Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Let's Talk Cost Savings

“Writing isn't generally a lucrative source of income; only a few, exceptional writers reach the income levels associated with the best-sellers. Rather, most of us write because we can make a modest living, or even supplement our day jobs, doing something about which we feel passionately. Even at the worst of times, when nothing goes right, when the prose is clumsy and the ideas feel stale, at least we're doing something that we genuinely love. There's no other reason to work this hard, except that love.” – Melissa Scott

In these challenging economic times it’s important to spend our hard earned money wisely. Writing can be an expensive undertaking. There are contest fees, workshop fees, conference fees, and membership fees. Don’t forget the ink, paper, pens, highlighters, resource books, industry magazines, postage, and the cost of gas. Good thing writers are a creative and undaunted lot. There are ways to reduce costs and come out on top.

The library. If you’re a writer chances are you’re a reader. As a reader you need a steady stream of books to make you happy and what better place to feed your addiction then the library. Books, magazines, DVD’s, CD’s and Internet access are available within the walls of your local library. It’s a great place to test drive resource book recommendations to see if they are a fit for you and your style. They can be a sanctuary, a calm quiet place to write, or an ideal location for a brainstorming session with a friend.

Magazine subscriptions are costly. Your favorite trade magazine may be available at your local library. If not, perhaps you can share a magazine subscription with a friend or trade something for a friend’s copy. Most magazines have websites that offer archives containing past articles, which can also provide a greener, more environmentally friendly option.

Some of the same ideas apply to resource books. Share, trade, borrow but if you must own one get recommendations or see if you can borrow it first. Some writing groups such as The Saskatchewan Romance Writers (SRW) has their own collection of resource books available to loan out to members.

Paper and ink cartridges are unavoidable expenses but there are ways to reduce costs. Save your premium bond paper for submissions and contests. Get the cheap stuff for everything else and use both sides of it. Print only what you absolutely need. When you do need to print something, print it in draft format as this uses less ink. You can also save ink by downloading articles as text files to avoid printing out graphics, ads, and logos.

On to contests. As far as I can tell there are two reasons to enter a writing competition. Number one is feedback and the second is to get your work in front of a certain editor or agent. Be selective when choosing what contests to enter as most require a fee. If you are entering to gain feedback make sure the contest you’re entering provides it with your final mark. Research the contest and take note of the judges. You want judges who read and write in your category. Target contests judged by editors at houses where your work will fit. Contest wins can be used as valuable credits to your bio section of your query letter. When mentioning contest wins in your query be careful and consider the size and reputation of the contest before listing them and only list one or two relevant wins. Finally, and most importantly, be organized and avoid priority post and last minute shipping charges.

Conferences can provide valuable networking opportunities but be sure to research the conference. Do not choose one based on cost. Set a goal. Decide what benefit you want from the experience. Do you want to pitch, do you want to improve your craft and/or make contacts? Find out if the presenters, workshops, literary agents, and writers present are likely to offer information and opportunities relevant to you. Again be organized, some conferences offer early registration reductions. Share a room and expenses with a friend.

But remember the most important step a writer can take to further their career is to write, and rewrite and rewrite some more.

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” – Pearl S. Buck

I haven’t even talked about workshops or membership fees so if anyone has tips on those, please share your wise knowledge with me, likewise if you have cost saving tips or advice on anything else mentioned. And don’t forget to turn off those computers and printers when they’re not in use to save on electricity. In other words, don’t be like me!


Captain Hook said...

At the moment, I try to stay away from anything that costs money. I don't print anything out. No contests, only email submissions (for shorts), no conferences or groups that require fees.

Sometimes I write by hand, but paper and pens come from the Dollar Store (150 pages and a pack of 20 pens = $2.12).

Part of this is necessity and part is the belief that if my writing is good enough, it'll stand on its own without the "trappings".

Silver James said...

I remember a time when I almost quit writing because I felt guilty about the cost of paper and ink. I leanred to do everything on the computer. Luckily, the financial situation eventually improved. I still tend NOT to print out anything unless I need to proofread and/or edit away from the computer.

I shop sales for office supplies. Two-fers, rebates, etc.

Florescent lights. They've gotten better and better. They may cost a little more initially but the quality of light, longer life, and less energy used make them cost effective.

Many times, conference will have one-day packages that cost less. You loose a little of the comaraderie by not staying at the hotel, but it can be a cost-effective way to get the classes and at least meet some of the people. If there is one in your hometown or within a driveable distance, this might be an option.

Great topic, Karen. LOL! My spam word is "bleryok". I am bleary, ok? I'm also bleary in OKlahoma...*gigglesnort*

Helena said...

Great stuff, Karen. You have done an excellent job of putting into perspective some of the points I was writing about last week.

Conferences and workshops -- valuable? Yes, but cost/benefit balance has to be carefully considered. When it's iffy, I have been known to draw in some other factors, such as, will this take the place of a holiday trip or is this a higher priority in my life than buying new clothes? A writers' conference will usually trump both of those. It's easier if the event is also at a wonderful destination! But with all the info available on websites, sometimes going to a conference doesn't make sense, unless you are experiencing severe networking-deprivation.

