Write Tip: Top 10 Practical, Everyday Money Saving Tips For (Starving) Writers

Okay, who am I kidding, the average writer’s budget is mostly provided by a day job. But let’s say, for whatever reason, you need to cut costs, like me. Who doesn’t have a limited budget, right? And most of these have the added benefit of being better for the environment too. Here are some tricks I’ve learned which can really help cut down on expenses and save on sanity and stress:

1) Make Your Own Coffeehouse. I hear lots of writers talk about going to the cafe or coffeehouse to write. Although I suppose part of this is the jolt they get from being around people going about their day, but I’m sure another part of it is very much the coffee. Yet Starbucks and those places aren’t cheap. You can buy quality coffee (or beans should you have a grinder) and make coffee cheaper at home. Then fill the thermos and take it out on your patio or porch to write. If you have a breakfast nook, you could go there. I’ve even taken the laptop and my caffeine to the park in an early morning and let the dogs run around while I enjoyed the coolness and created. My point is you don’t have to go to the coffeehouse daily to get the effect you need to write. Instead, you could limit it to a few times a week and find other ways to stimulate a similar environment with less expense. You might even find you prefer the self-made route more anyway.

2) Print Double-Sided. Double-sided printing is fairly standard for printers these days. I don’t print everything I write but before I make a second pass, I like to print it out and make editing notes then go back and polish. For one, it’s harder to take in the whole page on a screen (you mostly can’t unless it’s small), and, for another, I spent hours on the computer writing, editing, marketing, and hanging out. My eyes need a break. I find that time away refreshes me and allows me to read differently with a new energy. But paper and ink cartridges are expensive and you can go through them fast, so double-sided printing is one way to at least save on paper. I also use cheaper, thinner paper for drafts as well to save, although one must take care to maintain your printer and be sure you don’t use paper that might wear it down.

3) Recycle Ink Cartridges. Speaking of ink cartridges, recycling them has come a long way. Now Office Depot, Office Max, Kinkos, and other stores like Cartridge World specialize in this and you can get new cartridges at half the cost by turning in the used ones in exchange for refilled ones. If you think it matters, save an original new cartridge to print anything you have to send out for business–manuscripts (rare these days), letters, contracts, etc.–and use the recycled ones for every day use. This is the majority of your printing and, believe me, over time you’ll save hundreds of dollars a year. Of course, printer companies make their fortune on cartridges, so beware they sometimes send software updates that disable the use of these cartridges. You have to be very careful which “upgrades” especially FIRMWARE that you install. But I have been doing this for two or three years and it’s really cut down my expenses.

4) Recycle Scratch Paper. Speaking of recycling, if you don’t print double-sided or you have stuff you printed one-sided that’s still in enough shape to run through the printer, consider using the back side and running it through again. Yes, I realize this can get confusing, especially if the stuff printed on the other side is a double-spaced manuscript page and you put a new manuscript on it. Easy fix: Make a pencil or pen ‘x’ on the old page before printing on it so you’ll know which. After all, this time it’ll be full an unusable so it won’t matter. You’ll use the non-x side until your done then put it in the recycling for the city. But you can get a lot of extra use these way for things you don’t need to send out. It’s like doubling the life of your paper, in a sense.

5) Library, Library, Library. Okay, we all love to read and do research. We’re writers, after all. But buying books gets expensive. Trust me, I’m an addict and really have to fight the urge. Libraries are often free and located in various places throughout the city. In fact, they often have free Wi-Fi too, so you can take your laptop along, do research, and refill your TBR pile all in one run. The environment doesn’t allow coffee, but it can help get that coffeehouse fix if you go at a busy time of day, too. As a bonus, by supporting the Library, you encourage the funders to recognize that people still value what it has to offer and you can build relationships with library staff which will benefit you later on.

6) Walk & Bike. Writer’s spend a lot of time sitting on our butts. And, if you dislike exercise, like me, you probably need an extra “kick in the butt” (so to speak) to force yourself to get physical. One great way to do it is to walk animals, but in lieu of that you can also walk or ride a bike to local places within a few miles of your house. Many cities have bike lanes or safe back routes to avoid heavy traffic and, thankfully, motorists in many places are more and more used to sharing the road with cyclists. There are also bike racks in a lot of places to lock up your bike. Ride to the library, ride to the park, ride to the grocery store if you just need a few things, or walk to any of these. You don’t have to ride or walk fast to get benefit. Yes, a certain pace increases the benefit, but just getting out and doing it can make a big difference that will ease the way toward steadier habits.

