#TheWriteThing: Writing is a Business Too
Tara Taylor Quinn highlights the fact that though writing is a labour of love for many people, in order to be a successful writer, you have to think of it like a business...
I am a writer. I’ve been saying that since I was six years old. All through high school, when everyone asked what I wanted to be…my reply was, I am a writer. I went to college, majored in English without any kind of education back up. I wasn’t going to teach English, I was going to write.
Then I graduated. I had my BA degree with honors in English with a minor in journalism. I had my expensive huge dictionary. My thesaurus. I even had my ideas. I just had no employment. I worked in fast food for six months, trying to figure out how to get Harlequin to hire me to write a book. I waitressed. And then I went back to college working towards my Master’s degree in education. I certified to teach.
I am a writer. I am not a teacher. I got a job teaching. And I watched that clock on the classroom wall even more than the students did. I felt like a fraud. I wasn’t a teacher. I had enough integrity to quit the job.
I was failing in the school of life. And yet had learned my most valuable lessons. I learned that writing is not just the voices inside you that drive you to the computer. It’s not just having constant original movies playing in your brain and typing about them. It’s not just about feeling everything around you acutely and making sense of what you don’t understand by putting it all down in words. It’s not just about having been given a gift or possessing a talent. Writing is also a business.
Like any business, when you’re a writer you have to determine how the expenditure of your time, talent and advertising dollar, is going to best help you balance your bank account. There’s a funny twist to it, though. You also have to write what is inside you to write. A successful writer has to tend to both sides of that issue. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
1) Choose your publisher wisely – in my mind this is absolutely the most critical aspect of the business of writing. Getting a book out there quickly is not as important as getting it out there well. Whether you’re self-publishing, small press publishing, or traditional publishing, make certain that you know, before you put your book out there, how it’s going to be discovered. There are a millions of books ‘out there’. Even if everyone who likes you buys one of yours, you’re still looking at not enough sales to pay one month’s bills. A plan for your book’s discovery is as important to the business of writing as the words inside that book are important to you. There are independent and self-publishing programs that tend to this, and those that don’t. There are traditional publishers that tend to this and those that don’t. Choose wisely.
2) Foster a respectful, professional and grateful working relationship with your editorial team. A good editor makes any book better. Even if you’re an editor yourself, you won’t be able to see your own work from an objective perspective. You know what you’re saying and your mind fills in blanks that remain blanks for the reader. Be open to editorial suggestions, not defensive about them – even if, ultimately, you reject them you’ve been given an opportunity to look at a line, a scene, a plot that seemed to at least one person, to need something more. Oftentimes I don’t agree with a particular change an editor suggests, but ultimately, I end up making some kind of change because the editor saw something that took her out of the story. Be willing to let someone else help you raise your child!
3) Treat your writing time as work time. You aren’t engaging in a hobby, you are earning money. If you work an eight to five job, you work that into your schedule. You need to do the same for writing time or other things will take over and your business is going to flounder. Sometimes you work the eight to five job when you’re tired, or not feeling like doing anything. You work it when you have a cold. Do the same for your writing hours. If you owned a yarn shop and were never open for business, you wouldn’t be likely to sell much yarn. You’d end up out of business. If you’re going to be a writer, you must provide the hours in your schedule to run a successful writing business.
4) Write books that are going to sell. Just like with any other product, you need to study the market. Follow sales stats on Amazon. Read articles, go to conferences and attend workshops, on the state of the industry. As writers, we shape what sells, but readers, ultimately tell us what they want. Again, it’s a balance, but we must give weight to both sides. Write what you have to write, but find parameters that tend to readers needs and wants.
5) Treat rejection as a chance to learn, not a call to bring out the defensive line. Not everything you do is going to be great. Not everything is even going to be good. Writing something that doesn’t work doesn’t define you. It only shows you where you can get better. If one book doesn’t do well, learn from that. Try to find out why. Ask honest questions. Listen to those who are treating your work with respect. Be open to learning and improving.
6) Treat criticism and praise with an equal step back and grain of salt. Putting your work out into the world is an intimate thing. Having someone say they don’t like it hurts. Don’t personalize it. Not everyone is meant to like everything. I, personally, find Star Wars boring. The conglomerate sure didn’t suffer for my lack of support! There will always be those who don’t understand your perspective. And there might be those who are just plain having a bad day and taking it out on you. And praise…just because someone else loves you, doesn’t mean you’re great. Or even good. It doesn’t even mean the book is good. It might mean that. You hope it does! Just keep that step back perspective. Reviewing is a business. If people give really bad reviews, they might not be successful. Overall, if you must expose yourself to opinion, just don’t take it as gospel.
7) Promote. I wish this wasn’t a part of writing, as I’m not a sales person. But promotion is not just about selling and it’s a huge part of the business of writing. Readers have always felt a connection to the authors whose books they love. It’s all part of the process – this sharing of deep ideas, of emotion, of thought. Readers trust writers with their time and their minds – opening their minds when they open a book, allowing writers to take them on private journeys. This is a very special relationship and like all relationships, those that are tended to thrive. The internet gives us the way to tend to these relationships like never before. A writer needs to care about her readers enough to get out there and tend to that relationship.
8) Learn. Don’t ever think you know it all. Attend workshops. Go to conferences. Read email loops. Pay attention to what other authors are saying and doing. You need to know what’s happening. The book world changes all the time, rapidly. Be willing to change with it. To grow with it. To know enough to help shape it.
9) Write. This is the bottom line of the business of writing. The majority of your time needs to be spent on writing. You will have nothing to sell, nothing to promote, no readers to relate to, if you don’t give your gift the time and attention it needs to become the books it was meant to be. Quiet everything else and just write. Really write. Your current best. Every time.
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