Sustainable Writing: Setting a Budget

How can you place a price tag on the realization of a dream like seeing your very own book in print?

This sort of sentiment makes aspiring writers easy prey for the unscrupulous parasites on the fringes of the publishing industry. Authors who want to have a sustainable career must be wary.

My husband’s Grandma Bruner used to tell the story of her first visit to a new Mercedes dealership in a neighboring town. When she asked the salesman the price of a car that she and Grandad were interested in, he said, “It’s a Mercedes, ma’am. You don’t ask the price.”

Grandma Bruner responded, “You ALWAYS ask the price.” She and Grandad walked off the car lot then and there.

They were able to pay cash for several Mercedes during their lives (though that particular salesman never got their business) because they were careful with their money and always mindful of the bottom line.

Aspiring writers need to be equally careful with their money. Even before they have sold any of their work, fledgling authors need business budgets for their writing.

Once your work has sold, you can be classified as a professional writer. Before that point you must recognize that you are a hobbyist, or if you prefer, a pre-professional.

There is nothing wrong with spending money on a hobby. Skiers, scuba divers, and quilters all spend a considerable amount on their hobbies. Issues only arise when hobby-related expenditures exceed what a family can realistically afford.

So how do you set your budget as a pre-professional writer? You need to sit down with your spouse or significant other and take a serious look at your finances. What is your disposable income?  After considering the cost of tithing, taxes, debt repayment, periodic bills, monthly household expenses, and saving for the future, what amount of discretionary income is actually available?

How much can you afford to put toward your writing? Are there other hobbies that you could scale back on in order to invest more in writing? How much are other members of your household spending on their hobbies?

Often, in families with children, there are no limits placed on money devoted to the kids’ activities, leaving precious little for mom or dad. Maybe little Janie doesn’t need to play soccer, and softball, and tennis, and take gymnastics, and dance, and art, and clarinet lessons.

You and your family should evaluate how the household discretionary income is being spent. Discuss reserving a sliver of the pie for writing expenses.

Having a writing budget will free you up to spend money on the things that are important. Once you have the family’s blessing for your hobby-related expenses, then you won’t need to feel resentful when your spouse goes scuba diving, or feel guilty about attending an occasional writers’ conference.

Suppose you can only afford a conference every few years. Save up and make the most of the opportunity when you can go. Perhaps you may want to apply for scholarships, or supplement your income with seasonal work to reach that goal. Having a working budget will help you make those kinds of career-advancing decisions.

Next time: How is the Pre-Professional Writer like a Garage Band?


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