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How much money does it cost to become a professional author?

Most authors want to make more money writing than they’d spend on writing. For James Patterson, writing is free. He can buy a new laptop with his royalties, but he didn’t start that way.

Any profession will cost money when you’re just getting started. You may not be a carpenter spending thousands of dollars on drills and saws, but you will have to spend some money to start your writing career.

For our purposes today, we will assume you have the money you need to get started. If you’re broke, I recommend listening to my episode titled The Starving Author: How to Market Books Without Money.

Assuming you have some money, you now need a plan. The fancy word for a money plan is “budget.”

Having a budget doesn’t mean you can only spend a little money on something. A budget is simply a plan for how much you will spend. You can budget to spend a lot or a little. As long as you’ve decided ahead of time what to spend and where, anything can be in the budget.

But how much money do you need to budget for the first five years of your writing career? I asked Kent Sanders, host of The Profitable Writer Podcast and founder of the Profitable Writer Community, a membership group that serves writers and helps them become more profitable.

What do you recommend for keeping track of expenses and setting up a budget?

Kent: In the beginning years of my journey, I used a spreadsheet from Dave Ramsey, but I eventually switched to software called YNAB, which stands for You Need a Budget. When I got serious about my business, I hired an accountant to track expenses, which was helpful.

For the last several years, I’ve also kept track of my income on a separate spreadsheet so I can see my income streams displayed visually in a different way than my accountant shows me.

Thomas: Your accountant puts expenses into the proper tax categories so you can pay your taxes correctly. At the same time, you want to categorize expenses to determine whether a certain effort was profitable.

A few weeks ago, I was doing the math to see if I had made or lost money on the Novel Marketing Conference. I don’t care that an expense is in the “food” tax category. I need to know that it’s in the “event” category.

As your finances get more complicated and you have more sources of revenue and expenses, it’s important to use spreadsheets to answer those profitability questions.

If that sounds like frightening math to you, just remember that learning how to use a spreadsheet takes all the math out of it. Many people feel intimidated by spreadsheets, but if you realize a spreadsheet keeps you from doing any math, your life becomes easier. Search YouTube for tutorials on how to create and use a spreadsheet. It will only take a couple of hours to learn and can change your life.

We’re using YNAB right now for our family budget. I like it because it helps you think in terms of setting money aside now so you can use it in the future.

I used to use Mint, but Intuit is buying it and turning it into some buying-credit-cards tool.

What are some unnecessary expenses authors waste money on?

Kent: This will be a little controversial, but I’ve seen a trend in the online entrepreneur/authors/freelance writer world where there’s an emphasis on building a team. Teams are great. I’m all for working with people in collaboration. However, I see a big push to hire things out.

I think you need to be profitable before you start spending money on personnel, assistance, or overseas production people. There is value in learning how to do things yourself. It makes you nimble and smarter.

I caution authors against being quick to hire everything out and spend money unnecessarily just because they see people online doing it.

Thomas: Sometimes, a new author will compare themselves to an author who’s been working for ten years and has a big team. The new author often doesn’t realize that the 10-year author also has been writing books for ten years, and those books have been earning royalties.

If you’re unsure whether to hire something out, ask yourself, “Am I cash-rich or time-rich?” Put another way, “Do I have more time or money right now?”

If you are cash-rich and time-poor, you’ll want to hire a team because you have the money for it but not the time to learn to do those things yourself.

Cash-poor authors hear that kind of advice and feel pressured into hiring an accountant to do their bookkeeping.

You don’t need a bookkeeper if you’re just beginning your author career. Kent has been doing this for years, and he’s got a bookkeeper. I still do my own books with the help of automation. Joanna Penn has been doing her own books for 20 years. It’s just her and an army of AIs that she uses to do her work. She’ll hire out specific things like covers and editing, but in general, she doesn’t have a team.

When I interact with her, I’m interacting with her directly and not with an assistant. You don’t need a big team. The bigger your team is, the more time you’ll spend managing your team rather than writing.

That said, I’m all for working with an assistant if you can afford one. But if you know how to do it yourself, you can hire an assistant who you can train. Training your own assistant is cheaper and will get you more tailored help than hiring an expert who brings their expertise.

