|This monthly newsletter goes to subscribers at Camptown Ladies Talk or Funny about Money. Camptown Ladies Press is a new publishing enterprise dedicated to promulgating light erotica in e-book format. Our purpose is to learn whether a publishing company can make money at Amazon, given enough content and a halfway decent effort at marketing.
The Birth of a Business
We’re at a party. My dear friend VickyC is throwing a shindig for her son, and the place is jumping with tribe members from two generations – his and ours. Magnificent food is being cooked; fine wines are being imbibed. The proverbial good time is being had by all.
In the course of chatting, VickyC, a public relations executive who can handily write her way out of a paper bag, says to me, “The other day I met a guy who says he’s making $30,000 a month publishing e-books.”
I almost choke on my $8-a-bottle Zinfandel. “Oh, yeah?” say I. “How is he accomplishing this wonder?”
“He publishes soft-core erotica in e-book format. He aims to put out one a day – thirty or thirty-one a month. But they’re short: 3,000 to 5,000 words.
“He has 276 of them online now. And he says this month he made 30 grand.”
Savoring the rustic harshness of my cheap wine, I ruminate over this. “Three thousand words is a lot to crank, day in and day out. But…it’s only five hundred words more than my comp students turn in, and they write their papers the night before the things are due.”
“Right,” she says. “And they’re not writing porn. They have to go out and do research.”
It occurs to me that I also would have to go out and do research were I to try to write a piece of pornographic fiction.
She continues: “He hires people to write these things. He gets them off Fiverr or finds them on amateur porn writers’ sites. Some of it, he writes himself. But most of the time, his job is to get the stuff online and market it.”
I look at VickyC. She looks at me.
“Once again,” I say, “we’ve missed the boat!”
“Any woman who’s over forty can write this stuff,” she says.
In that moment, a business is born.
Thirty Grand a Month? Really?
I can’t tell you whether the $30,000 figure is apocryphal or not. The web is full of anecdotes about people who claim to have turned 30 grand from Amazon sales. So – probably – we can discount the man’s claim or guess it was a one-time flash in the pan.
However… Nobody needs to earn $30,000 a month. Thirty thou’ a year would do the job for most of us.
It certainly would for me, in spades: all I need is enough to replace my adjunct teaching income: $1,120 a month, net, on the annual equivalent of a course load that earned a higher-than-median income when I was teaching full-time at Arizona State University.*
Eleven hundred bucks a month, even after expenses, is not very much.
A little exploring unearthed a podcast in which a woman described her progress toward a living wage, a-publishing on the Internet. Along with the audio file, the site posted a series of screenshots showing her Excel records of receipts. The first month or two, she earned grandiose returns along the lines of eight bucks.
Six months on, though, she had 80 books online. In that sixth month, she received a deposit from Amazon for $4,000.
Since then, she’s seen a steady middle-class income on receipts from e-book sales.
And she’s not even serving up the spicy stuff. She publishes plain ordinary romance.
How Big Is the Risk?
A five-thousand word bookoid doesn’t take long to write; two or three days if the scribbler works at it six or eight hours a day. If I hired a couple of competent writers, I figured, together we could generate eight to ten novelettes a month. I already had material in hand to publish 18 PG-13 bookoids, averaging about 19,000 words apiece, plus a cookbook and one book already published to Amazon. In six months, then, the S-corp could put 80 books on Amazon.
What if, I wondered, what if I took off a semester from teaching and used the time to try to build a publishing business that emits soft-core porn in e-book format only?
Could it replace the piddling teaching income? If the plan worked even modestly, it surely would.
Could it run me into the poorhouse? Absolutely. But I’m halfway there now, so what the Hey?
The Copyeditor’s Desk, my S-corporation, had a cash reserve of about $12,500. My plan was to use that fund to capitalize the racy book business.
Typically, I teach seven sections a year. Divide that in half, and you have a theoretical teaching load of 3.5 classes per semester, for a net income of $3,920 prorated over six months.
That is less than one-third of the capital available to fund the proposed new business. If I earned exactly nothing, it would cost me about $653 a month. That’s an opportunity cost, but it’s not much.
In any given year, the editorial business and blogging empire, combined, earn about 10 grand. That’s $833 a month.
So: if the business earns just enough over six months to cover the opportunity cost created by quitting the hated teaching job, the S-corp nets almost $200 a month. If the randy books break even – that is, they pay for their costs but earn no profit – I don’t lose much: $833 – $653 = $180 a month.
Obviously, that understates the risk. Costs to start up and maintain the business – web hosting, website maintenance and consulting, Cox’s internet connection, social media consulting, networking group memberships, design and ebook conversion costs, stock art fees, ISBN fees, accounting and bookkeeping costs, and contract writers’ and editors’ pay – could easily exceed $833 a month. They could exceed $12,500. At 12.5 grand, the business is no doubt undercapitalized.
But you don’t get anywhere if you don’t take a risk.
So, I concluded that even if the proposed publishing house went bust, it wouldn’t do me much harm. I could afford to hazard 12 grand on a pretty good shot of making that much back, and on a long shot of earning a great deal more.
By March 2016, we hope to have posted a total of 80 books on Amazon (and, if we can, through Smashwords, which distributes to most other e-book retailers). At that time, we’ll know if “strength in numbers” applies to e-book titles.
So, my friends: Watch this space.
As of today, Camptown Races Press has published six “Racy Books for Racy Readers.” They’re fun to write, and we think they’re fun to read – though they are racy.
Plain & Simple Press, our PG-13 imprint, has published Fire-Rider, an elaborate saga of the remote future in 18 installments.
You can help our enterprise a great deal by downloading one or more of these and then reviewing your prizes on Amazon.
*Curious about how a college professor with a Ph.D. comes to earn something less than minimum wage? Check out Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education.