Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Economical Writer

Most writers and their families are facing direct backlash from the economic crisis, and we here at Casa PBW are no exception. My guy is presently in imminent danger of losing his job, which will make me the sole bread winner for a while, maybe as long as the six years we have to go until he retires. Fortunately we saw this coming a while back and made provisions for it, so we'll be okay. The prospect of losing half our household income still means we need to cut back on unnecessary spending and economize wherever we can.

Most writers are already masters of economizing; we usually know where to get the paper, toner and office supplies at the lowest prices. I still recycle my old draft stories and manuscripts by turning them over and printing out new material on the blank side of the pages, and whenever possible I send out things via e-mail versus snail mail to save postage and shipping. My B&W laser printer may not be glamorous or cutting-edge tech, but it's dependable and allows me to make as many copies as I want for half the price a copy service would charge.

I can't say enough good things about the move toward electronic copy-editing that NY is doing. I may gripe about the problems involved (and I just did a few days ago) but what I like most is not paying $95 to overnight a copy-edited manuscript back to NY. Which is what it would have cost me for the last one if we'd done it on the hard copy. Whenever possible, send as much as you can to your editor and agent via e-mail or electronic copy.

I think promotional materials, ad space, mail outs, blog and web site hosting, travel expenses, conference fees and hotel rooms are probably the average pro writer's biggest expenses. Even the writers who are not yet published can still spend a great deal of money if they regularly attend writer conferences and events. None of these things are necessary to do our job, but I won't try to persuade anyone to give them up just yet. What I hope to do is encourage writers to try alternatives.

Promotional materials, ad space and mail outs -- these all cost a bundle, and once they're distributed and used up they have to be purchased again. Consider how much you'd pay to have 100,000 people take a good look at your work, and then hand them a copy of your backlist. That's what I've been doing for the last year, and it hasn't cost me a penny. All it took was posting my free stories and novels on Scribd. And my promotion is there, for free, until I delete it or Scribd goes belly-up. Which means I only have to do it once and it's there practically forever for whoever wants to take a look at it. *Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

If you're bound and determined to pay for your advertising, think about partnering with another writer or two and doing some group promotion, ads, mail outs, etc. You can split the costs two or three ways and still do the same thing.

Blog and web site hosting -- you get what you pay for, yes? Paperback Writer costs me nothing. Zero. It's a free blog. It's always been a free blog. And while I'm sure all those gadgets and doodads writers get with their expensive blog/web site hosting service are fun to play with, they aren't necessary for a successful online presence. Great content, not fancy bells and whistles, are what bring visitors back for more.

Again, if you'd rather keep your pricey site, again consider bringing in some other authors, doing a group site and splitting the costs.

Travel expenses, conference fees and hotel rooms -- if you're a writer and you're going to writer conferences to market your books, you're not marketing to readers. You're marketing to other writers. Unless you're a member of RWA, which I think has a 9 to 1 ratio of unpubbed to pubbed writers, this is just a waste of time. The $2000.00 you spend for the privilege of hobnobbing with the big names and signing maybe a dozen books at the charity book signing at a single con could be spent instead on an entire year of giveaways of your books to readers at your (hopefully free) weblog or web site.

Should you still want to go, go to reader conferences. RT is the big one for romance writers; I hear these comic cons are great for SF, fantasy and UF writers. Also look for conferences that are within driving distance of your home or within a day's travel by car versus the ones you have to buy an $800.00 plane ticket to get to.

Something I always advise unpubbed writers do to save conference $$$: make it a rule from now on that for every writers conference you attend, you write, finish and submit one new manuscript. Otherwise, what's the point?

And before anyone says "But if I don't do this stuff I'll never be a successful writer." I'm a successful writer, and I don't do any of that stuff. You're looking at all of what I do, right here.

What are some of the creative ways you writers out there are economizing? Let us know in comments.


