Tuesday, January 8, 2013

More Than Writing

This post may piss off a few folks.  There are going to be a lot of people this will not apply to, and I can only hope they understand that, but I've had a number of experiences where general criticism leads to offense even when it doesn't include the offended person.  Oh well, you'll either know this is for you or you won't - I can't control that.

In the past month, there have been countless writers who've said to me, "Get in the game!  Let that business stuff take care of itself."  Or they've said, "You can't worry about the business side of this right now - you need to write and publish!"  These pieces of advice hold merit if this is just a hobby, but if a writer wants to be a professional, he or she needs to understand the business aspects of this, especially if that person wants to go indie.

There are a lot of great ideas out there, most of which have proven stillborn in the hands of those who don't want to move from idea to market.  Similarly, there are a lot of writers who've written some great stuff that'll unfortunately never go beyond their very loyal and very small fan base because they won't put the effort into truly being a professional.
(Don't let the ship sail without you)
Writing is the fun and easy part of what we do, and if you only want a few folks to read your stuff, that's as far as you need go.  However, those of you who want to do this for a living and actually be able to eat at the end of the day, you need to do more.  This entails learning things beyond how to craft a sentence or develop a character.  You need to understand accounting for sales, itemizing business deductions, developing a marketing strategy, preparing a production schedule, and a whole host of other things that will probably put you to sleep.

I love to write, but in an odd twist, I also have a pretty good business mind(or at least the Masters Degree in Business Management I have on my wall says so...yeah, I just bragged...get over it).  It's that inclination that allows me to understand that publishing isn't something you just jump into willy nilly.  Yes, you could hit the lottery and find success without putting in much on the business side, but you could also get discovered by an NBA scout while playing at the local YMCA - possible, but the few that do are the rare exception.

Unfortunately, most writers' eyes glaze over when you start talking about accounting spreadsheets and setting up S-Corporations.  "I went into this to write!" they'll exclaim.  "As long as I pay my taxes and post on a few Kindle boards, I'll do okay."  It's an understandable attitude - after all, writing is fun and exciting, while managing an inventory(if you so desire rather than simply going to POD...even if you do, I still recommend you maintain a small inventory for spur of the moment sales and free giveaways, but that's probably another post) is about as thrilling as dipping carrots in vinegar and eating them one...by...one.

In today's world, especially when going indie, a writer is responsible for all of the work in making a name for himself or herself.  To move beyond niche, you need to plan out a marketing strategy to get to your target demographic.  Do you see your books being read by single women who haven't married or are divorced?  Do you think college age males are the ones you want to reach?  Each demographic requires a vastly different approach, and it means doing more than just uploading your novel to Amazon and hoping it gets discovered.  This initial step is where a lot of folks get discouraged because they feel no one ever gave them a chance.  Most fix me with baleful eyes when I ask what they did beyond that.

Once you have an initial marketing plan in place - and one far more intensive than the very basic beginnings mentioned above - you need to manage your distribution chain and track expenses.  Do you know what can be written off and what causes that deduction to become disallowed?  Have you plotted an appropriate profit margin that covers your production expenses and still lets you make a few bucks off each book?  Once you've started selling, have you set aside some of those profits to cover the cost of publishing your next book?

My browbeating sounds harsh, I know, and those that have put in their due diligence should ignore it, but I've run into too many who never think beyond "The End."  My heartburn stems from the fact that most of these folks have a lot of talent but will never make it because they're "arteests" who can't be bothered with that boring other stuff.  And I would caution even those who go traditional to understand a large portion of it, if for no other reason than to avoid being ripped off by their publishers(although most publishers will expect you to take on more of the business side than you'd like to know).

Some people will tell me that they do this stuff, and as I said above, if you do, then ignore this because it doesn't apply to you.  But those of you who write, write, write and never think beyond story creation, take these words to heart.  Study business practices and become modestly familiar with them.  Doing so could be the difference between making a few extra bucks with your work and being able to quit that job at Safeway so you can make your living from this whole writing thing.

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