You’re fascinated with writing.
And you know you have a book or two inside of you.
Perhaps, your focus is journalism. You daydream about your friends and family reading your byline in the New York Times or Vanity Fair.
Maybe you’ve discovered a talent for crafting advertising copy for business clients.
In any case, you’re hooked on writing, and you’re ready and determined to take your writing to the next level.
But you also need to keep your head on.
You’re a realist, and you know a successful writing career takes time, energy, and money.
So, you do everything you can to manage costs:
- You scour the internet for writing advice.
- You read industry blogs about how to self-publish on a shoestring budget.
- You devour every book you can find on style, craft, and writing mechanics.
You read about sales funnels and email marketing tips. You subscribe to a dozen newsletters.
And it’s served you well, hasn’t it?
The problem is that you’ve reached a plateau.
At some point, everyone does.
So, what can you do now, when you still need to move forward?
When you’ve maxed out your free options, it’s time to open your wallet, to hand over your hard-earned cash.
Let’s take a look at five important areas for writers, areas where free is never going to cut it.
Pay for Quality Web Hosting
You need a website or blog to establish a home base on the internet. It’s your virtual office, your business address. You need a professional space where people can find you.
But you don’t want to waste unnecessary money, especially when you’re brand new to the blogging/website arena.
As you look for advice on website building and content management systems, you’re attracted to the word “free.”
Everywhere you look, you see ads for free websites.
WordPress, the most popular platform for blogging and websites, offers a free option for hosting, so you click over to WordPress.com to check things out.
While you’re at it, you jot down a list of alternatives such as launching a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, a free blog on Tumblr.
Why would you want to pay when you have so many free options?
The problem with free options is their limitations.
While we’re at it, let’s toss in the “freemium,” options as well, those low-cost packages advertised for hosting. In my experience, they cause more trouble than they’re worth.
Let’s take a closer look.
Regardless of the platform, the free packages offer limited storage space for your files. Everything you want to post, including text, videos, images, etc., requires valuable storage space. As soon as your website’s running, you find out that you don’t have enough space to maintain or improve your blog.
You’ll have to start over with a quality paid plan, something with ample room for growth. Think about it:
You’re going to need substantial content to attract search engine traffic.
Most of the free plans won’t allow you to sell anything. If you want ecommerce features, you’ll need to pay.
The worst part of the free hosting plans are the advertisements you see everywhere — ads the hosting company chose to place on your site. They often have nothing to do with the theme of your content, either.
The real problem with ads?
They make your site look cheap and unprofessional, and that’s something you can’t afford as a new web owner trying to find an audience and customers.
The low-cost or “freemium” options aren’t much better.
The shared hosting options can leave your site vulnerable to malware attacks. When I used an entry-level hosting plan from a popular hosting company, my site was hacked every month or so. I’d have to spend valuable time taking my site down. Afterward, it took days of contacting the help department to sort out the problems. Ultimately, it was up to me to locate the correct files and restore my content.
Imagine someone following a link to your author site and finding the pages filled with Russian pornography. I’ve been there.
Not exactly classy, right?
In addition to the vulnerability, the hosting company contacted me often, informing me I had to pay for overages for storage. My images and videos took up too much space, and they’d take me offline until I paid more money.
Stick with WordPress, first of all. It’s a wonderful platform with options for every type of user. You’ll also find over ten thousand theme options to customize the look of your site.
And you’ll find plugins for everything.
It comes with a price, though.
You’ll want reliable hosting that scans for malware. You’ll need ample storage, and a company that excels in managed WordPress hosting. They know the vulnerabilities out there, and they work hard to keep your content safe as well as your site up and running smoothly.
The cheap sites had frequent outages.
I’ve used Site Ground and WP Engine with great results.
Buy Books to Update and Advance Your Education
Reading is fundamental to writing well, and you’ll need a constant supply of books that inspire and educate. You’ll also want to have reference books on hand to refresh your memory on writing conventions.
If you’re freelancing in multiple genres, you’ll need books on copywriting, copyediting, grammar and punctuation. If you’re writing for the web and/or print, you’ll need a copy of the latest Associated Press style guide. If you’d like to delve deeper into copywriting, you’ll need to understand headline writing, sales letters, and sales funnels.
If you’re writing fiction, a few books on narrative arc, plot, and structure will help you outline and flesh out your draft.
After drafting, consider books on revision. Hop over to Goodreads for a list of the most popular books on the topics. You’ll find helpful reviews and ratings from readers: Best Books on Revising & Editing Your Book
James Baldwin said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
Books make us better writers, connecting us with the rich diversity of human experience. They can teach us as well.
Without entering a classroom and committing to months of study, you can learn to improve your prose through examples from literature, from books on the writing craft, from textbooks covering composition, structure, grammar and punctuation.
Books can help you market your work in both traditional and digital avenues.
As a writer, I don’t think you’ll ever outgrow the need for books.
To reign in costs, consider a digital reader, such as Kindle or Kobo. Look into special deals for unlimited reading subscriptions: Kindle Unlimited or Kobo plus.
If digital isn’t your thing, there’s nothing like a public library card. I’ve kept mine active for decades.
Check out used book stores and thrift shops to find inexpensive gems.
If you know the ISBN of the title you want, bookmark DealOz on your computer. It queries bookstores everywhere to help you find the best price. On the first day of class every year I write it on the board to help my students avoid the hefty cost of textbooks in our campus bookstore.
Finally, consider current and expired-edition textbooks for developing your writing skills. With a teacher’s edition, you can complete the exercises and monitor your understanding and progress.
