Here’s a true story: the degree I’ve earned is in Business (specifically Business Administration, Management, & Marketing) and not in English. How’s that for a revelation coming from a writer? I love literature and I love being creative — I also have a very punk rock “do it yourself” mentality; couple that with my formal training and I can find ways to make my ideas work for me. Business can be a scary word, vulgar even, when it comes to subjecting your endeared creative work to its perverse nature — you don’t have to think like that. You can navigate the book business, the self-published author business, and I wanted to share what works for me.
I’m not going to sugar coat it: I was a difficult student. I had undiagnosed attention & anxiety issues, I displayed little interest in engaging in standardized coursework, and my high school had little time for one student who needed specialized attention. I am pretty sure my teachers met with my parents to talk about how I was a distracted student more than they had to tell them that I had talent — I was weary to enroll in any post-secondary education for those reasons. I knew I had to do something — I wasn’t built to do what was necessary to make a life in that town and there had to be a much wider world out there. I had planned to go to art school, but that all fell through; likely for the better, I am not that good of an artist.
The professors and administration at the South Hills School of Business & Technology changed my life — I don’t mean that as a cliche; they actually lead me towards opportunity. If you plot the trajectory of where I was heading (before enrollment) and where I ended up, the difference is quantifiable by several metrics (economy, quality of experience, etc.) By the time I was done, I had training in business, to either establish a business of my own or to be effective in an established business. To date, I have been putting those skills to work for my writing career. I wanted to share the most obvious concepts that I use and hopefully get you pointed in the same direction.
[NOTICE]: Don’t get my message confused; I’m not saying that if you go out and get a business degree, that you are more qualified than an English major to be a writer. Practice and study of creative writing & literature is exceptionally important, talent and skill are all very important — what I’m saying is that I was able to study and observe the concepts of literature independently, that my business degree has been integral in building my own practice as a writer.
In no particular order:
- Sole Proprietorship – as a self published author, who is directly responsible for his own marketing and sales of his own product, I recognize that I own my own business. The labors of writing the book, coordinating the subsidiary activities to get it ready for print, and letting people know that the book is ready for consumption, all fall on me. Understanding that I am a de facto business owner means that I recognize that I have to keep two sets of skills sharp: my story telling ability and my business sense. When you think about your writing career in terms of an income producing entity, you take responsibilities a little different. Personally, I have modified my social presence in certain aspects to maintain my maximum income producing potential.
The idea of thinking of your writing career as a business isn’t as foreign as you’d think. As a creative person, you want to get your work in as many hands as possible, right? You want the most people possible to pick up your book and consume it and then ask you for more — this is a basic business concept as well; the only difference is that as a business person, I am taking a more active approach to getting word of my novel to people; I’m not hoping for luck or for a publishing house to put their marketing machine to work for me. My ultimate goal is to be picked up by a publishing house and have their machine do the work for me, I am just doing everything I can to generate as much buzz until they do.
- Branding – that logo of mine (the Circle A inside of the olive leaves), my pen name, and my website are all branding instruments. Stephen King’s very name is his brand — when you are at a bookstore and you pick up a book that has Stephen King’s name on it, you have an immediate impression that the book will be pretty good because of his name comes with a reputation of such. That’s what I’m building for myself — I want people to see my logo and instantly know that I am involved. My pen name sounds more literary than my given name, hopefully inspiring confidence for someone to pick up one of my books. My website (www.millerverse.com) is a part of a branding strategy of the entire “Millerverse.” Creatively, I am working on having all of my works tie into each other, even if in a small degree — I am doing that because when you look at my entire body of works, you could call them the Millerverse.
Branding in literature is very common: all of the books published by Penguin have very similarly styled covers — at a distance, if you see one, you know that it’s a Penguin book and likely worth your time. The Harry Potter logo and cover consistency is excellent branding. One of my favorite branding efforts in literature has been the Mockingjay in the “Hunger Games” series by Suzanne Collins. That one fictional animal has generated so much merchandising (and ultimately more streams of income for Collins) that everyone who wears “Hunger Games” branded merchandise becomes a walking billboard for her works. As a business person, that’s the kind of activity that I am working towards.
- Management – the four pillars of management are planning, organizing, leading, and executing. These four parts to the management concept apply to a lot of different things — making a book launch happen, managing my day, contact management, etc.
I’d said in a blog before that trying to be a writer while maintaining an existing career or day job is like taking on a second job — management becomes that much more essential when you look at it like that. I need to make sure that I am on task with my writing activity so that I can get the most writing done possible while making sure that my day job performance doesn’t suffer. I need to manage my writing supplies (printer ink, thank you cards, expenses), among a lot of other activities — in short, having your act together creates more opportunities to be creative; if you are effectively managing your time, you are able to maximize and compound opportunities to practice your craft and get noticed by agents and publishers.
