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12 Ways to Save Money as a Writer & Publisher

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When it comes to saving money, I have mastered the art. After all, I wrote a book about it. My book, Become Totally Debt-Free in Five Years or Less: Pay off your mortgage, car, credit cards and more!, includes hundreds of money-saving ideas to help readers get out of debt. Since this was my first book, I didn’t know much about writing and publishing (let alone ways to save money while doing so). But as a self-proclaimed cheapskate, I quickly learned.

Since I had incorporated my cheapskate ideas into every aspect of my life, I knew I could find ways to save money in the areas of book writing and publishing as well. Now I have to admit, I did enter into this arena with ignorance. For example, before actually going through the writing/publishing process, I just assumed that the author got all (or at least most) of the profits from the sale of a book. Boy, was I ever wrong! (I was in for the shock of my life.) I quickly discovered that, in some instances (especially those who publish their books through publishing houses), authors may get as little as $1.50 per book sale. I immediately questioned, How could this be when the author was the one who created the book in the first place?
I refused to succumb to the idea that the main benefit most new authors should expect is seeing their name in print. I wanted to have the opportunity to benefit financially also. So I asked myself some questions. Was I wanting the impossible? Or could I defy the odds?
After much thought, I came to believe that I was being very realistic and could beat the odds. So I put my “cheapskate” antennas to work so that I could benefit financially. I figured that if I could save money in making my manuscript into a book, this would be the first step to overcoming the ever-so-realistic disappointments regarding the financial rewards for new authors and publishers. The second step would be to find frugal ways to sell lots of books to recoup my publishing costs and then some. I’ve successfully completed the first step; now I am on my way to accomplishing my goal of efficiently selling lots of books.
Here are some ways I discovered I could save (and make more money) regarding both publishing and marketing:
1. Self-Publish, Self-Publish, Self-Publish: First, I suggest that you stay away from those big publishing houses (9,999 out of 10,000 times, they’d reject you anyway). In addition, I also recommend that you stay away from subsidy publishing and those companies that strictly provide the services of making your manuscript into a book. My reasoning? Because you can do all of it yourself.

While writing my book, I talked with the representatives of several subsidy-publishing companies, and they all offered about the same deal. Here’s how I interpreted their offers. The subsidy-publishing company gets a hefty percentage just by making the manuscript into a book, but the author pays the cost of production while relinquishing some control over the product to the company. I figured that if I could find resources on my own to create a book from my manuscript, then there would be one less entity with which I would have to share my profits. So I took off on this great venture to find and use my own resources to publish my book. In essence, I found my own editor, typesetter, cover designer, illustrator, and book manufacturer—and bringing these talents together resulted in the creation of one great book and saved me a ton of money.
2. Talk to Others Who Have Self-Published: Earlier this year, while in the process of writing my book, I began finding and contacting local authors who had self-published and asked them to provide me with information regarding the key players they utilized to produce their books. This was simply because I had no clue! I also asked them to recommend companies and people they used to complete their published products. One key aspect of this process for me included going to the booksigning of successful author Michael Baisden. Afterwards, I briefly mentioned to him that I was writing a book and needed help. Although I knew he was busy touring and making television appearances, Baisden told me to contact him by e-mail. He promised to get back to me with the information I needed. I did, and he did. His input included a list of the companies and people he used to create his book. The resources he provided became invaluable to me. In fact, all of the resources I used came from him and the other local authors I contacted. I quickly discovered that seasoned authors are always willing to help us new authors in any way they can.
3. Buy a Couple of Books about Self-Publishing: As I continued to talk with self-published authors, they recommended several books that I should buy to help me get through the process. I ended up spending less than $30 to purchase two books: Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual and Art and Jean Heine’s Book Selling 101. Poynter’s manual was helpful in designing my cover, preparing press releases, and providing lists for pre-publication and publication review requests. Heine’s book assisted me with preparing a media kit and other helpful marketing tools. I’m sure there are lots of other helpful books out there on the subject, so the point is to find books that you find the most helpful to you.
4. Carefully Pick Your Subject: Of course, before doing anything else, select and write about a subject of general interest, but one in which you have some authority. And add your own twist. For me, since I had paid off my mortgage and had become debt-free within five years, I figured I could share this information with others. Via my book, they could know how and why I did this, and I would encourage them that they, too, could become debt-free. Although I knew that there were lots of financial books out there, I used my own personal experiences of how I became debt-free to write Become Totally Debt-Free in Five Years or Less. I also incorporated my experiences as an attorney and real-estate broker.
Also, I would suggest that as a new author, you write a nonfiction/self-help/how-to book. I’ve read that it’s easier for a new author to succeed in these genres, than with fiction. I truly believe so, since I am already experiencing some success after only a month as a new, nonfiction author. In addition, don’t limit your audience by the subject you pick. For example, I’m from Dallas, Texas, and therefore I know quite a few money-saving tips that are specific to Texans. However I would have limited the appeal of my book had it been written about and titled How to Save Money as a Texan.
5. Find Talent in Unexpected Places: My typesetter, cover designer, illustrator, and Web site designer all work for a local community college in the department that publishes the school’s weekly newspaper. The editor I used freelances, while serving as an editor for a well-known, national magazine. By using resources that came from unexpected places, instead of going with a subsidy-publishing company that had its own resources, I was able to use individuals whose talents were relatively unexposed. And in turn, I paid less because I didn’t have to pay for such aspects as reputation, prestige, company overhead, etc. It also resulted in a great savings for me while producing great products (my book and my Web site at www.brownbagpress.com).
6. Don’t Compromise on Quality: Even as a new author, I didn’t want to settle for anything less than having an eye-catching, four-color-processed book cover. I also wanted to include illustrations throughout the book. I figured that, for a few hundred dollars more, these qualities would give my message a greater appeal and I would ultimately sell more books. In essence, I wanted everything that the publishing companies could have provided for my book, but without the added costs. I am very pleased with the overall product and its costs.