7) Antennas Work. It seems old-fashioned in the modern age, but I recently had to cut expenses and paying $35 for basic cable when I can get most of the same channels for free via an antenna seems ridiculous. Even more than that though, the digital signals are cleaner direct than run through the cable companies compressors and sent out over wires. That’s right. You can get the most amazingly clean tv signals you’ve ever seen with an old-fashioned antenna. And at a cost of $100-150 for a decent antenna and $50-100 for an amplifier if you live in a valley, like me, you save a lot of money in the long run. Be sure and remember that digital band is narrow. You need to take time to play with antenna placement to maximize. Literally millimeters can make the difference between getting 20 channels and 5. With digital, the signal is clear or absent. You don’t get those half-fuzzy channels like the old days, so it’s worth taking time to set it up right.

8 ) You Only Need One Phone. So why pay for two? Seriously. With unlimited plans and satellite signals, why not just cut back to a cell phone and forget the landline? Phone companies and cable companies offer discounts if you get phone with your DSL or cable internet, yes. But in the long run, how much do you really save once they take on all the fees? You pay monthly for unlimited long distance. Why pay for it twice? If you do your research and pick the right company, you can get a good deal even without a contract. Stuck on your phone number? Porting it over is usually free. I have the same home phone number I’ve had since 2000 when I moved to Saint Louis. I’ve ported it several times now and it’s great because wherever I go, even old friends who lost touch can find me. You can put your cell on the donotcall.gov list too, so don’t worry about those pesky sales calls. I’m still careful whom I give it to but it does save me a lot of money just have the one phone and it’s all I need.

9)  Hang Out At Home. Many writers are introverts. It’s common with creatives. But after spending so much time alone creating, we all need fellowship. It’s tempting to go out to restaurants, clubs, movie theatres, etc., but these days, all of those option have gotten expensive and the bills can add up fast. You can make your own fun, too by staying at home with friends to cook or barbecue, play board games, watch DVDs, listen to music and talk, dance, etc. In our fast-paced world, it’s often easy to forget the fun times we had as kids just playing games, chatting, etc. Unless you’re an RPG player, you might not bother at all anymore. Goodwill, Dollar Store, etc. all have board games cheap these days. Why not buy a few favorites and use them with friends to create your own hang out at much less expense? Unless you invite jerky friends, it’s a lot less hassle and often a lot more fun than a club. You can even buy cheaper booze elsewhere than across a bar, too.

10) Buy Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLS) aka Energy Saving Bulbs. Folks, they cost more in the short term, but these bulbs last for years. I have them in every socket in my house and I am paying less for utilities now than I was when I lived in a one bedroom apartment with no CFLs. When we switched, our utility bills dropped immediately. A few months later, we upgraded from the one bedroom to a two bedroom and our utility bills stayed the same. And I have moved several times with the same bulbs and have yet to have one burn out. These things make a huge difference in energy use without requiring you to sacrifice light levels. And some energy companies will even give you some free for the most used lamps in your house. It’s worth checking into. Try one or two if you don’t believe me, but trust me, this is a worthwhile investment that will provide savings for the long run.

Okay, those are 10 great money saving tips for everyday use. Yes, some of them are for more than just writers, but then writers, I know, are usually living on small budgets, so they’re especially appropriate for us. Maybe you know some others. We’d love to hear about them in comments. I hope you can use these to save money for more important things and still enjoy a productive, writing life. I know I do. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. A freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction and also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Top 10 Writer Lessons Learned From Cons & Appearances

Love it or hate it, for the modern author Conventions and Appearances come with the job. These can be a great deal of fun or  a great deal of stress or both. I’ve done 9 Cons since 2010, 5 since March 2012.  (You can check out my appearances here.) I’ve enjoyed them all for different reasons and yet some were better than others. Still, overall, the contact with fellow creatives and the public is a stimulant to creativity even if it drains time away from writing while I’m there. The biggest strain, of course, is budget. Cons are not cheap. But still, if you take the time to learn how to maximize them, there can be great benefits. Here are Ten Lessons I’ve learned from Cons and Appearances so far:

1) Selling Books Is Hard. A good signing/appearance tends to be around 12-13 books for me so far. As a new, relatively unknown author, it’s really hard to get people to try out your stuff. You do readings at which 4 attendees is a good turnout. You do bookstore appearances/signings and are happy if three people an hour actually stop to talk. At Cons, you do tons of panels and hand out info cards and are happy if people take them with any enthusiasm. In dealer’s rooms, if 5% of those who stop to look buy your book, you’ve done well. If you are a writer thinking selling the book is the easy part, think again. It’s hard. I don’t know how this compares with those whose publishers have thousands to spend promoting their books, but for micropress writers like me with promotion coming from my own time and money, selling books is hard.

