The Business of Writing



anders-jilden-3871 copy
These skyscrapers are likely teeming with fantasy writers, cutting some serious deals in this dog eat dog world.  Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

You’re a writer. You just write. Right? Wrong.

There’s much more to it. For a start, you sell a product. You make deals with agents, publishers, and others. You promote your work. You consider the potential market for your books.

In other words, you’re not just an artist. You’re a self-employed businessperson. That’s true for all of us, from the biggest NYT bestseller to the new writer staring at a blank page and a flickering cursor.

The rise of social media has added a new dynamic to this mix. Many successful writers today are extremely active on sites like Twitter and Facebook, as well as their own blogs. It’s no longer a case of hibernating in your home office till the book is complete. There is an expectation nowadays that writers make at least a little bit of noise on these platforms.

I’ve never self-published, but I imagine there are even more demands in this area. Not only do they have to promote their books: they need to pay for cover art, arrange for a decent editor, etc.

So writing is both an art and a business. There’s nothing new about this: it’s been the case since writers started writing and painters started painting. I imagine you had to pay at least two woolly mammoth steaks to see the original cave paintings (note – this is probably not true).

I will admit, however, that not all of this has come naturally to me. I got a great agent, who has made much of it very easy, and my publisher has been massively patient. But selling and promotion has been a pretty new experience.

Still, I have learned lessons that can carry over to other aspects of my self-employed life, and I don’t think they are always obvious. These are mainly to do with promotion, and on my attitude to my books.

Always Love Your Books

Some people will hate your book. They will think it is absolutely terrible. And some of those people will say so – they will write a bad review.

It is very easy to be hurt by this. What’s worse, it is very easy to believe it: to remember the one negative thing someone said, rather than all the positive things. You might start to think ‘I wish I had done it like this’, or ‘if only I could rework it,’ etc.

However, you have to remember that this published book is the culmination of years of effort and thought on your part; it is unlikely it ever would have turned out differently. From a business point of view, do you think the founder of a start-up (which in effect is what we new writers are) instantly throws in the towel when he or she gets a bit of negative feedback, or goes straight back to the drawing board? Nope: they stick with the product they believe in.

The point is that you were the first defender of your books, and you have to be the last, no matter what anyone else says.

On the flip side, however …

Don’t Go Mad for Praise 

If it’s important not to get too downhearted when you receive a bad review, it is equally crucial to avoid triumphalism when you get a positive one, no matter who it is from. This can be dangerous on a number of levels. If you exalt a particular reviewer to too high a level, you make yourself vulnerable to their criticisms in the future. Additionally, you can start to think you’ve made it, perfected the art, etc.

At the end of the day, the book turned out the way I wanted it, and would never have been any different. Good reviews, of course, are very welcome: they’re better than bad ones, and don’t hurt book sales. But your view of your own book can’t be fundamentally altered by someone else’s opinion, whether positive or negative: that’s bad for business.

Don’t Be Embarrassed By Your Book

You should be proud of your book and happy to talk about it. This is something I found difficult at first: I worked on the book in private, so it was quite a searing experience when it became a public thing. But you quickly get used to it, and you develop a brass neck about getting it out there.

Sell, Sell, Sell – In the Right Way

It is of course fine to promote your book, but one thing I’ve learned is that people don’t like the hard sell. OK, if there’s a sale on then you should alert readers to that. But constant tweets of ‘buy my book’ will not get you far. It’s better to talk about things that interest you, even if not directly related to the book: you’re trying to find like-minded people.

Buy My Books

This is the key! All these secrets and more are discussed at length in The Machinery and The Strategist, both of which are available for the bargain price … only joking.



Author: gerrardcowan

I'm an author and freelance journalist. My fantasy trilogy, 'The Machinery', is being published by HarperCollins.

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