“Want to make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a big one?” Yeah, it’s a joke. But, like most jokes, it’s funny because there’s a sudden turn based on a bit of truth. You can make money with a book. But there are also costs that go into writing a book and you have to think about them, even plan for them, if you want to succeed.
Not every project follows the same course. And, that’s ok.
A successful book is aimed at a particular audience. Your audience determines a lot about how your book should be presented and marketed. Yes, any of us could pound out a first draft and throw it up on the internet or print off a few copies. But is that a successful book? Not in any sense I’m aware of.
In business terms, how are you going to sell your copies?
In a story sense, a first draft isn’t a finished project. There’s still a lot more work to be done before your story is perfected.
Not all costs have to be paid in money. In fact, some of them can only be paid in “sweat equity”. You have to put the time and effort into writing the thing. But, one way or the other, you have to pay them for your book to succeed. And deciding to do it yourself or hire it done can have a big impact on your success and on how long that success takes.
Since entire books have been written about the publishing process, I won’t try to cover everything in one post. But here are some cost areas to consider when you’re planning and writing your book.
(NOTE: I’m not giving tax advice here. For that, see your accountant)
Planning and overhead
Among the hidden costs of writing (stuff some people say aren’t costs, but they are!) is the time we spend on planning the book and how we’re going to produce it. If we’ve got a “usual” plan, we might not spend much time, effort, or money planning for that next book. But we have to look at the book, understand how it’s different from the last one and how that will affect the process.
If we haven’t got an established process, we can sink a lot of time and money into figuring out how to do it. If we’re not careful about how we do that planning, we can spend a lot more than we need to too. If we don’t do the planning at all, things wander. And, if we succeed at all (not likely) things will take much longer than the need to, cost more than they need to, and result in an inferior product that doesn’t match what we imagined (and rarely satisfies us for long).
There are also things like housing and food. Ya gotta sleep and eat, dear reader. These costs might not matter if you’re writing as a ‘hobby’. But when you make the jump to professional writing (or just embrace your obsessive need to write) it’s part of the cost. You’re choosing to write over other things. The ‘I would have spent the money anyway’ costs become part of your writing costs.
Even if you’re from the ‘just Google it’ school, research and research materials have costs. If you’ve set an hourly rate for your time you can calculate exactly what that five-minute Google session cost you. If you value your time at $30.00 hour, it cost you $2.50. If you set your rate in ‘lawyer territory’ that five-minute session might cost you $25.00 (that’s why lawyers hire assistants…).
If you’re doing other research, the costs can really add up. Travel costs? Materials to make the thing for your how to book? (Please actually make the thing before you write the book about it! Or at least interview the person who did…) Tools? Books and articles? Even your internet fees are costs that go into the equation.
Many times, the quality of a book, even a story, depends on good information. Knowing how much you can spend, getting the best bang for your buck when spending it, and staying in budget can make or break your project (Budgets… Again, with the planning.)
Editing and design
Both editing and design are things to spend real money on. If you’re going with an established publisher, somebody will edit and it’s coming out of your profits either way. If you’re self-publishing, you’re paying directly for the editing and design directly with cash or time.
There are a lot of authors that take an “I’ll do it myself” attitude toward both editing and design. And they’re usually not successful. As much as we hate to admit it, writers aren’t all that good at design and editing most of the time. Even if we’re good at those things while working on other people’s stuff, we get myopic when we’re working on our own.
In the modern market (and even in the historical market if we’re being honest) your writing has to be in reasonably good shape before a publisher will even look twice at it. That means we’ve got to spend the time and or money to get our sand together before we submit that manuscript. Editors know and forgive artifacts of a manuscript format (as long as they’re the artifacts they asked for in their submission guidelines) but they can spot an amateur or thoughtlessly put together book. And they’re looking for reasons to weed stuff out.
Editing and design can be a bit like car maintenance. Some people don’t want to pay for it. Some people will pay for it because they want their project to run well. Either way, not doing it leads to breakdowns and not getting where you want to go.
It would be great if we could just throw our books out there and people bought them. But that’s not how things work. There are more books coming out than people have time to read. You’ve got to get your book to the right audience (and hope it gets their attention). And then we have to convince them to buy.
Marketing isn’t a lot of fun for most people. But again, car maintenance, ya gotta do it if you want to get anywhere.
When we look at it, book marketing mirrors book writing. We have to plan our ads (where are we putting them and who will they reach), which usually means doing some research; design and edit them, again often requiring research; and then there’s the ‘marketing cost’ of putting them out there (actually paying for the ad space and eyeballs).
Is it all worth it? If your book is worth reading, yes, it is. If not, stop now before you spend any more time and money.
Writing is an activity with purpose. If you’ve got something to say, take the steps to be heard. Just make sure you understand the costs of those steps and the resources you need to succeed. That’s how we get things done.
Well, dear reader, this year’s writers conference won’t market itself. so, it’s back to the other side of the house and doing some ad creation (joy…).
Do your planning. Find success. And, I’ll see you next post.