Marketing, Writing advice

The Attention Deficit, Part Three (Fixing it)

Okay, we have decided that we really want to receive more attention for the work we have created. It is what we want and we want it badly enough to do the work necessary. Good. That is the first (and perhaps hardest) part of solving the problem, acknowledging there is one and that it’s important enough to make the effort to correct it.

The next question is how, exactly, do we earn this attention? As distasteful as many may find it, the answer is marketing. (Remember last week when I asked whether we were willing to do whatever it took—distasteful or not—to gain attention for our work? Now it comes home to roost.) The only way to get anyone who doesn’t know you to pay attention to your work is to efficiently and effectively market it to them.

Yes, this means advertising. This means putting you and your work in front of as many potential customers as you possibly can. It means advertising and posting images to social media and signing up to appear at book fairs and signings. In order to gain the public’s attention we have to place our work where they can find it. Right?

But we can do all that and still not gain significant attention. Many of us do. We place memes in social media forums; we buy advertisement in various publications; we do readings and signings and spend hours sitting at book fairs, trying to convince someone to take a chance on our new book and nothing really seems to work. Oh, we sell a few here and there, but in the great scheme of things, no one really notices our work.

Because, at the most basic level, we’re doing it wrong. We’re trying to gain the world’s attention by using an invalid argument.

Think of your favorite car sales person (your favorite successful one anyway). How does she close all those sales? How does she move all those cars?

She probably doesn’t sell many cars by telling the customer who designed it. Nor will she go on about where the car was built, or where the designer went to school. Someone looking to purchase a car honestly doesn’t care about any of that. What they want is safe, dependable transportation that’s pleasing to the eye and practical for their lifestyle. The good salesperson will not waste time trying to sell an Italian sports car to a Wyoming cattle rancher, or a four-wheel-drive one ton pickup to a suburban soccer mom. The sports car is undoubtedly a fine product. So is the pickup truck. They just don’t meet the particular customer’s needs.

The successful sales person matches the customer with the product that best meets their needs. They don’t waste their time trying to sell anything—no matter how good they think it is—to someone who won’t want it.

Why would marketing our books (or paintings, or films, etc.) be any different?

Too much of the time, we (and this includes myself) spend years refining our work, then send it out into the world, expecting people to notice it simply because we did it. That thinking doesn’t work for cars. It won’t work for books.

As authors, we need to identify ways our work may satisfy a need out there in the world and sell that aspect of it. John Smith in Omaha, will have no idea who James Boyle is and really doesn’t care that I wrote a novel. However, John Smith in Omaha is a devout fan of mystery fiction. The fact that James Boyle wrote a mystery novel might just pique his interest.

How do we do this? I would suggest you examine your work and make a list of every aspect and feature you think might be of interest to someone out there. Start out with the big, obvious features like the genre and work your way down to the smallest. The object is not to make a list of everything you will use. It’s to make a list of everything you might possible be able to use.

I made one for my novel Deception Island as an example.

Genre

Mystery/detective/thriller

With some elements of an espionage thriller

Author tie-ins

Gold Beach/coastal Oregon/Oregon/Pacific northwest/United States

Setting

San Juan Islands/Puget Sound Area/Western Washington/Pacific Northwest/United States

Seattle/Western Washington/Pacific Northwest/United States

Protagonist

Male/Investigative Reporter/Print Journalist/U of Washington alum

Antagonist

Greedy Corporation/Security Department/Private Police

Themes and background

Corporate ethics/Unregulated Capitalism/Greed

Secret crimes/historical cover-ups

The internment of Japanese during WWII

The salmon fishing/canning industry in Puget Sound, WA

Life in a small town/life on an island in Puget Sound/maritime life

Returning to your hometown

Police/legal investigation versus journalistic/private investigation

Having to choose between your career and relationship

Good versus evil

Wealth and power versus justice

I was able to compile this list in about a half an hour. Now let’s see how we can boil these down into something we can use to get people to notice Deception Island.

