Artistic Passive Income

A reader, or at least a buyer, helped keep one of my books alive, today. Twelve Months at Merritt Lake had its first sale in over a year, today. I wrote it in 2006, definitely not even close to today. Despite a poetic review; “This is a gem of a book with moments of poetry…” & “Overall what strikes me is how courageous it is to publish an authentic description in one’s own voice” – Erin Waterman, it has sold fewer copies than most of my books. And yet, it lives. Books can die from publishers pulling the listing, but especially since computers became repositories for print and e-books, it costs less to keep them going. It also means they can be readily revived. It also means that work done decades ago can continue to benefit readers and authors.

Let’s get the personal finance portion out of the way. Passive income has its place. Allow me to use an example from a fellow author, Don Scoby. Bake a cookie to sell a cookie and you have to bake another cookie. Show people how to bake a cookie by writing a cookbook, and the cookbook can be sold and sold and sold without having to continually clean the kitchen. Say hello to “Make Your Own Darn Good Cookies“, a cookbook he wrote four years ago and continues to have a better Sales Rank than my Merritt Lake book (until today.)

One of the problems with books is that it takes less time to go for a hike or to bake a cookie than it does to write about it. Then comes the wait to see if anyone cares about it enough to buy it, read it, and encourage others to do the same. As with most art, the artist only sells the first copies; the majority of sales come from readers and patrons passing along the suggestion that others should do the same.

Some artists become successful with their first works. Sometimes that’s because they’re just so good. Sometimes it’s because they have the resources for coaching and production and professional publicists. Frequently artists are seen as late-bloomers or long-delayed overnight sensations. (e.g. old)

The 10,000 hour rule provides a rationalization, but it is not a proof or a guarantee of succeeding. Work at something for 10,000 hours and develop a marketable skill. Step one: work at something for 10,000 hours, e.g. five years at 40 hours per week each year with two weeks off. I know if I suggest that to many of my artist friends they’ll scoff or laugh. Two weeks off? Ha!

Those 10,000 hours are an investment in time, and time is more precious than money. But again, it is an investment with no guarantee of a profitable return. Artists are known for working from passion, or at least persistence and perseverance. That’s probably because they’re frequently not being paid, so something must keep them going.

One benefit of writing is that books can live a long time. Burning books sell more books. Publishers pulling a title are an opportunity to republish, possibly with a chance for fixing typos, clearing edits, adding epilogues – and maybe getting a better deal. I don’t want my publishers to pull my books, but I have plans for updated editions for most of them. (I know more now because I haven’t stopped writing. And then there’s improving the cover art…)

Personal finance (Speaking of cover art to fix – see Dream. Invest. Live.) 

About 13% of Americans of retirement age have to work as long as they live because bad luck happens or they never got around to saving.

Conventional wisdom is based on the roughly 80,000 hour model of forty years of working 2,000 hours per year. If you’re lucky you can retire with Social Security and a pension.

Throw in some good fortune or frugal living or good investing and it is possible to retire sooner. I retired at 38 just before becoming a millionaire (hence the personal finance book mentioned above), which was too quickly followed by, as a few professionals put it, “A perfect storm of bad luck.” It happens. Hence my continued work life.

Social Security and pensions are passive income, but are tied to efforts earlier in life. Work, wait decades, get paid.

Arts like writing and photography can be passive income, too. Some arts, like sculpture, can’t be readily replicated. Culinary arts are perishable. But a book or a digital photograph can generate benefits without any extra effort by the author or photographer. Note: That is ‘can’ generate benefits, not ‘will’ generate benefits. 

There are no guarantees, but that is true for Social Security (which though it should be stable has its enemies), pensions (because the value of pension funds can dwindle), investments (even annuities can have issues), stocks (duh), and even real estate (nature can be uppity.)

It is hard to work without knowing if you’ll get paid. Switch from a job reported on a W-2 versus a gig reported on a 1099 and experience the difference. Each has its benefits, (hmm, a pun), but W-2 jobs are regular and regimented while 1099 gigs are more open-ended in many ways.

I’m not predicting a resurgence in my earlier books based on one sale. That sale could simply be a click that was a mistake, but it did inspire this reminder for optimism. 

We can’t know the consequences of our actions. We make plans. We do stuff. We hope. Live long enough and 10,000 hours seems to be a smaller number every year because it is a smaller percentage of a total life, every year, every day.

I don’t keep track or count my hours. (Yes, believe it or not, I do not track everything in my life.) I’ve probably spent more than 10,000 hours writing (7 books, soon to be 8, plus hundreds or a few thousand online articles). Maybe I’ve spent that much time or more taking and presenting photographs. Karate? Could be, but only if I count practicing on my own; but that’s definitely not passive income. Engineering wasn’t passive, but it paid well. Public speaking and consulting? Also not passive, though something I enjoy. Real estate? Working on it. (State Required Disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc.

Of that list, writing and photography have probably paid the least, but also have the greatest long-term potential. Come on, potential; actualize!

Personal finance is frequently limited to budgets, or advisors, or stocks and bonds. Personal finance is also about income and assets, expenses and liabilities. Passive income is only version of one of those four, but it can be an unexpected bonus that pays on its own schedule and usually without warning.

Hmm. Something else to write a book about? Maybe after enough readers and patrons have enjoyed my work, passed the word along, and my publishers and printers pass along those royalty checks.

Another 1,100 words and another hour of writing. Chalk it up.

You can’t plan these things. Evidently, this post was an unplanned milestone.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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