Monday, January 31, 2011

Ways to Save Ten

Ten Things to Help Writers Save $$$

Attend Local/Regional Events Versus National Conferences: Here are two examples of actual lodging and registration costs for attending national conferences: RWA National: $1175.00; Romantic Times: cost $965.00 (and these figures do not include airfare or other transportation costs, meals, parking etc., which can run an additional $500.00 - $1000.00.) Skipping national conferences and attending a regional or local event will cost considerably less, such as Lori Foster's Annual Reader & Author Get Together for $332.00 lodging & registration. Author Shiloh Walker (who kindly provided the figures for me) also mentioned that at Lori Foster's event writers are given plenty of time to interact with readers, attend workshops, and have appointments with agents and editors (and my thanks to Shiloh for sharing the financial info and advice.)

Barter for What You Can't Afford Now: Offer to barter for something you need with another writer friend. It can be an even trade, i.e. "You proof my manuscript, and I'll proof yours" or an exchange of specialties, such as a techno-savvy writer making a flash web site for an artistic writer who trades an e-book cover art design. The idea is for you both to end up with something of equal value that you need but can't do yourself and/or afford to buy. Your specialty doesn't have to be writing-related, either -- I once restored an heirloom family quilt for a friend who paid me in some hard-to-find research books I needed.

Brew Your Own Coffee: I know how much writers love coffee and convenience; the first place they go to when they want to write in public is a bookstore coffee shop. But buying that $2-$3 cup of coffee can over time add up to a major expense, as per Barbara Thau's article Savings Experiment: The Perks of Brewing versus Buying Coffee over at Wallet Pop: "A 6-ounce cup of coffee made at home, at about 17 cents a cup per day, adds up to $1.19 a week and $62.05 a year. A 16-ounce grande coffee from Starbucks, at $2.29 per day, adds up to $16.03 per week, and a hefty $835.85 per year -- the price of a mini vacation." Or a new laptop, for that matter.

Buy Used Instead of New Books: Most authors frown on this because we make our living off new book sales, but for half of my life I couldn't afford any new books so I'm not one of them. Buying from used book stores is simply common sense when money is tight, as is checking out library book sales, thrift stores, junk shops and garage sales. Make up a list of books you're looking for and keep it in your wallet for unexpected finds. You can also hunt for used books online; one place I still use to find out-of-print titles is, and they almost always have what I need in a range of prices. I've never had a single problem with condition of the books I've bought or their sellers, and I can't say that about any of the bigger online chain booksellers.

Cancel or Swap Trade Mag Subscriptions: There are a limited number of writing and Publishing magazines out there, and I think Publishers Weekly is the most expensive (according to their web site, they're currently charging $249.99 per year for US subscribers, $299.99 for Canada and $399.99 for international. The digital edition is only slightly better at $180.00 per year, but the site doesn't specify if this is US-only or global, so don't hold me to that price.) The quality of the content of the trades in general has gone down to the point that they are utterly useless to me, so I've cancelled all my subscriptions, and this saves me a couple hundred dollars a year. I know how hard it is to let go of them, though, and it's not necessary to give them up entirely if you form a monthly issue swap with some writer friends. This is when everyone agrees on a list of mags they want, and each of you subscribe to one of them. After you're finished reading each issue of the mag you've subscribed to, you pass it along to the next person in the group, who do the same with theirs, and repeat until everyone in the group gets a chance to read the mag, which then returns to the person who subscribed to it. If you live close to a bunch of other writers, you can also use an issue swap as a reason to get together (at which point you can discuss the articles and share info.) This works great with a crit group that meets every month, too.

Go Laser instead of Inkjet: When it's time to replace your old inkjet printer, consider buying a laser printer instead. Over the years I've used many types of inkjet and monochrome laser printers, and laser is superior to inkjet in almost every category: they print faster, are designed for high-volume printing (which writers need for manuscripts), last longer and have fewer problems. Even the toner for a laser printer is cheaper (depending on where you shop, about 50%-75% less than inkjet.) Inkjet printers themselves are much cheaper, and therefore less pricey to replace, but with the supplies you end up paying more for using them. According to this article over at "Monochrome laser costs about two-to-three cents per page (about half that is for consumables, the rest for hardware). Color laser printing runs 10 to 15 cents, and a personal inkjet is about double that price."