Take a Class
Taking a class may be the most reliable strategy for updating your skills.
For example, let’s say you’re freelancing on the side to pay bills while you finish your novel. As you make your way through the weekly job board listings, you notice a growing need for grant writers.
You don’t have any experience.
According to ZipRecruiters, full-time grant writers average just under 60K per year. Considering other writing gigs, the pay is better than what you’re used to, so where do you turn for the experience you need?
Think about it.
Everyone wants to verify experience — whether it’s a writing portfolio or a recommendation letter from a former employer.
Completing a course provides several benefits:
- You learn new skills.
- You’re exposed to the latest thought leaders and developments in the subject matter.
- You receive a certificate of completion or college course credits.
- You gain confidence in your understanding and ability to work effectively in the medium.
Taking a class — especially a hands-on class, can prepare you for a new line of work or specialization.
And unlike other types of learning, you’ll receive instruction and feedback to gauge your comprehension.
If the idea of taking a class scares you, don’t worry. You have tons of options regarding the cost and time commitment.
A quick Google search returned grant writing courses from Udemy, Temple University, and Pennsylvania College of technology. After completion, you’ll earn a certificate you can add to your resume.
The courses are online, so you can work around your existing schedule.
Like grant writing, you can update your writing skills in countless ways.
Hire a Professional Book Cover Designer
Thinking about designing your own book cover to save money?
A smart writer understands the value in hiring a professional book designer.
The key words here are professional and designer.
While it can certainly save you money in the short term, you’ll likely lose money in the long term.
A shoddy book cover will ruin your chances. It’s easy to spot a cheap or amateur book cover.
With so many books available, you need to catch the reader’s eye immediately. You want to stand out without drawing unnecessary attention to poor design choices.
Many self-published authors think, “how hard can it be? I have a good eye, and I know what I like.”
How much do you really know about fonts, color theory, and design principles?
A few years ago, I subscribed to a 99 cent book specials list. Every week, I’d see the latest offerings from indie Kindle authors.
Most of the covers were terrible: too many colors, too many fonts, ridiculous, low-res images. The good ones, the professionally designed ones, stood out. I clicked through to read the synopsis, the reviews, and the recommendations.
I ignored the other books.
Think about it.
Why would you throw together an unprofessional book cover after spending two years of your life writing a novel?
Do some research.
Pay attention to the book covers in your genre.
Ask around. Get recommendations from fellow authors on social media. Like someone’s cover? Ask them who designed it.
Expect to pay for a quality cover.
According to Quora, the average price for a quality book cover is $500.
You can save money by hiring designers with less experience, but make sure you’ve sampled their work. Check out Reedsy and 99Designs for ideas.
Here’s a list of recommended designers from Self Publishing School:
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the process, and you want to gather ideas, consider ordering a few book covers from low-cost Fiverr designers. For about $50, you can get 3 covers made and compare/contrast them for quality and aesthetic appeal.
Hire a Professional Editor
As an indie author, you can save money in many ways, but skimping on editing shouldn’t be one of them.
Naturally, no one wants to release a poorly-written, error-filled book; however, many writers don’t realize the importance of hiring a professional editor.
A professional editor can do more than just correct your grammar and spelling errors. A good editor will also improve the flow and clarity of your writing. In addition to catching awkward phrasing and unclear sentences, a good editor will help ensure that your writing is on topic, focused, and appropriate for the intended audience.
A professional editor will help you tighten up your writing.
If you’re not a seasoned writer, it can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to editing your own work. A professional editor will help you identify areas needing improvement and offer suggestions about ways to make your writing more concise and polished.
A professional editor can provide an objective perspective.
It’s easy to get too close to your own writing and lose sight of its flaws. A professional editor can offer a fresh, unbiased perspective on your work, identifying areas requiring further development.
A professional editor can take your writing to the next level.
More than just a second set of eyes, a professional editor can help you develop your skills without having to do all the work yourself. A professional editor knows how to turn your manuscript into a polished product — something ready for the marketplace.
Here’s what to look for in a good editor:
There are a few things you should look for when hiring a professional editor.
First, make sure the editor has experience with the type of book you’re writing. If you’re writing a novel, look for an editor who has experience editing fiction. If you’re writing a memoir, look for an editor who has experience editing non-fiction.
Second, make sure the editor is available when you need them. Some editors work full-time, while others only work part-time or on a freelance basis. Find an editor who can meet your timeline and budget.
Third, ask for samples of the editor’s work. Most editors will have a portfolio or website where you can view their previous projects. This will provide you with a clear picture of their unique style and skills.
How to find the right editor for your project…
Identify the kind of editing you need first. This can be anything from proofreading to developmental editing. Once you know what you need, you can search for an editor who specializes in that area.
The next thing to consider is your book budget. Editing services can be expensive, so it’s important to find the right editor at a price you can afford. You don’t want to have to hire a second editor. And don’t be afraid to negotiate prices if you think an editor is beyond your price range.
The DIY spirit of the internet continues to captivate aspiring entrepreneurs. Thanks to social media and countless indie platforms, regular folks without tons of cash or connections can learn to make a profitable living on the internet.
We can learn many things now for free. Experience takes us even further.
Sometimes, however, our best move is to pay for quality instruction, for the best professional goods and services available.
We live in exciting times.
The best part is having choices. We no longer have to follow traditional routes for education, for business, for making social connections.
Now, it’s your turn.
What purchases are key for writers?
What essential items should we add to the list?
Join the conversation below.