No two authors are the same, of course. The question of author spending—should we? how and how much? and when?—depends on each author’s unique circumstances. However, most authors will—and should—start spending money long before they publish their book.
This is true even for those authors who publish with a traditional publisher. For example, you might invest in a writing class to hone your skills. You’ll almost certainly invest in the equipment you need: a computer with word-processing software and internet access so you can do research, at least. You might also invest in building your author platform through a good website or an email marketing platform like MailChimp. These are just some of the things you might spend money on even before you’ve started writing your book.
What about author spending while writing?
Once you’ve started writing, there will likely be a need for more author spending. For example, you might need an author coach to guide you through the writing process and get that first draft done. Or you might need a developmental editor to help you refine your manuscript. If you want to land a deal with a traditional publisher, you need to find an agent to pitch your manuscript to different publishers. Which means you might want to hire help to hone your pitch.
Once you have that first draft of your manuscript, you need to get it in perfect, publish-ready condition. This means editing, formatting or typesetting, getting permissions if you’re using excerpts or quotes from someone else’s work, sourcing illustrations or photographs, hiring a cover designer, getting the final manuscript proofread, and ordering printed books if you’re going that route. With a traditional publisher, this is usually handled and paid for in-house. Much of this is handled by your hybrid publisher, but it will depend on your contract. If you self-publish, you’ll be responsible for all of those costs.
What costs are involved once you’ve published?
The author spending doesn’t stop once you’ve uploaded your book to the publishing platform or you have the print copy in your hands. Distribution costs money. Most of your expenses now, however, will be related to marketing. This is true no matter whether you’re publishing through a traditional publisher, a hybrid publisher or self-publishing. Even if you’re with a Big Five publisher who manages to land you an appearance on a popular late-night talk show, you’ll still invest money in getting there and looking the way you want your target readers to perceive you: authors don’t typically get the all-expenses-paid trip and an outfit sponsored by a fashion designer.
How much should you budget to publish your book?
At some stage along the writing journey, most authors will ask the burning question: “How much should I budget for all of this?” The answer is—there is no single specific answer. There is no checklist that you can tick off. Your author spending needs, choices, and amounts will depend on your circumstances and goals.
This is where you need to be honest with yourself. First, you need to be honest about your goals: truly honest. If you say, “My goal is to help people with my book,” you can’t become mad if you’ve only sold a few copies and can’t get an interview on your local TV station: if you do, your true goal was to make money and become famous. You need to be very clear about what you want to achieve with your book: your “why”.
You also need to be brutally honest with yourself about your abilities. Very few authors are so naturally talented that they don’t need some input from someone else. Very few authors can write, edit, proofread, and publish their book all by themselves without risking the quality of their work and their reputation.
Then you also need to take into account your own circumstances: how much can you budget? If you have tens of thousands of dollars at your disposal, you can obviously budget for just about anything. If you only have a couple of hundred dollars, though, you need to find ways to make every dollar count. This is where you need to find all the things you can do for free: free tutorials online to help you learn the ropes; free templates like those on Amazon; free ways to market your book: social media and blogs, for example. This will leave more in your budget for those things that you can’t do for free but can’t do without either: a proofreader, at the very least. Even if you do it on the cheap, you still need to produce a quality book: not only so that people will recommend it to others and you sell more copies but also to help seal your reputation as an author.
Author spending misconceptions
There is a common misconception in publishing called Yog’s Law. In fact, it’s at the top of our list of the top ten publishing lies authors are told. Coined by writer Jim McDonald in the 1990s, Yog’s Law says, “Money should flow toward the author.” The intention behind this quote is noble, in that it was an attempt to help authors avoid being taken advantage of by predatory vanity publishers.
The publishing landscape of today is vastly different from what it was three decades ago but still, many authors take Yog’s Law at face value, to mean that they never have to pay for anything. The truth is that as an author, you probably will spend money.
More on author spending
We dig into this topic of author spending on The Empowered Author Podcast with guest Roseanne Cheng, cofounder of The Evergreen Author. You can catch that episode here.