12 Key Financial Tips for Self-Publishers
Being a self-publisher, like all entrepreneurial efforts, can lead to great rewards, but it also comes with a lot of risks. Especially when it comes to money.
Uncertain finances, fluctuating income, and tax complications are enough to make anyone nervous about becoming a self-publisher or taking on any entrepreneurial endeavor. But with these financial tips in mind, you can embark on the journey of becoming a self-publisher with confidence.
Tip 1 – Be Realistic
Let’s get one thing straight, writing and publishing one book will not make you rich. Which is why you shouldn’t neglect your other responsibilities trying to complete your project. The most successful self-publishers have to write numerous books before they are able to turn that revenue stream into their main source of income, if ever. Plan for this to be a long game before you can start to see any financial return.
Tip 2 – Treat This Like A Business
Whether you see it or not, when you’re on a quest to become a self-publisher, you’re also running your own business. Much of the same advice that applies to new business owners and startup founders will apply to you as well.
Your tax situation will be much more different than those working as employees at a full-time job. All your income from self-publishing will be 1099 or Schedule C. You also won’t have someone giving you a paycheck just for clocking in and out. You’ll simultaneously be your own employer and your company’s sole employee—responsible for securing income, setting goals, doing the work and paying expenses. It can be a lot, so be ready for it.
For more tips on how to manage your taxes as a self-published author, click here.
Tip 3 – Set Financial Goals
In order to best direct your energy as a self-publisher, you’ll need to determine what your financial goals are. This doesn’t call for you getting idealistic and dreaming of being a millionaire—it’s a very practical step to becoming a self-publisher.
First of all, figure out how much money you need to pay your bills. This number will probably be lower than the salary you’re currently making. The second thing you need to figure out is, “How much money do I need to make to pay my bills and have fun?” If you’re currently working a full-time job and want to branch out on your own as a self-publisher, this number will hopefully match your current salary more closely.
Later, you can answer the bigger question: “How much money do I need to make to live the dream?”
Tip 4 – Establish Savings
One of the most important pieces of advice for self-publishers just getting started –and any new business owners really– is to establish considerable savings accounts. They should do that before trying to rely on self-publishing as their sole source of income. If you have a full-time job, continue writing on the side while stashing money away into your savings account for use on a rainy day.
“While you are building your products or promoting your services, it’s likely you’ll have some dry spells where cash is tight,” says Ben Watson, founder of Fiscal Fluency. “This is an important time to have some cash available to make sure the lights stay on. Most experts recommend having six to twelve months of emergency cash saved up to float you while you pound the pavement. This is great advice, but remember that the lower your overhead, the longer the runway you have, so keep a close eye on unnecessary expenses.”
Rather than trying to determine what six to twelve months of emergency cash is, a better plan is to establish a “slush fund” of $5,000 to $10,000. That way you have money on hand to lend yourself during months where your income isn’t enough to fully pay off your expenses. In months where you do cover all your expenses, put them back into the slush fund (if you’ve had to lend yourself any money). This should help you keep financial stress at bay, so you can focus on what matters most: writing and self-publishing.
Tip 5 – Keep Your Insurance
Everyone gets sick from time to time, especially when they’re under stress. It might be tempting to view insurance as a luxury and go without it in order to cut costs. You might think it’s the best way to keep your overhead low while you get your self-publishing business off the ground. But you will end up in much worse financial shape if you get sick without it.
There’s a number of things you can do to make sure you’re covered:
- Look for private insurance plans that fit your budget—but make sure they will actually help you if you get sick. Some ultra-cheap insurance plans don’t offer any benefit unless you get catastrophically injured or ill. You deserve better than that.
- See if there are any other freelancers or small business owners in your network whose plan you could pay into. This might be cheaper than paying for your own solo plan.
- If you’re married, see if you can get on your spouse’s plan.
- Hire an insurance broker and see what kind of deals they can find for you. In many cases, they are paid by insurance providers, so there may be no extra cost for you to utilize them.
Tip 6 – Price Your Work Appropriately
Even if this is your first book ever, it’s worth more than you might think. Maybe it’s not worth $20. But it’s worth more than 99 cents. Common advice given to self-publishers is to make their book more appealing by selling it for less than $1. But your goal—your job— is not to offer a bargain. It’s to offer value.
Understand exactly what that value is and price your work accordingly. There are some ways to get a clearer picture of what your work brings to the table:
- Look at similar books on the topic you’re writing about.
- Take note of how much they cost.
- Read them to see how valuable the information is.
- Determine if there is anything you can add to the conversation your competition has already started.
You should have a clear understanding of where your work fits into the larger ecosystem. If you do, it will be easier for you to know what it’s offering and price it with confidence. For more advice on how to price your ebook, here are some Factors to Consider When Pricing Your Ebook.
