Coffee heat rising

Economics of Changing Horses in Mid-Stream

Or of bailing out of the sinking canoe? Of the Eng. 102 papers graded so far — about half — 36 percent have D or F grades. Actually, only one of those has a D. All the rest are flat-out failing.

Before the Online Course…

Why? Because they don’t bother to read the assignment, and they’ve found a way to rack up the full score on the quizzes over the textbook chapter without reading the book. They haven’t the faintest idea what they’re doing, and they don’t care.

I am so sick of this. Reading a failing paper is really a painful process, because you have to justify everything you’re doing that marks down the paper into the 69% or lower category. You can’t just scribble “this is sh!t” and give it a goose-egg. If you find they’ve plagiarized, you have to locate and document’s source and demonstrate exactly HOW copying word for word is plagiarism. If they haven’t done the documentation (or any documentation) you have to point out where they’re lacking and explain how to fix it and refer them to websites that explain MLA style for all perpetuity. If they’ve used Glamour Magazine as a scholarly source (I kid you not…), you have to explain why Glamour is not a scholarly source (can you imagine having to explain to a grown man or woman why a fashion magazine for 20-somethings  is not a scholarly journal???) and then explain to them how to recognize a scholarly source and then refer them to several websites that explain how to find and recognize acceptable sources. On and on and drearily on it goes.

Got to get out from underneath this job!

Yesterday I came across a podcast interview with a woman who writes romance erotica under three pen names. She discussed her business model in detail, and it is highly replicable.

With a hundred novels and novelettes online, she’s earning about $5,000 a month. That, I think, is a lot more realistic than the $30,000 figure, which may or may not be a one-shot event but is unlikely to continue forever. And I’ll tell you, if I were turning five grand a month from Amazon, I would be beside myself with joy.

She said that she made a conscious decision to treat the enterprise as a job, not as a side gig to gainful employment. She quit doing any other kind of work and began to focus her workday hours on writing erotica and publishing it. Like others, she designs the covers herself (apparently high art is not what these readers seek), converts them to e-book formats herself (there are tools for that), and rides herd on things herself.

She did not mention hiring people to write some of the bookoids.

So, I’m thinking I could capitalize the p0rno venture with funds in the S-corp’s checking account. There’s not enough to underwrite an entire semester off the teaching job and cover start-up costs. However, this fall I will be forced to take a required minimum withdrawal from the big IRA. Since I’ll have to pay taxes on that anyway, I may just tell the chair I’m not teaching this fall because I’m sick or some such — trying not to burn that bridge behind me — and use a few thousand bucks from the RMD to live on this fall. Then spend every single day writing or managing other writers.

I would like to keep capitalization costs down to $5,000, but that may be unrealistic. Adding up what I think it will cost to start up and run this business, here’s what I get:


In the best-case scenario, operating costs would run about $1,700 a month. Actually, they would run $1,700 to $4,450 a month. I could sustain this over two quarters, assuming it takes six months or so for revenues to reach a noticeable level, but only if costs were kept at the very barest minimum. That is, only if Murphy’s Law never strikes.

Heh. We know about how realistic that scenario is.

Assuming a 30% cost overrun, in the best of all possible worlds monthly operating costs would run around $2,430; in an OK scenario, around $5,785. Over two quarters, the latter would not be sustainable. The former — costs are kept in the basement and I do most or all of the work and I do never anything black-hat like hiring people to write reviews, would drain most of the S-corps funds. At a 50% cost overrun, the whole project is untenable, no matter how you look at it.

Unless, of course, the stories that people tell about generating untold riches in the p0rn bidness are true.

Sappho, the Tenth Muse

Let’s say it takes six months to start cranking a $5,000 monthly income. That’s assuming I succeed in spinning out 20 to 30 books a month, to the tune of $100 apiece. At the end of the 2nd quarter, our first $5,000 check comes in.

Then, in our very best-case scenario — costs kept to a minimum and no Murphy’s Law attack — we’re $3369 in the red ($8,369 in costs offset by $5,000 revenue). This is not good, but it’s not unsustainable yet. If, at the end of  Q1, $5,000 actually does start coming in monthly, by the end of the next quarter we should be the black. In one quarter we make $15,000. It costs $8369 to run for a quarter and we’re $3369 in the red: a total of $11,738 to make up. So $15,000 less the $11,738 of red ink gives us a profit of $3262 after four quarters.

Folks. Four quarters is a whole year…

None of the other scenarios look as bright as this.

However, the Bowker (ISBN) and Shutterstock charges would be annual, not monthly, so that would reduce costs by $470 to $650 in most months. If I wrote most of the books myself — a lot more than 10! — that also would cut a major cost significantly.

As a practical matter, there’s no way I can write 20 or 30 bookoids a month. I would need to farm out at least 10 and probably more like 20, certainly to reach the 30-squib-a-month goal.

Our spy in the p0rn bidness claims his books are 5,000 words. Another writer, posting on some message board, says his/hers average 3,000 words. Either of those would take me at least a couple of days to write. The woman who spoke in the podcast — the one who says she’s turning five grand a month — said her bookoids are 10,000 words long and that she takes two days to write one and one day to edit, create the cover, convert to e-book formats, and post. Five thousand words a day is a fair amount of copy to churn out! It also means she’s only putting out ten a month, assuming she works on weekends.


