Dollars & Cents: Debut Year Expenses

Someone asked me the other day if it cost a lot to get my book published.  No, I told her, when you sell your book to a publisher, they pay you and take on the costs of producing it.  It doesn't cost anything.  Which is only partially true, because as any writer will tell you, a big chunk of the promotional costs fall to the author.  You can spend nothing if you like, but most - myself included - don't.   

I know it's tacky to talk about money, but I'm going to do it anyway because I was curious (and maybe you are, too) about my debut year expenses.  Here they are:

Website: $750

I researched a bunch of designers this was one of the most reasonable for the level of site I was looking for.  I also checked out some do-it-yourself templates, but the time it would have taken me to do the work made hiring a professional a better choice.   

Author Photos:  $125 + $250 = $375

I wasn't thrilled with my first round so, after a lot of hemming & hawing, had them re-done.   

Swag: $215.41

This bought a lot of bookmarks from iPrint.com and a lot fewer 3x5 notepads.   I also threw the $25 to be included in the Tenners' trailer in here 'cause I didn't know where else to stick it.

Giveaway items:  $298

This includes glow pens, $180 worth of gift cards for my online launch party and books.  Some of the books were gifts from my publisher, most of the gift cards were bought using Discover points vs hard cash. 

Mailings:  $238.49

So many trips to the post office.  Swag, contest prizes, ARCs, manuscripts, contracts...my postal worker's name is Mike, he has three grandchildren, used to go outlet shopping in my hometown and probably thinks I'm running an ebay business.  He gives my kids Express Mail stickers every time we go in.  Your postal dollars at work. 

Supplies:  $244.76

This includes a PO Box, envelopes, boxes, tape, pens to sign books, pens to sign bookmarks (the silver Sharpie works on black glossy without smearing) and other stuff like that.  It does not include paper, printer ink or general office supplies.

GRAND TOTAL: $2121.66

Ouch. 

The good news, aspiring/debut authors out there, is that you don't have to do any of this (though websites are pretty much universally expected).  And if you choose to do some, there are always ways to do it for less. I didn't do a book trailer which probably saved a bundle.  Had I done my own website, I'd have saved a bunch more.  CurrentCodes.com had savings codes for iPrint.com so I saved on swag orders.  And so on. 

Also, once you have some writing income - even a little - stuff becomes deductible.  Including childcare expenses - babysitting or nursery school - if it creates the time in which you're able to write.  This was a biggie for me. 

I have no idea yet how The Mark is doing, but I know that in rough numbers, an author makes about $1 for each book sold and I've heard that the average book sells less than 5,000 copies.  Even I can do that math and it tells me that, for most, writing isn't a huge money-making venture*.   

Knowing that, it's good to keep a business perspective when spending on your book.  Writing is an occupation that feels very personal sometimes.  The first inclination is to give your baby all the very best of everything - the fanciest website, the slickest trailer, the coolest posters and t-shirts and bookplates and whatever all the other authors are doing.  But the goal is selling books, not piling up bells and whistles.   There are some things I spent money on that I might not again and others that I knew were extravagances - like re-doing my author photos - that I did just because it was worth it to me.  For the most part, I'm okay with my expenses (even though, added up, they sound huge). 

Every business has a start-up cost, be it time, money or, usually, a bunch of both.  I'd guess mine was about average on both counts for a debut novelist.

*These are the royalty numbers which a writer only starts getting after they've earned-out by "paying back" their advance, roughly at this $1/book rate.  If you don't earn enough to pay back your advance, you keep the advance, but get nothing additional.  Rights (foreign, audio, dramatic, merchandising) play into this in ways way too complicated for this post.