When I think of the business of writing, I think of what Debutante Ball guest author Clare O’Donohue says about writers needing to run their careers as they would a small business.
Because a publishing writer is a small business. (Just ask your tax professional.)
So small that for a long time, it’s just you. But even as you attract an agent, then a publisher, then some pals down the hall in marketing and publicity, then some book store owners and librarians, and then these elusive creatures known as readers—it’s still your business. You’re Research and Development as well as the manufacturing, quality assurance, sales, and customer service departments. You might get some help in some of these areas, but if you’re not ready to be the gear that turns any one of these mechanisms, well, you might be the guy who hangs out the Closed for Business sign, too.
The good news is that you’re the boss!
The bad news is that you’re the grunt who has to do the work, too.
But as award-winning mystery author Hank Phillippi Ryan (scheduled to be a guest here soon!) said at a writing workshop she recently led in Illinois: You’re the boss. Keep the boss happy.
The boss is happy when the words are written. Sure, she gives out hearty handshakes when other things get done, but she only gives raises when the words get done, when the edits are made and sent back to the press, when the publicist’s emails have been answered. She doesn’t care as much when the Facebook status is updated or the Twitter account is humming. All of it is business, but some of it is in the mission statement, and some of it isn’t.
Unfortunately every job has busy work, and rarely does the boss fully understand all the stuff the grunt is responsible for that keeps the entire machine running.
When I think of the things I’ve been doing to build my writing career over the last—woah—seven years, the single most important thing I think I’ve done, besides the actual writing, is the part where I put out my shingle. Open for business. What that looked like: joining a writing community, trying to learn as much as I could, reading the kinds of books I wanted to write, showing up to places where people doing what I wanted to do hung out and talked to each other. I didn’t have a book published. (I still don’t, until July 8, 2014.) But I put myself out there in the hopes that someday I’d belong.
The mystery community is very welcoming this way, but even if you’re not a mystery writer, you can find ways to build a community around you that will guide and support all the steps you have to take before you have an actual, forgive me, product. Do you think that successful business owners try to start selling their widget without getting a few focus groups together (beta readers), without crafting up some marketing copy full of the product’s features and benefits (query letter), without doing a little proof of concept (agent search)?
Anyone else tired of this metaphor? Fine. Me, too. But if you do your advance work, your product is much more likely to find its way in the world, making way for your next move, which is going to be writing another book. The boss is going to be very happy with you. Look out, corner office.
What’s your best piece of small-business advice?