5 Reasons Why You Need an Author Budget

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An author budget can solve so many problems for you and your book.

I’ve seen many people in online forums stressing out about their novel because they didn’t have the funds necessary to share it with the world. It’ll save you and your health some struggles down the line too.

According to the Canadian Government, “48 percent of Canadians say they’ve lost sleep because of financial worries.” From the research I did, it looks like this is a common factor that detracts from our mental health and overall well-being.

So why are author budgets not talked about more widely in indie and publishing communities alike? Well, the industry likes to keep things hush-hush for one reason, and the second, no one really teaches you how to budget.

It sucks. It’s also why I wanted to talk to you about tracking your expenses and creating a budget. Let’s get to it!

What is an Author Budget?

Budgets conjure up the image of spreadsheets, numbers, and things that we wish we had more of and are striving to create with our jobs and books. They’re another chore that needs to be done and a necessary evil. In short, they’re boring.

But what makes an author budget so unique? Here’s the definition to answer that very question:

Author Budget: a budget that accounts for special items an author may need to track to build a successful and profitable platform to market their books and merchandise from. It includes earnings from books, courses, figurines, etc., as well as the necessary expenses to produce those things.

Your author budget is not limited to just your author-related expenses, though. It also includes other costs such as food, entertainment, rent, transportation, etc., to give you a well-rounded view of what state your finances are in.

If we’re honest, most of us are working a day job while pursuing the dream of publication. We also have friends and family that have birthdays and want to hang out with you. You also want to have fun and travel, etc.

And all of that costs money, which may mean your book budget will be tight. This author budget will show you what you’re making and how it will affect your publishing dreams.

5 Excellent Reasons Why You Need an Author Budget

Budgets aren’t all about penny-pinching, paying off debt, and saving for rainy days (though that is a crucial aspect). That is why I am here to give you a few fundamental reasons as to why you will want to budget your way to success:

  • It lets you see where your money is going. Putting everything down on paper lets you clearly see the state of your finances. From there, you can make adjustments to save your money or bolster areas that need more.
  • You must spend money to make money. Any business has to spend money to make more, and authors aren’t exempt.
  • You can see your break-even point. Knowing how much money you need to recoup before you can start making a profit is a great motivator. It gives you a goal to strive for and can help position you for success later on.
  • It makes the book production process smoother. You know how much money you have available, what you need to spend, and what you need to bring in to recoup your investment. Then you can take that money and apply it to a new book to exponentially increase your results.
  • It helps you prepare for emergencies and avoid spending money you don’t have. Things like credit cards make it easy to spend more than what we have in our bank accounts, but seeing everything in black and white puts that money into perspective. Additionally, because you know what you have, you can always set aside money for emergencies. That way, if anything goes wrong, you can handle it.

As wonderful as these things are, there are some reasons why budgets don’t work. However, I believe that the benefits of creating an author budget outweigh the bad.

What is the Industry Standard for Self-Published Books

According to a joint study between NetGalley and IBPA, 11 percent of respondents spent less than $1,000 on their books, while most spent between $1,000 to $6,000 on their books in 2019. Within that upper bracket, 28 percent of responses fell between $1,000 and $3,000.

And here’s what those breakdowns look like:

(Thanks to Netgalley and IBPA for the images.)

As you can see, editing and marketing take large chunks out of your budget for your novel. And honestly, that makes a lot of sense.

Readers want to read books that meet traditional publishing standards. They want books that are error-free and read well. On the other hand, authors need to get their book into readers’ hands, and they need to spend money to do so.

Of course, this all has to do with how you measure success as well. So you may spend extra money in different areas depending on what you value or think is important.

And I think this is why it’s hard to pin down author budgets across the industry because so much personal opinion goes into creating a book.

A Note on Traditional Publishing and Author Budgets

You will still want to track your finances when it comes to traditionally publishing your novel. Here are some costs that you may incur while pursuing a traditional contract:

  • Some publishers charge reading fees. Many publishers don’t, so whether you chase one who does is up to you and may not be worth it. Also, be careful if they are charging fees for publishing your book. They might be a vanity press or a scam. Always do your research before submitting to them or signing a contract.
  • Postage fees. You may need to send your manuscript through the post rather than online (this is rare), and you need to track that expense. It can add up quickly.
  • You may want to invest in professional editing before querying your manuscript. This step isn’t necessary because the publisher looks after this for you. However, if you want to control the editing process and present a clean manuscript, it is optional.
  • You will need a marketing plan. Traditional publishers are not solely responsible for marketing your book, and you will need to help them. That means you should have a website and social media presence and plan on spending some money on advertising and marketing.

Please be aware that legitimate traditional publishing companies do not require you to pay for editing, formatting, design, distribution, etc. If they do, please be wary of the publisher. They may be running a scam, and it could cost you thousands of dollars to publish your book.

