Writing as a Business

Laptop and PrinterWhen I decided to go full time self-employed, I completed the Exploring Enterprise Program run by Prince’s Trust, and following that I attended various business seminars and meetings. A lot of the things talked about at these events applied to me, but a lot didn’t, as well.

Setting myself up as a freelance writer has not followed the standard business model (if there even is such a thing) and because of that there’s a lot I’ve had to find out for myself, by simply going out there and doing it.

Many mentors I’ve come across did not have advice directly applicable to my field, and there’s a wealth of guidance all over the internet to do with the actual writing process (not all good, mind you), but I found very little information to do with the background work to having your writing as a business, and even less about the balance between that background work and the actual writing. In light of that, I’m filling that ‘gap in the market’ and writing this post about it.

Being a writer, or artist, photographer, or designer, is different from running a warehouse, or a restaurant. You’re not only emotionally attached to your work but, in a very real sense, you are your work, and that complicates things.

Often I find that what’s best for my writing career in the long run is not what’s best for me business wise, and I have to find a way to reconcile those two things.

On a very basic level, for example, a business is concerned with making money; but, on a personal level, I’m much more interested in creating something I’m proud of whether or not it brings a profit. As such, how I define success is tricky, but it is important that I do define it.

Is my business really success if I’ve divorced my passion from my craft? How can I call myself accomplished if my readership is growing but my bank balance is in decline? What if my business is successful, but I’m not, and vice versa?

Those are the theoretical questions that keep me up at night and, dealing with them practically, what I’ve had to do is spilt my time between doing work I don’t particularly enjoy to pay the bills, and spending the rest of my time working on projects that I care about that are also less financially viable.

Writing a novel is not a get rich quick scheme, folks. For many, it’s not even a get rich slowly scheme. For every news article out there that tells you about the vast incomes of the most famous best selling authors, there is a companion piece about all the people at the other end of scale. Just recently I read about how writing is one of the poorest professions you could get into, on the whole.

More and more authors have to think of new ways to make money aside from selling books.

Selling books is actually a small part of what being a full time writer is all about, but even it is stuck in the middle of the creator-producer dichotomy. There’s a quote that springs to mind, regarding that. Something along the lines of, at some point you need to stop thinking about your book (or article, or script, or poem) as your baby and start treating it like a product. Indeed, as you sit down to work on your manuscript, part of you must consider whether the ideas you have for it are going to be marketable.

In elaborating about these issues I’m not trying to discourage anyone from perusing writing as a career or a business (unless you’re only doing so in the hope that you’ll be the next J. K. Rowling); I’m trying to give a realistic, balanced overview of things I feel you should consider.

For the business side of things, I wholeheartedly recommend the Prince’s Trust.* But what do I mean by ‘the business side of things’ exactly? Income and expenditure, taxes, stock control, investors, premises, insurance, staff etc.

Specific to writing, I suggest keeping a spreadsheet of ideas, and another one of where you’ve submitted work, and when. Keep files full of submission guidelines and style guides. Keep timesheets. Read news articles about changes to copyright law. Read. Download a sample press release for reference. Download templates for synopsizes and cover letters for reference. Make a list of local publishers. Look into how competitive your genre is, and how commercial. Look into other genres. Look at yourself, and your work, and decide if you are willing to take some jobs that pay you only in ‘exposure’. Realize that there’s no one, sure path to success. Try your best and, if you don’t make it money at it, keep writing anyway.

Recommended Article: Authorpreneurship – To succeed these days, authors must be more businesslike than ever, by the Economist

*The Prince’s Trust only work with people under the age of thirty based in the UK.

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