How much does it cost to be a writer?

I got to thinking about this the other day after I talked to a freelance editor about working on my book. These days everybody says you need to hire an editor to fix up your book before you send it to agents and publishers. Critique groups are good, but you need to hire a pro to look at the whole book to help you shape it, cut the fat and find the “narrative arc.” Or so they say.

Years ago, an editor helped me with one of my previous books, and it was good. So I thought I’d try it again.

But here’s the problem. The editor I talked to charges $100 an hour. She thinks it would take 10 to 20 hours to do the job, which is only to look at the big picture, not to do any actual editing on syntax and sentences. That’s $1,000 to $2,000, for those who can’t do math without their calculators. I’m sure she’d do a great job, but that’s a lot of money. Her rates are on the high side. Others might charge less, but it’s still quite an investment. Check out this chart from the Editorial Freelancers Association.

My previous editor was expensive, $700, I think, but she did everything, from the big picture to the typos. If she edited the kind of book I’m working on now, I’d try her again.

It used to be that editors at publishing houses took your shapeless but promising manuscript and helped you rewrite it until it was perfect. That’s what happened with my book Stories Grandma Never Told, published by Heyday Books a few years back. The editor helped me make it much better, and I didn’t have to pay for the privilege. In fact, they paid me. Now, apparently editors at larger publishing houses don’t so much edit the books as advocate for them with the marketing folks.

So does this mean that unless you can afford to spend thousands on editing, you’re never going to get into a major publishing house? I pray to God it’s not true.

The cost of editing might explain why so many less-than-stellar books are self-published these days. And why we see so many typos in our books. Most of us think our books are fine after we finish our own revisions. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t, but I can’t believe we have to spend so much money to find out. Let’s go back to the critique group idea. Maybe we could trade manuscripts with each other to get the big picture view. You read my book, I’ll read yours, and we’ll compare notes.

I started out to write about the cost of being a writer. Editing is certainly not the only cost. Let me take a peek at my expense charts. The main expenses:

  • Postage to mail my published books at $2.72 apiece via media mail. As for submissions, I rarely submit anything by snail mail these days so that cost has gone down considerably, but then there are . . .
  • Submission fees. Not every publication charges a fee to submit, but more and more of them do, even ones that only pay in copies. It may be only $3 or $5, but it adds up, especially when I’m also paying . . .
  • Contest entry fees. These keep getting higher. Most are $15 or more. I have seen book competitions with $40 fees.
  • Internet-related fees. You’ve got to keep the Wi-Fi going, and it isn’t free. You may pay for a website or domain name (I have several). WordPress charges $18 for those domain names and that’s not even a premium account.
  • Office supplies and office equipment, including computer gear, tablets and phones.
  • Business cards, brochures and other printed matter.
  • Professional memberships at $30 to $300 a year.
  • Books and other publications (you don’t want to know how much I spend on this)
  • Education: University degrees, conferences, workshops, etc. are not cheap.

You can keep your writing low budget, but not as much as in the days when all you needed was a pencil and some paper, envelopes and postage stamps. You can refuse to submit to contests with entry fees or publications that charge submission fees. You can skip the domain names and paid websites. You can get all of your reading material at the library or buy only used books. You can trade critiques with friends. But alas, being a writer is not free. Neither is anything else, however, whether you’re an artist, a quilter, a gardener or a golfer. If you love it, you find a way to pay for it.

I’ll figure out what to do about the book. Meanwhile, it didn’t cost me anything to put these words on the screen, and it doesn’t cost you anything to read them. Isn’t that wonderful?

Let’s go write.

Advertisements