To learn more about working with an assistant, check out the following episodes:

Year One


You’ve decided you want to become an author, and you started writing a book. The first thing you need to buy, if you don’t already have one, is a computer.

Many authors wonder what kind of computer I recommend. If you’re just getting started and don’t have much to spend, a $200 Chromebook will do. You can install Atticus for $150 on a Chromebook. Google Docs also works on a Chromebook. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a computer to get started.

A Chromebook is on the cheap end of the spectrum, and I don’t normally recommend that. I recommend the M2 15-inch MacBook Air (Affiliate Link) for authors. It’s the best bang for your buck in the Mac world. Macs are actually cheaper than PCs in the long run because they last longer. They’re not cheaper upfront, so if you can’t afford one, don’t buy one. But in my experience, the typical Mac laptop will last five to eight years, whereas the typical PC laptop will last two to five years.

Kent: From 2012 to 2020, I used the same MacBook Pro, so it has lasted a long time. In fact, my wife still uses that computer. I love Macs because they last a long time, and I think Apple is a great company.

Thomas: I recommend having a laptop so you can write at coffee shops or when you’re out and about. You can have a laptop in addition to your desktop because it’s easy to sync files automatically. Google Docs, Scrivener, Microsoft Word, Microsoft 365, and Dropbox all make it easy to sync files.  

Domain Name

You don’t have to build a website in your first year if you’re a novelist, but I do recommend at least buying the domain for

Nonfiction authors will want to start blogging, so they may want to build their websites in the first year. At the very least, every author should try to buy before someone else buys it.

The domain you buy will also determine what your author name ends up being. Your author name is dependent on what domain is available.

Kent: Someone already owns I’ve contacted him twice, and he will not sell me the domain name even though it’s not currently used.

I remember in the nineties when I got an ad from a web hosting company asking, “Do you want to buy” I thought, “Why in the world would I ever need a website? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of.” And here we are.

Thomas: That’s rough. If your name is hard to spell, is more likely to be available for purchase. If you have a common name, you may need to add a middle name or buy the domain

There are different ways to handle it, but regardless, you want to own your domain.


If you’re going through our Five-Year Plan course, you’ll read a book on craft every month in the first year, and then you’ll write a short story to apply the principles you’ve learned.

Spending money on education earlier in your career makes that education a better bargain. If you have 20 years left in your writing career and spend $200 on a course, you’ll use that knowledge for 20 years, meaning the cost of that education amortized over the course of your career is $10 per year. If you’re in the last year of your career, the cost of that course amortizes to $200.

Early in your career, you have the highest likelihood of avoiding learning lessons the hard way. Spend your money on education, like books and courses. Education is always a good value, but it’s even more valuable early in your career.


Kent: If you can, find a low-cost membership or mastermind group that puts you in the orbit of others who can help you. Being around people doing the same thing can help you get ahead. I’ve found those groups to be invaluable.

Thomas: As we record this, is still free. Everyone who joins while it’s free will always have access. For $4.00 per month, you can become a Novel Marketing Patron and join our monthly patrons-only Q&A where you can pick my brain.

There is something to be said for a higher ticket commitment to a mastermind group or a writer’s group. Your investment will change the way you participate in the group.

Bottom Line

  • Computer: $200-$1,500
  • Word Processor: Google Docs Free, Atticus $147, Scrivener $50
  • Your Domain Name: $15/yr
  • Education
    • Books: $50-$240
    • Courses: $100-$500

Year Two


In your second year, I again recommend setting money aside for education. If you plan to read one craft book each month, set aside $10-$20 per month for education. Remember that craft books are fairly easy to find at the library, so you may have money left in your budget, or you may not need to budget that much.

Writers Conference

Business Conference and Presentation. Audience at the conference hall.

An in-person writers conference will cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500, depending on where you live. Normally, rural living saves you money since the cost of living is typically lower. However, if you’re in the country, you’re probably not close to a writer’s conference. Some of the money you saved by living in the country can be spent on a taxi, an Uber, a flight, and a hotel so you can attend a writer’s conference. Whereas if you already live in a big city, you’re more likely to have a local conference to attend.