In fact, I was so proud of the outcome of the cover, which received an overwhelmingly favorable review, that I printed an extra 2,000 for less than $300, to use as a marketing tool.
7. Carefully and Aggressively Market Your Book: With all of the marketing and book-selling claims companies make, how do you know which ones would be more beneficial to you, especially when they’re all coming at you at once? First, find out what services each one is offering. Then determine whether you need the services they provide, and if so, whether you can find the same or similar services at a less expensive cost elsewhere. Also, determine if they want to charge you a flat rate or a percentage of sales, or both. Be cautious with those who charge a flat rate for their services because they have nothing to lose if their services don’t aid you in selling your books. In turn, be careful with those who charge a percentage of book sales because if the percentage is too high, then you may not profit much—if at all. Also, with each company, figure out how many books you would have to sell, based on their charges, in order to recoup your cost of using them and/or realize the profits you want. Then determine whether using their services has the potential to produce, at least, the minimum amount of sales you need. Sign your book up with as many free or low-cost book marketers as you can, because it’s better to sell your books for a lesser-than-expected profit than to not sell them at all. In addition to the traditional sales market, don’t overlook special market sales if your book is the type that traditionally does well in this area.
8. Seek Free Exposure and Advertisement: Sending out press releases and media kits, pre-publication and publication review copies, and book samples to the appropriate companies are inexpensive ways to get free media attention for your book. Also, conducting free seminars on your subject of expertise can be a very helpful tool in selling your books, and this is relatively inexpensive.
9. Prepare an Accompanying Audio, If Appropriate: Even before the actual pub date of my book arrived, I prepared an audio cassette to sell. I realized that this is a potential way to increase my sales with each individual customer. Also, producing an audiocassette is less costly than producing a book; my audio ended up costing less than 75 cents each to produce. Now I have the potential to sell not only my book, but also my audio, to each potential customer.
10. Focus on Volume Sales, Not High Pricing: Don’t price your books and tapes so high that they would be hard to sell; in turn, don’t price them so low that you won’t be able to make much in profits unless you sell millions of copies. With books and tapes, it’s best to focus on making money with volume sales not high pricing. Dan Poynter’s book provides a great formula for pricing that will work in most instances. After following his formula, I decided to price my 234-page book (which includes 32 illustrations, six worksheets, and three self-evaluations) at $14.95. The price for the supplemental audio cassette was set at $9.95.
11. Don’t Round Up the Price of Your Products: While there’s only a five-cent difference in cost, to many consumers, spending $14.95 and $9.95 sounds much better than spending $15 and $10 respectively. So price your products strategically and don’t round up the price.
12. Become a Member of Helpful Organizations: You need to know and be able to call upon people who have been down the road you want to travel. They can provide helpful insight, knowledge, and information. If they can’t assist you, they can probably point you in the direction of someone who can. Of course, one of the first pieces of advice I received from one author was to make sure I joined the Publisher’s Marketing Association (PMA). Boy, was that good advice! I have already benefited greatly by being a member, so I offered to write this article. I never in a million years dreamed that, as a new author and member, my offer would be accepted. But indeed it was, only two months after joining. Not only have I authored my first book, but I can tell everyone that I wrote this article for the newsletter of one of the most well-known publishers’ organizations in the country. This is yet another accomplishment my family can be proud of—and it’s one which also happens to offer me even more free publicity!

Gwendolyn D. Gabriel is a self-proclaimed cheapskate and now the author of “Become Totally Debt-Free in Five Years or Less.” Her book includes the ideas and techniques she used (and more) to go from being $125,000 in debt in 1994, to becoming totally debt-free by 1999. Her mission, along with that of her publishing company, Brown Bag Press, is to provide money-management knowledge and motivation to all who want to do the same. Contact Gabriel at cheapskate@brownbagpress.com; write to her at PO Box 764585, Dallas, Texas 75376; or call her at 972/345-4040. Visit her Web site at www.brownbagpress.com.


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