The Cost of Being a Writer
by Marg McAlister
You are the only one who knows what being a writer means to you.
You are the only one who knows whether you consider it to be a career, or a pleasant hobby.
And therefore, you are the only one who can judge how much you are willing to invest in your writing
In this article, we're going to talk about cost in financial terms. Not the cost in time; not the cost in sleep;
not the cost emotionally. We're just talking dollars and cents. And we're not going to discuss the cost of a
writer's tools (computer, internet access, printer, software), because that has been dealt with in another article.
This time, it's all about building your knowledge and expertise.
First, decide whether being a writer is, for you, a career or a hobby. Is it a business or a pleasant way of
whiling away your time? If writing is just a hobby, and that's all it's ever going to be, this article is not for
you. You can choose to invest money in a hobby, or not. You can pick it up and put it down. This article is for
those who are serious about their writing and want to build a business, brick by brick.
1. Setting a Budget
OK. We've established that you are in BUSINESS. That means that you are prepared to invest money as well as
time. If you are time-rich and cash-poor, then you can go the long way round and it will cost you less. If you are
time-poor and have funds at your disposal, you can cut the learning curve by buying books, enrolling in courses,
subscribing to industry magazines and attending seminars. If you are rich in both time and funds, then you're
luckier than most.
Look at your income and savings and decide how much you are prepared to invest in your writing business over the
course of 12 months. $500? $1,000? $2,000? $5,000?
Let's jump in and look at the biggest figure first. $5,000 will buy you a lot of expertise and networking via
seminars, writing products and coaching over a year. It might seem like a lot at first - but $5,000 is just $416 a
month - $104 a week. Many people pay more than that off a car loan. Many people spend that on a meal out for two
once a week. And countless people spend far more than that on clothes.
At the other end of the scale, $500 is less than $10 a week. That's barely noticeable to most of us. Yet you can
subscribe to writers magazines and get some quality critiquing of your work for that amount. You can attend a
number of one-day or weekend workshops.
If you still are undecided, think about how much money other businesses invest in their start-up operations and
ongoing training. Then look around to see what would help you grow MOST as a writer.
- A writing course?
- A 2- or 3-day seminar with lots of networking possibilities and big-name writers, editors and
- A critique service to help you with your manuscript?
- Books, magazines, and software to help you grow?
It's up to you. Once you have decided (a) what you most need to develop your skills and (b) how much you can
allocate to your writing business, be firm about sticking to it. Nothing less than an emergency should deflect you
from your course.
2. Paying for Your Business Investment
- You can give up something that is not as important to you as your writing business. New clothes, eating
out, Starbucks coffee, a gym membership... there are plenty of ways to swap one expenditure for another.
- You can get a pert-time job to fund your business. If you want to invest $5000 over a year, you need to
make $104 a week. What can you do? Join a party-plan business and do one party a week? Offer a resume-writing
service? Clean houses?
- Do some gardening; walk dogs; clean cars; wait tables; offer a consulting service in your area of
expertise. Depending on your skills and the demand for your services, it might take you a day to make $104 or
you might do it in a couple of hours.
- You can ask for money towards your writing business instead of gifts for your birthday, Mother's Day,
Father's Day and Christmas.
- You can volunteer at a writers' centre in exchange for free attendance (or a reduced fee) at
- Join writers' organizations and volunteer to be on the organizing committee for conferences and seminars.
This does not always mean a reduced fee, but sometimes does.
3. Re-invest Early Profits for a Faster Business Growth
Most healthy businesses do this. As you build your skills and start to sell your writing, money will begin to
flow in instead of out. It probably won't be much at first - but think about re-investing to *further* develop your
skills and expertise.
Here's just one example: I've had several writers contact me, after being to a writers' seminar or conference,
to ask about writing an article for the Writing For Success newsletter. They are being smart: parlaying their
new-found knowledge into income, by passing on what they've learned to others. You could try this too... and use
the payment to buy an e-book on writing, or put it towards a seminar.
What if you write an article but the market doesn't pay? See if you can swap an article for a free subscription
to a writers' newsletter or a membership site.
4. At The End of 12 Months, Assess and Refine Your Business Plan
It makes good business sense to track your income and outgo. At the end of 12 months, assess the following:
- how much you have invested
- the return on your investment in (a) dollars, (b) increased knowledge and (c) new relationships and
contacts that can help you build your writing business.
- decide on your next step(s) and how much you will invest in your business during the ensuing 12
You can, of course, check on your income/outgo/results at the end of 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months as
You'll find that a definite plan for investment in your writing business will give you not only a greater sense
of control, but a better sense of where your money should be spent for development.
A couple of quick examples:
- $500 spent on an intensive novel critique (from a reputable critique service or freelance editor) can save
you months or even years of time muddling along on your own not knowing where you're going wrong. This can mean
a faster sale and a quicker start to your career as a published writer.
- $1000 spent on a seminar or conference can result in your making just the contact you needed to get your
novel in front of the right editor. Don't underestimate the importance of face-to-face contact.
(c) Marg McAlister