Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How Much is This Gunna Cost Me?

A popular post from October 2011

By Josi S. Kilpack

Awhile back I was approached by someone who'd just finished their first book. I'm always excited to encourage other writers and share the excitement of such an accomplishment. The woman then asked me what she should do next. I asked if she'd attended any writer's conferences and she said "Oh, those are so pricey, I couldn't afford that." I went on to tell her of some up and coming conferences that are very reasonably priced. "Oh, that's way too much money. What else can I do?"
So I told her of some free options: read writing blogs, find comparable books to what she's written and figure out who published them, follow agents on Facebook and Twitter, join a writing group. She asked how she would find a writing group and the first thought that came to mind was where I've met several members of the writing groups I've belonged to--writing conferences. But she'd already nixed that option, and yet it was the answer I had. So I told her and she, again, reminded me that she could never possibly come up with $100 to attend a writer's conference. I mentioned joining The League of Utah Writers which has monthly meetings, she asked (can you guess?) "How much would that cost?"
"About $25 a year."
She shook her head and explained, again, that there was no way she could pay anything. At that point I smiled and wished her luck. I watched her leave and wished I could have made her see beyond her determination that she couldn't afford the best options out there. The thought that's come back to me ever since is "How can she afford not to invest in something that's obviously so important to her?" The exchange has sat with me ever since and therefore here I am pontificating about it you guys.

On the one hand, I understand that there are people in some really tough financial situations. They are struggling to pay their mortgage and worry about the upcoming winter. They are working hard to make ends meet and there is no room for anything extra. I remember when I laid awake at night wondering how on earth I was going to pay the power bill. I would never tell anyone to pay for a conference instead of filling their children's cavities and I carry no judgment for them not seeing room in their budgets to invest in something far below milk and bread on their list.

On the other hand, I really don't know how anyone can expect and hope to make a career in writing without making an investment in it somewhere. IF you want writing to be a career, IF you want it to pay you money someday, there are going to be expenses. Here are some of the basic things that a writer can expect to spend money on:
*A decent computer
*A backup service of some kind for that computer
*Software--Microsoft Word is the standard right now
*Printer Ink for printing manuscripts (though with e-submission this isn't what it once was)
*Paper for printing on
*Writing Books--there are some you'll want to own for future reference
*Postage for mailing things
*Dues for writers organizations--At $25/year, that's $2.00/monthly meeting
*Writer's Conferences--in my opinion this is where you get the most bang for your buck

To me, this list is essential. It provides you with somewhere to write and store your words, mediums to send those words out, and opportunities to learn not only about the craft, but about the career you're striving toward. Without investing in these things it will be difficult for you to learn all the nuances of the writing profession. That said, there are some solutions that don't require big buck investments:

*Computer.  A friend of mine wrote for many years using two very old computers. One hard drive was used for writing, the other one was connected to the main computer and backed up everything from the first computer, which meant he had two hard drives with his book on them. It took some technical know-how to set it up but cost him about $100.
*Software. Most computers come with a word processing software. If yours doesn't, or if you're still working off of Word 2000, look on eBay for discounted upgrades. If you need to (or feel better about) buying new, look for a student copy, assuming you have a student in your household. It can save you a lot of money.
*Ink and postage can be use minimally if you do all your editing on the computer and focus on e-doc submissions and critique sharing.
*Writing books. Check your library sales or check thrift stores, but understand that books on writing are very niche and therefore hard to find amid the general mass of books out there; you might get lucky though. Many of my favorite titles sell for less than $5 on Amazon.
*Dues for Writing Organizations. Would mom pay your dues as your birthday present every year? Can you sell something on eBay. Get creative.
*Writing Conferences. Sometimes you can volunteer to help with the conference and get a discount, but you really need to know people before they will trust you to be helpful. You can also ask for the admission as a gift from people in your life, or save up for it. Don't feel like you have to travel to another state or go to a conference every month to benefit--one writer's conference a year close to home is a great start.

