Invest in yourself

The cost and value of developing as a writer

Your daily Starbucks fix: it’s today’s point of comparison for all things reasonably considered “small change.” But did you realize that the bill for a daily cup of joe in the United States—that’s something like $4 a day—adds up to almost $1,500 a year?

Somehow, that doesn’t sound like small change anymore. Coffee on this scale can be a pretty big deal. In fact, I read that millennials are now spending more money per year on coffee than they’re putting into their retirement plans—and that was in 2017!

If you’ve been plotting out an editing budget for your novel, you may now be wondering if you’ve been sipping away your edit. It’s plausible. If you tucked your daily coffee money into your piggy bank, you’d have enough money for a professional critique for your novel. Who’d-a thunk it?

The value of creativity

But I’m not here to lecture you on how to bleed your caffeinated veins dry to afford professional editing. What I hope you’ll consider instead is how much your creativity is actually worth. In light of all the little pleasures and hobbies that people indulge in that make life worth living, where does your writing fall?

A lot of writers go into this whole publishing thing with the idea that they need to or ought to recoup the costs they incur in bringing their books to publication. That would be nice, of course, and the opportunity certainly exists. But what if you don’t? Does that invalidate your right to write?

I’m gobsmacked by the number of writers who don’t give their writing the same respect they give their spouse’s long-distance running hobby or their children’s hockey or piano lessons or their neighbor’s knitting and spinning hobby. All those endeavors require a certain investment to reach an enjoyable return. Somebody thought these things were worth spending money on. Why shouldn’t your writing be, too?

The price of pursuing a passion

Consider what you might spend editing one novel per year in light of what you might spend if you were into, say, road bikes or knitting or piano lessons.

Since the things people enjoy vary so widely, a statistically meaningful figure would take some crazy-big data crunching. Instead, I did some poking around on the web for random things that interested me, and I pulled some examples from my own family, and then I asked my friends what they spend.

What’s the cost of making your heart sing? Here are the decidedly unscientific and idiosyncratic answers.

  • Skating classes for a mother plus her competitive/testing child: $8,400 ($700/month)
  • Gym membership and personal trainer: $5,700 ($475/month)
  • Routine pet care: $1,200-$3,000
  • Three horses, seven dogs, and one cat: $5,500
  • Reading: $500
  • Piano lessons from a conservatory-level instructor: $3,000
  • Girls’ ice hockey: $48,850 (say whaaat?)
  • Getting started playing golf: $500-$2,500
  • Fountain pens and stationary: $400-$500
  • Yarn, fiber, spinning wheels, looms, other equipment, workshops, classes, retreats (including transportation and lodging): $3,000-$5,000
  • The daily Starbucks: $1,092
  • Beginning coffee aficionado (coffee roaster, beans, brewing equipment including chemex, espro, hario, scales, kettles): $1,200 so far this year
  • Running: $1,200
  • Unlimited exercise classes at Pure Barre: $2,748
  • Learn to fly a light-sport aircraft: $3,000
  • Seven trips, including Mexico five times, Kauai, and road trip: $10,000

Consider editing costs

Professional editing is notoriously one of the highest costs associated with publishing a novel. A full developmental edit from me or a colleague could mean $3,500 or more for a typical 80,000-word novel. You’ll find plenty of editors who charge more than this and many who charge less. These things vary.

But pause a moment to compare these editing costs against what so many other people spend on their own hobbies. You might just find you owe yourself some editing. Stat.

Your bottom line

None of the friends I chatted with for this article felt more than superficially abashed about the amount of money they spend every year on their personal interests. Lessons, equipment, licenses, travel—it’s all part of the process.

So why do so many authors feel so darn guilty about spending money on writing workshops or craft books? Or editing? Where’s the rule that says novelists have to accelerate from zero to pro with no professional guidance—and at no cost?

There is a bottom line to this equation, but it’s not financial. Is a professional edit still worth it even if your book never gets picked up by an agent or sells more than a hundred copies on Amazon? The answer may be less about money than it is about your writing goals. If the process of writing and editing has lifted your skill to a new level and ignited your creative jets, I’d say you made a worthy investment in yourself.

Congratulations. You’re an author.

Lisa Poisso, Editor and Book Coach

Understanding how stories work changes everything. I’ll show you how to back up your creative instincts so your ideas hit home. It’s time to accelerate your journey from aspiring writer to emerging author. 

Ready to get serious about your book? Apply to work with me.

Scroll to Top