2) Face-To-Face Matters. I realize many authors are socially awkward. We spend so much time alone by ourselves writing that social skills are not being developed. And many of us started out socially awkward in the first place. Thus, public appearances can be nerve-wracking and stressful. Still, nothing gets people’s interest like a face-to-face encounter. If you’re nice, funny, interesting, etc., people take notice. They realize you might be someone whose voice they’d like to spend time with listening. And this leads to sales and word of mouth. It’s a slow process, in my experience, but I’ve definitely seen it enough to know it’s true.

3) Most of Your Sales Come After Cons Online Or In Stores.  No matter how few or many books sell at a Con or appearance, I always know more a week or two later by looking at online sales and Author Central. Almost always we see numbers increase from people who met me or saw me at a distance and went to buy my books. I don’t know if this is because they don’t trust buying from you, worry about pressure sales if they approach or what. PayPal is secure, people. Whatever the reasons, I do see most sales coming from online or stores, even when I offer discounts through my website store, which I still can’t figure out.

4) Partnering With Dealers Has Advantages And Disadvantages. If you’re going to a Con, it’s always good to check out the dealers and see if you can find someone to either order copies of your book to sell or accept them from you on consignment. You will be expected to offer 25-40% of the price to the vendor, but I have still been able to sell books at a slight discount off retail when doing this. The bigger issues come from expectations. One, you should expect the vendor to display your books in a way that customers will see them, but not necessarily center stage and upstaging the vendor’s own wares. Two, pairing with a bookseller for books is better than pairing with another type of vendor. Vendors selling gadgets and toys will get customers who are easily distracted from books by their other wares. Clothing vendors have customers who aren’t looking for books. And so on. Booksellers are the best bet, but regardless of the vendor’s product, all of them expect you to get people to the table and come by to help sell your book. Working with booksellers makes this easier because they know how books sell, even those by unknown authors. Their expectations will therefore be appropriate. A toy vendor I worked with complained that I didn’t jump up and run out to pitch every customer who touched my book. My experience is that having a table between you is less intimidating than standing next to them on the sales side of the table and that being pushy is less effective than being casual and nice. Offer to answer questions, tell them a little about it, and even offer to sign it, yes, but being pushy is something to do at your own risk. Vendors don’t always understand because you are taking table space from their wares and sometimes the stuff they sell is sold well with a bit of push.

5) Plan Time To Be In The Dealer Room. If you have product for sale, it’s a really good idea to plan time to be at the dealer table greeting customers, signing, etc. Not just because of what I said in item 4 but because not everyone will see you at panels, readings, etc., and sometimes knowing the author is there makes buying a book more enticing. So check out the dealer room hours, compare it to your schedule for panels, etc., and plan some time. Remember: dealer rooms keep daytime hours. They will close at night, even when panels are still ongoing, so if you can, use the gaps during dealer room hours to be present and save your alone time, etc. at night for the much needed breaks. One good way to do this is to plan to bring carryout food to eat in the Dealer’s Room and eat behind the table so you can jump up and greet, etc. when customers stop by. Also, be sure and help sell the vendor’s other items, too. It shows a commitment to team and partnership that vendors will really appreciate.

6) Learn To Set Limits. Cons and appearances are tiring. You can only do so much. Overcommit at your own peril.I’d say 2-3 panels a day is a pretty good chunk, especially if you have readings and signings on top of that. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you wind up doing two morning panels and then two late a night, you will realize your day has gotten really long quick. Also, being on panels requires a lot of focus. You have to be cheerful and nice and smiling, and you also have to try and give intelligent output, which also requires energy. Plus, banter with fellow panelists is also important. I did 4 programming items a day at the last Con and after the first day felt like I’d done the whole Con already. I was so tired. And I still had another day and a half to go. Some have more energy than others. But this applies especially if you are staying at a cheaper off-site hotel and you don’t have a room to run back to for a nap or recharge. Big Cons, especially, have no quiet corners for that much needed Introvert recharge either. So you can find yourself stuck in crowded, noisy areas for whole days with no real breaks and it wears you out. Also, if you actually plan to attend panels, parties, etc., the more tired and overcommitted you are, the less able you will be to not only participate in those activities but enjoy them.

