Buying Better Writing

So I got roped into teaching a webinar next week on “the ten elements of a saleable novel today” over at Writer’s Digest. http://www.writersdigestshop.com/10-elements-of-a-salable-novel-today?lid=wdcsblog


WD had the topic all ready to go, but they needed to replace the teacher, so I’m filling in at the last minute. This will be my first ever webinar, so I’m excited and a little nervous. Creating a PowerPoint presentation for it might not, um, utilize my, um, best talents. Also, I can talk for a long while, but whenever I prepare for a conference, there’s the comfort of knowing that if I time a session terribly, I can ALWAYS fill time with questions from the audience. This has a more structured time breakdown. That means I’ll be sitting on my couch this weekend talking to myself while holding a stopwatch.


Regardless, the point of today’s entry is that I know there’s a charge for this class, and it isn’t cheap. I’ve always been aware that conferences are pricey, but that never really settles in because there are so many attendees and also so many participants. Now people are paying to learn from me and just me, so I’m extra concerned about folks getting their money’s worth. So I’ll be dusting off my best material and worrying about letting people down which I hope ultimately means I’ll deliver a great class (I’ll know next week!).


In the meantime, as I pondered this over the weekend, I was really left wondering how much money aspiring writers have had to lay out for their craft. I imagine it’s cheaper than acting (fewer headshots and diction classes), but there are so many workshops and classes and conferences out there that even from the other side of the table it looks a bit overwhelming.


So my questions for all of you: how much have you spent trying to make it as a writer? What was worth it? What wasn’t? And who wants to come give me a PowerPoint tutorial before next Thursday?

19 Responses to Buying Better Writing

  1. Tracy Clark says:

    Honestly, if I add up the past four years, It’s easily about ten grand. Though, some of that has been offset by grants from SCBWI and my state’s Arts Council. I consider every penny an investment in my future just like my time is an investment. All said, it’s cheaper than four years of college! Time will tell if I see returns. :)

    Good luck with the webinar!

  2. emily says:

    Good luck!

    PPT can be tricky — it is detailed and you can spend hours getting it to suit your personal wishes.

    My suggestion:

    FIRST open the program and take a look at the installed templates under the DESIGN tab. Choose one of those, make a note of the NAME by hovering over the thumbnail until the name shows up in a floating Tool Tip. Write down the name or even print out the blank slide so you will recognize it again when your ready to play for rea. Once you are playing for real, stay with your design choice and don’t start making design changes (otherwise you will miss your deadline, make yourself crazy and be up all night long).

    NEXT close the program to wipe out any code that you may have started running while you were poking around.

    -compose your entire content in an outline form in WORD,
    -print the outline so you can review it and do any needed edits;
    -then open PPT;
    –on the HOME tab click the NEW SLIDE option, scroll down to the “Slides from outline…” option, locate your WORD outline and click on it to open.
    -then use the OUTLINER view [left navagation pane] and go through your outline until you have the information you want displayed on each slide;

    NOW go back to the design option YOU like and choose the design you want applied to the entire show.

    On some other date, mess around with all the bells and whistles when you are not operating in a new functional area and working under deadline.


    I love the online learning experience and have paid MediaBistro about $2000 for training in digital journalism [got the certificate] and social media.

    WD, is, of course, the bible! :)

  3. emily says:

    — typo — ‘…ready to play for REAL…”

  4. I’ve been writing for a little while but for the past year and half or so have taken steps to improve and take steps toward publication. There are a lot of free things I did – joined a local writer’s group at a library, checked out writing books from the library, subscribed to free newsletters from WD, PW, blogs etc.

    But the most improvement I’ve experienced has been from joining national organizations (SCBWI & RWA) and attending a local conference. Yes, it costs money to join, but it immediately connected me with writers who are also willing to front some cash because they are serious about their writing, and serious about writing for publication. If I only wanted to practice poetry and creative writing for my own fulfillment, I would have kept on with the library group. They were a well educated, wonderful group of people. But none of them wrote Young Adult and most did not want to pursue publication other than writing magazine articles or self publishing some work. I’m grateful for the experience with them, but I knew I wanted to move to the next level.