First, of course, is the genre. Most people tend to have their favorite genre and read more of those than anything else. So Deception Island is a detective novel, featuring an investigative journalist against a wealthy and unethical corporation. At its heart, it’s a sometimes violent battle between truth and power.

The second thing that leaps to my eye is Puget Sound in Washington. The story takes place there and therefore much of the story background has to do with the location, culture, and history of the area. So the novel could be of interest to anyone who lives in the area, has visited the area, or is just interested in the area. That includes the history of the salmon fishing industry, the ecology, and what life is like in a small town in the area.

Third, a major feature of the novel has to do with the Japanese interment and how a crime committed during an episode much of the country would like to forget can return to affect lives two generations later. Though all of the novel takes place in modern times, the ties to history are strong and may be of interest to someone fascinated by U.S. history, Pacific Northwest history, World War II, or the history of civil rights.

Probably the weakest feature is the author. There will be a few who would be interested because they know me. There will be a few more who might be interested because of the “local boy makes good” aspect, but I wouldn’t count on such tribalism for much. In the long run, it will drum up more moral support than actual sales.

So now we’ve done our homework. How do we translate that into attention for our work? We use the promotional tools we already have to target those people most likely to find that our work will satisfy their needs.

For instance, were I to have a budget dedicated to buying print advertising in newspapers, I would ignore the larger markets back east, despite their massive readership, and spend most of my money on advertising in the communities around Puget Sound. Say from Vancouver, B.C. in the north, to the Cascades in the east, south to Portland, Oregon, west to the Pacific, and north to Victoria, B.C. This should encompass most of the people with an interest in the area.

I’m not going to try and convince a farmer in Nebraska that he should be reading this novel largely set in and involving issues about Puget Sound. I’m going to try and get people already interested in the Puget Sound area to see my novel as a work that will satisfy that interest.

As authors, as artists, this is what we need to be doing: finding people whose interests may be met by our work and introducing the two. If we are right, and the work does meet the buyer’s needs, they will be pleased. Not only will they recommend the work to others who share their interests, but they will (we hope) be more willing to take a chance on your next work.

And that’s how we start getting the world to pay attention to our work.

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Marketing

The Attention Deficit, Part Two (Or Is This Really What We Want)

Last week, I discussed a few points about the problem artists in general, and writers in particular, have in getting anyone to notice their work. I don’t know whether this is a new problem born of modern, high-tech times, or not. But I know it is a problem for me and anyone else who would like the products of their hard work experienced by a larger slice of the public.

So we have identified the problem: next to no one notices our work when we put it out there in the world. Why is that? Part of the reason for this lies in the nature of the world. It is very, very big with lots of things happening. Our novel, painting, or poetry doesn’t even make a ripple when it is released. People are also very, very busy. In the modern world, a person is bombarded like never before with competing interests all clamoring for a bit of their time.

A third reason for not getting anyone’s attention just could be us.

Us. As in you and me, the creators of the works which are going unnoticed. We could be part of the problem. As in many facets of life, we could be a large part of the problem, our own worst enemy. To find out, we need to ask ourselves some questions. They are often difficult questions, but we need to answer them honestly if we want to get to our desired destination.

(The following was borrowed and adapted from an article by Bryan Hutchinson on the Positive Writer website. Many thanks).

Have you decided that you truly want the world to pay attention to your work?

We have to decide we truly want something before we can attain it. You didn’t write that book because you thought it would be kind of cool to have written a book. You decided you were going to write a book. You worked at it. When you were tired and felt like just camping in front of the television, you turned away and spent that time hunched over the word processor. You decided you were going to do what you needed to do to write a book.

Gaining serious attention for that book is no different. You have to decide you truly want it. Because gaining attention for your art is going to change some things in your life and it’s perfectly acceptable to decide you like your life the way it is. There’s nothing wrong with that. But realize that you have to make the decision.

Are you willing and ready to do the work needed to get that attention?