For your first conference, I recommend attending something local and low-cost, even if it’s not exactly the right fit. If you’re writing nonfiction and it’s a conference for novelists (or vice versa), you’ll still learn something.

Attending a local conference without the expense of travel and hotel will give you a cost-effective first experience as long as you remain teachable.

You can spend more money for a better fit or a more famous conference in the future.

To learn more about attending a writers conference, check out the following episodes:

Business Cards

If you plan to attend a writers conference, you’ll want to spend money on business cards, which will only cost $20-50, depending on how many you order. They’re not super expensive.


In your second year, you’ll also want to pay for a professional author photo you can use on your website and business cards. You can get headshots for $50 to $1,000. At this point in your career, it’s fine to have your photo taken at JCPenny for a very affordable price.

Later, when you’re working with a designer on a book cover design, you’ll probably want a better headshot taken by a professional photographer who can pull out your personality in the photos.

Don’t let your photographer friend or spouse with a smartphone take your photo. It needs to look professional if you want people to take you seriously. You’re not yet published, so the markers on your website and business cards need to be very professional to make up for the fact that you’re still unpublished.


Thomas: By this time, you’ll need a basic website with several pages. It doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, you could make a one-page website.

Creating a website starts a “timer” for your Google rankings, and your website earns SEO points for simply existing.

Building a website does not have to cost a lot. You’ll need to pay for a few things, but I have a free course that will walk you through how to build your website. It’s even cheaper than it used to be because the theme I recommend using (Divi by Elegant Themes (Affiliate Link)) has a lower cost of entry than it used to.

Check out our episode on How to Build an Author Website in a Day to learn more.

After you have a professional headshot, a real business card, and a real website, you’ll start to feel like a real author, and that’s a game changer.

Reader Magnet

Once you have a website, you’ll want to offer a reader magnet so that your web visitors have a reason to connect with you long-term by giving you their email address in exchange for your reader magnet.

Your reader magnet will be a short story you wrote in year one while reading all those craft books. A high-quality reader magnet will require you to spend at least $50 to get a good cover design. Some people will spend as much as $250, but you don’t have to.

I’d also recommend paying for an edit. I know it’s hard to pay for and edit something you’re giving away, but it’s your first impression, and you’re a new author. Pay to get it edited.

One workaround is to swap skills with another author you met in the author community you joined in Year 1. Maybe you can swap website work for an edit. If you complete my course on website building, you’ll have a tradable skill and know more about websites than most authors.

Email Service Provider

Since you’ve offered a reader magnet for people to sign up for, you’ll want to collect email addresses through an email service provider like MailerLite or ConvertKit. Both services are free for your first 1,000 subscribers.

You probably won’t pass the 1,000-subscriber mark in your first year, but I recommend making that your goal. You’ll have to pay for the service after you have 1,000 subscribers, but I recommend hitting that milestone as quickly as possible. A larger email list will change the game when it’s time to launch your book.

If you don’t yet have an email service provider, find out How to Pick the Right Email Marketing Service Provider For You.

Delivery Tool for Reader Magnet

StoryOrigin and BookFunnel are the best tools for delivering your digital reader magnet, and neither is expensive.

These tools make it easier to deliver your reader magnet and start onboarding readers to your email list.

After you have a website, a piece of fiction for people to read, and an email list of fans eager for your book, things start to get really fun.

Bottom Line

  • More Education: books, courses
  • Your First Writers Conferences: $500-$1500
  • Website
    • Hosting
    • Divi
    • Website Domain
    • Web Designer (or time to build it yourself): $500-$3500. 
  • Professional Headshots: $50-$500
  • Business Cards: $50
  • Reader Magnet Cover: $50-$250
  • Reader Magnet Editing: $50-$500
  • Email Service Provider: $0 to $50/mo.
  • Reader Magnet Distribution: $20

Year Three

In the third year of your writing career, you’ll need to decide whether you want to pursue the traditional or indie publishing path.

Traditional publishing is cheaper upfront because authors don’t have to pay for much. However, it’s far less profitable for most authors because they make very little money from book sales. So traditional publishers spend all the money to create the book and collect almost all the money after it sells.

