Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Writing is a Business

Okay, time to piss some people off again…
Last week I put up a post about how I planned to proceed with Akeldama – that it’s going to be a while before it comes out and that I’m currently building an email distro list so I have a base of people who are willing to buy my book.  I also mentioned that one of the reasons for holding off was so that I had a healthy stable of books to bring out once I began this venture in earnest.
You’d have thought I’d started lighting puppies on fire.  A lot of folks berated me for not throwing caution to the wind and publishing now.  JUST DO IT!!!  YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE FOR NOT BEING A PUBLISHED WRITER RIGHT NOW!!!
I got excoriated for focusing on the business aspects of this whole thing.  Some people felt I was taking the “art” out of the process, and more than one accused me of being a scared little girl, afraid of what people might think of my work.  Why, if I didn’t go ahead and get with Amazon RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND and publish, then I was obviously too timid and would never be a great author.

There’s a difference between being bold and being reckless, and it’s unfortunately a difference that a lot of writers don’t seem to understand.  If you’re in it just to see your name in print, then fine, go ahead and throw out your work the moment you’re satisfied with it.  I’m sure it’ll get some good reviews, and you might even make a couple of bucks from it.  However, should you do so, you need to accept that, barring hitting the 50 Shades of Grey lottery, this whole writing thing will be little more than a hobby.  If that’s what you want, then I’m happy for you and I wish you well, but I’m trying to build a business here.
My goal isn’t just to put something out there and have people fawn all over it(okay…having people fawn all over my work would indeed be a dream come true, but that’s tangential to my point).  In the end, I want to be able to earn a living from writing, and I can’t do that with nothing but a book and some starry eyed dreams.  This is where a number of writers fail, because some don’t want to get into the weeds of what’s necessary to build a successful brand.  They’d rather wake up when the sun is warm, pour a steaming cup of java, and bang out their next masterpiece, confident that the masses will flock to Amazon or Barnes & Noble based on an intrinsic understanding that the work is awesome.

First, you need a diverse line of goods that you can roll out in a predictable manner that encourages people to try other things you have.  McDonald’s has the best fries in the world, and I’m sure people yearned for more of them once they had a taste.  However, the Golden Arches wouldn’t have gone anywhere if once people had shown up, finished their fries, and asked, “What else you got?”, that McDonald’s responded with, “That’s pretty much it for right now.  However, if we ever get inspired again, we might think about producing something else.  We just don’t know what that is yet.”  No, they needed to have the hamburger and chocolate shake ready to go.  As time wore on, McDonald’s needed to roll out things like the Big Mac, the McRib, Chicken McNuggets, and the Egg McMuffin.
What usually happens when people read a book they like is that they check to see if the author has anything else out, or if they will any time soon.  My current plan is to publish twice a year, on a predictable schedule – probably at the end of April and the middle of November – so that I can strike while the iron is hot.  Readers who are late to the party will be able to go back and see what else I have to offer, thus increasing my sales potential.
However, I don’t plan to flood the market with ten books at once.  That kind of glut will overwhelm too many folks and they’ll write me off as a hack, so it’s imperative to find a balance.  Once every six months, for at least the first five years, will be just short enough for my previous work to not grow stale, but long enough that it can be savored before moving on to the next one.
But there’s more to this than just producing books.  I have to build a full business plan, something, again, that a lot of writers are loathe to do(and what a few people who told me to just PUBLISH, PUBLISH, PUBLISH decided to ignore).  Creating and then implementing a business plan is dull and frustrating because it’s not writing.  There are reviews to solicit and book tours(whether through bookstores or through blogs) to arrange.  There’s the logistics of putting together an address list for those who’ve bought and then making sure the product gets to them.  You have to pay attention to quality control(like getting a good copy editor and finding a graphic artist who know what they’re doing).  And after a long and frazzled day, you still have to sit down and knock out 500-1000 words for your next work so you can do fun things in the future like eat and have shelter.  Although there are some good writers who can do this, like JA Konrath and SarahHoyt, a lot of people just aren’t up for it, and that’s why they’ll ultimately fail in turning writing from a hobby into a business.
Not everyone is a caution-to-the-wind fool, which is why I didn’t use the words all or most, but many are.  I’ve never been one to just jump into the lava pit without a fire retardant suit, and although that might make me a bit boring, it’s also responsible for why I’m where I’m at in my current job, which is to say more successful than most(but not all) and can say in good conscience that I’m doing well.  For every Robert E. Lee who looks great with a bold move, there are ten John Bell Hood’s who leap in and get smashed by their own lack of planning.

As unromantic as it is to say, being a professional means being deliberate and understanding the whole picture rather than just jumping in and making it up as we go.  Amateurs jump in, and while some make it, most don’t because they didn’t fully realize what they were getting into.  I don’t plan to make that mistake.  That may delay my forays into the market, but I think such delays will lead to greater success in the long term.

Those who took umbrage, I’m sorry, but I can’t sugarcoat this.  Now I’m left to wonder how many people will flip me off and vow to never come back…


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