Gaining attention for your novel or short story collection is going to take some work. (Actually, it’s going to take a lot of work). Millions of people publish every day around the world and most of them capture almost no attention. They haven’t captured yours, have they? This doesn’t mean their work is not good. It could be fantastic. It just means that there is just as much work to do after the work is published as before.

You’ve worked hard perfecting your writing craft and then worked hard at creating a work of art. Now you need to work just as hard to bring it to the world’s attention.

Do you think it’s all about you and your work?

Hate to say this, but it isn’t about you and it isn’t about your work. Not everyone cares about you or what you care about. Only a very few people are going to read your book solely because you wrote it. And you will already know all their names. If you want anyone who doesn’t know you to read your work you are going to have to find good reasons for them to do that and communicate that reason to them. You see, if you want to get some attention from people, it has to be about them. Reading your book has to offer some benefit to them.

So the first thing you have to do is forget about you for the time being and concentrate on your potential readers.

Are you willing to make a difference?

You must be willing to be passionate, willing to make a stand. The world doesn’t pay attention to people who only go halfway, hedge their bets. You must be clear about who you are, what you are writing about and that you truly believe in your work. You must convince them that you truly believe your work is good; you’re not just saying that to get the sale. You must be absolutely ready and willing to make a difference.

The audience doesn’t want to hear from anyone who is not willing to stand for something; they don’t have time for it.

Do you think you and your work deserve the world’s attention?

You’ve worked really hard for five years on this book; you’ve earned the world’s attention, right? Sorry. You no more deserve attention than anyone else. You absolutely do not deserve the attention more than someone who went out and did the work to earn it. The brutal truth is that everyone worked hard on their book and there simply is not enough time to give everyone the same amount of attention.

You have to go out in the world and earn its attention.

Are you afraid of being criticized?

Everyone is afraid of being criticized. It hurts, particularly the occasional, vicious, personal attacks. However, if you create a work that matters and share it with the world, you will receive criticism. It’s inevitable. If you try and hide from the critics, you will be hiding your work from the rest of the world too.

When the hate mail and bad reviews start coming in, welcome them. They are compliments. It means your work mattered enough for them to remark about it. How often do you comment on something that simply doesn’t matter?

Are you riddled with doubt?

Join the club. All artists worth mentioning are filled with doubt. The only people who never doubt themselves are those too blind or ignorant to realize their own limitations. Self-doubt is a good thing.

The only question that’s important here is whether you’re going to let that nagging critical voice in your own head prevent you from achieving your goals.

Okay, now we’ve done some serious soul-searching and decided in our heart-of-hearts that we really want to earn some attention for our writing. It isn’t easy. It involves a skill set every bit as difficult as the craft we had to learn in order to write. Like our writing, it will become a work in progress, much of it learned through trial-and-error. For, as in everything else we do, we often learn more from what doesn’t work than from what does.

Next week we’ll examine some concrete steps we can take to earn the attention we want for our writings.

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Marketing, Writing advice

The Attention Deficit

Recently I stumbled upon a website called Positive Writer, which from my brief visit, seems to be dedicated to helping overcome the discouragement that can so easily overcome those who are trying to make something good out of this writing gig. It’s an admirable project. The culture we live in is not kind to those who attempt to carve their life out of the arts. It is very easy to get discouraged. Even those many of us would consider “successful” find themselves getting discouraged.

I battle discouragement on a regular basis. Personally, I think everyone does (even those who don’t write) because there’s a human desire for more, despite however much we might already have. But it can be worse for writer, painters, musicians, all those who are interesting in learning and perfecting an art.

Part of that is the apprentice period. It can take decades to learn the art form well enough to produce work that is any good. And then, when you do learn your art and produce something you think is pretty good, the culture around us—how do I put this?—doesn’t give a damn. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking the average person on the street couldn’t name a living poet or landscape painter if their life depended on it.

It’s just the nature of the world in which we live.

