THE INDIE FILES: Balancing the Indie Workload

By Anthony W. Eichenlaub

Your time has value.

That’s it. That’s the lesson. If you’re looking to save a few minutes, you can skip the rest of this article and just keep that one thought in mind. Your minutes have worth, and how you spend them is as important as how you spend your money.

As indie authors, we tend to have a strong do-it-yourself attitude. After all, we’re responsible for the entire product, from outline to the complete marketing plan. If something needs to be done, we’re the ones who do it, and if we aren’t careful, all that valuable time disappears fast.

So, how do we know what our time is worth?

What Is Our Time Worth?

The trickiest part, once we start to value our time, is figuring out exactly what it’s worth. How can we assign a dollar value to work that isn’t directly earning a wage?

In the spirit of valuing our time, let’s keep this simple. How long does it take to write a book? Let’s estimate that we can write a fifty-thousand-word novel in one hundred hours, then edit and publish it in another hundred. Using the SFWA pro rate for short stories of $.08 per word, we get $4,000 for our 50,000-word book. Divide that by our estimated two hundred hours, and we’re looking at $20 an hour. Not a fortune, but it’s above minimum wage, and it gives us a baseline number to work with.

If you already have a book out that’s earned some money, then use that actual number to estimate the value of your time. How long did it take to write and publish? How much money did it make? If the resulting wage looks too low—many novels don’t earn enough to pay a minimum wage—then fall back on the previous method.

These numbers will change throughout your writing career. As you earn more per book, your hours become more valuable. Same thing when you learn to write faster or edit more efficiently.

Using Value Calculations to Buy Time

Once you have a hypothetical hourly wage, making decisions on how to spend your time becomes much simpler.

Tools like Vellum or Atticus cost money but make formatting books significantly faster. If you can go from four hours with free tools to one hour using Vellum, then you’ve saved sixty bucks. How many books are you planning on formatting? That price tag starts looking reasonable pretty fast. If tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid speed up your editing even by a few hours per book, you’re looking at significant savings.

Almost every aspect of being an indie author can be hired out—for a price. Everything, from a round of developmental editing to cover design, is fair game as a way to buy back more of your time.

Not every writer has the cash on hand to spend on time-saving tools or hired help, but assigning value to your time can help in other ways. Do you spend half an hour on social media before writing? That’s ten bucks. Did you get ten dollars’ worth of value out of that time?

In direct book sales? Probably not. In reader engagement? Maybe. Could the same value be achieved in fifteen minutes? What about two five-minute blocks on either end of a writing sprint?

Marketing devours time if you let it. You can spend hours hunting for the perfect keyword, even with efficient tools like Publisher Rocket, but perfect marketing does no good if you aren’t writing. Marketing effort usually has diminishing returns, so those hours very quickly cost more than they’re worth. Especially early on in your indie-publishing career, it makes sense to favor marketing campaigns that you can set up quickly and leave for a week or two while the data rolls in.

When you work on your publishing project, you are hiring yourself to do a job. If someone else can do the job better and cheaper, hire them.

Don’t Forget to Calculate the Incalculable

Why did you start writing?

If you just answered, “To write,” then you are in good company; welcome to the club.

Usually, when we talk about time management, we mean writing time, and that’s not just because it’s the core of our business. We love writing. Maybe there are other aspects of the job that you enjoy. Cover design might scratch a creative itch, or marketing research might excite you.

Being an indie author doesn’t mean you do everything. It means that you own everything. As you edge your way toward financial success, the value of your time will increase. When that happens, it’s time to buy back some hours. If your writing hours are worth $50, then that five-hour task that saves $200 might not be the best use of your time.

But you might still want to do it.

Never forget that if something drains you, it costs you more than just the time you spend on it. If you end your half-hour of social media exhausted and agitated, it might cost you an hour of writing. But if you work on the visuals of a beautiful map and it leaves you inspired, that’s worth far more than the time gained by hiring out that art.

Adding It Up

Now that we have numbers to attach to our time, we can plan the day’s activities. Make a conscious decision about what to spend on each one. During your workday, track your time using a free tool like TimeCamp or even just a spreadsheet.

Then, at the end of your day, look at how you’ve spent your time. Would another half hour of marketing have been worthwhile? Is your pace sufficient to get that editing done on schedule? Take a moment to consider how you’re spending your time and money, but don’t take too long.

Because your time has value.

Anthony W. Eichenlaub’s stories appear in Daily Science Fiction, On-Spec Magazine, Little Blue Marble, and numerous anthologies including A Punk Rock Future and The Community of Magic Pens. His novels range from a scientifically irresponsible space opera to pulse-pounding Minnesota technothrillers featuring an elderly hacker and his dangerous grandchildren. He is a member of SFWA and the Rochester Writers Group and he is a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center. In his spare time, he enjoys landscaping, woodworking, and long walks with his lazy dog.