Industry Post: Spend Less, Write More
Romance Author Nicky F. Grant knows a thing or two about launching a debut book—in 2018, she released Beyond the Masks, and since then, she’s picked up a few things about the right and wrong way to approach indie publishing. She’s joined with Book+Main to bring us this special Industry Post chock full of budgeting tips and tricks for new authors in the hopes of sharing her knowledge . . . and making the path toward success that much smoother for those just starting their journey.
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Are you a new romance author? Are you struggling to “fit the mold”? Do you spend more time stressing about marketing and branding than crafting beautiful novels?
If you answered yes to any of these, we are kindred spirits. Navigating the book world is tough! What if our novels are never read? How can our book branding rise above the white noise without a marketing budget? Don’t worry, I promise that while being wise with expenses up front, you’ll not only shine but you’ll have less stress.
I’m here to share my journey. The difficult and costly lessons I’ve learned since publishing my debut in 2018. It’s not pretty, but I hope it’ll steer you in the right direction so you can create all the Happily Ever Afters without breaking the bank.
At the end of this post, I hope to show you a few easy mindsets as a new author. In addition, I’ve included some cheap and free marketing tools for your books. There is no right or wrong way to attack the monstrosity of Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms, there is only your way. However, managing your business upfront and being self-aware provides long-term success on your road to publishing.
Here’s what to expect:
1. How to budget (It’s okay, the “maths” will be a breeze)
2. When to spend (includes wine, because…wine)
3. When not to spend and seek out free resources (Yes, FREE!)
THE SELF-IMPOSED STARVING AUTHOR, LITERALLY
Back in 2015, I penned a few words and before I knew it an 80K novel appeared. It was invigorating! I never set out to publish but my gut told me to pursue it. Boy, did I have a lot to learn. Cover design, editors, memberships to romance chapters, how to format a book, and more! It was exhausting.
Through that messy navigation, I published my first book in February 2018 and what did I have to show for it? A great fan following, wonderful author friends, and here it is….a mountain of debt. $14,000 worth.
Yep. I sunk every penny into making my debut a success and it flopped. *cries into wine* But here’s the thing. What is success? I hadn’t defined it, really. Ok, I did—and it involved being a bestseller right out of the gate. *sips wine*
So, on par with that dream, I threw all my monetary resources at my “nonexistent-launch-plan-plan”. It looked something like this:
● My budget: Bestseller = spend money. Lots of money.
● My belief: “You’ll sell tens of thousands of books and become a full time writer if you spend!”
Side note: That’s not how you budget or set a proper goal.
Did I become an overnight sensation through these actions? Well, if you haven’t heard of me, you know the answer. Instead, I’d spent an embarrassing amount of money on a book that hardly penetrated the market. In 2018, Beyond the Masks sold just over 350 copies equating to $1,100 in revenue. The husband was not pleased, and neither was my wallet.
You’re probably wondering what the heck I spent money on? Here, I’ll break it down.
● Priority spending: Editing fees, cover design, taxes.
● Frivolous spending: Branding PR firm, launch party, signage and business cards, ISBNs, swag, new laptop, advertising, conventions and travel, stock photo, and more.
This is a small snapshot of the larger spend, but you get the picture. I felt I needed all of this for success, especially the family and friend launch party. That alone was $3,500. Ugh.
Do I regret the party or other things I bought? No, it was like sticking a flag in the ground and saying I made it. Look at me! Yeah, my ego was a self righteous b**ch back then. What I do regret is not caring about the value of my dollars. Investing in things that would earn a small return while telling my ego to chill out.
So, what did I do to change my ways? I incorporated a simple budget into my future plan. For me this meant spending zero dollars while still achieving social media followers and book sales. It’s not easy and it’s tempting to toss a couple hundred dollars to a PR firm or dump money into ads (in the beginning). But the long game is the goal. If you’re buried in debt, then the business can’t sustain itself. Sure, you can still write books but your stress factor will be through the roof, thus making your muse run away and hide.
No one said doing it the long way was easy and yes, it will take more time, but you own the unique ability to grow an organic readership and discover your superfans! How do we do that? A clear and simple budget.
HOW TO BUDGET
Did you get the “cringies” there? Yeah, maths. I hate it too. Budgeting is overwhelming! Especially when googling the phrase “How to Budget” and millions of websites are thrown at you.
Where do you start to comprehend it all? What in the world is net income? And how the heck do you figure out what numbers go to what boxes? Yikes. It’s frightening, but necessary to grasp where your pennies are going. Remember that 14K debt in frivolous spending? Yeah, that was the non-plan-plan. Don’t be like me.
What is a zero-dollar budget? For me, it’s spending zero money and resourcing free tools to gain the same result. Like making book teasers, covers, and social media posts. More on that later!
To keep things simple, let’s stay with this example: You’re just starting out. You have a wee bit of savings to put toward priorities, and your first book will be released this year. Now grab a pen and paper or use this handy excel sheet and let’s get started!
WHEN TO SPEND
There are a hundred things you can spend your money on. But in this exercise we’re only talking about book packaging. As in, what do you need to complete a novel to get it on Amazon and other retailers? Hint: It’s not swag. Resist all the pretty things for now!
Think about your top 3 to 5 items that add value to your book. Think about what you need to package your book, like cover design. These should be your basic needs to woo your readers into buying your novel. Write them down or enter into my handy-dandy excel sheet.
