Last year at my local library I heard mystery author Stella Baker speak about her adventures in writing and publishing her new book, 4 Gigs of Trouble. I was particularly struck by one comment she made, so I scribbled it down: "A book begins as an act of creativity, is finished by an act of will, and once published is a business."
How true, I thought. But then it occurred to me that maybe this statement doesn't go far enough. Because in reality, most writers I know who succeed in reaching writers and earning money in this crazy profession treat it like a business from start to finish. That's especially true these days, when the publishing industry is going through a transformation and no one is certain how all of the changes will sort out. It can pay off for authors to think of themselves as entrepreneurs.
Some years ago, when my husband and I owned a printing business, we enrolled in a series of small business workshops. They were organized into three topics--the three basic functions of any business:
1. Production--manufacturing the product, or providing the service.
2. Marketing--finding customers and persuading them to buy.
3. Administration--doing all of the tasks of running the business and enabling the first two functions to happen, including managing the finances.
In other words, a business needs someone to make it, someone to sell it, and someone to count the money.
Once upon a time, a writer's business model looked like this. The writer concentrated the most important part of the production--writing the book. Then she engaged a representative (the literary agent) to secure a partner (the publisher) for the enterprise. The partner would handle the rest of the production tasks, like editing, design, typesetting, creation of a cover, and printing, as well as everything involved with marketing. In fact, a friend of mine whose publishing credits go back to the 1970s has told me that her early contracts with publishers expressly forbade her from doing any marketing for her books. The publisher and agent would handle the administrative aspects of their work, while the writer would the ones related to the writing and the partnership itself--including, with any luck, counting some money.
How times have changed!
Gradually publishers pushed more and more tasks onto the writer's shoulders. Skip the typesetting; we'll use the author's electronic files. Skip the marketing, except at the most basic level; if the writer wants to have the book promoted, she can do it herself.
Now, with the rise of independent publishers, more and more authors are deciding that the partnership is no longer working to their advantage. So they're deciding to skip the partnership with a publisher and take charge of the entire enterprise of placing a book into a reader's hands. Others prefer to pursue the more traditional writer-publisher partnership.
With the industry in flux, none of us knows what its future business model will look like. But whatever our route to publication, succeeding in the writing business will involve wearing a lot of different hats. Not only that, it will mean balancing them all on our heads without letting any fall off. We're more than writers; we're producers, marketers, administrators, tellers of stories, suppliers of entertainment and inspiration to the world.
In other words, we're entrepreneurs. Whether we like it or not. Even though what most of us want to do is simply to write.
By the way, for those who are interested in this subject, my friend and fellow writer Beth Barany publishes a free quarterly magazine in blog format (a blogazine?) called Author Entrepreneurship, with articles and tips to help writers make their businessperson hats fit better.