This is probably one of the questions I’ve been asked more than any other for the last six months, and I usually answer with the honest but terribly vague, “Good. I love doing it.”
So how is it really going? I’m going to answer that question completely honestly (if in a very long-winded post), even sharing the detailed numbers most artists are unwilling to share, but which everyone is secretly very curious to know.
First off, for any who don’t know already, I’m working for myself now, earning money by selling my music, books, and crafts (Seasonally, with the crafts). I am the only breadwinner in our home, which means that I am the only source of income for our family, and I have no other job or source of income (unless you include tax returns). My wife is a full-time mother who home-schools our kids, so she’s working her tail off, but not bringing in a cent. So when I say I’m working for myself, I mean I am attempting to support my family on my music and writing.
And, just so you can understand our financial situation: We own a house with a small patch of property. It’s a small, three bedroom modular home in what used to be a full trailer park. We bought it several years ago, in good condition, for $69,000. Because we were already low income, we qualified for a government aided home loan, so our monthly mortgage payment is just under $470 a month.
Jenni and I have been very careful to stay out of debt. Our house loan is the only loan we’ve done since our marriage, and we hope it’s the only kind of debt we ever have. Basically, we’ve tenaciously avoided consumer debt. I’ve heard it said, and I’ve tried to preach and live this principle: in order to make it in this kind of market, you’ve just got to be smarter with money than everyone around you. We’re still working on that, but we’re quickly learning the necessity of it.
Other than utilities, Internet, tithing, basic medical expenses, and basic food/stuff supplies, we don’t have any big extra expenses. We don’t even have membership of any paid website subscriptions.
So, with that as a backdrop, I’ll talk about how I was able to quit my job to work full time for myself.
We’ve been working toward having me go full time for many years now. Two years ago, I was laid off my job, and for two weeks (after discussing it with Jenni and determining that we could afford it), I scrambled to create, market, and push the music and writing as fast and furiously as possible. The immediate response was so encouraging (though still insufficient financially at the time) that after I again got a job, we began planning how we could work toward going full time as soon as possible. We determined that the absolute base money we needed to live month to month was $1,400 per month. So we decided that as soon as we had $8,000 sitting in our bank account, which would give us just under six months living, I’d quit my job and work full time for myself.
The plan was that during that six months, we’d earn enough to keep going, if only to push it far enough ahead to allow more time to get us to an average of $1,400 per month before our money ran out.
So we did. Actually, our tax return of about $7000 was 7/8 of that initial $8000. I put in my two-weeks notice, and Feb 1, 2013 was my last day working for someone else.
Ever since we got started several years ago, the sheet music has been a better seller than any other product–by far.
At the time I quit, we were selling an average of about 1 piece of sheet music per day. I continued to write more music, and put it on sheet music. I updated my site, did all the SEO stuff, got smarter with my social media use, and tried everything I could think of and everything I studied to get the word out about my music. And the sales increased. Over several months, the one per day average began to fluctuate between 2 and 4 per day. One day there’d be five sales, then after two days without any sales, there’d be two more sales, etc. It even almost got to the point where a day wouldn’t pass without at least one sale.
Basically, the average sheet music sales now is about three per day. With site fees and everything, that’s about three dollars per sheet music piece sold.
Then there were the book sales. They’ve been a little harder to follow. Since publishers generally send out royalty checks every three to six months, it was harder to track the progress of my books, but all in all, they seem to be bringing home (as in, total that we get to keep) about $25 per month, which is about the same amount as I was getting for books before going full time.
I mentioned crafts. Specifically, I mean toy foam swords. A couple years ago, I designed some fun dueling swords for kids, and sold a few at the local 24th of July parade. This year, over the summer, we attended three parades and made a total of about $500 take home.
Those have been our three major sources of income. So on average (keeping in mind that the amounts for these items come in various chunks and time frames), our present monthly income is sitting at approximately $100 for swords, $250 for sheet music, and $25 for books, totaling about $375 per month. Clearly this is nowhere near the $1,400 per month that would make the business sustainable.