Recycle Old Manuscripts and Used Printer Paper: Put a box by your computer for old manuscripts and other printed papers you don't need and place them in it with the blank side in the printing position (usually up, but run a test on your printer to be sure.) When you collect a stack, put them in your printer paper tray instead of new paper (and save new paper for formal use like business correpondence, submissions, etc.) By using paper twice you can cut up to 50% of the cost.

Refill Toner Cartridges Instead of Replacing Them: Depending on the type of printer you use, you're probably paying $30.00 - $70.00 every time you need a new toner cartridge. Office Depot sells a bunch of black and color toner refill kits under $20.00, and they often last for up to three uses, which would save you anywhere from $30.00 to $150.00 dollars. If you're not in love with the idea of refilling cartridges, which can get messy, try to buy remanufactured replacements, which are usually 25%-50% cheaper than brand-new.

Replace Your Web Site with a Free Blog: WebPageFX says that the average cost of an informational or small business web site runs from $2,000.00 to $6,000.00 per year. I've paid even more than that, and cutting that expense permanently from my budget was a huge savings. Blogger/Google, which provides the space for PBW and its archives, charges me nothing. Last year they gave me an additional ten pages where I've parked a lot of my author info. I've had no major issues with Blogger since I started using it for my old blog back in 2000. As for those people who say you have to pay in order to draw traffic, PBW is also usually in the top 200 book blogs listed on Technorati, so I'm proof that you can make a free blog just as popular as a pricey web site.

Track Expenses, Evaluate and Weed Out the Unnecessary: If you don't know what you're spending your money on, how can you save any at all? It's like trying to diet without knowing how many calories you're consuming. For fixed expenses you can add up your monthly bills. To track personal expenditures like food, gas and entertainment, get a receipt for every penny you spend, put all the receipts in your wallet, and at the end of the month take them out and add them up. Seeing how much you spend on a monthly basis on non-fixed expenses is usually an eye-opener, especially when you discover you spend more on McDonald's than you do for medical insurance. It will also help you discover areas where you can eliminate wasteful spending or try a cheaper alternative (like brown-bagging your lunch.)


  1. Great advice! I'm definitely buying a laser printer next time. My ink jet was a complete travesty, and it doesn't print things as beautifully as I need to send out manuscripts.

    If one likes flavored coffees (and I do), International Coffees makes some, and Cafe Vienna is my personal favorite. One can of the stuff is $3-4, and it makes about 6-7 of my sized coffees, instead of using the $3-4 to buy just one at Starbucks.

  2. re: blogs... wordpress is a great alternative to a website as well. Lets people set up a 'static' page, just like a website would have, if you'd rather not have a blog as the front page of a site.

  3. Tracking expenses for a month is eye-opening whether you're a writer or not. I did it for a couple months in a row a few years back and really got a good handle on where I could save (and how dangerous iTunes could be!)

    It helped me institutes some trade-offs. For example, if I don't go out to lunch during the week, I can buy an iTunes album/iPad app. It's a great way to control extra spending!

  4. I'll 2nd the laser printer rec; mine cost $99 and it is far less expensive to use than the inkjet it replaced.

  5. Goodness, $2k to $6k a year for a website sounds very high. I get a beginner package from 1&1 for about $50 a year. Eight pages, and they provided the tools I needed to build the site since I don't speak HTML. My site isn't the fanciest one out there, but to my eye, it looks professional.

    At first, I had a googlesite for free, which didn't look good at all. So, I went with almost free and I'm happier with the result.

  6. Another option for pricey trade magazines is libraries. Lots of our patrons don't know that we subscribe to PW and other expensive trades. In fact, we carry them online and if you have a library card, you can read them from home (you have to login, but it's not hard.)

  7. A website without a shopping cart certainly shouldn't cost in the thousands. I have a really large domain site, mainly filled with text articles and pages for my books, that costs less than $200 a year including domain and hosting fees.

    You can hire a pro website builder to put your site together for a professional look, but you should make sure that you can add material yourself for free to keep the costs down.

    As a fellow publishing trade news junkie, I get my fix by receiving PW's free daily newsletter, the free version of Publisher's Lunch, and the free indie bookseller newsletter, Shelf Awareness.