Tip 7 – Market Your Work
You can’t just write something, publish it, and expect money to start pouring in. Yes, there might be some organic traction depending on the topic you’ve written about. But in general, you will have to go out there to advocate on your work’s behalf.
You can do this for free on social media, and holding in-person workshops or seminars about your topic. Generally speaking, you can do it by hitting the pavement and getting your name (or face) in front of people.
“Don’t spend more on book ads than you’re making on the book each month,” warns Stacy Caprio, Founder of Her.CEO. “If a book does not have any organic traction, you are unlikely to get any paid traction. Then it will end up being a waste of money to promote it. Focus on getting success from the groups you’re in your current audience, friends, and family. Then slowly build on that with paid ads if necessary and when you’re already seeing results.”
If you’re overwhelmed with how to promote your ebook on social media, this Checklist for Promoting Ebooks on Social Media in 2019 will come in handy.
Tip 8 – Become Self-Sufficient
“If you can complete a task on your own, do it,” says Tenesha L. Curtis, CEO of Volo Press Books. “This saves you the time of having to find and vet someone to do it for you. This also saves you the money you would have spent hiring someone. Tasks, like buying an ISBN, requesting a Library of Congress Control Number, or submitting a copyright application, are things that most people can do on their own (or maybe with the help of a YouTube video or two). Paying a third party to check these items off your publishing list for a project is unnecessary.”
Another way you could potentially make money on your own is by joining an affiliate marketing program. If you have a blog or another way to reach an audience, affiliate marketing can be a great way to earn an income working from home. If you’re looking to get started, Leads Market has an affiliate marketing program, and you can check out their website for more information.
Keeping Your Self-Publishing Business Going
Tip 9 – Learn to Ask For Help Or Delegate When You Need To
When you’re first starting out, you will probably have to do everything on your own—both because of financial limitations, and because you don’t yet know your own limits. However, once you’re off the ground and running, you will eventually come to the point where you’ll need outside expertise. Taking this next step will not only help you keep your sanity, but help you make more money as well. As the old adage goes, “You have to spend money to make money.”
Getting help can improve the quality of your work too. When asked what their biggest regret is, many well-known self-publishers cite their unwillingness to have their books professionally edited. This invariably allowed mistakes to slip through the cracks, which always got noticed by early readers and may have cost them future relationships with potential buyers.
Tip 10 – Track Your Expenses
Taxes for self-employed people like you are very, very important to pay attention to.
When you work for an employer, taxes are automatically deducted from your paychecks. You also have the opportunity to get some of that money back when you file your taxes in April. However, once you become fully self-employed, you may be dismayed to discover that not only do you not have any taxes deducted from your earnings but at the end of the year, you actually pay more in taxes than you did as an employee because your employer was paying half of your taxes.
This is called the self-employment tax, and it will definitely set you back financially if you’re not prepared for it when you file with the IRS.
The best way to minimize your self-employment taxes is to be aggressive with your tax-deductible business expenses. Keep track of every dollar you spend and what you do throughout your day.
Did you drive to a meeting related to your self-publishing work? That mileage is deductible. Did you buy coffee for someone you were interviewing? That’s another deductible business write-off. Do you have a home office? You can deduct the cost of that space as well.
All of these things can provide major tax savings, as long as they’re legitimate. Here’s a list of some of the best tax deductions for freelancers. However, it’s recommended that you work closely with an accountant to avoid making accidentally fraudulent write-offs and paying dearly in penalties if you get audited.
Tip 11 – Pay Your Quarterly Taxes
The IRS has some built-in structures to help self-employed people keep up to date on their tax payments and avoid a huge bill at the end of the year. In some cases, they require quarterly payments.
Every three months, you are supposed to carefully examine your income for that period and estimate how much you will be taxed for it. Pay the estimated amount to the government. That way you won’t have to come up with a huge sum of money all at once at the end of the year. You will have steadily been paying toward your tax bill all year.
Failing to do this could result in a huge tax bill in April. And depending on how much you owe, there could be additional penalties attached to this since you should have been paying toward it every quarter. It’s better to write out large checks to the IRS every quarter than to be forced to make a massive payment once a year. Some sources even advise that you dip into your slush fund to pay your quarterlies. Because falling into tax debt can be that serious.
Tip 12 – Be Aware of State and Local Taxes As Well
If you live in a state with income taxes, you will also be required to pay those taxes as well. The bill is always much lower than your federal taxes, but can still be considerable depending on how much money you make each year.
Some cities and municipalities also have their own local taxes. Los Angeles is an example of this, but there are ways to get out of it. Carefully read about any taxes you might be subjected to based on where you’re doing business. And of course, your accountant will be up to date on all of this information as well.
Having a solid financial plan is vital when it comes to embarking on your self-publishing journey. After all, this plan can potentially make or break your entire writing career. So don’t underestimate how essential it is to keep track of all your expenses. You should pay your taxes and ensure you make enough to support your lifestyle before you quit your full-time job.