One of the most frustrating and discouraging part of this gig is when you have finally created something you think is good. Maybe it’s a poem, or a short story, or even a novel; it doesn’t matter. You’ve created it. You’ve revised and re-written it until there is no flab in the manuscript. You send it out and—be still your heart—someone agrees to publish it. This is what you’ve been working for all these years. This is the Promised Land. Right?

But no one even notices. No one pays any attention. The work you worked so hard on and are so proud of dries up and dies of neglect almost as soon as it’s released. You get discouraged. What’s the point of working so hard to produce something beautiful if no one’s going to pay attention? No one that isn’t a blood?

It’s a legitimate question and a valid reason for discouragement. It happens more often than you might think. In fact, I believe it happens with most works produced these days and that is also discouraging.

But perhaps there’s a better question to be asked here. Why in the world should anybody pay attention when I publish a new novel? After all, they don’t know me, do they? Who am I? Yes, I worked very hard on this novel and yes I think it’s pretty good, but doesn’t every author work hard on their novels? Don’t they all think it’s pretty good? Upwards of 200,000 books are published every single year, fiction and nonfiction. Why on earth should anyone pay any attention to mine?

The brutal truth is that there is no reason. The fact that I published a novel called Deception Island warrants no attention at all from Mrs. Mary Smith in Everytown, Iowa. Why should it? It has nothing to do with her. The fact that I published a novel deserves her attention just as much as the slaughter of a goat in a village in Zimbabwe—not at all.

The brutal truth is that most works of art, whether it’s poetry, a novel, a painting, sculpture, or a song, fade away soon after they’re introduced to the world because there is absolutely no reason for anyone besides its creator to pay attention to them. No reason at all.

It can be very, very discouraging. Very discouraging indeed. Especially if your goals are not satisfied solely by the knowledge that you have created this work, or with the praise and/or admiration of your circle of friends.

If your goal is to have everyone in the English-speaking world read your creation, what do you do? How do you overcome this discouraging news?

Well, first off, take a sip of realism, because you’re never going to get every person who speaks English to read your book. It’s impossible. Sorry. Even the Bible—the best selling book of all time—hasn’t been read by everybody. Shoot for a more attainable goal such as being the number one selling book on Amazon. It’s a high target, but completely attainable. Someone has to be number one, after all, why not you?

But how do you do this? How do you make your book a best-seller (or even a good seller) if no one is going to pay attention to it? Well, you can’t. People will not buy your book (or other work of art) if they aren’t paying attention to it.

In order to sell, we first have to get their attention.

But we’ll tackle that next week.

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Marketing

Lessons From a Book Fair (or two)

Some things I have learned from sitting at book fairs over the past few years that help to make them more successful. Or make them less painful anyway.

Bring snacks.

Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a supportive partner or spouse, you are often alone at the table. When the event runs several hours (as most do) and over the lunch hour (as most do) you can’t go get a burger without potentially missing sales. So bring some simple snacks. Dried fruit, nuts, and power bars work well. Though most fairs provide access to some form of drink, it is a good idea to bring something with you. Again, while you’re off getting a coffee, who’s selling your book?

Dress for the weather (if the event is outdoor)

In July, I attended a fair in Pioneer Square, downtown Portland, Oregon. Portland had been sweltering for weeks under triple digit temperatures, so I dressed lightly and brought plenty of liquid. It rained for the first two hours of the event. It was chilly and my light dress shirt offered virtually no warmth. The same works in the opposite way too. Always bring fluid, hats, and sunscreen. Better to have it and not need it, than stand there shivering.

Be ready to answer “What is your book about?”

It is the most common question you will be asked. So be ready and able to answer it quickly and in a succinct manner. The public doesn’t want a treatise; they want a general guide. The professionals call this an “elevator pitch.” Think of riding an elevator when someone asks what your book is about. It should be no more than a sentence or two, providing the customer with everything they need to know, such as genre, setting, targeted age, and anything that might be objectionable. You need to be honest. If a person doesn’t like scary stories, don’t mislead them into buying your horror novel. Not only is it unprofessional, but you will anger them and they will tell everyone they know about it. Bad career move.