7) Preparation Saves Stress. Think up questions which you might ask on a panel or might be asked and practice answers. They won’t come out exactly the same way at the time, but at least you’ll have some coordinated, coherent thoughts already floating in your head to pull out and use. If you do get asked to moderate, you’ll have some idea how to approach it. With readings, you need to practice reading slow, at a good pace. If you can read with some character voice changes, it makes it far more interesting than reading with the Ben Stein-drone. At least know which passages you plan to read and how long it takes to read them. And have an idea what you’ll say to introduce the scenes and your book as well as yourself for panels and readings. Keep it short but don’t be afraid to highlight your credentials. And if you’re new, holding up a copy of a book or two is perfectly fine. It creates a visual memory for panel attendees who might later see it in the dealer room and consider buying it.

8 ) Spread Them Out. Doing a Con every weekend may sound fun in theory if you like Cons, but in practical fact, besides being expensive, it’s quite tiring and stressful. Sometimes it will be unavoidable. But most of the time, you can alternate Cons with local signings, readings, etc. in such a way to give yourself time to rest and recover in between. I also think you benefit from geographically spreading out appearances. I blocked out a number of driving distance cons this year and prioritized based on location, cost, guest list, expected attendance, etc. to determine which I should aim for and which I could skip or leave for “if I have time.” If you have books to promote, you can’t really show up last minute and expect to do signings, readings or panels. But if you’re well known or just going to network and participate as a fan, you can definitely just make last minute choices. I like to vary Cons in size a bit but generally Cons of large attendance numbers are easier to get lost and forgotten in than smaller Cons. You also have better chances to do panels at smaller cons, although there are exceptions.

9) Take Pictures.If you have publicists you work with, they will constantly nag you about this. My publicist friend does. If you don’t have that, you should remember and find people to take pictures for you. In every panel, if you get there before hand, you can find a fan who’d be willing to take a few pics. Remember, you get what you get. If you’re anal about pictures and how they’re framed, etc., it’s better to bring your personal photographer along. Otherwise, ask them to shoot several and hope you get something you can use. But pictures are helpful for blogs, PR, websites, and more, so having them is really helpful and if you’re by yourself, you want to be in them, so you’ll need help.

Here Dana, Michael and Doug demonstrate how tired we all feel, while Kelly and I fake alertness as we answer a question. Beware overcommitment–10 p.m. Panel Friday night, 12 hours after Dana, Michael & I started our day at a signing

10) Take Handouts. Have business cards, info postcards, book sell sheets, etc. and make use of the free literature tables scattered throughout Cons. Some have one, most have several. Put your stuff out and stop by from time to time to see if anyone’s taking them or to replenish the stack. Be sure and pick up extras before you leave, although I always leave a few behind for last minute people to take in case. Business cards will be helpful for fellow authors, editors, artists, etc. Postcards with book cover info, your website, a few blurbs, a small bio, etc. are good to hand to fans at panels, signings, etc. I use sell sheets at my book tables for people to take even if they don’t buy the book on the spot. Many people come back Sunday to make their purchases, browsing first to decide where they want their limited funds to go. So don’t miss the chance to give them something which might bump your book up on the list.

I’m sure I’ll do plenty more Cons and appearances this year and beyond, as my career is only just beginning (I hope). So there’ll be more lessons learned by this time next year, but for now, I hope these are helpful. Love to hear your thoughts and lessons learned in comments, too. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.


Write Tip: The Dichotomy Of Writing Life-Dealing With Criticism

Two of the most valuable skills one must cultivate as a writer are being hypersensitive to write passionate, powerful, emotion-filled prose, and having a thick skin to handle criticism. Ironically, these two skills are often diametrically opposed. How can you be thick skinned and sensitive at the same time? In truth, I don’t know anyone who can.

Criticism hurts, no matter who’s giving it or what it says. No one who puts themselves out there, especially artistically–pouring their emotions, thoughts, ideas, and heart into their work–enjoys it when people criticize that work. It’s just hard to hear. Some may claim to be immune, but being used to it and being immune are not the same thing. One can certainly learn to accept that criticism is often a daily, or at least weekly, part of the life of an artist, especially when work is newly released. But I don’t honestly know how one can ever totally get to the point where it doesn’t sting. After all, any serious artist, of whatever medium, works hard to do their best at what they do. From studying craft, learning tools, and experimenting to long hours conceptualizing and planning, serious art takes work.

