“They” say writing is a business. Writers have to write, of course, but they also have to spend about an equal amount of time promoting.  Especially if they self-publish. How do most writers feel about this? From reading blogs and speaking to other writers, I’d say most aren’t too thrilled with marketing their work and themselves.

Let’s think about this a moment: the common wisdom now is that the entrepreneur needs to spend most of her time working on her business, not in it. For writers, this would be writing for publication. Without doing that, there is no business. Working in the business is doing things that almost always can be delegated. No, you can’t send someone else to do a signing unless you want to be called a fraud later on. But you can hire/bribe/coerce a friend/relative to set up that signing for you. And make the brochures, posters, order the books, solicit reviews, etc., etc. If you are self-publishing, you can get someone to make your cover, format the final versions, upload them and use a distribution service. Self-publishing or not, you can hire someone to set up your website, maintain it, and set up your blog.

Yes, this takes money. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the people who have made it good as self-published writers, most of them, spent quite a bit of money promoting themselves. Now, even those who are published by the big New York companies are also finding out they have to do a lot of their own marketing and pay for it themselves. Some even use up their entire advances doing exactly that.

Here are some hard questions:

  • How serious are you about your writing career?
  • If you were starting any other business, how much would you invest the first year in the start-up? What is holding you back from investing that same amount in your writing career?
  • How much do you enjoy marketing your work?
  • If money were no object, what would you delegate to others?
  • How much of a control freak are you?
  • How much time do you have to do it all yourself?
  • How much energy do you have to do it all yourself?
  • How good would you be at teaching someone else to do what is needed and letting them handle it after that?
  • And again: How serious are you about your writing career?
  • Do you think you are good enough?
  • If you’re a woman, are you thinking that you can’t invest family money in your career? Would this be a good time to think more like a man?
  • Has anyone you don’t know personally ever offered to publish anything by you, and even paid you for it? If not, how do you know you’re a good writer?

I’m not going to suggest any answers to these questions. No two writers are the same, and we all have to find our own paths. But some deep thinking is needed, I believe, about this subject. Because I see a lot of us (yes, me included) struggling with the business aspect of a writing career. Most of us would rather just write and let someone else handle everything else.  Is it even possible to make that happen in today’s world? Again, I don’t have the answer. I just know we need to think about it.

Would love to read your thoughts in the comments!

7 thoughts on “WRITING AS A BUSINESS

  1. These are hard questions to answer but good ones all the same. The old adage you have to spend money to make money is true to some extent in publishing. If money is no problem, you’d get a professional P.R. firm on board that specializes in the marketing of writing. A spot on a popular TV show, for instance, sells a lot of books.

  2. Jan, you raise good questions. The aspect of the business end that I truly enjoy is meeting readers and other writers, both online and in person. I’m happy to do readings and signings, less happy than I used to be to attend conferences–at least the megaconferences.

    Is it possible to delegate it all? I doubt it.

    • Oh, I love talking to readers. Signings are either good (sell a few books) or miserable (sell no books). I really don’t consider talking to readers, either in person or on-line, as part of the business end–just something I enjoy doing, although I realize it is technically a part of marketing. I enjoy blogging and guest blogging because I consider that talking to readers, too.

  3. Hi Jan, You can either pay others to do most of that stuff for you, or your spend some “sweat equity” and learn to do most of it yourself. I disagree that you have to spend lots of money, but effort does have to be paid in one way or the other. I think writing is a bit different than starting another type of business, because you can work at home and cut down on expenses that way. I, for one, have always enjoyed doing the marketing required for my books, but these days it has gotten out of hand. There’s just too much to keep up with, and too many people telling you that we have to. I’m not sure what the answer is, but spending more time on promotion probably isn’t it. 🙂

    • True about paying someone else or doing it yourself, Bobbi. But the point is that if you were running a “real” business, you would delegate as much of the work that can be done by others, and only do yourself that which they cannot do. What this boils down to for us writers is that we can spend more time producing product (books, short stories, articles, etc.), have more to sell, and potentially make more money than trying to do it all ourselves. Add in the fact that many of us (me included) are not very good at, for example graphic design, or formatting, etc., and we might defeat ourselves in the process of trying to save money and do it all ourselves poorly, thus losing readers.

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