DIYing My 1st Book Tour Could Have Been A Disaster. Instead, It Launched My Career.

What one writer & businesswoman spends to succeed

The author at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Courtesy of the author.

This will be the first installment in a series.

A little less than two years ago, Ester Bloom interviewed me about What it Costs to DIY A First Book Tour.

What It Costs to DIY A First Book Tour

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the beginning of a conversation I would continue with myself, as a self-employed author and writing instructor, for years to come. Whether I’m filing my year-end taxes, booking a flight for an author event, or creating a contract for a new client, I return to the topics Ester and I covered: When and why should creative entrepreneurs hire help? What does it cost, and how does it impact the bottom line?

In 2013, hiring a publicist, book tour manager, and executing my first book tour cost $12,000, but it also answered these questions for me. I learned that in order to give my first book from a small university press any legs, I had to carry the bulk of the financial risk. At the time, I grossed about $26,000 per year and had one ground rule: don’t go into debt.

A year after hiring help, I shared in my interview: “I haven’t earned back all of that $12K yet but, believe it or not, I’m over ⅓ of the way there and, within 5 years, I think I will have broken even …”

I broke even in just two years, and since June 2015 I have continued to travel by air or car once a month for paid speaking or teaching engagements related to my life as an author and my writings in Flashes of War. Looking ahead through 2016, I have events booked for the next four months, with two more options for fall in the works.

For a book that was initially rejected 44 times (before going on to win two awards), that’s not bad.

When Ester interviewed me, even I didn’t think the momentum from my DIY Book Tour would carry my career that far. I told her that in order to keep selling books at a decent pace, “I’ll need to win another award or learn how to levitate to keep the attention coming at Flashes of War. People read and forget, people recommend and move on; at the end of the day, no one is under any moral or financial obligation to buy your book.”

Flashes of War did win another award, and still, plenty of people have forgotten the book. But others haven’t forgotten. Flashes of War is being studied at Virginia Military Institute and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, among other schools, and has been included in lists for top reading on our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is now required reading in English Literature courses at the United States Air Force Academy, which I visited last fall for an honorarium of approximately $1500. I’m sharing that number because I don’t think enough self-employed artists are forthcoming about their earnings; silence breeds ignorance and perpetuates low-balling, among other things. Since no one seemed to teach us how to run our own businesses in the first place, we have to teach each other. Here is a sampling of other amounts I have received:

  • an $800 honorarium to read for 20 minutes;
  • a $500 honorarium for a Q&A at a public library;
  • an $1100 grant to cover expenses for an annual writers’ conference;
  • $650 to talk about flash fiction for 90 minutes.
Addressing graduate students in the Columbia College Chicago MFA program. Photo courtesy of the author.

Having studied the market and the literary community from a boots-on-the-ground perspective of my 52-event book tour, I can say with complete confidence that none of this would have been possible without the initial investment of hiring help. My gross income for 2015 increased 133% in about 18 months; it’s now up to $35,000. That’s a 2% raise each month, something some folks get only once a year.

My gross income for 2015 increased 133% in about 18 months; it’s now up to $35,000. That’s a 2% raise each month, something some folks get only once a year.

I’m not kidding myself, though. I know exactly where that annual income puts me on the financial ladder. Luckily, I’m climbing a different ladder, and my friends are climbing it with me. Those friends include other authors, self-employed artists, book lovers, aspiring writers, entrepreneurs within the feminine economy, and literary movers and shakers from across the country. Even when we write or read or pay bills alone at the desk, every day, we still know we’re in good company.

And, while this tortoise-and-the-hare, “slow but steady wins the race” book-marketing took hold with Flashes of War, my business as a writing instructor exploded. The book lent my teaching abilities further credibility and the tour created a buzz.

Traveling once a month means I cross paths with authors who want to hire an instructor for a manuscript critique or developmental editing. Less than a year after the book’s release, I had a waiting list. Three years later, I’m booked 10 months in advance, and I’m only running about half the programs I offer on my website because there’s simply no wiggle room in my calendar or my business model.

The tortoise-and-the-hare approach created a beautiful problem, one we’ve all heard of before: supply and demand. To cope, I could either wait until my current contracts conclude almost a year from now and then take two months off without pay to interview myself and re-assess the ins and outs of my own business, hoping for some seriously honed outside-the-box thinking. Or I could hire help.

And so I’ve arrived again at the questions Ester put forth a few years ago: When and why should creative entrepreneurs hire help? What does hiring help cost and how does it impact the bottom line? I’ve hired a creative consultant for $5,000. The results of the new website and restructured business model will launch sometime next month, after nearly four months of work.

Stay tuned for three more articles in this series, which will discuss what it costs to DIY the re-launch of a website & business, including before and after screen shots, key restructuring insights, and whether or not the dream of earning more by working less can indeed come true.

Katey Schultz is the author of Flashes of War, an award-winning short story collection featuring characters in and around the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. She blogs at The Writing Life and provides mentoring and critique services for individual authors across the United States. She is currently seeking representation for her second book, a novel set in Afghanistan. Her website (which will soon get a facelift) can be viewed here.

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