  5. Tamara says:

    To answer your questions: 1) A LOT and 2) definitely worth it.

    But I wanted to mention something else. I know some writers who want to succeed but who do not invest money in what they’re trying to do. It’s a symptom of something larger ~ them selling themselves short and not taking themselves seriously as a writer. It’s easy when you have a family to say, “No. These needs are selfish.” I respect that, but if putting yourself out there is your goal, not just writing for yourself, you are going to have to sometimes be a little selfish, and that includes spending some money on it. It’s a delicate balancing act.

    And I would say that writers who don’t have the money to spend don’t usually get as far, whether their time is taken by work and family or they just don’t take the workshops or attend conferences or build that good solid website. Or it takes them longer. A harsh reality.

    • Veny says:

      Emily’s tips above are spot on! A few personal thoughts then, in case these are of any use:

      For ease of use and to make sure I’m not endlessly messing around with design options, I simply use the default Office Theme for my slides, then change fonts etc after I’ve got a rough idea of how much info I have on each page. For beginners, simplest is always best – and I have to admit I always stick to simplest now, even though I’ve been using PPT every week (if not day) for a couple of years now.

      As Emily suggests, do up a Word doc and neatly paragraph (or number or use dot points) all the info you’re thinking of giving. Remember that the slides themselves should contain just a neat summary of the points/issues you’re talking around. Big slabs of info/verbage doesn’t really work.

      So then you can simply cut and paste info from the Word doc into each successive slide (keep clicking the New Slide tab) in your draft PPT presentation until you have a pretty rough outline of what you want to say.

      I see that your webinar will run 90 mins so you’ll need to strike a happy balance between all the info you want to give and not using far too many slides. Only you will be able to determine what’s manageable, but at the university where I give most of my lectures, they also run about 90 mins. For these I would use perhaps 15-25 slides, the majority featuring not much more than skeleton text that I speak around.

      PPT has a lovely and very easy facility that allows you to insert diagrams, pictures, video or music into your slides.

      Assuming you don’t want to use video or music, pictures (i.e. graphics) can make a PPT presentation a lot more interesting. For example, in a lecture I give on character/plot, I do up something like a graphic of the Gone With the Wind poster featuring Rhett kissing Scarlet, then go on to a cut n’ paste poster I’ve made up alternating Megan Fox kissing Rhett or Scarlet kissing Bruce Willis i.e. a graphic example of how character affects plot.

      So if you wanted to do something simple like, say, inserting a cover or covers of novels you might be using as illustrative of the points you’re making (or pics of writers or something), you only need to click on New Slide under the Home tab and the blank slide should appear with some little icons in the centre that act as prompts for inserting material from one of your own files (picture, vid etc etc).

      Also remember that each new slide itself needn’t conform to what the form of the slide preceding it has been. If you click Layout, then you get options for some preformatted styles. I do tend to stick to Blank or something simple like Heading + Text as my option, then fill in titles, subtitles and info myself. But there are a hundred easier ways really.

      Things like transitions etc I’d steer clear of unless you’ve quickly become a PPT zen master. No one really cares about the prettifying aspects of presentations other than the folk doing them.

      The main thing, once you’ve actually created your show, is to become confident with the controls that you will use to step through the presentation. These are simple, of course. Left and right arrows on your kbd, or Page Up and Page Down. You practice this the same way you will run the presentation “Live” – by selecting the Slide Show tab and then clicking From The Beginning. Then you step through and see how it’s all looking, how long it takes, how you feel stepping through etc.

      All of those controls are obvious, but the one that few people seem to know about is how to send the PPT screen to black, or white, when you are speaking a lot and don’t want the same dull slide sitting there in the background for five or ten minutes.

      For this, just press your kbd’s B button to go to Black, and press it again to come back. If you want the screen to go to a less funereal White option, you simply do the same with the W key. I’m always amazed when I give presentations to colleagues that they come up to me afterwards and are less inclined to ask about content and more inclined to say “How did you get that white screen to come up?”

      And of course the ESC key gets you out.

