When I sell six or seven more copies of Old Style, it will break even; meaning that sales will have covered expenses. In the old publishing world I have little interaction with, this moment is called ‘earning out’. It means that sales have covered the expenses of manufacturing the physical book, advertising budget, and whatever advance the author received. The publisher then is obligated to send the writer royalties at some agreed-upon intervals.
My first publisher pays out once a year, my second never does because they’re crooks, and my third has received far more money from me than the other way around because I’m an idiot with no business sense. But what, if anything, does earning out mean if you do all the work yourself?
Old Style is the first of the three books I’ve put out entirely on my own that will have attained this distinction. I don’t know why sales have been better for it than the previous two. In addition to being a lousy businessman, I have no interest in gauging audience interest or catering toward this or that crowd. I just blunder forward following my own interests and instincts and hope that a few people respond now and then.
Even though Old Style has covered monetary expenses, it will be many years, if ever, when I can comfortably say that I’ve gotten back what I put into it. I wonder whether successful artists/writers feel the same after getting a big advance or making a major sale? This is where valuing art gets nebulous. It’s always right between priceless and worthless. But on the practical level, the price is whatever you can get on a given day.
How many copies of my books would I need to sell to feel satisfied? I have many boxes left in my house right now that I’d like to be rid of. But if a truck came and carted them away this afternoon, would I be truly happy? I’d still be primarily concerned with whatever I’m working on at the time that truck is pulling up. And I’d still be chewing on what I need to work on next after it drives away.
The project I’ve been engaged in most of my life can’t be measured in money. Fame is at least as slippery as money, but I doubt it would scratch the itch so it no longer itches either. Satisfaction of any kind is elusive and rarely last longer than moments. All that said, I’m very grateful to everyone who’s spent their hard-earned funds on my work and hope to keep taking advantage of that generosity to fund whatever work I’ve got left to do.