Accepting Responsibility for Your Writing Career

The duty to manage a writing career belongs to the author alone, and today’s post takes a look at what that entails.

Writers often see themselves as artists, or loners, or dreamers, and not as businesspeople– which is fine as long as the author doesn’t want to earn money for his or her art. When art crosses the line into sales,the author becomes a businessperson with a responsibility to treat the writing as a business also.

This may sound obvious, but success in any business requires an understanding of the business in which you operate. No chef succeeds as a restauranteur without an understanding of POS systems and “front of house” operations. Similarly, no writer becomes a successful career author without understanding how the publishing industry works.

Before you choose a publishing path, you should understand enough about the way all of your options work to make an informed, considered decision about what’s best for you and your work. In publishing, as in other business endeavors, you should make decisions based on logic, real-world information, and honest assessments of risk and reward. Anecdotal evidence is not necessarily proof of a larger reality. It’s proof that something happened a single time. No restauranteur would open a “mayonnaise restaurant” in rural Ohio just because one exists, and is successful, in Tokyo. Smart businesspeople evaluate the risks, rewards, and business environment, and act in a manner reasonably calculated to succeed.

Not understanding the business leaves authors far more likely to fall for traps and scams. Not knowing how contracts usually work leaves authors unable to properly evaluate a deal that’s offered to them. Not realizing that professional self-publishing means more than trying to sell the first draft of a much-loved NaNoWriMo novel leaves many new self-published authors disillusioned and unsuccessful.

The publishing world now offers authors more choices than ever before, and no one but you can choose the proper path for your work and your career. However, choices have consequences, and unless an author knows the potential (and likely) consequences, (s)he isn’t equipped to make an informed decision.

Good reasons for choosing a publishing path (whether traditional, self-publishing, or hybrid) include:

1. Meeting your personal and business goals. Some authors want to see a work in print, and care less about making bestseller lists than about sharing stories with the world. Some authors want more control of the process, from cover design to layout, while others prefer to have business partners to handle those aspects for them.

2. Finding the proper niche and market for the specific work in question. Some books don’t have large potential readership; others do. An honest assessment and understanding of your work (on an work-by-work basis as well as on the whole) can help determine the best publishing path.

3. Understanding your business skills (both strengths and weaknesses). Some authors have the capacity to hire cover designers, supervise editors, and handle the other tasks involved in running a one-person publishing house. Other authors prefer to write the books, and market the books, and let someone else take care of the printing, distribution and sales. Managing a writing career involves both an understanding of the work you want to take on, and knowing which jobs you are–and are not–qualified to manage. Smart businesspeople hire others to handle the tasks they cannot or don’t want to perform themselves, and that goes for publishing too.

The “wrong” reasons for choosing a publishing path include anything based on emotions, including frustration, lack of patience, peer pressure, and a desire to be rich and/or famous. That’s as foolish as opening a restaurant with no experience just because you think it’s the best way to become a celebrity chef. No matter which publishing path you choose, you need to make sure that you–and your writing–are ready to be professional before you publish. That takes time, and learning about the business as well as the craft of writing–but if you want a writing career, doing it right is the best possible choice you can make.

Have questions about this or other publishing legal or business topics? Please feel free to ask in the comments or email me through the contact page on my website!