Good Writers, Bad Business

- by Elaine Isaak

One of my distinct advantages as a writer is my background as an  entrepreneur.  Since 1997, I have run my own wholesale gift business.  While some authors kick and scream about the growing necessity for business skills, I’ve come to be grateful that I’ve already got some. 

Being a business owner has given me a set of skills that place me well to understand the business end of publishing and how it relates to my own work.  It has shown me tools like spreadsheets that not only can help me keep financial records, but are also handy for creating time lines, outlines, and research documents to support my writing career.  It has helped me to focus on key messages when creating my own promotional materials. I also keep track of my writing budget and look at annual cash flows to compare expenditures and judge whether that new conference is worth attending

But perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is my attitude.

When people are upset about books being commodified or treated as products, I can envision how to make my product stand out.  When I consider a pseudonym or cover design, I can think of it as part of the “package” that will sell my work.   When my writing buddies wonder which parts of the job can be farmed out to others, I can talk about the supply chain of delivering that product.  How much of the chain do I want to be responsible for?  When my editor wants to know where I picture the book in the market and who my readership will be, I can think about demographics–and how to reach them.  Those are, mostly, the fun parts.

Entrepreneurship has also forced me to think about exit strategies.  When is it time to put aside a beloved project?  What are the options for non-commercial works?  When I move to a new genre or market, how can I capitalize on what I already know–and what new information will be required to be successful?

Le’ts face it, writing is more fun than maintaining spreadsheets, marketing your work, developing copy for websites and other promotions, and strategizing about your future.  And yet, many writer-wanna-be’s opt for degrees in, well, writing.  The primary way to learn writing is to do it.  And once you’ve got the bug, the hard part is stopping yourself from doing it!  But learning business skills?  Ugh!

Or, maybe not!  My local college has run a series of seminars on social media for business and graduates–and me!  Totally free.  How about workshops through SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) or your state’s economic development branch?  These can be fun, inexpensive opportunities to stretch your business brain and pick up some valuable tools.  They often feature brainstorming sessions where you can take advantage of other local entrepreneurs to spark some ideas outside the box.

What are other ways you can hone your business mind–to build a stronger writing career?

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