This has been going around the writing circles lately and I think it’s clear that there’s something seriously wrong with the conclusions. Of course, the whole point of the article is “hey, let me sell you something” and I have nothing in particular against that, but you have to at least present accurate and honest data in a way that isn’t twisted to mean something that it clearly does not mean. I’m not accusing the writer of being dishonest, just of twisting the facts a little to make her product a bit more attractive. So here’s why I don’t think that this particular cost analysis really means what people seem to think that it does.
To begin, she makes the claim that the average “cost per hour” is $21.98, which is the average income of the day jobs of the respondents. That does not make it a cost. If you can find a job that will pay you $21.98 per hour for 40 hours each week, every hour that you are not making that income is not a loss of that income. Otherwise, everything that you do besides sit at work is actually “costing” you money, which is ridiculous. Sleep has no inherent cost. Watching TV has no inherent cost. At best you could argue that you could be working another job and making that much money, but how many people are willing to work 3-4 jobs, 24 hours a day? Because most non-professional writers write in their spare time, the cost to write is zero because it is time that would not be spent working another job in the first place. Therefore, that entire concept has to be thrown entirely out the window. It costs you nothing to write a book because nothing comes out of your pocket. It might cost you money to hire an editor or a cover artist or something else, but none of that has to do with the actual writing process. Writing is free because it’s done during non-income-earning time.
But the problems don’t end there. She says that the average speed of writing is about 500 words per hour and the average novel length is 90,000 words. That’s about 180 hours of writing time and if we say someone writes 8 hours a day, that’s 22.5 days to write a novel. We can round that to 30 for simplicity’s sake. Then there are revisions, which she says take an average of 64.4 days and there are an average of 3.58 revisions, making the revision process 230.55 days in total, a little over 7.5 months. But what she doesn’t take into account is that during that time, the writer is invariably working on other books as well. It isn’t a sunk cost where the author is doing nothing for 7.5 months before they complete the book and start a new one. She even acknowledges that most authors have more than 8 unpublished works in process. While it might take 7 months to get any particular book into shape for publication, during that time the writer can complete 7 additional books and also be working on editing those works as well. Hardly anyone does just one thing at a time.
And down at the bottom, she says that 30.43% of respondents say they don’t plan, they just wait for an idea to gestate before they start writing. That doesn’t mean they just sit around twiddling their thumbs thinking about things, they are writing other stories while working out the details for the new one. I have never met a serious writer that isn’t writing all the time. They may have half a dozen books in process and notebooks full of story ideas just ready to leap to the page. Nobody works the way she seems to think that they do.
Therefore, the idea that it “costs” you $26,563.56 to get a novel ready for publication is really absurd. It costs you nothing but time that you wouldn’t have been making money to begin with. These events are not some sunk out-of-pocket cost, any more than sleeping is and if you were trying to “make a living” at being a writer, you wouldn’t have a day job to begin with, writing in your spare time, would you? You’d be doing it full time.
But nobody ever stops to think about the ramifications of the figures or if they make any sense, they just gobble it up and pretend that it means something. It doesn’t. People need to think more rationally about the “facts” they absorb.