The fact is that a writing career isn't free. It takes time and it will take some money and each person has to figure out what they can do. However, if the book you're writing is worthy of the time you put into it, isn't it worth the necessary financial investment it will take to make it the best it can be? You don't have to fly to Maui, you don't have to have your own personal writing library or buy the newest computer out there, but you do need to ask yourself what you can do, and then you need to do it.

Also, keep in mind that once you get published, the expenses will increase and you don't get paid right away--unless you get an advance. You will have to carry expenses for awhile before you get paid anything even after your book is out there so finding a way to work some of these things into your current budget will help prepare you for that end.

Happy Writing!


Donna K. Weaver said...

Great post, Josi. I attended UVU Book Academy for the second consecutive year yesterday. Last year was my first experience with a writing conference. Since then I've joined an online critique group, read a bazillion blogs about writing, read tons of books about writing, attended LTUE and Storymaker and attended to critique bootcamps.

Yesterday I was really astounded at how much I've learned in the last year. It was a nice way to gauge something I hadn't given myself credit for having learned.

Heather B. Moore said...

This is so very true, and there are things that I forgo so that I can "afford" things like writers conferences. (they are also tax deductible)

Annette Lyon said...

You mentioned this situation before and added a great analogy--would anyone ever imagine going to medical school or law school (or pursue anything else that requires skill and training) without paying for it?

Of course an education is going to cost something, and learning how to write and get published is no different. It doesn't cost as much as law school, but it requires effort, time, and yes, at least some money.

Great post.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Great post and totally true. If someone truly want to succeed at writing, they'll be will to pay a price, no matter how big or small. What is your dream worth, after all?

Crazy Redhead said...

I know of two things online that are free to help out writers. First, Dropbox offers free online storage. You can then access your documents on any computer with the internet. Plus, it will automatically update on all computers you use on a regular basis. I love it. I don't have to email my documents or use a thumb drive when I need to get on another computer.

Second, you can download Open Office for a word processor. It's compatible with Word. There are a few conversion problems, but for starting out, it's a great way to go.

Hope this info helps somebody.

That's for doing this blog. It is a great free tool!

Crazy Redhead said...

I meant thanks.

Marion Jensen said...

Spot on. Can't say enough about conferences. I'm in my current writers group because of a conference. It's taken my writing to a new level. Best $150 I EVER spent.

Christy said...

Well said Josi! A writer needs to make an investment in her/his career and take the craft seriously. I second the importances of writer's conferences. The feedback, classes and connections you make are worth way more than the expense of the conference.

E.C. Myers said...

If you're serious about pursuing a writing career, you can also start claiming writing expenses on your tax forms each year, as long as you're being honest about it. You have to show a profit in 2 out of 5 years, but you can take losses for the first 3 (as you might with any new business), and take deductions on computers, writing conferences (and related travel and food expenses), books, etc.

I also second the recommendations for the free resources, like Open Office and Dropbox. And you can even find perfectly serviceable netbooks for around $200 these days.

Anna Maria Junus said...

I have invested in a computer. Can't write without one. I have open office. I have some writing books.

However I've never had the opportunity to go to a conference. There simply aren't any in my area. It would require travel and other expenses beyond the price of a conference and at this time in my life i have NO money. I can barely feed people and pay the rent right now. Added to that, they never are when I can go. I have kids and I'm a single mom and conferences are not planned for summer when my kids are visiting their dad.

However i belong to a writers group and I have the intenet.

Maybe one day I'll get to a conference. I hope so.

I do think that you have to be careful. Too many writers are spending money on publishing when they should be getting paid to be published.

Bookwrm&U2lver said...

One suggestion repeated at the LDS Storymakers Conference I attended in 2009 was to get an English degree. Costly, yes, but I'm finding two classes per semester at the University of Utah is in my budget (tax writeoff-whoo!)and I'm blowing everyone away in my creative writing course.