The Business of Writing

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be an author lately. I’ve never been totally comfortable with the title. I’ve preferred to label myself a “chick that writes,” as opposed to a writer, or, heaven forbid, an author. This infuriates my editor to no end, by the way. She is a teacher of the craft. A writer. A coach. And she’s brilliant.

I could never understand her disdain for the term I used to describe my work. After all, it wasn’t disparaging, was it?

Was it?

In my previous life, I was a financial whiz kid. At twenty-three I began working for a large auto manufacturer and climbed my way up the ladder. With each passing year came a new skill and a new title. In my thirties, I became “Portfolio Manager—North America” for one of the most well known brand of luxury automobiles in the world. What did that even mean? Really, unless you’re in that world, it doesn’t matter. I knew what it meant. My team knew what it meant. And the industry knew what it meant.

If I would have walked into my Senior Vice President’s office and said, “I’d like to change my business cards to read ‘Chick that Manages the Money’ he would have scoffed. Then he would have sent me to our staff psychologist who would have promptly referred me to a mental health professional where I could recover from my apparent break from reality by taking up cross-stitch. Yeah, that would have happened. Because my title was important. It was integral to my success and my standing.

I’m not reading you my resume, I promise. There is a point to this rambling. And the point is this: writing, being an author, is a job. It’s a real life, you’ve got to have a plan or you’re going to fail, career.

That’s not to say that while I was in the business world I didn’t meet people every now and again that made me wonder: “Who the f**k are you, and how did you ever get here?” That’s the equivalent in the writing world to picking up a best selling novel and wondering: “How in the hell did this book make it on the bestsellers list?”

It happens, folks. We all know it. Lightning strikes and you’re in the right place at the right time. But for the most part, you’ve got to have a plan.

And when I began writing, I didn’t.

When I left behind the world of business for the world of art, I felt the two could not co-exist. I was going to write books, put them into the world, and “it” would happen. Mind you, I didn’t know what “it” was.

It soon became apparent that if I was going to succeed at this writing thing, I needed a plan. And, as resistant as I was to step back into that world, I decided the end justified the means. I would need to deal with contracts. Legal terms. Limited Liability Corporations vs. Sole Proprietorship. There were tax issues (if you’re lucky). Trademarks. The list goes on and on.

I breezed through this aspect of my evolution. Then I looked around and realized that others actually struggled with it. My editor, the brilliant, multi-tasking fixer of stuck stories, asked me, ME, for my advice. This seems to be a common theme in the world of art.

I was looking over a contract the other day from a publisher, and I was astounded. In the real world, this contract was a joke. All the verbiage was there, but in dissecting the terms like the professional I was trained to be, the contract wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Largely because the principles involved didn’t understand what a contract is. Legally speaking, a contract is a meeting of the minds. Yet, this particular instrument was so poorly constructed there could be no meeting of the minds.

I’ll tell you what was clearly stated in this “contract” : the royalties. How the publisher would make their money.

Now, let me just say, I am not only an Indie writer, I am a proud Indie writer. From purely a business standpoint it makes sense to publish my own work. Why in the hell would I give someone the rights to my stories, the thoughts in my head, for a paltry chunk of change?

I’ve heard the arguments: we, “the publisher’s”, will do all the work for you. “We” will hire the editor. “We” will provide the publicity. Book cover? Don’t worry about that. Just sit back, look pretty, and write your little books.

Does anyone get the visual of being patted on the head and given a lollipop? Yeah, me too.

Because, you see, the people that handle the business end of the business in traditional publishing are just that: business people. They can smile and nod about your plot, your characters, but really, they just see the dollar signs. And you see the art. The vision.

So how does one handle that? Here’s my thought: we become our own advocates.

Am I suggesting that you go back to school, forego your degrees in writing in favor of an MBA? Hell NO. I wish I had a degree in writing. Maybe then I’d know what an Oxford comma is and where it goes.

But that actually proves my point. I don’t need to understand that little nuance to be a successful writer. I need to have an editor that does. And you, the indie writers of the world, don’t need to know how to dissect a contract to the minutest detail or form an LLC, you just need to hire someone that does. And not be afraid to do so.

I was afraid when I hired an editor. Because I didn’t know the difference between a developmental edit, a line edit, or anything attached to the word “edit.” So that made it uncomfortable. But when I got past the fear, I found a person that made my writing better. Sounder. Salable.

Of late, I’ve been mulling over the idea of offering a service for authors which would provide them the necessary tools to be effective in starting and running their business. It’s something I can do for the community of artists which I now consider myself a part of. It’s a way for me to help.

My former associates would argue that I did the same thing in my previous life. But really, the only help that I provided was making sure that people had a luxury vehicle sitting in their driveway.

Some of you may find it easy to transition from artist to entrepreneur. While others find it a terrifying prospect. And it’s those people that I will endeavor to help, in my own little way, while I try to figure out my place in the community.