m still not convinced. I was brought up not to discuss money in public and that’s strongly ingrained.

            I can see where you’re getting a benefit between you and your readers, but I don’t know that that will be the same case with all authors and readers. So I applaud you taking this step and I hope that it helps you, but the idea of sharing my finances is making me feel quite uncomfortable and it might not be logical or reasonable, but that’s where I’m at right now and I’m going to listen to that instinct.

          • One person’s begging is another person’s “asking for the sale,” which (I think) many creative types are reluctant to do. I respect your discomfort with sharing your finances (although it’s technically only one’s earnings from a limited class of sources).

            I look at transparency as a way to further strengthen the community… both the community that has grown around my creative endeavors, and the indie creative community as a whole. By contrast, it’s beginning to look like most folks either feel it’s not necessary (it’s not, strictly speaking) at best… or some kind of scarlet dollar sign at worst. Maybe I need to boost the signal on this idea and get a wider pool of opinion… hmm…

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The Sovereign Era, The Shaper's World, Daikaiju Universe, Protector Universe, Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights, How It All Got Started, Thing, Carson Meunetti, Lina Porter, Alex Kent, Crystal Dubois, Abbeque Valley, Dana Cove, Pinnacle Records, Hagar's and related characters, institutions, situations, and representative depictions in media are trade marks of Matthew Wayne Selznick.
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