Traditional authors get a tiny fraction of the revenue. By the time everyone gets paid for creating and selling a traditional book, there is about $0.80 (per book sold) left for the author. That fractional amount doesn’t even go into your bank account. It goes against the advance you received. Most authors never see royalties. They only see the advance money they got when they signed their contract.

Indie authors, on the other hand, get paid every few weeks by the online retailers where their books are sold. But Indie authors also have to pay for everything required to create and sell the book, including multiple rounds of editing, a professional book cover, and typesetting software.

Typesetting Software

Vellum is the most popular typesetting software, but it only works on Mac. It’s a one-time cost of $200 to $250, depending on what you want to use it for.

Kent: I use Vellum for two reasons. First, it looks great on Mac and is designed for Macs. Second, Vellum is an official sponsor of my podcast.

I don’t use them because they’re paying to be a sponsor. They pay to be a sponsor because I love their product so much that I talk about it all the time. When I started doing sponsorships about 18 months ago, I reached out to them and asked if they would be interested in sponsoring my show. They became a sponsor, and they are the greatest guys in the world. They’re so responsive and so supportive. I also just happened to like their product.

That being said, If you’re a PC user, you’re out in the cold with Vellum. Atticus is also a great tool. I’ve interviewed Dave Chesson, the creator of Atticus, on my podcast, and he’s a great guy. They’re doing some innovative things with Atticus that Vellum is not doing and probably won’t integrate. I’m interested in seeing where Atticus goes with that additional functionality.

Thomas: The biggest difference between Atticus and Vellum is that Vellum stays in its own lane and just does typesetting. You can write your book in Atticus, Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or Google Docs; Vellum doesn’t care. Vellum takes your edited Word doc that you got back from your editor and turns it into the EPUB and PDF files that become the final versions of your book. Vellum does one thing, and it does it so well that everybody loves Vellum.

On the other hand, Atticus is also trying to compete with Scrivener, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Vellum. It’s a much more ambitious project, but it works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook. Atticus and Vellum cost about the same.

You can probably pay a freelancer about $200 to typeset your book in Vellum for you, but if you need to make a change, you’ll have to pay them again.

If you typeset it yourself and a reader points out a typo on page 47, you can easily fix it and upload the fixed file. Everyone with a Kindle will get the corrected version the next time they open the file, and every print-on-demand copy will be the corrected version.

However, if you’re paying someone else to do the typesetting, you have to hope they’ll do it for you for free or pay them again. Plus, you may have to get on their schedule to wait for the correction to be made. It’s a big hassle.

Learning to typeset the book yourself will be cheaper in the long run.

Book Cover

A professionally designed book cover costs anywhere from $250 to $1,000. The total will depend on the quality and experience of your designer and the nature of your book cover.

If your book cover requires illustrations, it will usually be more expensive. If the design is created solely by humans, it will cost more. A book cover that only utilizes typography in the design is often cheaper. Using AI elements also lowers the cost of your cover design.

To learn more about what makes a book cover good and how to get one, check out the following episodes:

Paying for a professional book cover design will be one of the higher costs of publishing your book. If you plan to run a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund your book, you’ll still have to pay for the cover before you start your campaign because Kickstarter requires you to have a cover.

If you’re on a budget and cash is tight, crowdfunding is a great way to get tomorrow’s money today so you can pay for today’s expenses.

Kent, I know you’re a big advocate for crowdfunding.

Kent: Yes. Crowdfunding is a great option for people who have a book, particularly one that is illustration-heavy or needs special printing.

If an author doesn’t want to use a tool like Kickstarter, there is something to be said for being a scrappy author and doing what needs to be done to get the money to publish your book.

At the beginning of my career, I taught at a Christian college, and I had a bunch of original language Bible reference books, which were really expensive to buy new. To earn some extra money, I had a big book sale, and students bought a lot of those books. I made several hundred dollars selling reference books I wasn’t using.

That’s how I funded the editing of my second book. I sold stuff on Facebook marketplace and got paid for freelance writing. I was writing a lot of podcast show notes at the time for a couple of podcasters. That’s how I funded my book covers for a couple of books.

Do what you need to do to get the money. Sell stuff. Deliver pizzas. Do crowdfunding. Think in terms of being assertive and scrappy and just do what is needed to publish a quality book.

