Disaster Proofing Your Author Business
Imagine this: after weeks, months or even years of working on your author business, you gain traction. Your books are selling, the reviews are great and readers rave daily about your work on social media. It’s going so well you’ve considered giving up work — or perhaps you’ve even taken the leap! Every day, the reality you face resembles a dream. You get up when you want, follow your muse, work only on projects that excite you, and earn good money. Life is great as the captain of your own ship. Then you notice an oncoming problem.
You see it coming, but there’s no time to avoid it. Surging forward, your business slams into a disaster of biblical proportions. Imagine the Titanic’s iceberg and a Bermuda Triangle cyclone had a love child. You can’t turn — the wheel feels like it’s bolted into position. And you can’t protect yourself, either. Your hull is too thin. Facing the wrath of fate, you can already picture your wreck. And all you can say about it is:
“I could have survived this business-ending disaster if only I’d prepared.”
Okay, stop sweating. The unthinkable hasn’t actually happened yet. You still have time. But that doesn’t mean you should totally relax. After all, a similar catastrophe could occur at any moment and being proactive is the only way to disaster proof your author business.
Think: what would you do if your email list disappeared, you fell ill, or a thief stole your laptop containing months of work? Could you ride out the blip without having to return to a day job? You might think preparing for scenarios like this that might never happen is a waste of time, but failsafe procedures stop you having to scramble if something does go wrong. So, what could go wrong and how would you protect yourself in the event of each scenario? Today’s blog post will identify a range of common disasters authors face to help you cover most bases. Then it’ll offer precautions you could take to minimise their potential impact on your author business.
A Book Sales Nosedive
Publishing is an unpredictable business. As the news editor and TV host Piers Morgan once said, “One day you’re cock of the walk, the next you’re a feather duster.” This is equally true for fiction and non-fiction authors as it is for celebrities. The author lifestyle is a tumultuous ride for even the most successful in the community. Nobody is guaranteed that each book will do better than their last. In fact, even after success it’s easy to miss the mark, fall out of favour with retailer algorithms and cause what’s arguably the most common disaster: an unexpected book sales nosedive.
Fortunately, foresight and preparation can help you weatherproof against even a deep slump. Creating more streams of income is one way to protect yourself. It’s not easy but it helps. A three-pronged approach often works best:
- Publish books in multiple series and pen names to keep selling if some titles fall out of favour.
- Release your books on multiple retailers to stabilise your income if one stops recommending you.
- Build an emergency fund to give yourself time and resources if you need to rebuild.
Together, these prongs minimise the impact of a sales slump and give you everything you need to survive while you pivot your business. Holding the emergency fund, in particular, is vital once you’ve scaled your business revenue past the size a regular day job could cover with a pay cheque.
When scoring a traditional publishing contract was the only feasible option to earn a living from writing, losing your audience was a real threat for most authors. Back then publishers acted like middlemen, collecting customer data and speaking to the book trade professionals. Authors weren’t involved so, if they lost their publisher, they lost their audience, too. As indies, however, we are the publisher and, as such, we have much more control. Still, too many of us give power to retailers who, like publishers, have the power to lower a curtain between us and the readers we serve. This isn’t a problem until a retailer algorithm decides not to share your work after a sales dip or executives abandon you amidst a scandal. Only then do most authors realise their mistake.
A good way to pre-empt and avoid this disaster is to follow a business model that doesn’t rely too heavily on retailers. You could, for instance, work to hold direct contact with many of your readers; build your newsletter, sell some books directly from your website, or join Patreon to guarantee a baseline of sales each month. Doing so allows you to keep the communication lines open between you and your readers even when big businesses don’t favour your work. Yes, it can mean losing some exposure by not fully leveraging retailer algorithms, which can produce even more organic sales and discoverability. But your upside is having a business that also can’t have its audience taken away the moment you make a misstep.
As an author, you might aim for relentless personal productivity, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that serious illness can immobilise even the most determined individual. If you have a well-trained virtual assistant, lots of books that sell without you, and a healthy emergency fund then falling ill might not concern you. But many of us are one-person shows, run our own ads and work with occasional freelancers, all of whom rely on us as the main business bottleneck.
You might thrive on the sense of importance that comes with living this way. Consider for a second, though, the potential pressure you could lift if you worked on your business instead of in it for a while. Could you optimise it to work without you? According to entrepreneur Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Work Week, this is the exact challenge investors set him when they wanted to buy his online venture. And, over several months, he managed it, creating systems that removed him from the equation. Tim’s investors bailed. However, the process left him with a business that made him money without him being involved. Could you do the same? How about:
- Using technology to automate tasks you manage manually?
- Writing down your processes so freelancers can train themselves?
- Outsourcing routine tasks to free up your time and mental bandwidth?
You don’t have to optimise everything to the point where you’re not even writing anymore. That said, making your business more autonomous would help it continue to generate income if you ever got too sick to work.
Humans aren’t the only things that break. Occasionally, it’s the tech we operate. Unlike humans, though, tech rarely offers a warning sign. Nobody ever expects a battery to explode, a file to corrupt, or to overwrite weeks of work with a single absentminded click. Whatever the disaster, they come out of nowhere and most of us aren’t adequately prepared to continue running our business at full capacity when they do occur. A failure is particularly catastrophic when it involves files you can’t easily replace, like all your backlist manuscripts, artwork from designers you no longer hire, or operational documents you use to manage your contacts or metadata.
Creating backups, unfortunately, is the only reliable failsafe. Yes, feel free to sigh en masse, but backing up your work should be a regular part of your routine if you want to run a business that can’t be brought to its knees by a suicidal laptop. Relying on your memory to do so is unwise simply because:
- We forget the moment a shinier task turns our head, and
- Our brains delay unsavoury tasks until it’s too late
Hence, automation is often a better option. Save your work using Dropbox or Google Drive instead of in the “My Documents” equivalent folder on your device and the software will automatically create backups on a frequent basis. This way, your documents will be constantly saved to the cloud, and you could access them from other devices even if your primary one died. Just remember that no service is perfect. It’s unlikely Google or Dropbox will fail but, just in case, also consider using a portable hard drive on occasion. That way, even you backup has a backup.
Worst nightmares don’t always occur as a result of bad luck or careless practices. Sometimes it’s the malicious acts of people that bring about disaster. Criminals are everywhere. Traditional ones can steal the phone you use to run your business or burgle your house to get at your laptop. Savvier ones, meanwhile, can hack your online accounts from a remote location, breach your data, or even impersonate your pen name online to syphon cash from you and exploit your readers.
There’s no silver bullet that works against all criminals, but you can protect yourself in a multitude of ways. For instance, facing traditional thieves, you could insure your hardware and install security cameras around your property as a deterrent. Practicing good password management can minimise the scope of damage an online criminal can cause. And, if you want to protect your brand from imposters, you could get a trademark, apply for Brand Registry on Amazon’s backend system and brush up on your legal rights. That way, you can dispute the existence of imposters and distinguish yourself as the true source of your books. In general, being thorough and diligent is the best way to protect yourself from criminal attacks.
You can never spot every iceberg on the horizon. Nor can you avoid every storm. Even while taking precautions, you will occasionally coast into problems. The steps outlined in this blog post won’t guarantee you continuous progress. They will, however, minimise the damage a disaster can cause and ensure your ship stays afloat, even under harsh conditions.
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