The Cost of The Independent Writer’s Life

Can and should be nearly….’0′. That’s right a big old goose egg. None. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zero. No dinars.

Let me explain. Earlier today someone posted a rather innocuous Facebook Status Update but it really got under my skin. I mean it pissed me off worse than a wet cat! This person was decrying the cost involved in being an Independent Writer and had come to the conclusion that they had spent almost $4,000.00 to earn $12.00. It’s only their first year, so (for some reason), they understand it could take another year before they earn that money back.


Sweetie…try…never. That’s a more realistic start.

I know, I know, if you, me, and the wall, had the $4,000.00 would do better playing the stock market.

Did I mention that this person is ‘cash poor’…of course…and has an extraordinary amount of dependents…really extraordinary for most of us.

Lesson #1–if you have enough extra money to put $4,000.00 into the production of your book and you still have electricity, food, a car, insurance, and a roof over your head…you ARE NOT ‘cash poor’. In fact, I dare say you have NO concept whatsoever of the words ‘poor’, ‘broke’ and ‘no money’. You might think you do but, in the end, you most assuredly do not.

Lesson #2–this is the important one. Repeat after me; “YES…I…CAN.” Go on, say it right out loud. I don’t care who’s listening. Just SAY IT. “YES…I…CAN.” You might even want to say it this way; “Yes, I can. You just watch me, sucker.” See I made you smile and I boosted your self-confidence. Not bad, huh?

Lesson #3–The BEST Things in Life REALLY ARE FREE. Yes, oh, yes, they are. That doesn’t mean they come easily or you don’t have to work a bit for them but they are FREE. Things like empowerment, knowledge, and even learning new skills.

The person in the above scenario who spent nearly $4,000.00 on their Self Publishing Endeavor spent that money, not on promotional stuff like buying ad space, they spent it on book covers, photos, editing, formatting, and SWAG. Why the hell anyone would pre-order SWAG or BOOKS I have no freakin’ clue. Which leads to believe that they don’t either.

Maybe you don’t.

Maybe you, whoever you are reading this, are in the self-publishing ‘business’ and not doing very well. Maybe you’ve ‘lost’ some money and would like to find a way to ‘stop the bleed’ before it bleeds you dry. Maybe you’re trying to get in and don’t know where/how/why to start. Maybe you’re just lost and find yourself staring at astronomical ‘start up costs’. I’m here to tell you they don’t exist. It’s all in your head. All of it. So get rid of it. Banish it. Dismiss it. Do whatever you have to do to beat it down, beat it up, and kick it out.

As it pertains to Lesson #1…anyone who reads here often knows that I, yes me, truly DO know the definitions of ‘broke’, ‘poor’, and ‘no money’…ZERO DOLLARS to my name! To say that I operate this ‘business’ on a shoe-string budget would be putting it very kindly. So….

Lesson #4–DREAM with all your heart. WORK for your goal with all your soul. REACH for the stars with the full length of your body and then will yourself to grow a little taller. THINK with your head!

Sadly that last is something most people never do anymore…about anything…at all. Yep, Common Sense Left the Building with Elvis, people, it surely did.

If you have a story to tell and you want to get it ‘out there’ so badly you burn for it yet are willing to accept that fact that you are probably NOT the next Stephen King, you can be very happily self-published without it costing an arm and a leg. Being an Independent Writer generally means you’re more of a maverick than those around you. So BE INDEPENDENT. DO for yourself. DO NOT delegate. Oh, yes, and right at the top here….NEVER EVER buy a self-published book on how to be self-published. Mostly because, with a tiny bit of Google, you can find everything those books have to tell you FREE on websites all over the Internet. Save yourself the money.

Speaking of saving yourself the money let’s run the list of this person’s expenses, shall we?