Thomas: The skills you learn as an author by listening to this podcast are useful in other places. In fact, after the Novel Marketing Conference concluded, I received an email from an attendee who said he’s now using what he learned at the conference in his new role at his company. They were having a marketing meeting, and since he’d been listening to this podcast, he was familiar with the jargon. Everyone in the meeting could see he knew about marketing, and he became his company’s marketing guy!

People in various industries are looking for writers to write copy, build websites, or help with marketing. The more you learn to do yourself, the more you can sell those skills to somebody else to help fund your book production.

Kent: When I taught at the college, I occasionally volunteered for administrative jobs. I was in charge of redoing our school’s website. One year, I did video editing and sometimes worked with our admissions department. I did many different things unrelated to my main job there, but I found those jobs immensely helpful in making me a better marketer.

Even if you work at a tiny company or do a job unrelated to writing, every company needs marketing, sales, and web help. You can learn so much at your day job just by doing extra things that you can apply to your career as a writer. Opportunities are all around you, no matter what your day job is.

Mastermind or Coaching

Thomas: Year three is a good year to join a mastermind group if you haven’t yet. If you’re indie publishing, a group of like-minded writers will be invaluable. As you’re going through the publishing process, there are a million little fiddly questions you’ll have, and it’s nice to get answers from fellow humans, particularly humans who have been down the road before you.

Professional Email Address

Most people will get a professional email address when they build their website, but you want something that doesn’t use Gmail or Outlook. You’ll want an email that comes from your domain name, such as

If you’re going to publish a book, it’s worth it to get that professional email address printed in your book so readers can email you. You don’t want to commit to some company for the next 50 years. If you have a professional email address, you can change your email address if you need to.

I’m using Google Workspace for, but if I decide I don’t like Google, I could switch and use Apple or Microsoft, and would continue to be the email address everyone sees. But if I switch away from Google for my Gmail, I have to get a totally different email address, and now that old email address is broken.

You can learn more about How to Get a Professional Email Address. It may cost about $5 per month, but you may already pay for it through one of your subscriptions.

Not everyone publishes a book in year three. There’s a lot to be said for continuing to work on your craft and improve by writing a whole book that you don’t publish.

Don’t feel pressured to publish your book in year three.


A professional edit can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,500, depending on the experience of your editor and how many rounds of editing you need. A top-tier editor or a team of editors will be closer to $5,000.

Bottom Line

  • Professional Email address: $5/mo
  • Writers Conferences
  • Typesetting: $250 Value
  • Book Cover: $250-$1000
  • Coaching/Mastermind Group: $50-$250/mo

Years Four & Five

For authors in their fourth and fifth years, Kent and I recorded the rest of our conversation in the patrons-only episode for the Novel Marketing patrons. Novel Marketing patrons get access to our monthly patrons-only episode (like the remainder of this one) as well as live Q&A calls. You can become a patron today for as little as $4 per month!

Tell us about The Profitable Writer Podcast.

Kent: Sometimes creative people tend to be a bit uncomfortable or inexperienced with the business side of things. My show helps people become more profitable no matter what kind of writing they do.

You can do more good in the world when you’re more profitable. If you have zero money, you can’t hire anybody. You can’t pay for better services. You can’t create a better future for yourself, your family or the people you hire. The more income you have and the more profitable you are, the more you can give and support good causes.

Thomas: You can promote your book. If you want to make a difference with your writing but have no money to advertise, you can’t make much of a difference.

But if you’re profitable in your writing, that additional money can allow you to get your book in front of additional people.

Kent: Absolutely. That’s essentially what the show is all about.


Tax & Business Guide for Authors

In this course, you will learn 

  • 19 tax deductions authors can claim
  • How to qualify for tax deductions for your writing-related expenses (not all writers qualify)
  • How to create a business plan
  • How to make a living as an author
  • How to be a business in the eyes of the IRS
  • How, when, and why to form an LLC 
  • How to reduce the likelihood of being audited by the IRS

The course is taught by Tom Umstattd, a CPA with over 35 years of experience working with authors, and his son Thomas Umstattd, Jr, founder of Author Media and host of the Novel Marketing podcast. 

Learn more at

Patrons save 50%! It pays to become a Novel Marketing Patron here before signing up for this course.

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