  1. Even if you do have a regular website, it needn't be expensive if you shop around. I think mine costs me US$60 a year. (Split that with a friend or two.) Forward or embed your blog in the website, and you have the advantages of both types of site (your own domain & fixed content if you want plus easy to do updates) without having to pay someone else to do it, which I assume is the expensive part? I do my own.

    Also,I'd point people to for Flycon the online, worldwide (and free!) SF&F convention that's on in a couple of weeks but that might be seen as spamming so I won't :)

  2. Anonymous6:07 AM

    My thoughts exactly! I’m convinced that it doesn’t have anything to do with “I’ll never be a successful writer” – because you never will be unless you can actually write.
    However, I do believe that as a new writer you’ve got to establish at least a small web-presence somehow. As a successful writer people already know who you are. A newbie writer such as Noelle and I (who might even write a blog post on how much they admire the Great Writers) needs to get her name out there so that it will be recognized when the time comes. Or am I wrong?
    Our website is not expensive at all; I created it myself (I’m sooo not a web designer) and it’s updated once a week only. Noelle and I agreed that we shouldn’t waste money on a fancy (read “expensive”) site. It shows who we are, what and how we write. What more does a site need? Our website doesn’t have weeping roses (or other clich├ęd plants that may remind you of the romance genre), rampant horses, howling wolves or growling tigers (or any other fauna that combines nicely with virile, half naked men showing off their washboard abs).
    For fun stuff or (slightly) deeper thoughts we use our blog – and we try to make sure that having a look at a post is worth the visitor’s time, because we, too, believe it’s content that makes them come back for more.
    First and foremost it’s a writer’s job to write exceptionally good stories imo. How could you do that if you spent a few hours a day (besides the day job and/or family, etc. – in short RL) away from the chapter that you should write instead? Saying “It just won’t come” is a sad excuse – which doesn’t mean it can’t happen. But the point is the chapter will never come unless you’re willing to focus on it and hence spend time on it instead of bouncing from one website to the next updating this and that and posting here or there.
    Fortune doesn’t favor the brave who are willing to spend their life (insurance) on a web-presence. I think, or rather I’d like to think that in the end Fortune will reward hard work.

  3. Excellent points, Lynn!

    I'm cutting down a lot this year, too, as I'm the single breadwinner (have a day job, thank goodness). Local reader conferences are an excellent way to get "out there". Also, volunteering at conferences often help defray costs. I volunteered for years before I was published--on the board of Malice Domestic (mystery conference). Worked hard, but as a board member, I got free lodging. Not always the case, but it's good to know that some cons will waive registration fees if you volunteer time. It's also a great way to connect with readers. :)

    I'm a huge fan of creating a Web presence - blog, Web site, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Social networking is free (except for time) and can help you and fellow writers who link/connect with you, as well.

    Of course, in the interests of full disclosure, my day job is at a Web agency, where I counsel my clients to do this. ::g::


  4. Anonymous9:54 AM

    Thanks for this thread, Lynn. With the economic situation being what it is, frugality is the name of the game at my house right now, as well. many other unpublished writers, I dream of a day when I can quit my day job and write full time. However, I live in America, where quasi-affordable health insurance coverage seems to be tied to one's employer. I am also single, which means I have no spouse's plan to fall back on, and have pre-existing health conditions which pretty much render me uninsurable without benefit of a group insurance plan.

    I would greatly appreciate any information people might have about affordable health insurance for self-employed individuals, particularly artists/writers. Are there any writer's organizations that offer access to a group health insurance plan?

  5. I can totally sympathize about the job loss/fear of job loss/stress from fearing job loss. I lost my day job due to layoffs 2x since the recession started in 2007. And I'm in fear of losing the job and health insurance I currently have due to another looming layoff.

    I'm unpubbed so my biggest savings where writing is concerned is to attend online workshops which cost only about $15-25 instead of doing anything more formal and expensive.

    I also recently went back and read your Left Behind and Loving It, thank you!