1-Formatting. Doesn’t cost a dime. It’s easy as hell. Never pay someone to do it for you. If you can actually use WORD, if you know that it does way more than a typewriter then you can format your own damn book! If you’re formatting for print and using a POD (Print On Demand)–I ALWAYS suggest CreateSpace–there is a link/file/help-me section that will give you step-by-step instructions for formatting your file…free. Follow the Directions. See…easy. For print editions Chapter One ALWAYS begins on the first available ODD numbered page…always. Justify the text of the story NOT the front page/copyright page/dedication page. Insert ‘page breaks’ between chapters. Highlight each Chapter Heading as an actual ‘heading’ (this will make a nice menu in WORD that you can navigate like a pro! For best results, do that as you write to quickly get from point-to-point in your file.). Center each Chapter Heading. Format paper size and margins as directed by your POD. ‘Save’. Oooo…look. All done. The first time out it might take you an hour or two depending on how big your project is but by the third or fourth book you’ll be flying through it in no time at all. AND you’ll have learned a new skill. Format for ebook? Screw that. Open your nicely finished but not formatted as above file, make sure the font is all under 14pt, I usually do Chapter Headings in 14pt and the text in 11pt. Then take the file to Nook/Kindle/Smashwords and upload. Unless you have a work that actually requires some type of Table of Contents (you’ll note nearly every printed fiction work does NOT have a Table of Contents unless it’s a compilation of some kind) you don’t need one. E-readers have this awesome little ‘book mark’ feature. The user just clicks it and the next time they open your story…oooo look…that’s where they left off. However, if you want to get fancy you can add in working links to your site/blog/Facebook/Twitter…whatever if you want. That’s also easy. Just use the ‘hyperlink’ button and again follow the directions.

None of the above is complicated. None of the above is hard. To get a good feel for how it’s all done make a junk file, or a duplicate of the file that you intend to use. Save it anywhere on your computer EXCEPT where your story is! Then play with it. You can’t hurt it at this point and you’ll learn a lot if you don’t already know it. AND, like me, in the end, you’ll have new skills to take into the job market which will make you more valuable in the Every Day World.

2-Editing. Every Independent Writer’s NIGHTMARE! It’s the worst. It totally sucks salty monkey balls and it is the ONE thing I would give an arm for; a really good professional editor. Luckily for me, I have FAB! She’s totally AWESOME! And I LOVE her! Not just because she does it for me FREE either! I also have a completely FANTASTIC little inner circle that listens to me rant/rave and then still reads my stuff! They give me feedback, honest feedback. That’s important. The last thing you should do is surround yourself with a bunch of ‘Yes Men’. No one needs them. They’re useless. If you have them get rid of them. In a nice way, of course. The only way you or I or anyone can ever get better as a writer, really hone our skills to the best of our ability, is with the help of constructive criticism. That means you, me, and everyone doing this must have a very thick skin. Soft shells need not apply for the position of Independent Writer. Now, I know that not everyone is going to get as lucky as I did. BUT I’m betting that you don’t even know there is someone close to you just dying to read what you wrote but they’re afraid to ask you. Find that person. They will be your best ally in this whole mess. They will catch the things you miss and, from time to time, may offer you some truly good advice.

By nature I tend to be a loner so I’m not one for suggesting people join groups…of any kind…at all. If you should stumble across one that you like and where you fit in well then go for it. Don’t try to make yourself fit in with the group. If they’re not right for you then you’re not right for them. Go off to greener pastures.

If you’re going to pay for editing; get references, get credentials, read things they’ve edited. Not everyone putting themselves out there on the Internet as an ‘editor’ has a clue about what they’re doing. So, please, take your time and shop around.

3&4-Book Covers/Photographs/Trailers…Oh My! These are trickier but keep in mind that every single part of what you’re doing is a creative process by itself. As a writer you should be able to appreciate that fact and take up the challenge with gusto. Here’s the only major expense I suggest an Independent Writer ‘invest’ in; PhotoShop. Not any graphics program…PhotoShop. It’s expensive but you can get earlier versions of the program fairly cheaply online and they work fine. Your goal isn’t to become a super-duper graphic artist its to make a book cover that stands out and stands up to those it will be displayed with.

PhotoShop is a complex program and it can be daunting! But it’s so awesome that it’s worth every ounce of frustration you will go through. Trust me, it really is. I’ve been using it for more than twelve years now and when I started I HATED it! I couldn’t, for the life of me, see what people were raving about! But I stuck with it and through a lot of trial and error came up with my very first book cover


That was 2008. Not the best cover in the world. Not the worst either and it’s still the cover for “Dream Weaver”.

THE HEART OF WAR came along, I wanted something fancier. I dug in with PhotoShop and learned a plethora of new things.


That was 2010 and I LOVE that cover. I do! So, get PhotoShop. Learn all about ‘layers’ and ‘blending’ then learn about ‘layer styles’ and ‘merging layers’. Grab a bunch of pics off the Internet that get your interest and play around with them. After all, they’re not for anyone to see, they’re for learning. You’ll be amazed at what you learn and what you can do. When you’re comfortable start trying your hand at styles and making covers. In the end, along with having a cover that you can point to proudly saying; “I did that!” you will have a new skill that you can take into the job market and help make you a more valuable employee in the Every Day World.

