One thing about writing- it’s free! Or can be. But when a recent twitter user posted about all the expenses he’s accumulated over the years of writing (including travel to conferences and pitch events), others chimed in with their own experiences and opinions on what you should have to pay to launch a writing career.

So I decided to sit down and take an honest look on what I’ve spent so far on this dream of publication, and whether or not I think the expense was worth it. Note I’ve been writing for 15 years, but this has all been in the last 5-6 as I got serious.

Online Writing Courses

I’ve taken two courses through Litreactor, “How to Write and Sell the Young Adult Novel,” with a literary agent and writer as the course runners (cost: $450), and one on outlining with the incomparable Delilah Dawson (cost: $350). I also recently took an Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy course through Inked Voices (cost $99).

The problem with these kinds of courses is so much is based around peer critique instead of the expert opinions, and especially with Litreactor, the attrition rate in the classes are high, and there was no one forcing people to participate (some people like throwing away money I guess?). I found I got much better critique from people I’ve found on twitter who write in similar genres and are similarly dedicated to their publishing path.

The value also depends on how involved the expert you’re paying for is willing to be. In the first course I took, I was very disappointed with the amount of interaction- the agent was barely on the forum, and the query and page critique at the end was cursory and in no way worth the huge amount of money the course cost. I did get a great friend and CP out of it, but thinking about how much money it was…I still cringe. At the time I had no CPs, no real understanding of the publishing industry, and just knew I liked YA and wanted to maybe try this thing I’d just heard about called PW (oh if past self could see me now). Google led me to the paid course, and I thought it would be a shortcut to telling me exactly what to do, thus worth it. Nope.

The outlining course was much better (and was the start of my PW book!), since Delilah was willing to check in daily, offer up lots of exercises and examples from her own writing, and was really insightful in her critiques. The problem, however, was that we were meant to be working in planning groups the whole time, and when half the group disappeared by the end and we were reshuffled into critique groups for stories we hadn’t looked at, things got awkward.

The Inked Voices course, however, had much more active participants, great feedback, and a chance for an agent phone call at the end, all for a very reasonable price.

Total spent: $900

Worth it? Only the Inked Voices class. But overall I think you’re better off booking something like 10 minutes with an agent, where you can get direct professional feedback and avoid the worst parts of group work.

Query Critiques

I’ve bid on a couple of author/agent query critiques through charity auctions.

Total spent: $50

Worth it? Yes. The feedback has been confidence boosting, though mostly things I could have figured out on my own, and it’s nice to give to causes I would have donated to anyway!

Sensitivity Readers

Some of you know that my book has a secondary POV character who is trans, and the second I realized he was going to be a POV character I started saving money for sensitivity readers. Yes, plural. No one person should be expected to represent the entire spectrum of their identity (more on this in a later post specifically addressing what it’s like to use sensitivity readers and how to work with their feedback!).

Cost: $700

Worth it? Yes, and a non-negotiable in my opinion if you’re dealing with something outside your own experience.

Writing Materials

I like to work on paper, meaning printer, paper, and ink. Adding a little for my notebook and gel pen addiction.

Cost: Probably around $600 over the years.

Worth it? For me, yes, but if you can train yourself to enjoy working on a screen, do it. Your eyes and the Earth will thank you.

Craft Books

I love craft books. I own probably 7-8, and am always hungry for more (another future post: craft book reviews).

Cost: Maybe $120 in total?

Worth it: Yes. I’ve gotten way more out of studying craft books and analyzing books I love than any of those paid courses.

Total: $2370

In conclusion: The best education for writing is reading, writing, and critique, all of which can be done for low or no cost just by making friends and keeping your eyes on your paper. Save your money for things you can’t do yourself (like checking rep- hire those SRs!) or for things that give you a lot of bang for your buck (direct consultations with enthusiastic experts, craft books).