How to Treat Your Writing Like a Business
When most people imagine the life of a writer, they typically think of two distinct characters – the glamorous bestseller and the starving artist. One is a visionary who pens a novel in a warm writing shed or a coffee shop then travels the world signing books. The other is a poor recluse, hunched over a desk, surrounded by the scrunched-up pages of a failed novel. Neither scenario truly reflects most writers’ lifestyles.
Talk to any bestselling author and you’ll quickly realise that they do a lot more than just write books. Modern authors, particularly those of us who self-publish, operate small business. Yes, we write, but we also manage paid ads, talk to merchandisers, do the finances, file legal paperwork, network and project-manage freelancers. We structure our work weeks, splitting our attention between business “departments” – even as a one-person operation. If we don’t, readers lose interest, profits fall and our dreams become unsustainable.
If you’re a new writer who hasn’t published yet, or you have a few books out but are struggling to earn a meaningful income, then perhaps you could change that by treating your writing like a business. Today’s blog post will explore a few key practices you could adopt to make that happen. Together, they should greatly improve your chances of turning pro.
A notable difference between those who write as a hobby and those who rely on it to pay their bills is their focus on production. According to Written Word Media’s 2019 Author Income Survey, “100kers” – writers earning over $100,000 a year – are significantly more prolific than “emerging” authors who earn less than $60,000. The data states that 100kers spend 32 hours a week writing on average and have 28 titles in their backlist while emerging authors only spend 18 hours writing and have 6 books. The trend is clear: more writing equals more income.
A good work ethic is necessary if you want to see rewards. That could mean working regular office hours. Or if you procrastinate a lot, you might want to focus more on your word count than the number of hours you spend sat at your desk. It’ll be difficult at first, but a writing habit can be trained for endurance like a muscle. While writing more than 500 words a day might seem daunting now, by gradually raising the bar over several months, you can condition yourself to manage thousands in one session without much trouble. Extremely productive writers habitually produce 40,000+ words a week and publish a book every 30 days. This routine might seem gruelling but it’s worth it when you learn that many of these super-authors make six figures a month for their effort.
Writing is one of the few careers where you can break into the industry and grow a business without investing any up-front capital. Anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can write books, build a platform and bootstrap their way onto the bestseller list. Just because you can, though, that doesn’t mean you should. As with any other industry, writers who invest in their passion are more likely to produce great products and reach more buyers than those who cut corners.
No need to re-mortgage the house or sell your car. There are plenty of ways an entrepreneurial writer can make additional income to fund a project. Also, your author starter kit is probably cheaper than you think. You don’t need an expensive marketing campaign or a huge print run to make an impact. A professional cover and some basic editing will often be enough – and they can cost you less than a few hundred dollars. Think of it from your readers’ perspective. Would you pick up and read an amateur-looking book with a bad cover and typos? Me neither. If you want readers to invest in your writing career then you need to lead by example. After all, if you don’t have the confidence to back your books, why should they?
Check Your Work
Quality control goes way beyond paying an editor and a cover designer. Multiple opportunities to check quality take place at every publishing stage and you as the author, regardless of how you publish, are expected to find the mistakes missed by others. This is because nobody knows your project like you do. Traditional publishers send manuscripts to their authors in PDF format or in hard copy for them to check. Meanwhile, successful indie authors take on the responsibility themselves because there is no one to tell them to do it.
Every format must be professional. It can be tempting to let your standards slide when you’ve been working on a project for months and are sick of it but a last-minute check can mean the difference between getting glowing fan mail and a tirade of one-star reviews. Make no mistake; your reputation and your readers rely on you to uphold meticulous standards.
As you grow your business, while checking personally is recommended, you can put systems in place to make sure it happens for you. Just be sure to make them watertight. Many successful authors entrust the job to an inner circle of dedicated readers or to a long-time PA who knows their books. However you do it, treat your writing like a business and make sure it happens.
Company managers hold meetings to take stock of what has gone well and what needs to be improved to hit departmental goals. If you want to turn your writing into a profitable business then you might want to conduct meetings with the same mindset. How you hold those meetings will depend on your situation. Some authors these days have a family member who handles a portion of the work – the marketing, for example – allowing them more time to write. If that’s the case for you then holding a meeting to talk about goals, strengths, weaknesses and potential training opportunities will be easy to schedule.
Most authors, however, handle every aspect of their business. And while a meeting for one might seem like a descent into madness, it can prove extremely fruitful. As writers we sometimes become too close to our writing to see how our habits affect our income. So taking a step back to reflect on your venture could cause you to ask yourself some useful questions. How could you improve your series read-through? Is there software that could speed up your production process? Are you alienating readers with your social media plan? Could you change your ads to reach more readers? Do your covers hold their own against comp titles in the charts? Any one of these questions could provide a breakthrough and make your writing a viable enterprise.
Writing a book is typically a solitary process that the writer fully controls. That control ends for traditionally published authors the minute they license their rights to a publisher. Yes, they still have input, but publishers make a lot of business decisions around packaging, marketing, distributing and scaling the book’s readership without them. To do this well, they often hire specialist editors, designers, marketers and sales reps. And the bits they can’t do, they outsource to partners.
This is the way most commercial businesses run. You wouldn’t expect Elon Musk to design, build and deliver your Tesla by hand, would you? He’s clever and works hard, but nobody is good at everything, and Tesla wouldn’t grow if Musk never let anyone else get involved. Yet many writers work this way. Bound by emotion, they design their own covers, overrule editors and refuse to accept sage advice. They try to know everything, do everything and be everywhere which, of course, is not possible.
If you’re struggling to keep all of the aspects of your business from unravelling then giving up some control, outsourcing work or being open to expert advice might be your best solution. Remember, humans have a tendency to overestimate their own abilities and underestimate the people around them. Learn to trust others with your art and you will find that not only will many of them do a good job but they will actually enhance your productivity while reducing your stress. You may experience hiccups at first but everything will be better once you find your perfect team.
By now you should understand that you need to treat your writing like a business if you want to succeed. That means working hard, investing, upholding quality standards, regularly reflecting on your work and seeking help from outsiders. Do all of these things while writing fantastic books that lots of readers enjoy and you will become far more likely to see your finances flourish.
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