And our funds? Running pretty low. In the six months after starting full time, we earned just under three months living.
At that point, Jenni and I discussed the issue, and came up with a plan. We figured that if I decided go work for someone else again, I’d be able to find a job within a month. That figure is based entirely on the fact that it’s never taken me longer than that to get a job. So we took the date we’d be out of money and set it back a month and decided on that date, I’d go looking for a new job. We also gave it a name. The day I have to start looking for a job is called ‘doomsday.’
Since I continue making money, doomsday is moving forward. If, for example, I made $1000 this week on sheet music and sword sales, that would push doomsday forward almost a month. Our rule of thumb is that ever $50 I make pushes doomsday forward one day.
Since my six month mark, when we came up with the doomsday plan, doomsday has moved up about a month and a half, so that for the moment, doomsday is at the end of this month. Obviously, in order to push doomsday ahead faster than it approaches, we’re going to have to start making more money fast.
And I’m doing my best.
I’m still confident we can make this work. If not this time around, maybe on the next time we have $8,000 saved up. Still, repeating the exact same efforts would probably not be the best way to go.
So how can I claim that the “music and books” thing is going good? Simple. I’m making a few hundred dollars a month on them. How many people are able to do that? And many–possibly most sales are returning customers. People often send the kindest notes saying how the music or the books touched them or their family. Even if the music and writing isn’t fully supporting us, it’s certainly going good.
Without question, I have a lot to learn about marketing and business. But I’m not sure I’ll be learning much of it while not seriously working on it.
Even if I have to go work for someone else for a time, I’ll keep working toward going back to full time. I’m still optimistic that we can find a way to make this work. I’m glad I still have a few weeks to push forward, and I still plan, if at all possible, to push doomsday forward inevitably.
Dreams take work. They take hard work. And it’s work I’m willing to do.
Posted in Newsletter/Announcements, Updates, Writing and tagged full time musician, writing full time.
I’ve had a couple of great signings with Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with Dating? recently. The great thing was that Jenni got to come to them as well.
The first was at BYU bookstore, and the second was at Confetti Books and Antiques in Spanish Fork. At BYU Bookstore, I was able to meet with three other authors, Andrew C. Skinner, Alonzo L. Gaskill, and one other who’s name I don’t remember (which is sad, because I had a great conversation with him). They’re really great guys, and I hope to get to do more author stuff with them.
The second was at Confetti Antiques & Books in Spanish Fork with Mandi Tucker Slack, Misty Moncur, and Sherri Mills. That was a fun signing. Those three were great to sign with, and fun to talk to. It also helped that the store was a cool antique shop, so even once we got done, Jenni and I stuck around for another 45 minutes.
Posted in Updates and tagged author, book, bookstore, signing, writing.
Randy Lindsay asked me recently about my launch party last month for Marriage is Ordained of God, but Who Came Up with Dating?, and I realized I hadn’t blogged about it. I make the excuse that it was in the middle of one of my nonblogging months, but that doesn’t really hold water, so I’ll just say I’m a little slow and mention it now.
It was a blast! We didn’t have enough people to unbalance the earth’s magnetic pole, but I was so glad people came, and some even bought books.
We had it at the Fairview museum and had balloons (in the color theme of the book), cake (see above), cookies (also color themed like the book), games, tables, chairs, books, pens, giveaways, music download cards, a woolly mammoth, and tons of Doritos,
I wish I’d gotten more pictures, because it really was a cool setup, and I think those who came had a great time. Thanks to all of you who made it, and especially all you who bought books! You keep me writing!
You can’t tell from the photo, but the cake was a half-sheet, which means it was massive. Kudos especially to my mom for decorating it. Didn’t she do awesome?