Having my first novel out there for seven weeks, it’s been hard to hear that I didn’t do it perfectly. The human side of me, which knows all of us are imperfect and that I still have lots of room to grow as a writer (always will), knows that people will find fault with my work. But the artist side of me cringes and feels a jab in the heart region every time they do. Mostly I have learned to bite my tongue and just keep it to myself. Occasionally my publisher and I discuss it. It’s hard sometimes to keep your mouth shut when you feel the criticisms are unfair (which is not every time). I’ve made a mistake a time or two but, in every case, I made sure to learn anything I could to apply in future novels so I won’t have to hear the same criticisms again. My goal is to make them work hard to find faults. It may be difficult to reach that point, but that’s what I’m shooting for.

I think it was especially hard with the first novel because it was, for me, my legitimization as a serious professional writer. Not self-published, not a free zine, this was someone paying me an advance against earnings for something I wrote, spending money on editing, printing, cover art, etc. Serious professional writers were writing blurbs and reading it to do so. For me, this book sent a message: Bryan Thomas Schmidt is for real about being a professional writer. He’s a peer.

It’s hard to explain that feeling to someone who hasn’t gone through it or isn’t preparing to, but, in part, it’s a sense of not wanting to let anyone down. People have supported and helped and encouraged me, and I wanted those efforts to have been worthy of the work I put out in the world. Of course, even name writers like Stephen King and Orson Scott Card and Mike Resnick get bad reviews. We all get criticized but if my book is sharing the shelf space, I just want to feel like I belong there. Do you know what I mean? Shelf space in bookstores and on bookseller tables is in high demand and all the more so as stores like Borders go bankrupt. It’s a competition just to get your book on the shelves, so if I ask someone to carry my book, I want them to get some income to make it worth their while. If not, why should they ever support me again?

Also, publishing a book feels so permanent. This is something which may one day make it into collections or library shelves. People may hold on to it and pass it down to kids, grandkids, pass it to friends, etc. My name and my picture will forever be associated with it. So I want that association to be a good thing, not one I or anyone else regrets. No frowns. Smiles. That’s what I want when people think of Bryan Thomas Schmidt and fiction. And when they criticize it for faults, I feel like I failed in that.

It’s best, of course, to remember that opinions are subjective. What’s the old saying? “Opinions are like buttholes. Everyone has one.” That’s crass, yes, but it’s true. And the reality is not everyone is going to like your work. Taste is a huge factor. Some people just don’t get science fiction or fantasy. Some people won’t like anything without serious, hard researched science involved. Some people won’t like your book because the characters aren’t like them. Some won’t like it because you had a male antagonist and not a female. The list of reasons can go on eternally. But in the end, those are just opinions. Your target audience will rarely be “everyone.” There are always specifics. So if you aim to please those people and yourself, I think you can find satisfaction.

For example, I knew when it went out that my book wasn’t perfect. I knew that from the first agent query rejection and publisher rejection. Not everyone liked my book or thought it was perfect. Okay. But I knew that would never be the case. I could never please everyone. It’s that way with everything in life. Instead, I focused my attention on how to make the book the best it could possibly be right up until the final deadline. If I wrote The Worker Prince today, I’d do things differently. In many cases, I’d do things better. Writing book 2, The Returning, was so much easier for a reason: I learned craft in the past two years I didn’t have when I wrote book 1. Every book has lessons learned which you automatically apply to future works, so every book should be easier and better, in theory. So my goal was to release the best book I could at that point in my writer’s journey and to know I had to be satisfied that I did my best. It’s all I can ask of myself.

How do you be sensitive enough to write characters who come alive with emotion and touch readers and still have a thick skin for criticism? I don’t have the answer. The best advice I have is to focus on what you can change and let the rest go. If you can find tips to improve your writing in the criticisms, use it. If you can’t, let it go. If you can do that, you can’t ask much  more of yourself. Sorry if you were looking for easy answers. I don’t have them. But as long as you remember that writing is a journey and a process that  never ends and stay on the road of discovery, I think you can recognize you’re growing and so will your works and that makes it easier to accept the bad with the good in critics. At least, that’s my approach.

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.