      Finally, for anyone interested in PPT, I’ve discovered an incredibly easy IPAD2 program that takes PPT presentations and allows you to flick through them on your touch screen (or plugged into a monitor/larger screen etc if you know how to handle the connections…) Its called Slideshark and is mercifully cheap.

      A couple of weeks ago Penguin asked me, at short notice (one day), to come in and “chat” with their sales team about what sorts of hot button selling points they could use when they start to sell-in my latest book to booksellers around the country. I thought a chat would be useless as no one would remember a thing, so in less than an hour I knocked up a PPT presentation that went through as much as I could think of, and using Google Image searches for images rather than text, given that people tend to find it easier to remember pictures.

      Then, using Slideshark from the apps store, on an IPAD2, I uploaded the PPT presentation and in just a couple of minutes learned how to scroll through etc on the touch screen. I turned up with my Ipad and a cake, they gave me coffee in their boardroom, and afterwards the lovely Penguin team said I’d given them the best sales presentation they’d ever had. They asked for copies of the slides, and they then emailed them to every sales rep in the country.

      So this stuff is pretty easy to use really (I am a total dummy). If you take care with the balance of info on each slide to what you want to say, you’ll do great Jim. And I’m sure it will be worth ten times what they’re charging! BTW – Youtube has plenty of short How To vids, and these are terrific for a quick learning experience.

      Just ask me if there’s anything else you want to know!

  6. amanda robinson says:

    My degree is in creative writing, and interestingly enough, I’m finding that this particular degree can be a bit off putting when writing genre fiction. So short answer… I spent about $25000 on my righting career, though in fairness, I’ve used my degree more for other things.

    I’ve spent only $35 dollars in attending conferences- again, though, in fairness, I’ve only attended one, so far.

    In my life, I’ve had a lot of “dream jobs.” I was a bartender, liquor sales person, wedding planner, to hit the high points. Just like being a writer, lots of people say they want to be one of these things and spend a lot of money to try to break in. The thing is, no matter how much money you spend, you still have to a) practice, b) take criticism VERY well, and c)have an actual talent for it.

    THis is not to say that conferences and tutorials and the like have no value. I know they have huge value. Without knowing what good writing is, one can practice till their face turns blue and still be unsuccessful. And the networking at conferences, from what I understand, cannot be beat. I just say this because I’ve seen a lot of people waste thousands of dollars on a “bartending degree” who don’t know how to tend bar. Just do your research before shelling out cash! :)

    • Simone says:

      Same here, about $25K on a creative writing degree, which I am still paying off. It was worth every penny, in my experience. I have not attended conferences or workshops, and my books on writing have all been gifts!

  7. Tricia says:

    Do the cost of babysitting and hotel rooms count?

    My husband and I write together, so for every event we have to times just about everything by two. I’d say over the years we’ve paid close to $20,000 to get wonderful feed-back and try to make the personal connections (we came really close once and had a manuscript “under consideration” when the editor left the publishing house and there went all our hard work).

    But you also have to consider that our adorable, wonderful, funny awesome son, who is 5, is high-functioning autistic. The cost for someone to stay with him for a day is pretty high. We used to go to the 2 day conventions staying overnight, but when little man came along that all ended. Now, we are sticking to our local writer’s group that meets once a month and just paying the $15 per hour for us to be out of the house. Usually, the group meets for 3-4 hours. Doing the math is just not fun. We try hard not to think about it.

    • Katie says:


      I really hope your hard work pays off soon. There is no better celebration than one long awaited – makes all the investment of baby sitters and time otherwise spent on actual dates worth it. This is from a mother of two kiddos, 3 and almost 1.

      • Tricia says:

        Thanks, Katie. Your reply meant a lot to me. I wish we had more time to devote to writing…but, little people first, foremost and always. I think that is one of the reasons we write MG and YA books instead of something else.

  8. Amy says:

    I just registered!

    Coming into the comments made me feel better. I’m not sure how much money I’ve spent.

    I went through the University of WA Extension program for creative writing. That was awesome and I attended the teacher’s summer workshop for three years. Probably about $2,000 total. I don’t regret that at all. It was worth more $$, I’m sure.