Just a couple weeks later I attended Michael Young’s launch party for his book, The Last Archangel, and had a great time! He had all kinds of angel themed games and activities. Even my kids had fun coloring, though I couldn’t get them to wear my crafty multicolor pipe-cleaner halos I made them for more than a few seconds. Plus my son loved going home with a glow-in-the dark pitchfork prize.
So how do you all do launch parties? How have they gone for you? Have you seen cool things (or not-so-cool things) at other’s parties that you would recommend?
Posted in Updates, Writing and tagged author, book, etc., fun, games, launch party, party.
Check it out! Cedar Fort finished the cover to my book! This is the one coming out in July – I’m so excited. What do you all think?
Posted in Learn, Newsletter/Announcements, Updates and tagged dating, lds, lds dating, marriage is ordained of god.
My first book is finally out!!! It’s taken about five years to write, revise, cleanup, format, edit, and publish, but Giraffe Tracks is available as of today! I’ll have it on its own webpage soon, but the webpage isn’t ready yet, so for now I’m linking to straight the store from my blog.
So far, it’s available in:
or you can Read a Sample
I was hoping to release the audio book at the same time as the book release, but couldn’t have it ready in time.
If there is a format that you would want to buy it in that is not listed above, let me know. I’d like people to be able to buy it in whatever format they want, even if it’s .doc, .jpg or even .mov (that would be interesting). If you’re willing to buy it in a certain format, I’ll make it in that format and sell it at the same price as any digital text format.
I’m publishing it through Willowrise Press, which is my family’s independent publishing company.
Anyway, please buy it!
Here’s the blurb from the back of the book, so you can get an idea what it’s about:
By the late 1990′s, South Africa was in the midst of heavy political and social turmoil. With the ending of Apartheid in 1994, which was a legalized system of racial segregation which heavily curtailed the rights of the black population, the country was left in a dangerously challenging situation. The white population, who had enjoyed relative wealth, government protection, and exclusive employment opportunities, were now forced to share those resources with the massive majority population of native black Africans.
Native Africans, who had been socially, economically, and physically oppressed for centuries, were now allowed to leave their reservation-like townships and come into the cities and suburbs. Having been held back for so long, black Africans continued to experience severe poverty. As new opportunities were thrown at them, poverty-driven crime rose to a frightening level, leaving sour feelings in the hearts of the country’s general population. It became a time of anger, reunion, bitter feelings, fear, and hope.
Giraffe Tracks is the true story of an LDS missionary serving in the Johannesburg, South Africa Mission only a few years after the ending of Apartheid. Using compelling stories, humor, and spiritual insight, the story demonstrates that even in a land overflowing with crime, poverty, and racial hatred, peace and joy can be found through the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the powers of evil shake the foundations of human society, the truth and light carried in the testimonies of the Lord’s missionaries can change hearts, heal minds, and turn fear and hatred into faith and love.
Posted in Featured Favorite, Learn, Newsletter/Announcements, Religious, Updates, Writings and tagged africa, apartheid, bangerter, book, botswana, chas hathaway, christian, giraffe tracks, johannesburg, lds, memoir, mission, missionary, publish, south africa.
I blew it. My first chance and I blew it!
I’ve had a silly idea for a long time. Jenni and I don’t have a TV, so we never see regular episodes of anything. We do rent movies on DVD and watch them on the computer, but we’re determined not to get a TV. I’ve been working on my most recent book quite a bit lately, and I was talking to someone about it, and how much fun it has been to write. When the person I was talking to said, “How do you get the time?!” I fumbled with stuff about getting up early or staying up late, and a little about determination, blah, blah, blah.
After I left, I slapped myself on the forehead. I forgot – completely forgot! See, I’d had this idea that if anyone ever asked me how I get time to write books or CD’s, I’d simply say, “I don’t watch TV, and in the time I would have been watching, I write.”
But I forgot. Blew it on my first chance. Oh, well. Guess I better give up movies so I’ll have more time to write more and when someone asks where I get the time, I can tell them I don’t watch anything at all…
Posted in Updates and tagged Forgot, television, time, tv, write, writing.