I heartily agree with the value of libraries, and sharing resources such as magazines and books. Always has been my stock in trade. But, I have to watch my spending on books -- I am a shopaholic in a bookstore. Next worse is a stationery store.

Which leads me to paper -- I keep every sheet of paper that is blank on one side to use for printing drafts. I also reduce the spacing on the pages when I'm printing for revising. I don't print until the draft is pretty close to final, but it is a good idea to do it then. It's amazing how much more you catch in print format than on the screen.

Karen said...

Hi Captain Hook. Email submissions are something I didn't touch on but would be a great option if available.

You're right rest are "trappings' that a writer can live without. In the end it's about the writing.

Karen said...

Hey, Silver. I admit it, I'm a terrible shopper and I don't know how that happened because my Mom is a very wise shopper. Obviously I didn't take very good notes because I usually end up buying things on the fly.

Thanks for the great tip. One-day packages are a great option. They offer a cost reduction and are a great alternative if you find it hard to get away for a whole weekend.

Karen said...

Morning Helena. I love stationery stores too but I try to be very strict with myself when it comes to buying because any purchases are likely to sit unused in my office.

Great tip on reducing the spacing to get more words per page. I'm going to start remembering to use your idea. I use both sides of the paper as well but I find I have to swipe the used side with a highlighter before reusing so I don't get confused.

Printing as little as possible is not only a cost saving idea but an enviromentally friendly idea too.

Yunaleska said...

*hugs laptop*. Yup, computers are cost effective, if you don't print.

Unfortunately, here in the UK most agents like snail mail. So the cost will be a little more for me when I start subbing (unless all embrace email).

I don't attend conferences, I tend not to enter competitions. Helps keep the cost down :)

Karen said...

Hi Yunaleska. Yep, computers are great and I treasure my laptop.

Conferences and contests can definitely be pricey luxuries and experiences that can be set aside if not afordable. The great thing is they're not required for writers.

Erika said...

Great post Karen. I would LOVE to go to conferences but first I can't afford it and second I have limited time off from work. *sigh* Oh well.

Another great resource is buying refilled ink cartridges if that's the kind of printer you use. I always buy my ink cartridges from Office Max. I can get a color and a black cartridge from my local Office Max for $25 total. I drop off my old cartridges and pick up new ones, saves me a ton.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
Yes, money and writers don't go together very well. I recently did my taxes (or at least got stuff together for the accountant) and my 'outgo' far exceeded my 'income' as far as my writing is concerned. I've got some expenses that relate to being published such as the cost of my website, the cost for an artist to do cover art on my last book, prizes for giveaways etc. I'll be happy if I can someday at least make enough to cover all my expenses.

That said, I am seriously considering attending the conference in Surrey in October. I have started saving money for it so hopefully I will have enough money put aside by then. I'm hoping I can share a room with someone to keep costs down. In fact, I don't think I'd go unless someone else I know is going. If I do go it will be because of agents and editors that are attending.


Karen said...

Great tip, Erika and once again a healthier option environmentally speaking as well as less expensive.

Money and time are always tight when you have kids as I know you do. Thanks goodness for the internet and blogs and beta bloggers! ;)

Karen said...

Hey Jana. You raise a good point. It is not only aspiring writers who need to worry about costs but published authors too!

I'm planning to go to Surrey too! We can hang out together! I'm fortunate that I was able to budget for this event and am happily looking forward to my first conference. I just checked the website this morning and they have a few details to iron out but will very shortly be posting information. And this year, for the first time I believe, they will be offering early bird registration incentives!

Silver James said...

Jana, I'm taking the plunge in July and going to RWA Nationals in Washington, D.C. The DH is going because he wants to "walk the mall" and visit the various Smithsonian museums. If I hadn't come into a small inheritance, I wouldn't have been able to justify the expense. (Next year is in Nashville which is close enough I can go again! Yay!). I have friends going and some acquaintances I'll be able to hook up with there. It's worth the splurge for me to network with authors, editors, and agents.

Luckily, my publisher does everything "on line." Submissions are all done through email, as are revisions and edits. Saves a lot of paper and ink that way!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

At this stage in the game, there isn't a lot I tend to focus on in terms of saving costs. I do everything on my laptop, so I rarely print anything out. I use more ink/paper during school than I do on break. Our paper saving actually comes into play with Hubby's career. Anything with a free back page or blank area gets added to a pile he uses for scrap notes when he gets calls.

I find I've gotten pretty scrutinizing about workshops as well. I haven't been to many in general, but the more I learn, the less I feel like I want to pay a large sum for someone to talk at me. The last I went to was Donna Alward's, for touching on the then-foreign business side of the process, and that workshop continues to pay for itself as it brought me the monthly SRW meetings. A lot of workshops I see advertised online don't feel necessary to me, or feel like paying workshop price for something a book or two would also discuss -- or a google search and some blog browsing for free. There's only so much to blog about in writing, so someone's bound to have talked about the same thing another person is giving for a cost.

