We’re thrilled to have Joanna Penn back with us today. She’s an author, speaker, and entrepreneur, and was voted one of the Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. Her latest book, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, is out now in ebook, print and audio. Joanna’s website, The CreativePenn.com, is regularly voted one of the top sites for authors and self-publishers. Writing as J.F.Penn, Joanna is also a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author.
Take Charge of Your Author Business: 5 Aspects to Consider
Writing for the love of it or to create something beautiful on the page is absolutely fantastic. But if you want your writing to pay the bills, you need to start thinking of it as a business. You need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur. Here are some definitions to begin with:
A writer is someone who writes.
An author is someone who writes a book, however that is defined these days.
An entrepreneur creates value from ideas.
So, an author-entrepreneur takes each book much further, exploiting the multiple opportunities and value in one manuscript and creating a viable business from the ideas in their head. (How cool is that?)
If you want to take the next step into being an author-entrepreneur, here are five things to consider:
(1) Reframe all parts of your business as creative
“I just want to write. I don’t want to do all the other stuff.”
These words are a constant refrain at writing events, but they can never be the reality of the author’s world anymore. Perhaps they never were. However you publish, you have to pay attention to marketing, and you have to connect with readers. You should certainly care about how your books are distributed and how the finances work.
Business is perhaps the ultimate creativity. You are potentially creating something huge in the world from nothing more than the human mind. Wow! So if you want to be an author-entrepreneur running a viable business, then it will help to reframe all aspects as creative.
Business as an author is about writing, of course, but it’s also production and distribution, customer service, sales and marketing, technology, financial accounting, strategy, and planning. If you think of those things as negative, then you will never be a happy or successful author-entrepreneur. You can hire experts to help you, but you need to understand how the business as a whole hangs together. If you love creating and you love to learn, then reframing your business activities as creative will transform the way you work!
(2) Create products that customers want to buy
Most authors start off by writing a book, and then think about how to market it when they’re done. Conferences are full of authors trying to identify their target market, and attempting to fathom their genre—after the book has been written. Of course, you should write the book of your heart if you wish, but that is more about you than your customer. If you want writing books to be your business, then you need to consider your reader. For example, consider the question of genre.
Customers shop in categories (genres) on the online bookstores, or on particular shelves in physical bookstores. Your book needs to fit into the existing categories somewhere, and if it doesn’t, then nobody will find it. If you self-publish, you can generally choose two categories, but you can also get into others through the use of keywords. If a category exists for a type of book, there is likely to be an audience for it, and doing that research before you write the next book might help you identify your target audience and create books that people actually want to buy.
(3) Work with professionals to create quality products
Traditional publishing (generally) does an excellent job of editing and book design. So we’re incredibly lucky that many of those editors and designers now work as freelancers for the growing indie community, and you can use them to make your books stand out. Ensuring your product is first class is also the best way to counter the “tsunami of crap” argument that is so often wheeled out about self-published books.
Collaboration and working with other creative professionals can also be incredibly rewarding, and the barriers are coming down in respect to what indies in all fields can do together. I’m now working with six different translators, all in joint venture deals, where we split the royalties from sale 50:50%. I’m also doing royalty split deals with two audiobook narrators. This means my books are available to many more customers with no financial outlay and minimal risk—all without a publisher.
(4) Think globally and long term
The market for ebooks, online print and audiobooks in the US is not representative of the rest of the world. For most people, the digital revolution is only just beginning and it’s an incredibly exciting time as the news spreads. Frankfurt Book Fair has a significant focus on self-publishing for the first time this year, and German authors are just discovering the joys of going indie. I spoke in Stockholm recently and was amazed to find that many authors had never heard of print-on-demand services, or had even considered a global market for their books in English. Their eyes widened as I told them what is possible now.
My own books have sold in 58 countries, in 4 languages, in ebook, print, and audiobook formats. One of my books was part of a collaborative box set that hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists in early 2014, and the opportunities for what independent creatives can do together expands every day.
Consider that a single manuscript can be turned into multiple products for sale in every market and many languages, for the rest of your life, and 70 years after you die. That’s the magic of exploiting publishing rights, and that’s the beauty of the long-term view. It might only be a trickle of income per book and per market now, but lots of trickles build up over time and if you do your sums, you may end up rejecting 6 figure deals because going indie is the better route.
If you sign your rights away now, how will you be able to take advantage of what’s coming tomorrow?
(5) Don’t wait for permission
The power differential between agents, publishers, and authors has been skewed for a long time. The mere act of query and rejection makes the author increasingly desperate and then grateful to sign any kind of contract, even one that isn’t in their best interests long term. Authors act as if the agent and publisher are doing them a favor by publishing them. But publishers are not charities. They are in business to make money, and that’s why they want your book.
If you have your own business, you are empowered. You don’t have to ask permission. You don’t have to compromise to fit with anyone else’s vision for your creative work. You can write what you want, when you want, and publish at your own pace. You can reach customers directly. You have freedom of creative expression. You can make decisions about your business without consulting anyone else. If you want to, you can work with agents and publishers who can expand the licensing of your rights, or you can do it yourself. You can design your life around writing books for happy readers.
This is a long-term career and it is possible to make a good living as a writer. So, take charge of your author business today!
Have you used any of these methods, and if so, how did they change your business? Any other tips you’d like to share? Let us know below!