Maybe the Problem Is How You Define Revenue

I’ve been procrastinating on writing this article for a week. Partially because I’ve been busy preparing for a nine day vacation in Europe. And partially because I’ve been enjoying a nine day vacation in Europe.

Although I don’t travel often — occasionally for work and annually on a big trip like this one — getting out of my bubble and seeing a new part of the world makes me wish I could travel all the time. These days, that’s actually a realistic dream, since technology and company policies make it possible to work remotely (although, working remotely in Europe would get pretty expensive pretty quickly).

Granted, I don’t have one of those jobs.

Like so many other writers on the Internet, I often find myself wishing I could live the dream, making enough money off my writing to be my own boss. To work where I want to work. To write what I want to write.

But like so many others trying to “live the dream,” I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me if I want to make that a reality.

Finding Balance

According to the balance sheet, my sole attempt to directly profit from my writing has, thus far, been a failure. Like 94% of first time authors, my book, Improv ABC, is yet to earn back the money I invested in its design, publication, and marketing.

Almost a year later, I’m still 33% short. That is, when I look at revenue generated from direct sales of the book.

The book itself, though, just the simple fact that it exists and that has my name on it, has provided more opportunities (both financially and experientially) that prove I’ve recouped the expenses a few times over.

Since writing and publishing a book, I:

  • Landed a new job that included a higher salary.
  • Took a paid position teaching at an improv summer camp.
  • Spoke at several design/entrepreneurial events in my city.
  • Took a prestigious coaching gig at my local improv theater.
  • Got experience writing and publishing a book (and am now able to help others do the same).
  • Had my name thrown into the hat for things I probably didn’t even realize had anything to do with the book.

Hopefully, this article isn’t coming across as a brag-fest. My balance sheet still shows around -$1,000 on the book as a money making enterprise.

I share all this to illustrate that, when I redefine revenue as profit and experience due to the book rather than money generated from direct sales, it’s actually because of my book that I am able to take a vacation like this at all. I wouldn’t have this salaried job and paid vacation without it.

A lot of online writers (myself included, at times) are trying to chase the dream. Trying to be the next Seth Godin/Derek Sivers/Austin Kleon/Jon Westenberg success story. Trying to earn a living by writing advice on the Internet.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many of those jobs around, and a lot of it is based on timing and luck in addition to talent and work ethic. It’s difficult to directly profit from your writing in a 1-to-1 exchange.

So, the best thing you can do? Stop chasing that dream.

Instead, make stuff that matters and put it out there — hell, charge for it if you want. But next time you look at your balance sheet and find that you’re coming up short, rather than chalking your work up as a failure, maybe try rethinking “revenue” instead.


To read more articles like this one, consider signing up for my newsletter, The Monday Memo. Each week, I send out a new article that pulls back the curtain on the creative process to help you make more stuff that matters. You’ll also get my ebook The Creator’s A-Z Toolkit: 26 Tools I Can’t Create Without free, as thank you for signing up.

Leave a Reply