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Posts Tagged ‘business’

I’m writing this up in my hotel room at the SCBWI conference. I just heard an amazing keynote speech by Bruce Coville, who was in part saying what I said in my blog post last week about influence and never knowing how your actions will affect others. Only he said it in a more articulate and developed way and threw in several musical theater references for good measure.

He also gave many tips for writers, and something he said jarred a useful insight loose in my brain. He talked about the importance of art, craft, and business sense. All in one speech. I’ve been thinking about each of these subjects a great deal, and you’ve seen some of the results of that thinking here on this blog. But the speech gave me some much needed cohesion.

Sometimes I feel like art has become something of a dirty word among many writers. If we’re serious about writing (and oh, are we ever serious), then we discuss craft a great deal. Sometimes we even bite the bullet and talk about business and the industry in ways that are more thoughtful than reactionary and more intelligent than just following the herd. (Sometimes we freak out instead.) We can be inspirational within certain boundaries. But art. Yes, art is a loaded word.

When we hear others speak about art, perhaps we imagine the dilettante artist who never actually writes anything. Or perhaps we think about those who start with a message and try to slap their audience in the face with it. Or perhaps we think of something inaccessible, like the serialist movement in music that I was talking about on Tuesday. The starving artist comes to mind, the irresponsible flake who needs to be talked down from the ledge by the long-suffering editor, the tortured soul who has a room filled with crumpled pieces of paper (see the recent movie Limitless, in which the writer portrayed has nothing to do with reality whatsoever).

And yet, this is not how art needs to be, and this is not how we must define ourselves as artists. Art doesn’t have to mean any of these things. Instead, it is an essential leg in the tripod of the writer.

Here’s how the system works: A good grasp of craft means that we produce sellable and marketable works, which helps our business. It also means that we have the tools at our disposable to create art that works, that really does evoke emotion and help us see the world differently. Craft is essential.

A good grasp of business means that we can get our work out into the world. This facilitates its purpose as art to communicate. It’s also always nice to avoid being screwed and to get paid for our work, which helps us continue both our craft and our art.

An acceptance of our work as art keeps us inspired. It encourages us to keep improving our craft so that we can achieve more through our words, and it challenges us to learn the business side so that we can achieve greater impact.

Lose touch with the business aspect and we cannot support ourselves or get our work out into the world. Lose touch with the craft aspect and we cannot write well enough to be effective. Lose touch with our work as art and we flirt with a sense of futility and forget to take risks.

I tend to neglect the art aspect that reminds me of my purpose and pour all my energy into craft and business. This choice, I tell myself, makes me a serious writer.

But I am wrong. My best work doesn’t happen when I only have two of my cornerstones. It takes place when I remember all three and dare to write bigger. It takes place when I accept that I am a businesswoman, a craftsperson, AND an artist.

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Last week we talked about thinking of writing as a business, which includes educating ourselves about the industry and making informed choices. Today I want to talk about something that keeps us from making clear-headed business decisions. 

Desperation.

Desperation rears its ugly head for most writers, often (although not exclusively) toward the beginning of a career. We want so badly to be published, to be chosen, to have public validation that we aren’t wasting our time. We want to get our words and stories to the public. We want to be able to tell our friends and acquaintances, “Why, yes, I have an agent now. And Big Publisher XYZ wants to buy my novel.” Or “Why, yes, my indie-published novel is on the Kindle Best-seller List now, thanks for asking.” We want to know that we’re moving forward with our craft and not staying stuck in a hellish holding pattern. We want we want we want.

Some amount of ambition and desire for success is healthy. It might keep us on a daily writing schedule or encourage us to continue sending out those queries. It might motivate us to improve our craft or take a workshop. But it’s so easy to cross from these helpful impulses into the dark side of desperation.

The danger of entering that desperate place is that our decision-making process becomes impaired. Instead of making practical, well-reasoned decisions, we’re suddenly willing to do almost anything to see our work in print. We’ll sign with an agent even though we either haven’t done thorough research on the agent’s history or have a bad feeling about the working relationship. We’ll sign a publishing contract even though it offers poor terms. We’ll rush into self-publishing our novel electronically without enlisting first readers and/or editors to help us make the book the best it can be. We’ll say something best left unsaid on the social media of our choice because we’re so stressed/insecure/jealous/upset that we just can’t help ourselves.

Acting from a place of desperation is the opposite of acting from empowerment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with a traditional publishing structure or taking the indie path. In either case, desperation will lead to poor decisions (unless you’re very, very lucky). Desperation will tempt you to devalue yourself and your work and believe me, you don’t want to go down that path.

So what is a poor writer to do? Stop. Breathe. Try to convince yourself that you’re not in a race and you don’t have to hurry to the detriment of everything else. Avoid comparing yourself to other writers who are doing everything better, faster, with more shiny. Avoid it like the plague. Postpone any big decisions until you can talk yourself into a calmer state of mind.

And remember you’re not alone. I think writer desperation is very common, but we don’t always talk about it. I am writing this to tell you that I have felt it, I have been there, and I might very well be there again. All of the doubt and the waiting and the anxiety and the rejection and the lack of understanding–it SUCKS. Of course we sometimes feel desperate. But we don’t have to give the desperation the power to take over our lives. We can feel it and then keep going, keep trying, keep believing in ourselves. And we can do our best to make our business decisions based on the facts and our priorities instead of on a crazy-making emotional state.

Does anyone else ever experience writer desperation? Have any good tips on how to avoid it or deal with it once it’s happening? Please share!