Additional Resources

If you want to learn more about what to include in your author budget from someone who has had success with it, you may want to check out the following articles:

Please also note that you can produce a book for relatively cheap (read under $1,000), but you might have to do a lot of the work yourself. Additionally, figuring out yourself might mean taking some classes to help you do that, which again could cost you money.

The other thing that you’ll want to consider is if you do hire someone, you may not be working with the top people in the industry — they cost a lot. I’d try working with freelancers on job sites like UpWork.

Free Author Budget Downloads

To help you out with all of this, my husband and I created two cool resources to download in exchange for your email address. If you want to download them, you can do so here:

You may want to use this list of resources for further information about what different lines mean and what you can/cannot include in your budget:

The Budget Tracker

The first one is a budget tracker. It’ll look something like this:

Picture of my author budget template

It tracks all of your everyday and uncommon expenses, and we tried to modify it to suit a publishing writer. You’ll track your actual expenses in column one and what you’ve budgeted for in the next. The third column shows the difference between the two and if you’re making money or not. You can also add more lines depending on the number of books, courses, or other merchandise.

It’ll give you the totals for what you need to keep your “business” running and what you’re net income is.

Picture of my author budget template

The Self-Publishing Calculator

We also created a calculator to tell you how much it’ll cost you to self-publish your book. The editing costs that we used come from Reedsy. We also assumed that you’d be publishing your books on Amazon, so their standard royalty rates apply.

The first part helps determine how much it will cost you to edit, design, and market your book based on how much you’ve written. This portion looks a bit like this:

Self-publishing calculator for an author budget

In the end, it spits out the total amount of money that you will spend to get that one novel ready for publication. The second half of the calculator lets you figure out how many books and at what price to make back your initial investment. We’ve done a calculation for both print and ebook formats:

Self-publishing calculator for an author budget

The final line will tell if you’ve made back your investment or if you need to fiddle with the numbers some more to turn a profit.

If You Are Struggling Financially

If you are struggling financially at this time, please do not hesitate to look for relief funds or emergency grants for writers. There are many opportunities out there, and there’s no shame in asking for help.

If you don’t want to apply for a grant or don’t think you’re eligible for one, you can always submit your poems and short stories to literary magazines and publishers. Many of them do not charge submission fees and pay their writers.

You will have to do some digging to find those opportunities, though, and you will have to have something ready for publication. But please know that this is an option available to you.

I’ve started using an author budget this year to help me track my expenses, and it’s been a fantastic new tool for me to use. It shows me everything that I need to know to scale my website and online presence and shows me where I can cut costs. I wanted to write this article to give you one more tool to help you also achieve your desired success.

Between the author success plan and the budget, you’re giving yourself a solid foundation to stand upon and build your books into a full-on business. I hope my tools help you organize your life and finances and that the emergency grants help you through any tough time you may face.

If you have any issues or questions about the resources I’ve created, please leave a comment below or send me an email. If it’s something technical about deductibles or travel expenses, please direct yourself to a professional accountant. They’re the experts here, not me.

Do you use an author budget to track your expenses? If you do, is it worth the effort? Are you thinking about using one in the future?

You can sign up for my newsletter and grab your free author budget template and self-publishing calculator here:

Stay safe, everyone.

Until next time.



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


20 Responses

      1. Yeah, it was kind of surprising. I knew the .org plan was WAY more expensive than the .com plan 💸, but it comes with a lot of security measures that I wanted. I wanted to know my site was protected.

      2. That’s completely fair! I don’t blame you for wanting to invest in the security. 😊 How do you like the .org set up? I’m thinking about going that route for the Sunshine Review.

      3. I still don’t know what WP Forms are🤪, but it is pretty easy to use to make your posts, and I was able to learn how to create menus with sub-items.
        One real important thing is, what theme you use. Different themes make it easier to format your material and build the pages’ interface the way you want it. I had to find a free one that I liked.

  1. Excellent tips, Danielle. Here’s a budget-friendly idea: Have you thought about getting some of your writing narrated? I’m currently offering free services on select projects. Be sure to check out my site (dariusmarley.wordpress.com/recentprojects) to hear what I sound like. Any questions, just ask!

    1. I have been wishing for a long time that I could get some short, promotional animations for my writing. The idea of having them narrated is new, but still presents possibilities. I have listened to some of the Honor Harrington series audio book material on youtube, and enjoyed it.
      I’m on a tight budget, despite improvements in my job situation.
      My primary story – Jagged Coast – is a Fantasy-adventure featuring a group of strong female characters. The early version is on my site. Although I can’t afford any professional services right now, I’m curious: if you were going to narrate the first 10 pages, how would you do it?

      1. Perhaps we can help each other! I would be happy to narrate up to 2500 words from one of your stories at no charge, and you could use it for whatever you like with no strings attached as long as I can use the recording for self-promotion. Check out my site for contact info. Cheers

      2. Sorry, I haven’t forgotten the idea. My job situation has just been going through some major changes the past couple weeks.

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