Remember, your spending priorities are yours. There are no wrong answers. Mine will be different, as will a New York Times bestselling author. And guess what? You can change them if you find your priorities shift! How about that? 😉 Onto my top 3!
2. Cover Design
3. eBook and Paperback formatting
It’s short and sweet and for me, these are what my book needs to be a complete package. Now for a few recommendations to align with our budgets.
Do your diligence and research several editors. There are many levels of cost depending on experience and type of service. When you narrow down two to three editor options, ask for a sample edit of the first 500-1000 words to see their style. Interview them on their experience, editing process, and scheduling practices. Does their personality mesh with yours? Can they give thoughtful critiques to enhance your story? Do they have any references or clients you can talk to? The more information you gather, the better.
Sorry to say but people do judge a book by its cover, but you don’t have to break the bank for a beautiful design. Amanda Walker PA & Design Services or others alike design stunning covers at a great cost. Peruse their portfolios and talk with them about what you’re looking for. Designers range in price. I’ve seen as low as $150 up to $3,500. Be smart and know what your dollar is getting you.
At this stage in the game, avoid original photographs from professional photographers. You’ll be able to do that later in your journey. But ALL the pretty things! I know, I know…so tempting to buy that one-of-a-kind photo of a strapping male model with abs for days.
For now check out sites like Pexels or Unsplash to use FREE images. If you want to buy cheap, look at Shutterstock or sites like Depositphotos. You can find image packages starting at $30. If you choose a cover designer, review their contract because photo stock may be included in the price.
Amazon, Apple, and other retailers require finished novels be uploaded in specific formats. This includes paperbacks and eBook files (.mobi or .epub). This is where you’ll pay for a service or purchase a software. Here are two avenues I recommend.
● Vellum is a fantastic, do-it-yourself software for all things book formatting. It’s easy to use. Just drag and drop files and voila—all the books! I love that you can export an unlimited number of eBooks and Paperbacks for a one-time fee (no subscription required).
● Utilizing a formatter is another great way toward finalizing your book. Costs can range starting at $50 and up, depending on the person. Like That Formatting Lady. Her prices are fantastic! Beware, if you outsource, the service fee usually covers a single book file or package. This means, if changes are made to copy or back matter, you may have to pay a reformat fee. Check with the formatter on their process.
Now that you’ve successfully researched your priorities and costs, how do they look? Are you over budget? Are there ways to cut costs without losing quality? These are the things you’ll tinker with and below I’ll cover some FREE items and tools!
WHEN TO SAVE AND SEEK OUT FREE RESOURCES
We all like FREE, right? I do, but not when said “FREE” sacrifices my brand and quality. You do get what you pay for, or rather what you don’t in this case. So, as we take a look at our budgets, I’m sure you’re wondering how to fit in other essentials, like social media marketing and teasers. Or how to cut more costs.
Before we jump into this section, I’ll note most times it’s better to hire a professional (IE: Cover Designer, etc.) if you’re unable to create these things on your own. Now onto the FREE stuff!
Here’s where the true leg work comes in to leverage that $0 mind set. I’m sure we’ve all seen the beautiful, evocative teasers of fellow authors all over social media. *grabby hands* And we all want to capture those in our own marketing.
It’s easy to think, “Hey, I can hire a graphic designer to do that. It’s cheap.” Yes, you can take that route and from what I’ve seen a pack of 3 teasers can run from $10-$20. But what if you pocketed that cash and stuck to the $0 mind set? I know, I’m a ruiner for all the pretty things. But hear me out.
Remember Pexels and Unsplash, mentioned above? There are millions of FREE photo stock available for use. You may believe you need to purchase stock but I’ll prove you don’t. Below I pulled a photo from Pexels and doctored it up with some flair (see pretty things!) using Canva, a free online software.
What do you think? The teaser took about 20 minutes! Yes, yes, I could’ve saved time, but I get sucked down the photo rabbit hole from time to time. The best thing about Canva is you don’t have to be a photoshop wizard. It’s drag and drop, and the more you play, the faster you’ll master it.
Canva can even handle book covers! They have pre-loaded templates to choose from and all you need are your images. Even the best authors out there use FREE photos that speak to their books. For example Jewel E. Ann’s new book, The Life That Mattered used a FREE image and it is STUNNING! Here they are side to side:
I hear you asking, “But what about the graphics and fancy font?” Canva has hundreds of filters and fonts on their free platform. To prove you can achieve high-quality book covers, I took to Canva to test it out.
I’d say that’s pretty impressive. Not too shabby for free software. How’s your budget looking now? Did you find ways to keep costs at a minimum? Did you have a little left over for a celebratory wine? Good!
Whew, see that was easy, right? Now you’re ready to take to your launch debt free and without financial stress! Yes, of course there’s so much more involved such as building followers, readers, and making your mark. Budgeting is the foundation to deliver on those other things in a more thoughtful, organic way.
And as you write more books and make more sales, your budget will grow year over year. You’ll be able to outsource your design work and more. Since you’re ahead of the curve and financially equipped to determine the best route for your business budget you can acheive long-term success.
Good luck and happy writing!
Nicky F. Grant
ABOUT ME? AWW…SHUCKS…
Erotic romance is my game. Alpha males and strong heroines tickle my fancy and spark the words on the page. There’s something enthralling about the emotional bond of kink that fuels my characters’ crazy decisions toward love.
I’m a Pittsburgh author who loves naps, cuddles with my doggo, and hanging with my husband. And reading? I love steamy AF books that tug on every emotion.
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