Cost/benefit

Cost / benefit analysis… from an author? Well, that should make you laugh, anyway. Seriously, it’s profession for mugs, if you look at it from the straight ‘work / earnings’ (cost / benefit) point of view. That of course rests on ‘all work is equally hard or pleasant or possible’ which is plainly false. The earning part is so wildly variable as to make it very hard express accurately. For a handful of people, fairly little work has indeed given a very good return. For most of the rest… the inverse is true.

Thing is, all work isn’t equal. Neither is speed or capacity… or quality. Nor is benefit entirely measurable in dollars (as they say: Money can’t buy you love, even if it does allow you to rent a reasonable facsimile). So the cost / benefit is more about what it is worth to you and how much time and effort you are prepared to invest.

A large part of this is point of view: To a petty government bureaucrat, demanding you spend $30 000 on a job that can be done to the same effect for $300 is perfectly fine. It’s not their $30 000, and they don’t give a rats butt about the collateral effects on you. To you, it is not quite the same situation! When the cost or difficulty is not being borne, it is very easy to to demand the ridiculous. When it is… you want to know just what exactly you’re getting for your 30K. In the case of bureaucrats – all you’re really getting is a $29 700 bill to get them off your back. In the case of the book you’re writing, to a VERY small extent, some readers are your ‘bureaucrats’ in that they have expectations which can be way out of line. “I spent $3.99 on your book. That gives me the right to dictate what you write next, when you write it, what happens to the characters etc. Oh and the right to nobble you on social media and/or the next Con and lecture you about what you have done wrong, what politics or religion you can express, or what you should do in future.

The joy about this type of reader is 1) they’re rare 2) while most authors are far too polite (me too) you can actually ignore them quite well. They only stand out because most readers are not like that. That doesn’t alter the fact that writing doesn’t make you business savvy, and, unless this is purely a hobby (in which case the benefit are not monetary), somewhere down the line you have to start looking what each phase is worth to you. And yes, I am fine one to talk, because I have been all too prepared to accept lower monetary gain for the benefit of doing what I want to do, or what I believe in.

The thing is it is a calculation you really need to enter into from the get-go. Look, everything from how much you invest in research (time and materials) to how much you spend on a cover or invest in social media to advertise your book… you need to evaluate, or this is going end up ‘I spent 5 years living on ramen, spent my inheritance, and sold 500 copies…’ and you may be a little unhappy. Some things are worth investing in – you can afford them, or cannot afford not to. Sometimes you can get a bargain, but mostly you have to trade off costs against benefits and reach decisions.

The thing to be aware of is that some things have much larger benefits, and they depend on your point of view. That extra month’s worth of research into the dye-shades possible from plant extracts? If most of your probable audience are interested, and you’re interested, and that will set your book above others in that audience’s eyes… it’s a good bet. If you are just rabbit-holing, it’s one line and one out of a thousand readers care… don’t, unless you want that book to take the 5 years… On the other hand the returns from good editing, for a lot of us, is actually worth spending money on (the problem is of course good editors are rare). Good covers, likewise.

7 comments

  1. WIBBOW – Would I Be Better Off Writing? In some cases, no. I need hard facts about, oh, the Hanseatic League and the laws of trade, or what exactly the spat was between Holy Roman Emperor [name] and [other name]. From there I can build a world with enough detail that it makes sense and is internally consistent. And then write more books in that world. The initial investment pays back very well.

    In most cases? A quick hunt for “sources more detailed/reliable/academic than Wiki”, make some notes, and back to the story. But my way is different from your way, and I’m used to doing research on esoteric topics. WIBBOW is different for almost everyone.

  2. Dave old son, having spent 25 years in Federal Civil Service I can tell you for certain that should you offer to do that $30k job for $300 that bureaucrat customer of yours will slap you down flat. He has a budget by Ghod and if he runs over he can always beg the higher ups for an increase, subtly implying that should he not get “just a bit more” the entire project is at risk. The only way he would accept coming in significantly under budget is if he can tie that directly to his own bonus or possibly a promotion. Otherwise he knows well and good that in next year’s budget his allocation will be cut by at least the amount he saved this year.
    One of my other duties as assigned was a small purchase credit card holder for the branch. Small in that I was limited to no more than $25k per month unless granted a waiver. Every year about August I made up a wish list of nice to have office supplies because I could reliably expect that in September the powers that be would find some leftover money that would expire at the end of the fiscal year (September 30 for the Federal government) and we really needed to get it spent. And there I would be with my list. Not frivolous understand, just nice to have that couldn’t be justified through the year. And because I’d had 15 years in private industry before I always made the things on those lists things that would make life easier for the troops, improve productivity, or both.

  3. “Money can’t buy happiness, but enough of it can get you a much better quality of misery.”

  4. Money solves many problems, but it will especially if it’s “real money” cause you a host of other issues.

    1. It’s a tool. Much like a circular saw, it’s hard to build a house without it, and it can unzip you up one side and down the other if you don’t respect it.

    2. There’s enough money for base survival needs. Then there’s enough money to be able to pursue what makes you happy.

      Two of my “happy places” are cooking and carpentry. I have sufficient extra money to be able to pursue those endeavors.

      Now, for someone like Elon Musk, his “happy place” is messing around with advanced technology and engineering – electric cars, rockets, Mars colonies. He needs a LOT more extra money to get to his “happy place” than I do.

      Note that there are always “other issues.” I do not enjoy cleaning up the kitchen, but that comes with the territory. Nor do I enjoy sweeping up the shop, or the occasional VOC headache (even in my well-ventilated work area). I’m sure that Musk doesn’t enjoy the bimbos trying to cash in on his notoriety, nor the jealous attacks by the mass media. But that’s his territory, and he apparently thinks his happy place is worth it.

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