    The other stuff? When I first started writing I sent a manuscript to a content editor who turned out to be a bit more pretentious then what I would normally look for in an editor. I learned that workshopping is better and cheaper. I’ve done the auction Brenda runs a few times. I took an online course I don’t even remember. That all probably amounts to another $1500.

    I have some self-published books. I found a great copy-editor who is reasonable and used stock art. Probably another $1,000 – but I’ve made more than that, so, yippee!

    Never been to a writer’s conference. Looked at Willamette or PNW and it’s too expensive right now.

    This course looks interesting though, I’m looking forward to it.

  9. Kim says:

    You have received above lots of good advice on PowerPoint. I can only add:

    1. No more than 9 lines per slide.

    2. Use and follow the templates. They are your best friend.

    3. Avoid animation (unless you want to be brave and try a simple strategy of getting each line to appear one at a time:go to “Animations,” click on each line and look at the top and click on how you want it to enter; e.g., fly in). Each line will then only show when you click it. Note of caution: Adding animation is addictive and done incorrectly will only lead to mockery.

    4. Avoid reading the slides at all cost.

    And to answer your first question: $1,000-$1,500 a year.

  10. Julia Pierce says:

    Here I come to play devil’s advocate…

    Frankly, I’m seeing these figures and gagging. $2,000? $20,000?? Even if I had the inclination to spend so much, I never could. No money trees around here, and I have a family to feed.

    While I don’t doubt that conferences and workshops have a ton of value, I also think that you can go a long way with the free resources out there, and a lot of practice. I know my writing has improved (even though I undoubtedly have a long way to go), and I have never spent money on the above things. I’ve purchased two writing books, both used. So, I’ve spent maybe… $20 total?

    I found some of the comments above slightly offensive. Not shelling out money does NOT mean that I’m somehow less serious about my writing! That’s an arrogant perspective(sorry, but that just shocked me!) And I certainly don’t think it means that I won’t one day be successful. I mean, I work my butt off. I absorb information like a sponge, and I set goals for myself to move forward. I am a member of a critique group. I troll the internet. I read. I WRITE. If you could buy the ability to write a book, everyone with money would do it.

    No amount of money can replace hard work and an open mind.

    Jim- I bet your presentation will be amazing! I’m sure everyone will learn so much. But I’ll just have to get the info another way (for now). Best of luck!!

  11. Tamara says:

    (I apologize that it came across as arrogant. It was not meant to be, rather an observation about how we sell ourselves short. My apologies!)

  12. Julia Pierce says:

    I understand, however I think again it’s a generalization. I don’t think I sell myself short. My writing is very important to me, and I put my heart and soul into it. I think that comes right back to the argument that not spending money = not being serious. Not at all.

    Maybe some people might not be confident and that is the reason that they don’t participate in these things,but I would bet it’s not the main reason.

    Love the discussion though!

  13. la marina says:

    agree on your points about the basics of wealth building. Being frugal is good,and we will obviously see the benefits of saving in the small picture analysis.

  14. Pam McInnes says:

    I don’t know how much I’ve spent. I’ve taken part in a few workshops, had joined the local branch of the Canadian Writer’s Association for a couple years, printed out a few manuscripts for friends to read, but mostly my career has cost me time.

    Time to write and rewrite and then write some more, even before a manuscript saw the light of day.

    The most money I ever made was when I did freelance for the business community for five years, but that almost cost me my sanity! Man, that was boring LOL

  15. RamseyH says:

    I think for me the cost is not so much what I’ve spent as the earnings I’ve missed out on. I chose to go part-time at my job to pursue my writing, so that’s quite a bit of salary missed. And there’s also the opportunity cost of time spent writing.

    I’m on the conservative side of laying out money ahead of time, though. I haven’t attended a single conference, mostly because I think all the info and networking is easily found online, and I don’t think I’ve purchased any books on writing. I suppose you can count the cost of my laptop, printer ink, and paper.

    I did spent $200 to commission some artwork for my blog, since I felt like an appropriate, professional setup was necessary for anyone considering my work. I also wanted to build up a bit of a web presence ahead of time.

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