Keri StevensBargain-hunting is in my DNA.

One of the secret reasons I love writing is because it’s cheap. It costs me nothing but time to key in the stories I make from scratch.

I could have lived the rest of my life this way, drafting my own books and sending out e-queries (no stamp required), but a few years ago I committed to a writing career in the most solid way I know how: I spent money.

It was easy at first. I paid Romance Writers of America dues, which has gotten me monthly meetings, a glossy magazine subscription and a vast community both in real life and online. Education, goodwill and new friendships are all priceless, I tell myself.

And then I began entering contests. $20 here, $30 there. Less than the cost of a pair of shoes at Kohl’s. Easy enough to justify when the critiques come in. “Do you know how much it would cost to pay a professional editor for this stuff?”  say to my husband. He shrugs, because he doesn’t know the cost of editing services, and I nod vehemently, as if I do.

This past year, I stepped up the spending when I registered for the Lori Foster/Dianne Castell/Linda Keller Readers and Authors Get Together. This convention is easy to justify: It’s less than an hour away (no plane ticket) and costs only $50 for the whole weekend. Heck–for that price, I can stay in the conference hotel both nights, puppy-piled in a room with my chapter-mates. After winning the fabulous raffle basket donated by Michelle Buonfiglio (which cost me another $20 in tickets) and participating in the book swap, I came home with enough bookmarks to paper the walls of my small bathroom (which will save me a TON on wallpaper, if I ever actually do that) and over 50 books.

Multiply that out by $5 apiece and hey–the conference paid for itself, right? Plus, I got two requests for partials, one of which is still non-rejected.

I invested in Todd Stone’s day-long Novelist’s Boot Camp, which, at chapter price of about $35, was a real steal.  The techniques he taught will save me hundreds of hours over the rest of my writing life.

Of course, if no one buys the books and I don’t use that saved time in a profit-oriented manner . . . well, we won’t think about that, will we?

Sigh.

It’s 2010, and I have to think about it. I have to face up to the thousands (yes, in the plural) of dollars I’m spending this year, not to write (which is free), but to build a writing career.

The Romantic Times Booklovers Convention is 3.5 hours away from my house by car, so I’m going. My critique partner, Becke Martin, and I are leading a social media workshop at the Cincinnati Readers and Authors Get Together. RWA National is four hours down the road. I’m doing it all, and my credit card statement can prove it.

I know I am going to have a glorious and exhausting time at all of them. I’m tweeting with one of my favorite authors, Toni Blake, about prom gowns for the Dorchester Ball at RT. I’m scheduling drinks in Cincinnati with writers I’ve met from Toledo and Arkansas. I’m shopping for comfortable, but stylish shoes for all of the walking in Nashville . . .

Uh-oh. I forgot to put those into the budget.

As much as I’m looking forward to the priceless pleasure ahead, my gut knots when I look at the financial risk. Instead of paying down the mortgage, I’ll spend 18 minutes in pitch appointments, hoping that months from now someone will buy my book. Instead of taking the kids to Disney World, I’m going to smile a lot and pray someone says, “Let me introduce you to so-and-so.” Instead of replacing the stained living-room carpet, I’m going to haul home mountains of paperback books, total up their retail prices and ask myself, “Was it worth it?”

To my great fortune, I’m the only one in my home riding this wave of anxiety. My kids accept my writing as a given way of life. My husband says, “You’ll be a great success. It’s just a matter of time,” although the prospect of me being gone 11 days and nights this summer has him less than thrilled . . .

Note to self: calculate cost of babysitting while he’s at work all day.

Their faith in me comforts me much and frightens me more: If I don’t sell these books I write, I fear I’m letting down my husband, my critique partners and the still, small voice within me that says, “This is what you are meant to do.”

Fear makes it difficult to write my name on a registration form and to sign the accompanying check. The mountain of words I stand upon is made of nothing more solid than pixels, ink, and the occasional sheet of bright white paper.  I am an empress with no clothes . . .

Yikes! I’d better go shoe-shopping while loafers are still on clearance.

Keri Stevens is an RWA-PRO member of the Ohio Valley chapter of RWA. She appreciates the irony of her motto, “Leap . . . and love will catch you.” Visit her at her blog, find her at her facebook fan page and tweet with her on twitter.