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How to Turn Your Book Into a Business of Writing
So I write and stuff. I don’t expect to become a bestseller, but I do earn some success when I put my mind to it. And I've spent the last 10+ years focusing on developing useful, transferable skills, like training presentation and graphic design and copywriting and social media strategies, in part for just this reason. Allow me a few minutes of your time, and I’ll explain why.
"I Can't Afford to Learn That Stuff"
Believe me, I know... the costs are always the first hurdle. For example, a good, solid, university-level Photoshop course might cost an easy grand or so. But there are student loans and grants and corporate training allowances and other continuing education resources that might be available to help cover that investment. And it’s an investment that pays for itself - over and over and over again - with every inevitable business need that calls for some graphic design work.
Yes, I said "business need." Unless you’re content to enthrall yourself and your friends and family members with your prose and fancy, then writing becomes a business. If you intend to build an audience, get your name out there, gain recognition as an established author, and earn royalties or direct sales... then writing becomes a business.
And it helps to view it in terms of business. What does one do to get a business off the ground? One engages in business training and learning opportunities. One gains the skills necessary to run a successful business.
I can't stress enough the value I have found as an author when it comes to broadening my personal talents, skills, and capabilities beyond the silo of writing, revising, and editing. Obviously, those skills are the foundation of the writing business, but those skills focus exclusively on the words - and the words are only a single department of the business.
You and I both know all too well that the business of writing encompasses so much more than the mere writing of words. Producing and selling a novel involves writing, editing, formatting, layout, design, copywriting, publishing, packaging, distribution, shipping, networking, marketing, advertising, promotion, public relations, communications, and finally - with a little bit of blessing - sales.
So the more of those things you can add to your professional repertoire - the more of those languages you can learn - the more successful you can become as a businessperson, and the more valuable you can become as an author.
"I Don't Want to Learn That Stuff"
Yeah, I know, this is the part where you roll your eyes and want to skip on to the next link. But don’t. Okay? If you want to make an income from your writing... if you aspire to make writing your livelihood... if writing is your vision and your main drive... then let's not avoid the business end.
Of course, most of us hate this part. As self-defined creative types, we writers hate crossing over to the “dark side” of sales and commercialization, right? We hate viewing our art and expression as a packaged product. We hate the onus of having to learn about a bunch of boring business stuff that doesn’t interest us at all when all we want to do is sit down and write our hearts out for the rest of our lives. Most of all, we hate turning these children of our creation over to be bastardized by the processes of marketing and promotion. Don't we?
And that's exactly why we writers must actively seek and obtain business-focused opportunities that support our professional development. That is exactly why we must position ourselves for a seat at the table in every step of the concept-to-creation process - and beyond. That is exactly why we must cultivate the technical skills and the business acumen to become participating movers and shakers in the ultimate success of our work. That is why we must gain exactly those skills that do not come naturally to us. We must become a reserve of one-man armies who are capable of pulling off the whole show by ourselves, step by step - even if we do have people to do that stuff for us.
Why? Because we writers no longer have the luxury of remaining content, believing publishers and agents will take care of all that business stuff on our behalf. Publishers and agents are spread thinner than ever before. They have other clients to take care of, too, you know. And if you - the single person most invested in your business of writing - do not know how to handle your business of writing, how will you know if your publishers and agents are covering all the bases? How will you know if you’re being railroaded into an inadequate marketing plan or getting short-changed on your royalties? How can you ensure your book is getting all the attention it can get if you're not participating?
No, I do not advocate that we writers should try to tell publishers and agents how to run their businesses. I advocate that we writers should become valuable partners in our own businesses of writing. I advocate that we writers should pull our own weight.
We must seek always to build upon and enhance our professional skills and abilities. We are our own hot-ticket items, and we must engage in a process of continuous improvement, so we can become the comprehensive package deals that blow the socks off our competitors. We must elevate our efforts around our work to professional-grade standards and bottom-line expectations. We must learn to leverage our work as a profession, not as a craft.
If, that is, we want our work to gain recognition as a profession. If we’re happy to simply dabble over a common hobby, then, by all means, skip on to the next link.
"Do I Always Have to Do All of This?"
In a word: no. You command your destiny as an author. At this point in my life, I am, in fact, content to treat my writing as a hobby. These days, I have the luxury to write inspirational articles for other authors to help kickstart their business ventures because I want to, not because I need to in order to earn a living. Now, the practice of self-promotion and networking comes so naturally that I don't even consider it work-related anymore. It's just a part of the way I operate.
Earlier in adulthood, before I got intentional about my previous career in the media business, I was content to write in my spare time. I was content to send off a submission here and there, content to wait passively for a rejection slip or an acceptance letter. I was content to leave the business stuff to the publishers and agents who knew the business. I was content to wait for someone to discover me.
Are you content? Or are you tired of the passive approach?