Be ready to explain the differences, if you have more than one book.

If you have more than one title, have an elevator pitch for each. But also have a brief sentence explaining the difference between them. In my particular case, I have a horror/fantasy trilogy, but my newest novel is a fairly mainstream detective/mystery novel.

Learn to Judge genuine interest

Like most retail endeavors, most of the people passing by the table are just browsing. Most of the time, when I’m in a bookstore, I’m browsing too. Unless I’m after a particular title, I’m just wandering through, scanning covers until something catches my interest. If the book seller starts hitting me with a hard sell, they are just going to chase me off. So let the browsers browse. Be friendly, but low key. When someone is interested, they will stop. They will ask questions, or read the blurb on the back cover. Then you can try and persuade them to buy.

Be approachable

The entire point of the book fair is that people can come down and meet the author and even have a conversation with them. You need to make that as easy as possible. Be the guy next door who happens to write, not the prima donna artiste. Even if it’s hard, make the customer believe you’re enjoying meeting them.

Have callback material

However good we are, however appealing our written works might be, almost no one can attend a fair with fifty or a hundred authors and by something from every author. Most cannot even afford to buy every title they find interesting. I know I certainly can’t. That’s why experienced authors have lots of marketing giveaways people can take home: bookmarks, postcards, magnets, stickers. Anything with your name and the title of the book can produce a sale next month, or for Christmas five months later. Make it as easy as possible for them to remember you.

Be willing to talk without a sale

Sometimes people come through a book fair for reasons other than to just buy a new book. Sometimes, they are aspiring writers who are hoping for some encouragement from you, one who is more accomplished. Sometimes, they are just interested in your process. Sometimes, your subject matter. So talk to them. It can be interesting. It passes the time, and it earns you good karma. (And it doesn’t hurt if they go home and tell their friends about this cool writer who was willing to spend fifteen minutes talking with them.)

Be patient

Anyone who has ever worked in any kind of retail trade knows one eternal truth. Customers never arrive in an orderly fashion, spread out over the available hours. They tend to come in waves, punctuated by periods of nearly nothing. The same holds for book fairs. There will be long stretches when no one comes by the table. That is to be expected. Many writers bring a novel along to read, or work on their next project in the down times. Others chat with the folks at the next table. But even if you haven’t sold anything for the first four hours, don’t give up. Don’t leave. That person who might think your book is perfect may not show up until ten minutes before the fair closes down. You need to still be there.

Be professional

This ties in to the patience part of this. You are a professional writer. Part of that means you honestly try to produce the best reading experience for the money you can. But there are other facets to being professional. You need to look professional. You don’t need to be wearing a tux, but you need to have not been wearing the same clothes for a week. You need to have showered and brushed your teeth (believe it or not, I have seen writers who haven’t figured this out). As a professional, you also need to be where you say you are going to be. If you advertise that you’ll be signing books from 11:00 am to 3:00pm, you need to be there and ready to sign books promptly at 11:00 and continue to be there until 3:00 or later. In the same vein, if you tell a book fair organizer that you will participate, participate. If an emergency does come up, contact the organizer and explain. They will understand and appreciate the notice. Those who simply do not show up brand themselves as amateurs and flakes.

Public Appearances are PR

Above all, remember that all public appearances—whether book fairs, signings, or readings—are public relations events. This is the chance for the public to the see the person behind the novel, or poetry, or history. Always keep that in mind and try to be the person you would like to see in your favorite author, if you had a chance to meet them.

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Marketing, writing

Writing And the Meaning of Success

41jeDmIOnrL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-46,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_[1]So, I’m home again from yet another book fair, this time one in Lincoln City, a five hour drive north of my hometown on the Oregon coast. It was fun. It was interesting. I met lots of interesting people, some of them fellow writers. I networked. Unfortunately, I also caught a head cold, probably because I tend to try and live off of coffee and no sleep during these things. Whatever.

