When Your Dream is Bigger than your Budget

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:

  1. Enlist beta readers who will catch errors BEFORE your book goes to the editor, thus cutting down on editing costs.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

9 thoughts on “When Your Dream is Bigger than your Budget

  1. Dream big anyway! It costs no more than dreaming small. And is much more satisfying.

    If you are approached by email with a threat to pan your book if you don’t buy something, save the email – and forward it to Amazon and others if that negative review shows up. Don’t delete the emails until you’re sure the threat isn’t going to be executed. Any with an actual threat I’d save forever.

    I learned to do EVERYTHING myself. It can be done. Someone who had offered to proofread had a messy divorce instead to handle.

    But I’m a firm believer that if you learn to self-edit, it improves everything you write from then on, and it’s worth learning how to do – that saves a ton of money from people whose opinion was subjective anyway.

    Ditto graphics – that was fun to learn. Formatting? I LOVE the way the print version turned out – I got to make all the choices. My designer daughter helped, and it was a bonding experience.

    And of course anything you learn to do is so much easier next time around.

    Total budget for Pride’s Children: less than $100 – $65 for a photo I wanted to incorporate in the cover, and the rest for the rights to use fonts.

    Of course it takes longer – or does it? I have no idea how editing a whole book works, timewise, if you include the back and forth to find someone, get that person to do work you accept, and have the necessary time slot for your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you 100%. Self-editing is one of the best and most useful skills an author can have. Whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, you absolutely MUST know basic editing skills. Even if you plan to hire an editor, you should have good editing skills. You can save so much time and money if your manuscript is fairly clean before going to the editor. Also, how can you know whether or not your editor knows what he or she is doing if you don’t have a clue what an edited book looks like? Too many authors hold back on publishing because they can’t afford to pay for all the stuff they think they have to have. Thank you for your comment! You’re definitely on the right track in your approach to publishing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep. I do everything myself or swap with other Authors for editing because my budget is pretty much 0$ most of the time. And one thing, after I learned to do all the technical stuff I can now make money doing that, as well, so it increased my income and by doing my own books it kept me from making “learning” mistakes on others’ books. I always feel queasy when I see book cover packages for 200 – or even 100 for ebook only. Seriously? Unless a client is really picky, most (basic) covers by someone who knows what they’re doing take 45 minutes. That’s not to say there aren’t really complicated, or original artwork ones, that don’t take longer, but a lot of pre-made ones I’ve seen for triple digits couldn’t have been more than an hour of time…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I’ve seen pre-made covers for $20 that look every bit as nice as some of the covers being sold for $200. Shopping around is a must. I edit in exchange for book covers and swap beta reads with other authors so we can all cut down on final editing. While there are some in the indie community who are out to make easy money off desperate authors, most people are really just in it to help others with beta reading, proofreading, promotion – you name it!


  3. I think editing is something that you need to shop around very thoroughly for. I have a form of dyslexia that makes self editing very difficult for me but I still try and do as much as I can before the professionals step in. I had a wonderful editor who died recently and I learned a bucket load from working with her. I have searched high and low and think I may have found three people who could, potentially, replace her – I need to get my finger out of my bottom and get writing though as two need to have test short stories to edit! On the whole, British editors charge per book rather than per word which is easier and often costs less. So I’ve found folks who are British or charge the British way.

    I have reached the point where I can’t publish anything new until I make some more cash. But my sales have dried up completely The next book is a picture book and I’m going to try crowd funding it. I’ll put loads of tiers in and if I get £500 I’ll call it funded and any more on top is gravy. I’m lucky enough to be reasonably good at designing readable documents after starting my career as a secretary so while the kerning and text flow of my print books isn’t top notch it’s ok and my ebooks are simple and, I believe, look decent. I’m a great believer in doing as much of it myself as possible, my biggest problem is time really.

    Strangely, my most successful cover, from the point of view of attracting readers, is one I drew myself but it has people on it so maybe that’s why.

    It seems to me that there is a self publishing gold rush, but the people making the killing are not so much the authors as the folks selling stuff to them. Perhaps I’m cynical.

    Great post.



    Liked by 1 person

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