I continue to utilize traditional channels where they're beneficial, but I no longer take a reactive stance toward my work. Even now that I'm just doing it for fun, I remain an active champion of my business of writing. I hope you’ll consider embarking on your own business venture and that you'll be moved to build a profession from your craft.
This is where all that technology and strategy and marketing training comes into effect. The stories are written, revised, and edited. It’s time to flip the switch. It’s time to change shifts. It’s time to give the writer the day off and bring in the marketing director. We must take an objective look at this product and determine the most effective means of selling it.
Yes, I said that dirty, dirty word: product. That's what it is. Your book is a product. It has to be. If we want to sell it, we must make it sellable.
Just humor me. Set aside the ego for a few minutes. No diva syndrome beyond this point. Average consumers do not consciously set out to buy abstract pieces of our souls. They buy products from us, and only after we’ve first built our personal brands and engendered customer loyalty to the point that they know and trust what they’re buying from us. In order to influence our own business success, we must become active players in the future of our products.
There are no better salespeople for this product. We created it, and we developed it, and we know it inside and out. We love it, and we are passionate about it. Good salespeople use their passion. I said it yesterday, and I'll probably say it again tomorrow: good salespeople believe in their products, and that makes their buyers believe in their products.
This way of thinking did not come naturally to me. Like I said, I used to just wait by the mailbox or the inbox and hope my big publishing contract was on its way, so I could keep on writing and let someone else sell my work for me. It took me a lot of years to make the connections that I’m making with you right now, and I’m sharing them because I wish someone would have made these connections for me a long, long time ago.
"Well, How Did You Do It?"
Throughout my career as a media and marketing professional, I have taken correspondence courses in copywriting and business writing and technical writing. I have taken Web design and online communications courses through corporate training opportunities. I have taken English and journalism classes through my local community college, and I have taken graphic design and illustration courses through an accredited online university.
I have attended more seminars than I can count, learning about everything from Microsoft Excel to Adobe Dreamweaver to Adobe InDesign, from public speaking to media law to leadership and management. I have read more articles, studies, and books on technology and e-commerce and social media and online marketing than I would ever care to revisit. I obtained an associate degree in Business Communications, and then I went after a bachelor program with a concentration in Marketing & Sales. When I finish my Biblical Studies program this fall, I plan to polish off a B.S. in Professional and Technical Communications for good measure.
Yes, education is expensive. Yes, it takes a long time. A successful business takes learning and investment. Here’s the thing: you don't have to be a media and marketing professional to take advantage of these learning opportunities. They're out there. They're everywhere. Anybody can do it. And it's getting more affordable all the time.
Here's the other thing: only a few years ago, I had zero interest in any of these subjects. Zilch. Nada. None whatsoever. I just wanted to write stories, man.
Somewhere along the line, though, I grudgingly acknowledged that maybe, just maybe, that crash course in copywriting might help me write better query letters. I hated it at first - it was dull and boring and held no interest for me - and I was right. It helped. So I tried a few other things. I worked on a few other areas of improvement. It helped. I began to actively seek out learning opportunities through which I could confront my professional weaknesses head-on, one at a time. And it helped.
And you know what? I don’t hate it anymore. After a while, after I started seeing results - after I watched my strategies come together more easily, after my campaigns began to progressively get better and better - it started to be fun. It’s fun to get good at new things.
Let me tell you something else I’ve learned: a lot of these skills are transferable. A lot of these new talents find their ways into my writing and into my professional development elsewhere. And it helps. After all, marketing is based on effective communication and persuasive writing skills. Tell me persuasive writing and compelling storytelling don’t go hand in hand.
Again, it was only in recent years that I began to clearly see the connections as these professional pieces started to fall into place around my personal aspirations as a writer. It took me a while to see those connections because I wasn’t focusing my professional development around my fiction. I was focusing my professional development around my full-time jobs in the newspaper, magazine, digital media, and technical writing fields. I was cultivating that professional development a little bit here and a little bit there, learning it as I needed it over time for the job positions I held. Back then, I didn’t apply all that professional development toward a direct business strategy for my writing. Then, one day, I did.
It took a while for the light bulb to go on in my head - for me to realize that every bit of professional development over the course of my career has overlapped and benefited my writing. Now that I see the connections, I see how I can continue to build my professional presence - my talents, skills, and capabilities - to directly enhance and influence my business of writing. I wish I saw these synergies years ago, back when I began to pursue publication for real.
Now I do see those connections. Not only do I see the connections looking back - I see them looking ahead, too. I can connect the dots. I can see the roadmap to an all-new vision.
And anyone can do it. You can do it. You can start right now.
But only if you want to see your writing in terms of a profession for yourself. Only if you want to leverage your business of writing to new levels. Only if you want to take an active role in your own business success.
And I venture to guess you must feel something about that idea resonating in you right now, or you probably would have skipped on to the next link a long time ago.
What are some of the seeds that have been planted in you? What are you really good at? How can you use your talents, skills, and know-how to influence the success of your book? How can you build upon today to create the tomorrow of your vision?