Summer is traditionally the big book promotion season. It’s when most people are taking their vacations and looking for some free-time reading. People are traveling, looking for things to do. It is a perfect time for outdoor fairs and markets, whether they’re farmer’s markets or author/book fairs. The weather makes it possible (book fairs do not do well in rainy or snowy weather.)

Between Deception Island’s release in late May and now, I’ve participated in two of these book/author fairs and two readings where I was the sole or featured author. These events have reached as far south as Healdsburg, California (just north of San Fransisco) and as far north as Portland, Oregon. It’s called the ground game. It’s called getting out there and pitching the book to people.

It’s a lot of work. It cost a bit of time and a good portion of my money. Which brings up a serious and difficult question every published author must sooner or later answer: is the book a success?

Is Deception Island a successful novel? Has the first three months promoting the novel been successful?

Let’s say the novel is not a bestseller and despite my promotional efforts, most people in the English speaking world have never heard of it. Altogether, I estimate I have sold a little less than a hundred copies so far. It’s safe to say I am not growing rich.

So Deception Island is not a success. Or is it?

It seems like a simple question—success, or not—but that is deceptive. It depends on what you—the author—considers success.

Lit Hum @Lit_Hum posted an interesting view on twitter the other day: “We practice art inside capitalism, so it’s difficult to divorce our sense of success from commerce.”

Success is more than numbers on a balance sheet. We are selling books, novels, poetry, not widgets. Financial gain is not the sole gauge of how well we’re doing.

There are many different forms of success.

The simple fact that you exhibited the discipline to write and publish a book is a success. The fact that people who read your book like it is success. The fact that people who read and like your new book go out and buy your previous books is success. The fact that your book wins awards is success. The fact that people within the literary community (bookstores, arts organizations, libraries, etc.) are approaching you now, as often as you’re approaching them, is success. The fact that fellow writers and poets acknowledge and respect your abilities is success. And, of course, selling lots of books, being on the top of the Amazon bestsellers list, and receiving four figure royalty checks, is success.

So, while Deception Island is not yet a financial success, I do consider it and the promotional tour a success because many of the other types of success are happening. Most important in my estimation are the facts that people are liking Deception Island, that fellow writers respect my work, and—for the first time in my writing career—the literary community is beginning to seek me out.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to sell as many copies as I possibly can and I will continue to promote Deception Island as much as my budget will allow. Perhaps, sales will take off in the coming months. Anything is possible. And the Christmas buying season is rapidly approaching.

But the bottom line is that I already consider Deception Island a success. Now I’m working to build something lasting on that success.

That’s my plan anyway.

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The “Deception Island” Tour (So Far)

May 20 Gold Beach, Oregon

Book Launch 10:00 to 11:00am

Gold Beach Books, Inc.

29707 Ellensburg Avenue

Gold Beach Or 97444

*****

June 27 Healdsburg, California

An Evening With James Boyle 6:00 to 8:00pm

Healdsburg Center for the Arts

130 Plaza Street

Healdsburg, CA

*****

July 25 Portland, Oregon

7th Annual NW Book Festival 11:00am to 5:00pm

Pioneer Square

Portland OR

*****

August 15 Lincoln City, Oregon

Northwest Author Fair 11:00am to 3:00pm

Bob’s Beach Books

1747 NW Hwy 101

Lincoln City, OR

*****

August 22 Rockaway Beach, Oregon

Art Fair and Farmer’s Market 9:00am to 1:00pm

The Ocean’s Edge

South 1st Street

Rockaway Beach, OR

******

September 26 Florence, OR

Florence Festival of Books 10:00am to 4:00pm

Florence Event Center

715 Quince Street

Florence, OR 97439

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Marketing, writing

Writing As A Business

I was speaking the other day with one of my brothers (who lives in an American city far, far away from me) and was telling him about the new novel and the budget I’ve established to publish and promote it. His response was: “I hope you’ll sell enough books to make that back.”

Well, yeah. Me too.

