The Cost of Writing

by Erin Brown

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2010

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2010

“I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.” —Anne Morrow Lindbergh (American writer and aviation pioneer). 

As writers, we all know that writing is art, it is life, it is passion! It is beyond cost, beyond measurement, worth any price! Not.

So let’s talk dollars and cents. What is the cost of writing? Zero. Zilch. Only the cost of your blood, sweat, and tears is required in order to create a manuscript. Well, okay, if you need to buy a computer and printer paper, it costs a bit. But if you’re willing to go the longhand route, you can always steal a pencil and a few scraps of paper and your bottom line will be zero pesos (and no, I’m not actually advocating stealing, I’m just making a point, people!). 

But wait, you say, writing costs a lot! There’re conferences to attend, stamps to buy, and that’s not to mention self-promotion! But wait, I say back to you, what you’re thinking about is money spent on getting published. The writing itself is free. Now that we’ve established that even a pauper can write a manuscript, let’s cut to the nitty gritty about what it will cost on the road to getting published—what are legit expenditures and what are not. 

The only true expense that is absolutely necessary is postage and printing costs. Even if you submit a query by email, you will need stamps for that SASE if pages are requested. I always hated getting manuscripts by email—printing it out was a pain and I always preferred hard copies. That’s where printing costs for the writer come into play. But beyond postage, everything else is optional: writing conference costs, self-publishing costs (see my past article on self-publishing for my thoughts on this wallet-breaking process), cost for hiring copyeditors, self-promotion (so you heard that a major publisher pays for everything you want to do promotion-wise? cute, so naïve), books on writing and how to get published, etc. These are all things that are good to investments, but they’re not necessary by any means. 

Remember, if you are going the traditional publishing route, you will not have to pay money to get your book printed and on the shelves. No, you do not have to pay an agent. Yes, they will take a percentage of the money after the fact, but you do not have to pay an agent or publishing house anything. You will be earning them money (hopefully) and although the house and agent will make money off of your work in the form of percentages of royalties (and an agent will get a percentage of the advance), getting published won’t cost you any cold, hard cash out of pocket. You also should never pay someone (aka “a huckster”) who promises you a personal list of agents. Instead, go a site such as for all of that information. It’s free! 

And for my final two cents, most importantly, even though it doesn’t have to cost you anything to write a book (and if done correctly, won’t cost you much of anything to get it published), do not quit your day job. Do you hear me? If you cannot afford to do so, never, ever quit your boring tech job (that’s just my opinion—many people find tech jobs fascinating and rightly so; please send letters of complaint to the Web site editor) in order to write full time, assuming you will be published within the year and making millions in royalties. Even published authors often have to write several books to support their writing full time. Now, if you have a rich uncle who has left you his estate, by all means, quit your boring administration job (again, send those complaint letters!) and set up shop on the beach with your laptop and let the creative juices flow. 

So remember that writing doesn’t cost a thing...but paying for the gas that gets you to your first book signing? That will be $64.27.

Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at

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