I mean, money, amirite? Sucks to need it, but pretty awesome to have it. The lousy thing about being a writer is that there’s a decent shot you’ll never see much of it, but hey, “starving artists” applies to us too, right?
The thing about writing is, to paraphrase the brilliant Megan Whitmer, you have to treat it as a job before it can actually be your job. Which means sometimes, you’ve gotta spend money to make money.
Or do you? Because there are a whole lotta ways to spend money on writing-related things. But how many of them are actually necessary? When money is tight, as it so often is, especially when you work in the creative arts, where does your cash really need to go?
This may shock you, dear readers, but I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS.
In the years I’ve been querying/on submission, I’ve been all over the financial spectrum. This time a year ago was the lowest of the low in that regard, and now, I’m blessed to be in a much, much better place that allows me to spend on things I never would’ve dreamed of touching last year. So, having now splurged on all sorts of stuff in the name of making writing “my job,” here’s how I feel about all the ways you can spend cash to do the same:
Conferences: These are the biggest expense a writer can incur, once you factor in things like travel and hotel on top of the conference fees themselves. I went to my first one this year, and I had a great time, even though I had raging fever for all of it. (THANK YOU, MARIEKE. OR MAYBE JJ. I STILL DON’T KNOW WHO TO BLAME.) Because I went to one in NYC, I didn’t pay travel costs, and because I had roommates for one of the nights, I saved some money that way too. BUT, it was still really expensive. And, more importantly, it was in no way necessary to make “a professional author.”
Don’t take that as me being down on conferences – I’m absolutely not, and if I could take the time and money to go to RT and MWW and basically everything ever, I would do it in a hot minute. But more than anything, these are experiences, and you pay for that like you’d pay for a vacation. That’s not to say they’re not educational, but if you’re the kind of writer who does your research (and given that you’re reading this blog, you probably are, because who stumbles upon this sort of thing just for fun?), it probably won’t teach you all that much you can’t learn on the Internet. So, if you’ve got the extra money and the desire? Go for it! You’ll probably have a great time and learn some things. If you don’t? Skip it. There’s no read to tighten an already tight belt for this.
Business Cards: Look, business cards are my crack, and I have two sets (my husband bought me one as a gift because I was taking too long to decide to buy them) but let’s be honest – as a writer, WTF are you really gonna do with them other than trade them with your friends? If you’re a freelance editor, sure, but if they’re “YA Writer” cards (which, again, I’m not knocking – 2 sets! That’s right – neither set I have is even for copy editing!) they’re not really gonna serve much more than a collector’s item purpose. Money’s tight? Skip it. (Or, at the very least, go super cheap – h/t to Kelsey Macke for the excellent recommendation of InkGarden.com.)
Website: Yet another thing I’ve bought and paid for, almost entirely because weird things used to come up when you Googled me (ugh, just don’t, but yes, I know you’re going to), which is definitely not a required expense. See this blog thing that gets waaay more hits than my website and on which I have almost all the same things about me posted? Free. Thanks, WordPress!
Publisher’s Marketplace: I like having a PM subscription. I’ve had one since I first went on submission. But do I need a PM subscription? No. PM subscriptions effectively allow for you to learn which agents/editors are the most prolific, and who’s working/making deals with whom. As a querying writer, there’s very little you actually need that you can’t find with a combination of QueryTracker and Google. As a writer on submission, your agent’s probably the one making the calls on to whom you’ll be subbed, so you don’t really need it for that either.
If you really feel it’s something you need, do yourself a favor and get it for one month, grab all the info you need to make your target list, and then cancel. Nothing against PM, but if you’re low on cash, there’s nothing you can get from having a subscription that will justify the cost.
Writing/Editing Classes: I get a lot of questions about these on account of being a copy editor, but the true fact is this – for me, it was a lot of being in the right place at the right time, knowing what I wanted early, and being friends with some good people. Most of my formal education in writing and editing comes from having been a Journalism major and a Creative Writing minor. The rest came from taking a writing class that was free for me at the university where I used to work.
They were great, educational experiences, but they weren’t things I paid for without at least receiving academic credit in return. And I didn’t take them through the channels that are available to most, such as Mediabistro. As such, unfortunately, I can’t really say their worth, but it’s unlikely they’ll make you dumber, right?
That said, again, classes are a pretty big investment. Only you can say if you need to take them. But if you’re already at the stage where you’re trying to get paid for your writing, odds are you don’t/shouldn’t need to spend $500 you don’t have.
Editorial Services: This seems to be a raging trend these days, people opening up shop to provide editorial services. Some of these editors seem great and have real experience, and some… well, I’m not quite sure what qualifies them to take your money.
As someone who gives and gets free crit all the time, I’m also not really sure where the idea of “You must pay someone to edit your manuscript before you query someone who may then edit it more before subbing it to someone who will edit it more” came from. There are so many great places to find CPs and betas that I don’t really see why payment would be necessary at the querying stage.
That goes double for copy editing. Unless your grammar is atrocious, it’s not likely a copy editor will make or break your getting an offer of representation. And if it is really atrocious, forget a copy editor and study grammar – you really can’t expect to get paid to write if you don’t have a basic grasp of the language.
So, Dahlia, what you’re saying is… you actually don’t have to spend any money to be a writer.
If you are self-publishing a book, you cannot forgo editorial services. Nothing will shatter your reputation as a writer faster than having a book in obviously unedited shape. When readers spend money on books, it’s with the understanding that someone on the other side spent money too, whipping it into the kind of shape that earns its $3.99 or $7.99 or $14.95 from strangers. Break that understanding once and you likely won’t get a chance to break it again. No publisher would forgo the editorial or copyediting stage of the process, and if you’re going to be your own publisher, the same should be true for you.
So, those are my thoughts on spending money for writerly purposes. What have you spent money on toward the goal of making writing your job? Was it worth it?