The business side of writing is not your enemy


Nobody can afford to treat money this way.

I have a meeting tomorrow with my agent and my Night Shade Books publicist, and we’re going to be talking about all the things we’ll be doing to launch MJ-12: Inception and, in doing so, introduce the MAJESTIC-12 series to the world. Why am I taking the time for this, rather than spending it on either A) the edits to said book; B) the outline of MJ-12 book two, or C) almost anything else?

For one, my involvement in marketing and publicity is a necessary thing. My publicist is great and hard working and all that stuff, but I’m just one title out of many she’ll be working on. And it will indeed fall to me to write the guest posts, respond to the interview questions, do the podcasts, etc. So of course I want a say in what those things are. If I didn’t do those things, they would not be done. Period.

Second, this isn’t my first rodeo. It’s my fourth, in fact, in terms of books. I have a ton of contacts, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. We authors do occasionally talk business and swap ideas, and I know by now where folks have had success with free books or swag, giveaways, etc. As a corollary to this, my day job is in marketing communications, so there’s experience there too. I know my way around a marketing plan.

And finally, I generally take an active interest in the business side of things. I’m a former Wall Street reporter, after all, so business topics don’t scare me. I’ve learned how book sales and distribution work, why MJ-12: Inception is better off coming out in hardcover rather than paperback, how bookstores determine which books are face-out and which ones are on end-caps and tables (i.e. publishers pay for placement), and who makes what money when.

I am frequently amused by those authors, both would-be and established, who say they don’t pay attention to the business side of writing. It’s usually in the context of not wanting to sully themselves with something gauche (an exaggeration here, mind you), a lack of time to commit to it, or a discomfort with the notion of promoting yourself and your work though business channels.

I am here today to tell you, dear reader, that it is not gauche, that you need to make the time, and that your own best advocate is you. The business side does not equate to the Dark Side, with artistry and self-expression being the de facto Light Side. If you want to be an author, you need to accept the business side as a thing not only that you have to do, but something worth doing well.

You know, we’d all like to be sitting in our fine leather chairs behind our mahogany desks in our study, looking out over the meadows and sipping fine Trappist beers as we write our beautiful, fantastic, artistic novels. Me, I’m in the living room in my chair with the ass-groove and listening to the leaf blowers taking advantage of a warm March day while I juggle this post, my revisions and several other things — and that’s all in addition to a day job. At least I still have Trappist beers.

What I don’t have is the luxury of ignoring business stuff — and unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you don’t have that luxury either. Yes, I have an incomparable agent in Sara Megibow, and she handles the pitches and the deals, the contracts and the subsidiary rights. She’s also great at educating her clients on business matters, and she has a great head for publicity, too. But again, she can’t do everything for me. She’s not writing publicity materials, she’s not always there at DragonCon or WorldCon to see what works and what doesn’t. And I’m not her only client, obviously.  We’re a team, and I need to do my part in addition to writing good books.

You gotta know your publisher, too. That means reading your contracts and understanding your publisher’s plans for sales, distribution and marketing. A wise author once told me that all my marketing efforts — blogs and podcasts and giveaways and conventions — could help me move hundreds of additional books. But, he added, it’s the publisher’s efforts that matter, because they can move thousands of books — or not — based on their sales and distribution decisions. Are you, fellow scribe, going to simply accept whatever your publisher does? Or are you going to ask for the details and, if necessary, make the case for more investment on their part, with your agent by your side?

And yes, you have to promote yourself. Some authors are quite introverted, of course, and find the notion of tooting their own horn discomfiting. I don’t have that problem. I’m excited by the reception my books have received and I want to tell all the people to read them. Now, granted, I’m not going to be that guy whose every-other-Tweet and every blog post is a sales pitch. Nobody wants to read that. But if I, from time to time, remind you that I have books out there, and that I think they’re pretty fun and maybe suitable as birthday gifts or party favors? This is perfectly acceptable. Especially if I can be modestly funny or entertaining while making the pitch.

It’s OK to promote yourself. It’s kind of expected at this point, frankly. And it’s a very cool way to connect with readers and fans, too.

Again, nobody wants to be doing this. We all want to write books, send them off into the ether and watch the money flow into our bank accounts seamlessly. That does not happen, ever. So it behooves you to get educated on the business and be aware of what’s going on with your work. Do what they ask and go the extra mile. Be a good business partner for your agent and publisher in addition to being a good writer, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how that reflects on you down the road.

Got a question about the business side of things? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll respond — either as a reply or in a future blog post. (Note that I moderate comments, so if yours doesn’t show up right away, don’t fret. I’m on it.)


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