- Networking – It’s not enough to just be a writer, that you have to know who the other writers out there are. Creatively, knowing other writers is going to stimulate your creative output — iron sharpens iron and having conversations with other writers is going to give you a sense of inspiration that will be crucial when your own motivational reserves are low. Networking with other writers is also good for when you need professional opinions or referrals for products or services. I needed a lead on new word processing software and I got some great feedback from the folks in my writer’s community.
Networking is not limited to others in your field, but you should also include those in industries that serve your industry. It’s a good idea to build a relationship with a graphic artist so that you know who to call and consult when it’s time to think about cover art; editors, public relations companies, agents, business card printers — these are good relationships to have. At the same time, having your brand and your friendly relationship with them will do well for you when they recall the writers they know and can recommend for freelance work. “You need a writer for a side gig writing a blog? You know, my friend [Enter Your Name] is a writer, reach out to them.” Every business on Planet Earth can benefit or suffer from how their network receives them.
- Marketing – This was the single biggest mistake that I had made when I started my writing career (not giving enough energy to marketing my work) and I will never fail to give this concept its due energy again.
My blog serves a few different masters: 1. It’s great practice to keeping my writing sharp, 2. It creates great opportunities for you and I to connect between novels, and 3. It serves as a platform for me to tell you about my consumable work and where you can get it. I’m guessing that if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I have a book coming out soon called “Days of the Phoenix.” As a regular reader of my blog, you know exactly where to pick up a copy of my first novel “Broken Promise Records,” and how much I appreciate it when you do!
A lot of folks have the concepts of “marketing” and “advertising” as interchangeable and that’s not entirely correct. Marketing is the global strategy of reaching your audience, advertising is one of the tools used to convey the message. I try to be very active in my social media outlets — I tweet regularly, participating in hashtags where I know other authors and readers will be looking. I create content and encourage people to share it with their friends, trying to make my reach that much more potent. Soon, I will be contributing a lot more to a YouTube channel in preparation for my next book to drop.
Think of marketing like you would your branding — does your tweets, blogs, and infographics about your book tie in to the entire message? Are all of your content contributions leading readers to the same point of purchase?
- Market Research – I struck gold on my last round of Beta Readers — I got feedback on every possible level. When you give your work to a Beta Reader, you are hoping to find out things like “did they enjoy the read” and “where there mistakes.” If you are going to ask someone their opinion, you might as well go the extra couple feet and ask the further qualifying questions: “would you recommend this to friends? Why or why not?,” “what would encourage you to pick up this book if you and I didn’t have a pre existing relationship?,” and “can I count on you to recommend this book to friends when it comes out?”
As a creative person, the phrase “you have to give the people what they want” conflicts me. I’m the creative person, I am creating what is inside me to create and too bad if they don’t like it. Well, consider this: the public at large will only willingly give up their money on creative works that they like — you want them to buy your book, right? Conducting market research is a good way to find out what the people like and how you can give it to them without sacrificing yourself creatively. Your market research (finding out from your audience what they like to spend money on) may also inspire different creative avenues for you as well.
- Accounting – Did you know that if you self publish a book, that you have to pay taxes on the income that you make? Over a certain dollar amount, anyways. As a writer, who is buying materials in which to write with, you may be entitled to certain write offs at tax time. I will never be my own tax accountant, but being cognizant of tax implications and accounting concepts has made my life a lot easier. I can use spreadsheets to budget marketing dollars, I know which receipts to keep, where to find tax information — keep in mind: you are your own business now and Uncle Sam wants his cut! Keeping up to date on your tax exposure will serve you well in the long run.
There are a lot of business concepts that are in the writing world — a lot that I’m not aware of. As a writer that wants to see you succeed as a writer, these are the ones that I have leaned on a lot. Hopefully I’ve given you some helpful ideas to make your writing efforts as efficient as possible.
I’d like to sincerely thank Mr. Michael Gates, Ms. Susan Vidmar, Mr. Mark Guentzel, Ms. Jill Irwin, Ms. Barbara Harer, Mr. David Whitmarsh, Ms. Julie LaFuria, Ms. Bonnie Baughman, Ms. Marilyn Mazza, and the late (but certainly never forgotten) Mr. Paul Mazza, Jr. for their tireless dedication to excellence in education, for being supportive, and for being willing to tell me when to shape up.
Until next time, I’ll see you on your next trip through the Millerverse!