As to the photographs themselves, well not everyone is a photographer-without-a-model like me! hahaha There’s a million stock photography sites on the web where you can buy pics for covers DIRT CHEAP so shop around. There are also places where you can get them FREE. Again, shop around. Make the Almighty Google your very best buddy.🙂 And, don’t forget your Every Day World. You may have a photographer friend with a picture or two you could use; ask them, I’m sure they’ll be flattered.

Lastly, the Dreaded Trailer. The job of the trailer is snatch the gnats. That’s right, it’s to grab someone’s shortened attention span and hold it for no more than two minutes. In that two minutes make it interesting and intriguing. Again, here are my efforts.

Dream Weaver in 2008. I was unaware that I probably shouldn’t have used the Counting Crows for the background music but it just fit so damn nicely. So, thank you to the Counting Crows for not having my video pulled from YouTube! Thank you very much!

Women of War in 2013. Admittedly, this one was thrown together over a mere 12 hours. The background music was FREE there are lots of places on the web offering FREE background music so, again, Google! The pictures were FREE. I always strive to find images that are offered on sites adverting themselves as ‘free graphics/pictures/images’. If THEY got them somewhere they weren’t supposed to it’s really not my fault. I know it’s a gray area.

I used Windows Movie Makers for all of my trailers. Again, trial and error. It’s not difficult at all, remember this is a program made for people who want to take their home movies and play with them not for Professional Film Makers. Once you get going you’ll find it fascinating to put the trailer together and when it’s done you’ll be amazed at what you accomplished. Again, you’ll have something you can point to and proudly proclaim; “I did that!” AND yet another new skill which will make you a more valuable employee in the Every Day World.

5-SWAG Once you get the PhotoShop thing down you can make your own swag. I use Vista Print you might like someone else. I do use iPrint for my book markers, Vista Print doesn’t seem to offer them. The best thing about swag is there are NO UPFRONT COSTS INVOLVED if you simply don’t order anything before someone else does! You keep NO stock on-hand. When someone places an order for a t-shirt (or whatever) you log in to Vista Print, place the order for the t-shirt, have it shipped to the customer, and the money is transferred from your PayPal account (where hopefully you’re set up to receive payments) and into Vista Print’s account. You never see the money, you never touch the money, you never have the product. It’s all done digitally. Price your swag a buck or two over the TOTAL COST of the item including basic shipping to ensure you make a few cents on the deal. Swag is there to promote you, brand you, get your name out in the Every Day World not to put oodles of money into your pocket. The whole point of it is advertising.

The same applies to any books you might offer in signed edition. The order comes in, you place it, have it shipped to you, sign it, send it out. Do NOT keep stock on-hand. Never ever go with a publisher that wants YOU to BUY X number of copies upfront. Ever.

Ok, so, that’s it. I know we didn’t get to selling on your site, or how to get the differently formatted ebooks to sell on your site, or how to design your own site, but I think we’ve addressed every problem we set out to address and we bought an old copy of PhotoShop and a handful of stock photographs to do it. (I think most newer computers come with some version of Movie Maker). Yes, we’ve put in a lot of time and effort but look at all we’ve learned and how much more we can now accomplish.

Think of how much further we can go from here.

Think of the $4,000.00 you just saved.🙂

About lbdarling

Beware...the truth is spoken here. If you can't handle that...buh-bye.

Posted on 29/01/2013, in The Writer's Life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. you know i have the self publish plans in mind and seriously if she spent that much cash …
    it just needs some work and as you say trial and error, people who are willing to explain or help (winks) and you can get very far.
    bookmarks, if you have a nice photo-printer and you can get hold of nice paper you can do the prints yourself even and make them unique or even sign them with a personal message (see handing out ideas already! for free even.)
    i’m glad you pointed me towards create space, it is as easy as you say it if if you follow the guidelines. i know my own huge gap in knowledge is covers, i can manage the rest just fine. so in due time i’ll have to make work of it too. (i’m prob having specially made covers for all of SIW that a friend over in India will make, he makes nice stuff i like)

    and yeah don’t moan about being low on cash when you can spend $4 000 on all of the above. ugh. so far i haven’t spend a single penny/cent on anything. only a stamp or two (still have to get my IRS papers in order lol, i’m stalling) so i can get the nice amount of $25 from smashwords ^^ so i made more then her and i have spend anything WIN for me i’d say😉

  2. Fred the Wolf

    good info Sis.

  1. Pingback: The Independent Writer’s Life « Lisa Beth Darling

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