  6. Anonymous11:42 AM

    Hi Lynn,

    Great topic pertinent to the economy. I think many conferences are more of a social event than anything else. You meet and greet other writers. You listen to the m. speaker talk about writing. You attend classes that go over exactly what you read in a half-dozen books. Sometimes you get to meet editors. That's a help. But the expense and the time these events require are things that might be better spent on your own writing. One of the ways I economize is by reusing old photography albums as writing journals. I stash pics, articles, and ideas on each page. They're easy to store and I can fit up to three (short) stories worth of research, art, and plot ideas inside.


  7. It's the health insurance that worries me. I'm wanting to leave the day job, but am hoping for an improved economy and trying to lay in plans.

    I like to cons here and there--close by--in order to get out of town and talk to other people about books and in order to hangout. I suck at promotion, so don't really try. I just go to hang out. Which I think is the real key. If you go and have fun (and can afford it), then yay! But promotionally, I'm not sure it does much. Mostly for me it recharges my batteries to talk writing in person with people and to get out of my house.

  8. I haven't had time to do this yet, but I want to put chapter excerpts and a chapbook in downloadable PDF on my site, possibly just on scribd. Distribute material to anybody who wants it, save printing/mailing costs. Anybody who wanted to print it out could.

  9. I loe scribd, but I also use smashwords. I figure they're both free.

    And I'm trying to write one free read a year.

  10. "I think promotional materials, ad space, mail outs, blog and web site hosting, travel expenses, conference fees and hotel rooms are probably the average pro writer's biggest expenses."

    Actually, my biggest expense is health insurance. It is my second largest monthly expense; only my house payment is greater.

    If you make the move to full-time writing and don't have an employed spouse with health insurance that covers the family, don't skimp on the insurance you buy yourself. Last September I had a quadruple bypass and suddenly every cent I had grudgingly paid for health insurance came back to me many times over.

  11. And before anyone says "But if I don't do this stuff I'll never be a successful writer." I'm a successful writer, and I don't do any of that stuff.

    Aha! But you are not the norm.
    I think that's why you attract so much professional jealousy. You took the road less traveled, and you didn't crash. You're kind of an iconoclast. I mean, all the editors and agents and publishers and people who lead the sessions at writers' conferences say "don't try to genre hop! Stick to one genre or you're doomed. Doomed!" "Oh look, there goes Lynn Viehl, who just hit the NYT bestseller list in yet another genre."

    You are the brilliant bad girl who sits in the back of the class - when she bothers to show up - making out with her badass boyfriend and laughing with his equally badass friends, and never bothering to take notes, and yet you make straight A's and you're better read than everyone in the class. You just are that chick.

    Meanwhile, a bunch of us have to sit, if not at the front, at least in the middle of the class, and take notes, and study, and maybe even do some extra credit work to keep up.

    I'm not saying you don't work your ass off. I know you do. But holy moley, look at how many words per day you average. You're not normal, 's what I'm saying.

    Having said all that, you've inspired me (yet again) and I've set up a blogger account under my pen name. And one of these days I'll get around to furnishing and decorating it and I'll make a pot of chili and see if I can entice anyone to drop by. After I get published.

  12. LOL! Your timing is odd considering I just spent a decent chunk of time working on a blog on my site (it's not live yet and won't be until the site is ready). But really you have some great suggestions. I'm going to have to come up with something for scribd when I've got books out.

    A couple additions you all might find useful.

    1) We have a website (my hubby and I) because it allows us to have travel enabled email that no one can take away from us. After the chaos of our ISP being bought three times and doing the notification thing... But since we already have it, that's where I'm planning to host my author site. The only additional expense will be getting a separate domain name.

    2) On cons, the other thing to do is volunteer or, depending on your creds and willingness, offer to be a panelist. This can mean anything from free food to free admission for yourself and a guest all the way up to a free crash space.


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