The Business of Writing
You wrote a story. It is a great story. You’re so proud of the work you did and you can’t wait to publish it, sell it, and make millions while you work on writing the sequel.
Only... how do you do that, exactly?
For the majority of us starting out we have no idea where to even start the process of publishing and selling a book. It can be overwhelming stepping into this world without any preparation. After all, people spend years learning how to do this work, right? The good news is that independent e-book distributors like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo are working to make it as easy as possible for new, unknown authors to put their work out there. The bad news is there are hundreds of thousands of people doing it, every day.
It is increasingly difficult to even get your work seen in a flooded marketplace. Writers are having to work harder than ever before to make a name for themselves. It is the business of writing that separates the best-sellers from the flops.
But what is the business of writing?
At this point in the game there is so much content out there that building a brand and establishing a fan-base aren’t just good ideas, they are essential to even getting a foot in the door. The business of writing is everything you do that perfects, polishes, or promotes your book. We are long past the days when you could upload something to the internet and let it sell on the strength of your prose. These days you need to spend more hours doing more work for the same return.
The good news, (the best news for those of you following along at home), is that the business of writing isn’t some mysterious trade secret that only publishing professionals get to know. Whether you have a contract with Random House or you are publishing for the first time on Kindle, the steps needed to get your book out there are the same. It’s just a lot more work if you’re trying to do it alone.
As a self-published, small-press, or independent author you won’t have agents shopping the book around, editors fixing continuity and story problems, typesetters adjusting the page style, or marketers making sure your book is seen. Self-publishing isn't "simple" publishing, and it’s all too-easy to fall into the mindset that because anyone with an internet connection can do it that it must not be that hard. However, it’s not a lost cause. Self-publishing can be very rewarding. All that hard work translates to money in your pocket, and since you did all the work yourself, you get to reap all the rewards.
Still with me? Good. Because really, small-press publishing is an amazing thing. I can’t over-stress the benefits of developing your own work. But that’s a rabbit hole I will save for another time. If you want to succeed, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Here is my list of things to keep in mind if you want to succeed at small-press or indie publishing.
The work doesn't stop when you upload the book
Everything would be easier if we could just post our work and forget about it while it brings in sales, but the truth is that there is no such thing as “passive income”. Not really. Even after your book is available for sale, you still need to promoting your work and your brand, staying on top of social media, working on your blog/vlog/photo gallery, networking, and let’s not forget simply improving your writing skills. If you want to see more interest in your book converted into more sales you need to keep working at your book even long after you have published.
networking is vital
Speaking of networking, it really needs its own point here. I cannot stress how vital it is to make contracts in the industry. Not just publishers, agents, and marketers, but other authors. As much as self-publishing appeals to introverts who would rather not deal with people in person, you cannot exist in isolation. If you want to succeed you need a support network. My suggestion, go to workshops, take classes, attend meet-ups, join NaNoWriMo. If your anxiety won’t let you meet with others in groups, try joining mailing lists, Facebook groups, forums, and even gaming sites. You can find writers everywhere. Start building a network. I promise you will meet people who you can learn from, people who will help you out, and people you can help out. Even if all you do is chat about other books, these people will help keep you sane while you do the other work.
Never stop talking
Marketing marketing marketing. This almost sounds like the networking I was talking about, but think of it as the other side of that coin. Where networking is about building mutual support with peers, marketing is about getting your message out to an audience; it’s about building a rapport with a your market segment in order to convert interest to sales. This is the least automatic part of publishing. You need to constantly talk yourself up. Promote your brand. Shop your books around to various group. Generate a buzz and get people talking about you and your books. As an author it’s important to remember that there will always be people who haven’t heard of you. It doesn’t mean you’re obscure, or that you don’t have a fan base, it simply means there is still an audience to reach.
Don't ever be afraid of criticism
This is one of the hardest skills for writers to learn. I spent nearly 6 years in various college-level literature courses learning how to handle criticism well, and I’m still not always great with it. We are social creatures, and what other people think of us has a real effect on how we see ourselves. Writers especially both crave and fear the opinions of others. We want to be approved of, told we’re good at what we do, and get a pat on the head for our efforts. What we create is a real extension of who we are, and any kind of criticism can feel like a personal attack.
Breathe. It’s all okay. Remember, literary criticism is not the same as criticizing. Your mentor telling you that you need to work on your character development isn’t the same thing as saying that your characters are terrible. Your peers suggesting that you try a fantasy instead of historical romance doesn’t mean that you can’t write romance. Try to keep in mind that the vast majority of people who offer criticism are doing it to help you become a better writer. And it’s always okay to ignore the haters.
Never stop writing
I have a simple equation for you.
Volume = Sales.
Simply put, you can’t sell a product that doesn't exist. The more you write, the more completed works you have to publish, and the more published works you have the more likely you are to sell them. We want to believe that one best-seller is all it takes to make a career, but the reality is that if you want to support yourself with writing, you need to write. All. The. Time. Luckily, this one should be easy. You love to write. That’s why you do it. (Just a reminder in case you forgot.)
Asking for help makes you stronger
This one is my favorite. It starts with remembering that no one starts out as an expert. Issac Asimov was in his mid-thirties when he decided to become a full-time writer. He was one of the most prolific authors of all time, writing over 700 books over the course of his career, and he is remembered for just two of them. Stephen King kept a scrapbook of all his rejection letters to help motivate him. The most important lesson any author can learn is stubbornness. NEVER GIVE UP. Take classes, attend seminars, practice your skills, learn new ones, teach what you already know, hire a coach, grow grow grow. Your skills as a writer, marketer, publisher, editor, communicator, as a person will only aid you in your writing. Experience everything and use it in your writing. You will be unstoppable. As long as you don’t quit.