This snippet of conversation got me thinking about the business part of writing and the misconceptions about the business part of writing (primarily from people who aren’t writers). Because, whether we like it or not, writing (and particularly publishing) is a business. We have a product—a novel, history, or collection of stories or poems—and we try to get customers to buy it. And we hope to make a bit of profit off each transaction. In this aspect, we are no different than the guy who makes widgets.

There are other similarities. Both need to be aware of expenses. (It does us little good to sell a million books for $15 each, if it cost us $20 to get it to your customer.) Both need to acquire and polish the skills necessary to produce a professional product. Both need to do some research to identify their market, which cost money (see expenses above). Both need to do some promotion to let their customers know the product is available (again, expenses). Both need to make sure their product is as good as it possibly can be and meets the customers’ expectations. Both would like to make a living—a good living, if possible—from selling their product.

In all these ways, there is nothing that qualitatively differentiates the writer from the manufacturer of widgets. They are both businessmen. They have the same goals, obstacles, and use similar methods to strive for their goals. But they are not exactly the same.

There are, however, some fundamental differences between the writer/author and the maker/seller of widgets. First and foremost of these is the fact that the widget man probably has no great emotional attachment to his widgets. Yes, he thinks they are good. Yes, he will argue that they are better than those of his competition. But when you get down to his soul, the widget is just a way to make a living. If he determined he could make a better living making cotter pins, he would switch in a heartbeat and never look back.

The writer, on the other hand, generally has a deep, emotional bond with literature and writing. She is writing because she loves to write, not because it’s a viable way to make a living. (Because by every measurable manner of determining such things, it really isn’t a viable way of making a living. It really isn’t.) She would probably still be writing even if there were no possible way of making a single dime from her efforts.

So this love of the process and love of the product changes things for the writer as business person. This means a few things change. Most of all, though the profit motive is still important, it isn’t as important as it is for the widget guy. She would, after all, continue writing even if she were not to earn a penny. So losing a little money on occasion is not as much of an issue. Unless she’s wealthy, she probably couldn’t do it very often, but she can do it.

The second big difference is passion. The writer has a passion for what they are doing and want to share that passion with others. The novelist wants you to read their book, not because they will make money when you buy it, or they’re hungry for your praise and admiration (though most won’t turn it away). They want you to read it because they think you’ll like it. They hope you like it. They want you to like it as much as they do.

I have known writers and poets who have given away more copies of their work than they’ve actually sold. They don’t want to be rich; they want to be read.

Not exactly a MBA approved policy.

Perhaps, it is more useful to compare the business of writing to the business aspects of other arts: music, visual arts, acting. In each case, the person who truly loves his gig, loves it as something immense and eternal. It is something he wants to be part of, more than just a way to make a living. Therefore, to a certain extent, the expenses are almost a rite of passage, more than a business expense.

Is paying for a professional head shot a good investment for the aspiring actor? Well, no, not if she doesn’t land any paying roles. On the other hand, she probably won’t land one without first having the head shot, so it is a necessary expense if the actor wants to be taken seriously.

Does it make good business sense for the young musician to pay to record her first CD out of her own pocket? Probably not. The financial guys down at the bank would say she didn’t have much of a chance to sell enough to recoup her investment, much less turn a profit. However, she will sell some of them. The people who play those CD’s will most likely play them for friends, who may like it too. They could buy their own copy and tell their friends about this new singer they’ve found. People who have never had a chance to hear her perform will hear the CD.

It’s a way of getting the word out, of building a fan base. It’s an investment in the artist’s future. The problem is there is no real way to measure the return on this kind of investment. It’s more a matter of faith. Faith in yourself.

It’s also the reason many—if not most—writers, musicians, and such have a day job to pay the bills. Because, realistically, their writing (or music, or sculpture) cannot do it. Only later, once the writer has built up enough of a reputation and following that her income begins to outpace her expenditures can she begin to work the gig like a normal business.

So what do we say when someone brings up the business part of our writing and questions the amount we’re spending? How about: “don’t worry about it. I have a plan?”

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