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I’ve been wanting to write about the rising popularity of self-publishing (or indie publishing) for quite some time. Several months, actually. I keep putting it off, partly because there’s already quite a lively conversation about it going on, and partly because I’m conflict adverse. (I know, and I’m a blogger, right? What was I thinking?)

Yum, look at all this reading goodness.

I’ve been studying the publishing industry, and the indie publishing movement, with my trademark intensity for the past year or more. I have a lot of thoughts about it that I’ve been keeping, for the most part, to myself. But one of the key insights that I would like to share is this: Writing is a business.

It’s easy for us, when speaking about the arts, to entangle our emotions with our work. Which is as it should be. But in my experience, the farther apart we can keep our emotions from business, the better. I’m not saying we as artists and creators cannot or should not have emotions. But emotions can easily blind us towards making pragmatic business decisions (see the “practical” in my blog’s title).

Writing is a business. Every writer whose goal is to have a writing career is, in essence, running a small business. Whether she knows it (or wants it) or not. This seems obvious to me because I’ve just come off seven years of running my own small business in another arts-related field. But I’ve noticed that not all writers display this attitude, and it certainly wasn’t ever something I considered before becoming a small business owner.

Here’s the thing about starting and running your own small business: There is always risk involved. Always. Business is about calculated risk. There is always the chance that the business will fail. There is always the chance that your marketing campaign won’t work the way you hoped, even if you spent tons of time and money to make it happen. There’s the chance that the economy will take a downturn and shoot you in the foot. There’s the (terrible) chance that you won’t end up being any good at your business of choice.

It’s the same deal with writing. Even though writing doesn’t necessarily require a large outlay of financial capital, we’re putting ourselves on the line. Our work may not be popular. It may not attract the attention it needs to be successful. We may make it partway down the line, only to come to an abrupt halt. As in all businesses, there are many things that can go wrong.

Self-publishing carries this same risk. Because writing is a business. And maybe the material we self-publish will turn out to be really badly received. Or maybe no one will even notice it exists. Or, horror of horrors, maybe it will keep us from ever getting a traditional publishing deal if it turns out we made the wrong choice (or are playing it safe by pursuing both options at the same time).

As business people, our job is not to condemn without thought and research. Our job is to examine, as dispassionately as we are able, our different business options. Some of us will feel more comfortable doing this than others; some of us have a more entrepreneurial spirit, whereas some of us feel more comfortable taking an established path. There is no right answer here, folks. But after examining the current state of publishing, I believe that self publishing is a viable alternative (or a building block in a larger overall strategy) that should not be ignored.

Those of you following this debate on the internet have heard all about Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath, and now the big news this week is Barry Eisler turning down a $500k traditional publishing deal to self-publish instead. Yes, these are big names. No, not everyone who tries self-publishing will enjoy their degree of success. No, I don’t believe it’s a clear-cut decision about which path to pursue.

My point is this: Whichever path we choose as writers, there will always be risk involved. Anyone involved in the industry has heard a few choice horror stories about how traditional publishing has gone horribly awry. Self-publishing has its own unpleasant pitfalls. When we dive into either side of the industry, we don’t know how it’s going to go. When I started as a music teacher, I put up some ads on Craigslist. I didn’t know if anyone would answer them. My business could have been a bust before I even started. We experience the same thing in publishing, whether we send our manuscript out to agents or stick it up on Amazon and Smashwords.

Whatever path we choose, it won’t be easy. Self-publishing isn’t a shortcut; it requires a lot of hard work. Whatever path we choose, it won’t be fast. Craft takes the same time to develop, regardless, and while traditional publishing can take years even after you have a viable book (between finding an agent, finding a publisher, getting a release date, actually releasing the book, and performing all the necessary work between these steps), self publishing can take a long time too (between outsourcing various needs like editing and cover art, building a catalog of titles for sale, building a reputation as a writer, etc.) The key is to educate ourselves about the options (traditional publishing, self-publishing, the small presses, the e-editions only presses), look at the different risks involved, crunch some numbers, and then decide which option (or combination of options) makes the best sense for our business. While doing this, we need to keep in mind our business goals and our unique blend of strengths and weaknesses while making sure we consider both sides of a strategy (this means reading thoughts by people who are both for and against self-publishing, and the valuable neutrals if you can find them). Businesses in the same sector have different strategies, and that’s okay. Some will fail, which is sad but not out of the ordinary.

However, I can’t help but feel that innovation can be exciting as well as scary. I’m following the twists and turns of the publishing landscape with great interest, and I’m trying to avoid being overly critical of anyone. Because technology is changing the landscape, and we’re all a part of that, and we’re all trying to figure out what parts we can play in the change. Ultimately, we all love writing, and we all love books, and we all want to ensure that many wonderful books (in whatever format) are available to be loved and enjoyed. I see a lot of badmouthing on both sides of this issue, which is perhaps inevitable, but in the essentials, we’re all in this together. We merely have different visions of how to chart a course forward.

In the meantime, writers are experimenting. Some of them are combining traditional publishing releases with self-published short stories or novellas. Many are making their out-of-print backlists available. Some are turning their backs on large traditional deals, while others are accepting them with excitement. Personally, I’m glad that I get to be a writer in a time of experimentation, when the rules aren’t as cut and dried and innovation is more encouraged. While a small part of me wishes that there was One Right Way to get published, the truth is that there never has been; it’s just become more obvious.

Now it’s your turn. Please try to be civil, but tell me: what are your thoughts on today’s publishing world? How do you think self-publishing has changed the equation (or DO you think it’s changed)? What benefits do you anticipate receiving from your own business strategy? I eagerly await your opinions.

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