Own Your Business As You Own Your Book

When my son was in the third grade, his teacher asked him to write an essay (ok, a paragraph) about the person he most admired and why. At the end of the year, the teacher sent home a folder with each student’s best work – work she held back for that purpose, which we as parents hadn’t seen before.

Front and center in my son’s folder was a paragraph titled “Owning it,” in which my son explained that he admired his mother because she taught him to “own it” – both the good and the bad, his mistakes and also his victories.

This morning, I had the privilege of speaking at WANA International’s October WANACon – a fabulous online writing conference with a lineup of gifted speakers. I was honored that WANA’s founder, Kristen Lamb, asked me to participate.

My talk focused on Ten Publishing Contract Pitfalls (and how to avoid them) and you can expect to see that topic come up in future posts – but it’s the final (and most important) point I want to discuss today.

Publishing is your business. Own it, or it WILL own you.

You wouldn’t start a new job by saying, “hey, Mr. Boss, go ahead and pay me a pittance percentage from whatever you have left over after you take out all your other expenses, and while you’re at it, don’t bother telling me about my job expectations. I’ll gladly clean the toilets (with a toothbrush) and there’s really no need to let me know why you’ve paid me or not at the end of the month – I’ll totally trust your judgment.”

You’d insist on knowing the job details, the pay, and the basic conditions of employment. You would want to be treated as a human being – a business partner, or at least a valued employee.

 If you write, you have a job in the publishing industry.

Truly believe it, because it’s true.

But if publishing is your business – your job (or your second job, as the case may be) why would you treat it otherwise?

Starry-eyed wonder has its place. Dreams are important – vital, in fact – to an author’s productivity and success. But when the time comes to make business decisions, you’ve got to stable the glittering rainbow unicorns of your dreams and saddle up the weather-beaten draft horse of reality. Sparkling fantasy ponies suck at plowing fields.

Learn to separate your emotional, artist’s nature from the business of your publishing job. Dream all you like while creating, but once the book is finished, it’s a product and you need to treat it as one. If you can’t separate the emotions alone, you need to find an attorney or agent to handle negotiations for you (don’t miss the irony: it’s the most creatively-minded among us who often need this help the most).

At the end of the day, all authors have two jobs in the publishing world: the creative dreamer and the business professional. The dreamer lives within–at the keys, in the places where stories dwell. The business professional handles everything else. It may take time to learn the ropes, but every successful author has to do it. So do you.

Welcome to the Brave New World. You have a job in the publishing industry. You are an author, and if you write, there isn’t a better job description anywhere.

And now, it the words of my son … get out there and own it.