When it comes to writing and publishing, indie authors face a unique disadvantage: they foot the bill for everything. The upside of this is that most indie authors therefore pay close attention to what they’re spending on their books, and to how they’re investing in themselves. If their books do well, they also reap much more of the financial windfall. The downside is that knee-jerk reactions to certain expenses and buyer’s remorse often weigh heavily on their minds.
A truism of business is that you have to spend money to make money. There’s a joke in the publishing world that goes, “Want to know how to make $100,000 in book publishing? Spend $200,000.” And while all authors want the best chance of success for their books, it’s indie authors, at the helm of their own financial ship, who tend to cut corners, resulting in decisions that come back to bite them later.
I remember one author who forewent a proofread, after having spent good money on a developmental edit and a copyedit. When the book came out, the author was so embarrassed that she had to destroy her print run of 500 books and go back for the proofread and a redesign and reprint of her book. Another author I know hired a good editorial team and a skilled interior designer, but then insisted on having one of his daughter’s friends, a hobbyist and amateur designer, do his book cover. The result was a great book with a bad cover—and the reviews dinged him for it.
There are countless cautionary tales like these, but the goal of this article isn’t only to highlight how we can learn from other people’s mistakes. Rather, I want indie authors to consider the value in investing in themselves, and to consider the extent to which putting money into their writing efforts runs parallel to growing the business venture that is their career as an author.
The best things to spend money on include anything that will grow your platform and/or make your presence more sophisticated in the world. This includes things like:
• getting a new website or revamping your old one;
• investing in a book trailer or video that showcases your expertise;
• hiring a social media expert to prioritize your online presence and help you create interesting content and visual memes.
Another good place to spend money is on education. I can’t overstate the value of continuing to learn as much as you can about publishing in order to maximize your chances at success in this wild industry. There are countless conferences out there, some better than others, so do some research and find the ones that have content that meets you where you’re at. (I recommend the Independent Book Publishing Association’s Publishing University for any author looking to understand what’s what in this industry, regardless of whether you’re publishing your own books or not. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the IBPA.)
Finally, any writing retreat or getaway is money well spent. The point of a writing retreat is multifold. I love Judy Reeves’s inspiring list of 20 reasons go to on a writing retreat. Writing retreats don’t have to be huge expenses, although you can spend a lot to study with famous writers or popular teachers. There are classes at retreat centers like Esalen in California and Kripalu in Massachusetts and places in between. But you can also create your own retreat. When I was finishing my most recent book, Green-Light Your Book, I put out the word that I was looking for a housesitting opportunity. I would have taken almost anything, but the gift that came was a little bungalow in Laguna Beach. I holed myself up in my version of paradise for a three-day weekend and wrote my heart out, and the only cost to me was a plane ticket, food, and a thank-you gift to my generous hostess.
Since it’s back-to-school season, I encourage all authors, but especially indie authors, to consider what they might do to make the most of this coming year from the vantage point of students -- meaning we start now. After all, if we’re doing this right, we’ll always be students of writing, publishing, social media, speaking, blogging, and the many other areas in which authors are expected to be proficient. We don’t have to save our resolutions for the new year. We can make a commitment today to do one thing that qualifies as an investment in ourselves. Let it be meaningful, and trust that the investment in yourself will pay off. Nothing is lost. Even hard lessons are useful teaching moments. In the world of authorship, making it starts with believing you’re worth it, so make a commitment, big or small, and give yourself the gift of support or learning or retreat—and please share what it is or will be in the comments below.
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book (June 2016) and What’s Your Book? This is the sixth installment to a new monthly column she is writing.