The Business of Writing

I’m stepping back from the process of writing and the stress of promotion to talk about business. Just business, in general, and how it pertains to writing. I’m doing this because I read this great post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch today, and it reminded me of some things I’ve posted as comments on various blogs and group threads. And that’s basically that writing and being a published writer is a BUSINESS, and we should be treating it as such – and understanding how the fact that it’s a business should effect our view of various vendors and contractors that we use (like Amazon, which is much maligned among many indies who nonetheless use their services).

Let me give you a little background, so you see where I’m coming from. For twenty-plus years my husband and I have owned a shopping center maintenance company, which we started with one, $180/mo account an hour out of town. We had plenty of early days where we did all the work, including one memorable Christmas Eve when no sweeping truck drivers showed up for work and we had to do it ourselves, all night long.

We’ve gone through several iterations of our business structure, driven by market forces, an embezzlement, and, in the latest, our shifting interests. We got up to 78 employees, 40 vehicles, and 5 states. We decided we didn’t want to deal with employees anymore, and restructured, helped our managers start their own businesses, transferred the employees to them, so we now have none. In short, we’ve been in business at all stages. We built it, we ran it, we adapted it, and we made it into a pretty big small business. I get it.

So when I say to other writers that being a published writer must be seen in the light of owning a small business, that’s literally what I mean. If your only goal is to get one novel up there for all your friends to read, that’s fine. There’s not a better time in history for that kind of publishing. But if, like pretty much all the writers I know and talk to, you want to make money on your endeavors, then you’re a small business, whether you like it or not. It will affect your taxes. It will require your time. You’ll have to learn new skills, like accounting and marketing. If you don’t, the odds are against you succeeding, just like the odds are against most of the people out there who start any kind of business. Just for comparison, did you know:

9 out of 10 businesses fail in the first 2 years, and half that succeed fail in the next 5.

Why?

Well, there are things that are common across industries. A bad idea. Inadequate funding. High debt. Not enough or too much or improperly trained staff. Inability by the owner to delegate responsibility. Inadequate knowledge about business in general (this is very common with the artisan business, ie the person who is a great home baker and decides to open a bakery).

So what about writing. The first thing you should be doing as a writer is writing.  Write good books. Objectively good. They don’t have to be great, they don’t have to be the next great piece of literature, but the story needs to be interesting, the characters compelling, and the writing good or better.

The importance of a backlist of books to direct your readers to can’t be understated. The reason I published 3 books in 4 months was that I wanted other books that readers could buy if they liked Solomon’s Throne. For my action adventure novels, this has worked just as planned. And only having one in the Christian romance genre has probably kept that from doing all it can.

Delegating. We are told we have to spend a ton of time on marketing. That we can format ourselves. That we can produce our own book trailer or audiobook. Well, yes, you probably can do all that, with some training. But that’s really not the question. The question is, should you? There are people out there who do those things, and do them well. Sure, there are a bunch of people jumping in to the indie world and offering editing and cover design and formatting and all the other things for either ridiculously high prices, or with reasonable prices but doing bad work. The great thing about the indie community, though, is that indie authors are so generous at sharing their good and bad experiences; find a book you like and ask the author for their contractors. I have shared mine repeatedly in this blog and on Twitter, and would be happy to again.

Do what you’re good at, and let the rest go. I know you may not have a ton of money, but if you spent a year or ten writing a book, isn’t it worth giving up soda and coffee for a month to hire a great cover artist? As your book makes a little money, take it and invest in your next one.

There are a ton of great places to learn about marketing and promotion, and there’s an almost endless array of things you can do. Social media. Paid advertising. Free advertising. Blogging. Guest blogging. Giveaways. Everything from free to bookoo bucks. Some of it you will like, and some you will hate. Here’s my advice – do what you like and forget the rest. You can’t possibly do it all, anyway, so why do what you don’t enjoy? If you don’t like Twitter or Facebook or Goodreads, don’t do it. Sure, everyone will say to do it… But millions of books have been sold by people who’ve never put a status update on a website. If you hate blogging, don’t blog. If you don’t have money, use free sites or use ones that are very cheap. I’ve used one that’s $7.50 a week for a banner ad. Hard to beat that!

Even if you enjoy marketing, unless you’re writing books on marketing, limit your time. You need to write. You need to get your name out there, on things people read, so people will want to find more of your writing to read. Blogs are great for that, but you could do articles or short stories. But mostly, write more wonderful novels. Produce them well. Get them out there.

Amazon isn’t your enemy. It’s very in right now to bash Amazon. But Amazon is a business, just like any other. And trust me, they’re too big to be picking on you personally. Have they made some over-corrections in response to some review scandals? Sure. I, for one, would hate to be trying to write their programs. But it is best to keep in mind all the amazing things they’ve done for you as an indie author, and have a healthy respect for this new world they pretty much single-handedly created. There are others out there, and the reason people aren’t bashing them is because they’re not (yet) big enough to make people mad. My advice? Choose to love Amazon and be grateful, and work with their system. You’ll be a lot happier (especially since you won’t change a single thing about them by complaining online).

In short, keep your eye on your product. That’s your books and, to some extent, you. Put the majority of your time there. Don’t go on social media and thump people over the head with your books – be a real person that they want to know and find out more about. 80% real stuff with 20% talking about your products is about the right percentage. If something totally stresses you out, don’t do it. Play to your strengths and backfill your weaknesses with others who are better at those things than you (it doesn’t have to be paid help – it could be a child, sibling, spouse or friend who’s really good at something and is happy to help). Most importantly, WRITE. Because, after all, you’re a WRITER, right?

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