Own Your Writing Career: Buying Services AND Building Skills

I don’t know everything. Let’s just start from there. None of us knows everything. 

Own Your Writing CareerEveryone comes at this writing pursuit with different backgrounds and skills. Some of us can tell a great story — have readers at the edge of their seats and keep them there — but we need a good editor for our work to really shine. Some of us have marketing chops, and come ready to do serious business with our writing careers. Some of us have a smattering of skills, and make up the rest as we go along. One characteristic that tends to connect writers is the drive to keep on learning.

One of the best ways to learn is from each other. When it comes to the creative aspects of a writing career, and to the business side, we have to keep chasing the writers we admire, practicing and getting better with each and every book.

I always consider building my own skills before I contract for any purchased service. Yet I come down on the side of purchasing services fairly frequently.

Here are my considerations when evaluating whether to learn a skill or contract for a service:

  1. How much would the skill in question benefit my arsenal in the long term?
  2. How much time do I anticipate investing in learning the skill? (Multiplying the hours by my hourly wage gives me a rough calculation of financial investment in learning.)
  3. How much does it cost to contract for the service instead of learning to do it myself?
  4. How often will I need to purchase these services if I don’t pick up the skill? (Multiplying the anticipated number of purchases by the cost gives me financial investment in purchasing services.)
  5. How excited am I by the possibility of learning the skill.

That last one is important. I have invested countless hours, for instance, in developing cover design skills. I think that investment has benefited me because I can now picture how to take an image of stock photography and craft a compelling cover. But my cover design chops are not grand — I’m not a visual artist. I would need countless more hours to really become one. Thus, cover art is one of those areas where I do a lot of purchasing. I am currently releasing short stories with my own cover designs, as I plan to finish up a lot of shorts over the next couple of years and can’t currently afford that many covers, and because for me the math doesn’t work — I don’t think I can make back the initial investment in cover art within the next couple of years. Eventually, yes, every story will probably make me at least $50. Either way, for now that’s my strategy.


I don’t use myself as an example because I think you should make the same decisions I’m making. I’m trying to point out all of the issues we need to decide as we publish fiction, and show you a bit of reasoning from my own experience. Your math could be quite different from mine — so don’t take anything I say here in terms of specific strategies to be “the one way.” I don’t believe in any one way.

I will give another example of this dichotomy between buying a service and building a skill, and how you can potentially get the best of both worlds.

I’m building a new website. I’ve been thinking about it for ages. I had a decent idea of what I wanted and the questions I’d need to research at the onset, which was very valuable. With a large project it pays to take the time to consider what you’re after, before you’re too far into the weeds to backtrack to a suitable trail.

Still, as I researched I decided that I don’t currently have the technical chops that were needed to get where I wanted to go as quickly as I wanted it to happen. Something was going to have to give, because the math wasn’t working out. I decided it would be both the budget (larger) and the timeline (longer). Then I began to see my path forward.

I didn’t purchase a LOT to get the website rolling, but instead of learning to build a site from scratch, I purchased a premium WordPress theme, and paid for it to be installed. That cost me $97 total. Deciding to purchase those services moved me what felt like lightyears ahead. I already had a list of premium themes I liked, and I began going through them with fresh eyes. I wrote up a detailed “must have” list and shopped it around to my favorites. In no time I had a theme, and by the next day it was installed and ready for me to start design.

I am investing the time to learn to work with shortcodes on my site, because it will save me major time and pain in the future to learn to use them now while it still feels exciting. Gotta know what drives YOU, too.

While I purchased services that helped me keep the project on track, and that were worth it from a financial standpoint, I’m also learning a lot about website design and how they operate behind the scenes. So I’m skilling up even after purchasing the service. And I’ll have a much more functional website at the end of this process.

Another note: the Internet is your friend. Usually, another writer has tackled whatever is currenlty bogging you down (in business, and creatively). Do a Google search for the problem, search YouTube for videos…don’t take anyone’s word as gold, but look into it with the resources you currently possess (which are VAST!) and you’ll be surprised what you pick up along the way.

For a full list of Own Your Writing Career posts in the order they were written, visit my Writers page. I’ll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!

“Own Your Writing Career: Buy Services AND Build Skills” copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson

About J.R. Pearse Nelson

J.R. Pearse Nelson is a native Oregonian, residing in the beautiful Portland area. She lives with her husband, two small daughters and the family dog. J.R. is always searching for the magic in our world. She weaves tales rooted in mythology, bringing legend to life in modern-day and fantasy settings. J.R. is the author of the Children of the Sidhe paranormal romance series, the Foulweather Twins fantasy series, and the Water Rites fantasy series. You can connect with J.R. online at her website. Visit jrpearsenelson.com.