Many who are just starting out in the world of writing have no idea how many books they'll have to sell to pay their bills and other expenses. This is a valid question since most authors don't make a living wage off of one book alone.
How many books do you need to make it as a writer?
In order to answer this question, we need to start with a few assumptions.
As a self-published author, you can expect to make $1 per book. If this sounds low, consider the costs of hiring an agent, dealing with scores of rejections, and then finally getting your manuscript accepted only to have to haggle endlessly with the publishing company.
There are many benefits that come with going the self-published route, along with an entirely unique brand of challenges. These include handling advertisement and distribution yourself - as well as editing and all the other things that publishers, agents, or editors would normally do for you. All of this factors into the amount of money earned per book purchased.
Let's assume that your goal for your yearly income is $50,000. Doing the math, if you get $1 per book, one might think that all you need to do is sell 50,000 copies per year and you'll make your $50,000. However, it's not quite that simple.
You Can't "Write" Off All Your Taxes
You'll have to factor in self-employment tax rate, which is currently 15.3%. Additionally, if there are state taxes where you live, those will have to be a part of your financial considerations. If you are earning enough money from your books - enough to owe $1,000 or more in taxes annually - the IRS may expect you to pay estimated quarterly payments on your taxes.
Assuming you don't have to pay state taxes, the self-employment tax puts your earnings per book at 84.7 cents. This brings your annual books sales quota up to 59,032 copies, rounded up to the nearest book. But if you're careful to keep track of your deductions - everything from your internet bill to the new office furniture you bought this year - you can alleviate your tax burden significantly.
Using Big Sellers to Support Experimental Projects
If your head is still spinning over the concept of selling 50,000 copies of anything, remember that this is why you don't just stop with one book. The more novels you have on the market, the more opportunities you have to earn money.
Being a successful novelist largely comes down to numbers. In this way, being an author is very much a business. Those who dream of becoming a writer don't often fantasize about the number crunching, but the business and financial end is essential in order to support the craft - artistic side - and give you the funds to support your literary fantasies.
It's possible that you'll hit upon a novel that turns out to be highly commercially viable and sells extremely well. In that case, you might choose to invest the extra income back into your writing business by spending some time working on a pet project. These more experimental pieces may not make as much money, but they will still fill you with the much-needed satisfaction necessary to keep the flame of passion burning bright throughout your literary career.