The only other cost-saving thing that comes to mind that you haven't already mentioned is light -- I don't write in a spare room or basement office where I'll always need artificial light. I think I'd go nuts, primarily, and I much prefer natural light (even on a cloudy day like today), but it also means I've got nothing running but my laptop right now, so I make my tiny eco contribution.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Karen.

About contests - I firmly believe these are money value for rec'g feedback from pros in the industry. Know what you're going to receive back, however. You mentioned feedback, but not all contests are equal in what they give back. So don't submit for feedback unless you know the contest is going to give you back at least 2 judge's comments/critiques along with your score sheets. I thought I had this all figured out until I rec'd scores with nothing to back them up. I felt cheated, but when I looked at the contest website, I realized it didn't say anything about judge's comments.

I love and use libraries but I wish author's would get a percentage every time a book is borrowed. Small change, but would add up over the long haul.

I used to print off my mss but now only do it once just prior to submitting.

My iPod charges on my laptop so no batteries required. And I use rechargeable batteries in my camera. Yes, these are my writing tools. :)

Between my white board and iPod Touch, I don't buy post-it notes anymore.

And here's something I'm particularly proud of:

Instead of buying a $25 case/sleeve for my new HP mini, I went to Value Village and paid 3.99 for a very nice summery looking purse. It has 2 main fabric-lined pockets - one for my mini and one for the chord, etc. The 'change' pocket holds my flash drive. And, it has a long shoulder strap. When I have it on, no one knows it's valuable cargo beneath the zippers, away from the elements and prying eyes.

Karen said...

Silver I dream of going to the RWA National Convention one year. Have a great time!

Karen said...

Hi Hayley, while doing research for my post I read a top five things to do to save money type article and one of them was Flip a Switch.

The same is happening at my house. The only think running at my house right now is my laptop, oh, and my ipod dock.

Karen said...

Anita, what great tips. I love the Value Village purse find for your laptop. Now I'm thinking I need a giant whiteboard for my writing space because the post-it notes are taking over.

Thanks for the contest tips and expanding on my point of making sure you know what you're getting for your money. Very important!

Janet C. said...

Great tips, Karen. Yes, we all need to think about cost saving.

I'm a proud first generation Canadian - from Scottish parents. Saving a brown penny is in my genes - maybe to the point of over saving. No contests, no printing (unless absolutely necessary), all lights/lamps have florescent bulbs, the thermostat gets turned down - way down during the night (making my basement office cold), and I target agents that accept e-mail (mostly for the quickness). The only stamps/printing I've done is for partial.

I'm in for Surrey, girls. Don't forget to add me to the hotel sharing costs (if we get enough, perhaps a suite?) I keep waiting and looking - whoever finds the info first, please e-mail me :)

Janet C. said...

Oops, for Anita's benefit. Canadian authors DO get $$ies for library books. Connie has shared that info on more than one occasion (you need to register with some government agency - then you get a cheque every year).

Janet C. said...

Oops, again. Remember - everyone - you can claim your writing expenses (gas to meetings, memberships, workshops, etc) even if you aren't published. You do have to be submitting, I believe, because those nasty rejection letters are the proof for the taxman that you are pursuing this career.

I haven't looked at the info from Revenue Canada fully, but someone told me you could carry your receipts forward. Again, this is not professional advice - please ask your accounting professional for complete details.

Karen said...

Hey, Janet. Surrey is going to be great fun and I'm so looking forward to it.

Sounds like you're a pro at cost saving. Maybe I can hire you as a consultant. Thanks for the clarification on Anita's comment regarding monies from library usage.

Molli said...

Hello Karen -- some good ideas you've brought in here. I particularly liked the reminders to choose contests, and conferences, carefully. We all have to make trade-offs, financial and otherwise, because sadly, in this life at least, we can't have it all, so it's important to make our choices thoughtfully (and wonderful to find ways of doing more with less!).

Here's the link to the Income Tax info every Canadian resident seriously pursuing publication should read: It includes info on what's considered in determining whether you're in the business of writing or doing it as a hobby, so to speak, which is the first thing you need to consider for income tax purposes. And Janet is right--if you're involved in a business activity, and have a reasonable expectation of profit, you can deduct eligible expenses from any type of income, not just what you earn writing, and if you have more of those expenses than income, or don't have any income at all, you can "carry" what then becomes a non-capital loss in any particular year back to any of the three prior years or forward for 20 years (or less, depending on the year the loss occurs) and deduct it from income in other years. It can get complicated, and again Janet is right to recommend that you consult a professional--but remember that you can talk to a Canada Revenue agent, or check the website, on these issues free. I can't speak for the tax situation outside Canada, but I expect there will be something similar in place in other countries, too.

Enjoy Surrey -- the energy at every writing conference I've attended has been as much a benefit as the workshops.

Karen said...

Thanks Molli for the valuable advice. It's always important to be informed.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet - thank you for the info on the library $$ to authors. We were discussing this at eharl last fall and nobody mentioned this. Maybe the word isn't out?

About the taxes - I was talking to our accountant last week and he said for me to keep receipts for writing expenses but not to show them to him until I had some pay to go with them. :)