I’m about half- to two-thirds of the way through my first effort in this fine genre, Biker Babe. (Yes…obviously that working title will need improvement.) It’s taken me two days so far. More like two half-days, actually: yesterday I had to knock off to trudge through dreadful student papers.

The book, though, is a hoot. I expect to finish it today.

Then, a travel series…

Biker Babe and BillyBob Do (heh) the Grand Canyon
Biker Babe and BillyBob Do Mazatlan
Biker Babe and BillyBob Do Vegas

Or how about mystery erotica?

Biker Babe and the Mystery of the Sunken Canoe?
Biker Babe and the Mystery of the Missing Heiress?

Multiple Men erotica?

Biker Babe Goes to Sea
Biker Babe Learns to Play Rugby

The podcast interviewee says she writes about four hours a day. To which I say, Seriously?? You’re REALLY cranking out 5,000 words in four hours? How? Channeling from Anaïs Nin?

At ten or twelve bookoids a month, it’s anyone’s guess whether you could generate enough revenue even to stay afloat, to say nothing of not having to EVER TEACH ANOTHER FRESHMAN COMP COURSE AGAIN. At 30? Probably the bidness could generate enough to replace teaching income and maybe even then some. But it’s going to take several months for that to happen.

In the interim, I have to eat…

Anaïs Nin
Anaïs Nin

Learn a Skill—ONLINE—and Build a New Income Stream

This fall I’m teaching a fully online college course that will improve your skills as a blog writer and show you how to write winning articles for magazines and newspapers. Many people use professional-level writing skills to generate the sidestream income that we’ve seen is so important to paying off debt and building savings. And some have parlayed freelance writing experience into full-time jobs as magazine or newspaper editors.

In just eight weeks—October 18 through December 10—the course will explain how to structure, write, and market salable copy for commercial venues.

Here are some of the highlights:

Types of feature articles
How to structure an effective article
Generating story ideas
Finding markets that will buy from you
Selling to magazines and newspapers
Finding sources
How to interview
Checking facts
The language and style of popular media
How to edit your own writing
Working with editors
Legal and business aspects of writing for pay

When you write a blog post, you’re often writing one of the several types of the feature article. This is why some of the most engaging bloggers around are former or continuing magazine or newspaper writers and editors, such as this one and this one. If content is king, writing skill is the prime minister.

The course is offered for three credits through Paradise Valley Community College, in Phoenix, Arizona. PVCC is a fully accredited campus of the Maricopa County Community College District, and the course, which comes out of the English department, should transfer to many university English, creative writing, and journalism programs.

So, I invite you to join me in this little adventure. It should be a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to learn more about the craft of writing. If your blog is monetized or you use writing in other aspects of employment, the cost should be deductible.

The easiest way to sign up is over the telephone. Dial 602-787-7000 and register for English 235, Magazine Article Writing, Section 58235. The class runs from October 18 through December 10, 2010.

Because of state and county budget cutbacks, the Registrar’s office is open during the summer from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. PDT, Monday through Thursday; it’s closed on Fridays. Sometimes there’s a wait to get through to a registration worker, but eventually you will reach a human being.

Tuition: A reader asks how much the course costs. According to the registrar’s office, for nonresidents it’s $147/credit hour; for those living in Arizona except for Apache, Santa Cruz, and Greenlee counties, it’s $71/credit hour; for those in Apache, Santa Cruz, and Greenlee counties, it’s $96/credit hour. The cost of tuition and materials may be tax deductible: Check this discussion and this site.

The course materials specify that you must have a computer and high-speed Internet connection, and so these costs may also be to some extent deductible; check with your tax advisor about that.

Images: Vogue Magazine, February 15, 1917. Public Domain. Sunset Magazine, February 1911. Public Domain.


One of the freelance writer’s (and editor’s!) mottoes is “A$k and ye shall re¢eive.” It was coined (as it were) by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the best of the few truly useful writer’s groups in existence. The gist of this bon mot is that you should not accept just any lowball offer a publisher tries to inflict on you, but instead should insist on being paid fairly for professional work.

Well, I just landed a client that pays a moderate but more or less acceptable rate. Only problem is, this company expects contractors to sign a nondisclosure agreement that contains not one, not two, but three onerous indemnity clauses. In a nutshell, the contract proposes that the penniless freelancer will pay all the legal bills for any claim even vaguely related to her or his work that is brought against this international corporation by any wretch who thinks he or she should feel aggrieved.

I’ve been going back and forth with the company’s rep for the past ten days or two weeks over this, they offering one modification or another and me repeating that I’m not signing any agreement to indemnify.

Amazingly, they sat down and rewrote their contract to delete the offending clauses! The thing arrived in the e-mail this morning. So… I guess we’re on.

This is the second time I’ve stood my ground on indemnity clauses, expected to be told to take a hike, but prevailed.

The take-home message here is that if you own a small enterprise, you should stand firm on negotiating your terms and your price, and never accept a deal that puts you at a disadvantage.