I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “It takes money to make money.” This is true even in publishing – maybe especially in publishing. This post isn’t going to harp on the recent scandal involving the YA author who bulk-purchased her book in order to inflate sales numbers. Nope. This is about the cost of marketing and the never-ending pressure on authors to spend more and do more.
Any author out there will tell you marketing is one of the most challenging aspects of being an author. It’s hard to get your book in front of readers, and in most cases, word of mouth is not enough. I once had a book hit #98 (paid!!!) in a very competitive Amazon category. It was an amazing day! And, I hadn’t spent a single penny in advertising! But, in most cases, rising to the top of a any list, especially a bestseller list – and staying there – requires a tremendous amount of hard work and sometimes a considerable financial investment.
While some advertising is inexpensive, in order to create the type of buzz that puts your book on a bestseller list, you will likely need to place multiple ads in multiple places – Facebook, Amazon, Bookbub, Goodreads, and paid blog tours. All of this ads up and while the investment in your book might be worth the cost of paid advertising, some authors simply do not have the money to give their books that extra boost.
There have been times when I have been fortunate enough to invest in extra paperbacks and swag for giveaways. I have been able, at times, to participate in paid blog tours. I’m lucky to have been able to put aside money to pay for my own domain, though a self-hosted site is not something I have been able to invest in yet.
There have also been times when our family has been struggling to pay our bills, so even the minimal cost of buying a paperback copy of my own book has been out of reach. I can remember a time several years ago when we didn’t have internet service for two weeks, so the idea of paying for a book tour or an expensive book cover was simply unimaginable.
When I see posts by authors (or worse, book promoters and PR services looking for a buck) telling authors that if they are REAL writers, or if they take their careers seriously, they MUST invest lots of money in their writing career, it’s infuriating. When I see smug posts by authors bragging about how they made a few sacrifices (dinners out, new fall wardrobes) in order to go to a conference or invest in multi-author opportunity, because THEY actually take their writing seriously, unlike wannabe writers who waste potential advertising dollars on their silly water bill or feeding their kids…. well, my blood just boils!
Most of us aren’t wealthy. We are doing the best we can with what we have. What might be an enormous sacrifice for one author, might be something another author takes for granted. Just because an author can’t take a class or attend a conference doesn’t mean they don’t take their writing career seriously. Some people don’t have extra money, no matter how much they cut back or how many hours they work. Being scolded by other authors, or being put down by marketing experts as being “not serious enough about your career” doesn’t help. Yes, we know publishing books is a business. No, that knowledge doesn’t help us pay the bills or feed our kids.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending money on advertising – if you have the money to spend. I think it is wise to invest in your dream, but only if you have the money to invest. No author should feel obligated to spend money they don’t have. Authors should spend only what they reasonably afford, whether it’s on advertising, editing, or book cover art.
The sad reality is that it DOES take money to get noticed. The bestseller list often comes with a cost, particularly for indie authors. The bestseller list is reserved for very few books. Not every book will become a bestseller, no matter how well-written or well-promoted it may be. And, you know what? That’s fine. Not every book is going to receive an award, and that’s fine too. But, I hate to see people give up on creative pursuits because a few jerks have convinced them that writing or art is only for an elite few. No one should give up on writing just because they think they can’t afford to do things the “right” way. And, no one should feel like they aren’t a REAL writer just because they can’t afford to pay top dollar for advertising and promotional services.
When your dream is bigger than your budget, what can you do? Some people will tell you to hold off on publication until you can afford the $1000 editing package, the $500 book cover, the blog tours, and the swag. And, you know? I can’t disagree that it’s important to have a good editor and an eye-catching book cover. But I can tell you that spending massive amounts of money does not guarantee you’ll end up with a bestselling book.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to cut down on (or even eliminate) publishing costs:
- Enlist beta readers who will catch errors BEFORE your book goes to the editor, thus cutting down on editing costs.
- Go back to the basics. You should always get an extra set of eyes on your manuscript prior to publishing, but you’ll save yourself lots of time and heartache if you learn the basics of grammar and sentence structure. Self-editing goes a long way toward cutting down on editing costs. Besides, if you don’t know the basics, how can you really be sure you’re hiring a competent editor?
- Barter. If you’re a cover artist, you might be able to offer cover art to a writer who will in turn edit your book.
- Shop around. Many editing, cover art, or promotion services are very pricey. You might be able to find a cheaper alternative that offers the same (or better) quality.
- Learn to do stuff yourself. Formatting is one area where you might be able to cut corners. You can easily learn to do your own formatting for Kindle and paperback. It might be time-consuming, but if you don’t have money to spare, there is no reason why you can’t do this on your own. If you’re a photographer, you can save money on buying stock art if you use your own photos. Additionally, I know several writers who make their own book cover, so if you are handy with photoshop, this might be an option for you.
- If time permits but money is short, take advantage of free promotional opportunities. It’s way more time consuming to do your own marketing, but it will save you loads of money.
- Consider the source. Oftentimes, the people who are sending authors on massive guilt trips about not investing in their careers or not taking their writing seriously are trying to make money off the insecurities of authors. Their recommendations that are supposedly meant to help authors usually come with a price tag – a class, a deluxe editing package, or the opportunity to participate in a paid promotional opportunity. Of course, not all service providers are out to scam authors, but if their sales pitch attempts to shame or scare writers, I would think twice.
- Be careful. A few years ago, there was an incident where a friend of mine received an email from a proofreader who happened to read my friend’s book on Amazon. This “proofreader” said she found numerous errors, and offered to edit the book for a fee. Unfortunately the proofreader said she would have to give the author a poor review unless the author paid her to edit. My friend refused her services, and sure enough. the scam-artist of a proofreader gave the book a 2-star review.
I’m sure this post will have a few people fired up, and not necessarily in a good way. By no means am I suggesting that all author service providers are out to rip off authors. In fact, that vast majority of book promoters are absolute rock stars! I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with the promoters or blog tour companies I’ve worked with. But I do want writers to be aware that not all advice is good advice, and that there is more than one way to be an author. Above all, I want you to trust yourself and never let anyone crush your dream.
Happy writing and publishing, everyone!