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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Business Practices, part 3

If I have one saving grace as a wife and partner, it’s the fact that I am really good at saving money. Greg often brags to his friends that I’m the reason we’re financially stable. But financial responsibility is a family obligation especially if burdens are added to the mix. In our family that’s a team effort.

I hate to call writing a burden, but until it starts making money, it is, in a manner of speaking. It takes time away from your family and your other obligations. There has to be a trade off somewhere. Now I’m speaking to you people who are looking to make writing a paying career and not a hobby.

If writing is a hobby then it won’t matter to you how much time or money you spend on it. A hobby is for pure enjoyment. Few of us count pennies when it’s something we want for self-gratification. (says the ultimate dog figurine collector)

But to those of us who are juggling a family, a job and a writing career then it’s a constant battle to keep all the balls in the air without spending a ton of dough.

I have an annoying habit of needing to justify everything I buy. (It’s annoying to Greg, not to me.) I always ask myself: Will I get multi-use out of this purchase? Is it cost effective? Can I get this cheaper elsewhere?

This is how I break down my expenses.

Education: Workshops, classes and conferences fall into this category. Go to these venues whenever they are online or near your physical location to save on travel and lodging. Shop around, especially with online classes. Do an internet search and you’ll find loads of information on what’s out there. Investigate the teacher and check out the class synopsis to give you a better understanding if it’s the right class for you.

That goes double for cons. As the deadline looms, they’ll start posting the panels and speakers. Are these speakers people you want to hear? Are they offering information that might be valuable to you? Do your research.

My rule of thumb: Venue vs. the cost of eating out. If the workshop or con is under $50, I know I can brownbag it for a few days and not lose any sleep over the money. Anything more than that and I will sit down and list the pros and cons of the event.

Equipment: Buy the best you can afford at the time. Equipment is the one thing I don't scrimp on. Buy the best, but buy only what you need. For example, if you're not an artist or a gamer, you don't need the top of the line graphics card.

Computers upgrade almost monthly it seems. I bought a top of the line pc a few years ago, yet it was a dinosaur within six months. That’s how fast technology evolves. So buy exactly what you feel you’ll need to be efficient. I use a lot of graphics programs so I need a lot of memory and speed. That’s where I focus my money.

Books: You can borrow, or buy new and used. I’m rather possessive so I prefer to own the books I read, especially if they’re reference books. If it’s reference, I tend to buy them used. If it’s a book from an author I know and talk to, I buy them new. It’s my way of showing support.

Note: Some people frown on buying used books. Here’s my thinking on it. That book has already been sold once as new, so I’m not taking any money that was due to the author originally. The item is just being resold either by the original private owner or a vendor. Some authors get really bent out of shape when they see their work resold but I’d rather see my book in the hands of someone who wants to read it rather than have it sit in obscurity. As an author, I’m okay with resale as long as it sold at market value the first time around.

Reference material: I belong to a lot of writing forums and receive tons of newsletters electronically. I usually spend several hours a week reading then copying and pasting anything of interest into documents that I can reference later.

Supplies: I am a scrounger and a cheapskate extraordinaire and proud of it. I run my ink cartridges until they're dust and keep my printer settings on "draft" unless I'm printing something to be sent out (then I switch it to "best" quality).

Paper: Use both sides. Most of my printing needs are for things I use only once, like instructions or maps, or old manuscripts. I take them and run them through the printer on the clean side.

Learn to proof off the screen. My workplace has switched to a paperless environment so we have to read most things off the screen now. Some of you will squeal that you can't proof that way. They squealed at my job too, but you know what, you get used to it. I do print one copy of my manuscript for my physical beta readers and that's the one I proof off of.

Writing tools: My house swims in writing implements. Sad to admit, I am a kleptomaniac when it comes to pens. I will steal them right before your eyes. I can't help it! Currently, I'm on a 12-step program to curb my evil ways. That said, I always have a blue pen, a red pen and a yellow highlighter at my side. (Yes, they're probably yours.)

Printed pages are almost always black so using a different color ink stands out while proofing.

Miscellaneous supplies: I always keep a supply of scratch pads, post it notes, a stapler and hole punch in my supply bin.

Where to buy: Here is my secret from the queen of cheap. Garage Sales! I have bought reams of paper, notebooks, even ink cartridges for my printer. I buy very little new. Savings are out there if you know where to hunt.

Postage: This is the one item where you can’t cut corners. If I want to query, I usually hit magazines that take electronic subs first unless I feel an article or story would fit better in a magazine that only takes snail mail.

If you are querying for a book, you are at the mercy of each individual agent or publisher. Again, research is key. Don’t shotgun query. Focus on people who will be your best bet on asking for a partial.

Woosh! There’s probably volumes more I could cover but let’s quit here for now. Saving money is all about knowing your options and deciding how cost effective it is over a given span of time.

Hope this helps someone.


Sandra said...

Hi Maria,

Thanks for your tips. I was thinking today about a comment you made in an earlier post about living solely off of one's earnings from writing. How common do you think that is? Do you have any stats? Most of the writers I know do have day jobs, including the published ones. Frex, my writing mentor was a geology professor, one of my OWW reviewers is a lawyer, etc. It's always been my impression that only the "big name" writers earn enough to support themselves. Of course, if you do want to sell your work, you should still act like a professional, even if this isn't your full-time job.

Maria Zannini said...

Most writers I know have "day" jobs. I don't believe most of us can live off, say, novel writing alone. Unless we have a book that goes to auction, it's unlikely to see the kind of money that would sustain us comfortably. (degree of comfort varies, lol)

Scalzi, for example writes in many facets of the industry. He's in advertising, so he gets lots of gigs writing copy and other collateral. He also writes nonfiction books and articles. I think that's a wonderful way to supplement our novel addiction without having to do 9-5.

On the other hand, I have a friend who signed a contract for her book and got a good deal, but in the end she decided to return to the MAN and work a traditional job for the medical benefits. It wasn't the money that brought her back; it was the constant worry of not having ample medical to protect her. One catastrophic illness or injury would have wiped her out.

It's a personal choice for each of us.