The Wrong Ways to Spend Your Money
The following is a list of things I tried that either didn't work or were not cost effective. There are plenty of things that I haven't tried, but anything that requires a fair amount of money with no guarantee can go here too.
Printing and Shipping.
I spent hundreds of dollars each year printing copies of my screenplay and then novel and sending them to agents and publishers. Each copy cost around $12 to $15 to make, plus the shipping to get it there and the SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) to return it when they eventually would. So each package totaled close to $20 with the shipping, and I felt bad knowing I cost at least one large tree its life with all that wasted paper. Months later I'd invariably get my work returned with a note from the agency/publisher that read something like this;
Thank you for your interest in our agency/publishing house. We have reviewed your materials and determined that it doesn't meet the criteria of what we're presently looking for. We wish you the best of luck in your endeavors as we know how nearly impossible it is to get published. Hahahahaha.
Of course I've embellished on the ha-ha-ha part as they were always polite, but that's how it felt at the post office when I'd get those rejection letters that were probably mailed by the same twenty-year old intern that rejected my novel. (I'm clearly not bitter about it, am I?)
Print On Demand (POD) Publishing.
I went with Authorhouse. They were the biggest outfit and really sucked me in. I went with a fairly extensive package of bells and whistles, including the editing and some of the marketing services. I spent around $3,200 just to get my initial run of 100 books made. After that I could order more books for around $9/apiece for print runs of 200 copies or more. Knowing I could only sell my books for perhaps $15, I soon realized this was going to be an extremely difficult way to earn any real money. And coupled with the fact that I gave away so many free copies for reviews in the hope that new readers would generate more readers and someday orders, I sold far fewer than I needed to turn any profit.
The other bad thing about POD publishing, and this is the part that the companies don't tell you, is that large book stores don't buy POD books. They just don't. It's like an unwritten rule. If you get one of their buyers on the phone, they'll tell you it's because they can't get them at a 40% discount rate. Instead it's just 35%. But there's more to it than that. Large publishing houses spend big bucks on advertising, including location. Location is everything in books stores, and the big publishers pay to make sure that their books, and not those of POD or independent authors, will have the best shelf display and placements.
My advice is to stay away from POD unless you absolutely must have some print copies made. And if you do, do it for free (CreateSpace). We'll get to more on that in a later section.
I spent thousands of dollars on two different professional webdesigners. In each case they did their best to interpret my concept and come up with websites that worked for me. But ultimately the pages did little to advance my career and book sales, plus I could have created them myself for free. I just didn't know that back then. Had I known how easy it was to create my own websites for free… it would have saved me massive amounts of time, money and frustration.
It's easy to spend huge dollars on advertising whether it's radio, TV, magazines or newspapers. To get any kind of decent coverage, the amounts they'll demand will be outrageous and the results won't have any guarantee whatsoever. I ran a radio ad that broadcasted in my hometown and beyond for about $500 which aired a few times a day for three months. That resulted in a couple of sales. I also ran a small magazine ad for about $100 that I believe added up to zero sales. The simple fact of advertising this way is that it's grossly expensive and probably only makes sense with a book that is already successful and known.
Another of my horrible ideas was to send a free copy of my novel to bookstores across America. I figured someone there would read my book, realize how wonderful it was, start selling it and order more copies. So I researched bookstores across the states and mailed 150 copies at costs to me of $9 apiece plus a few dollars for shipping. I spent close to $2,000 on this half-baked idea. Did any of these book stores ever contact me for more books? Nope, not one. Did a bunch of copies show up for sale on Amazon for one penny? Yep, a huge number of them. The rest probably either got sold at a major discount or simply thrown away. It makes me sad to think how many of my books have been tossed in the garbage, and yet it was entirely my fault for not going about things smarter. In hindsight, if I had just called these bookstores and talked with the person in charge of purchases, I would have found out either to not send the book or how to have done so properly.
However, that being said, bookstores are still terrible places for new authors to sell books in amounts that really matter. They place your book deep in a shelf, spine out, and sell maybe a few copies every couple of months. Then you have to track them down with the invoice and get your check, an amount that you realize was barely even worth it. My advice (if you end up having physical books) is to stay away from bookstores until they order from you and pay up front.
This is one that I have mixed feelings about because you can make some really valuable contacts and have good experiences and get information from conferences, but you will spend loads of money along the way. I probably didn't say that with enough emphasis so let me repeat; you will spend LOADS of money at conferences. I've done four, and each time I not only paid for the conference but I paid for the travel and the hotel stay. Take all the costs into consideration: conference, products, hotel room, travel, parking, eating out, extras, baby sitters, etc. When it added up, I spent a minimum of $1,200 at the least expensive one and around $4,000 at the most. On average each conference, with all the total costs added up, ran close to $2,000.
(Side note; at this point you might be asking how I could afford this? I couldn't really. I was using up all the money I ever made as a house painting contractor, plus I took out a second mortgage on my house to borrow up to $100,000 so I could continue blowing it on bad marketing ideas. I naively used credit to market my book.)
Back to conferences. I say don't do them unless you have a darned good reason for being there and can do it on the cheap. It will help if you can stay at home or with friends in the area. You should also be extremely prepared to make the most of it, as in having your work polished like nobody's business and researching the top people that will be there and the workshops and how to do it to the fullest. Otherwise, save your money.
I've done plenty of other things that didn't pan out. I spent money on a part-time marketing person. She didn't do much except give me advice like where to advertise and which conferences to attend. She also told me to submit my book to Oprah. Great idea! I'll bet nobody's thought of that, and Oprah is just dying to have a suggestion for a new book. I also spent $800 on stickers and gave them away and stuck them to things wherever I went. That was kind of a cool idea but far too much money. I don't think it sold any books, but everyone likes stickers and I still give them to random kids that come over.
The point is, I spent money for four years and none of that worked. When I recently finished my second novel I vowed not to do anything that wasn't free. And so I didn't. I stuck to just doing free things, and the results have been remarkable. I'm selling more books now than I ever did before, and guess what it's costing? Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.
And now, I'd like to tell you all the absolutely 100% free things you can do that are also 100% guaranteed not to waste any money. And if you do them and do them well, you will sell books. It's up to you. Do you want to sell books on a budget that everyone can afford? I promise you this much; if you follow these tips you will only invest your time. It won't cost one penny. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.