It’s a Business – A blast from the past

(Brad is still busy with life, family and writing. So I thought I’d do a blast from the past. In this case, from last year.)

There are times when I feel like I’m the crotchety parent sitting the kids down to tell them the facts of life. No, not those facts of life but the facts of life about business. It seems like almost every week there is a blog post or newspaper article about a bad contract or troubles in publishing or writers thinking about hanging up their keyboards. Why? Because all too many forget that publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such.

I’m not going to discuss, at least not much, the publisher side of writing as a business today. Oh, there is plenty out there. Bad publishing decisions coming back to haunt the publishing company abound. But that’s not the point of today’s post. No, today I’m back on my soapbox reminding everyone who wants to be a writer that you have to remember that this is your business and you have to treat it as such.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with writers, some traditionally published and others indie published, who went into this business with stars in their eyes and rose colored glasses firmly in place. The ones traditionally published just knew that once they signed the contract, the publisher would be spending all sorts of money to promote their book and make it into a best seller. The indie writers who are now wanting to go with a traditional publisher because — duh — they will get this huge advance and will be sent on tours to sign their books and will soon be playing poker with other best selling authors ala Castle.

That sound you hear, that slow thud-thud-thud is my head pounding against the wall.

It would be wonderful to live the life of Castle — less the murderers and other crooks trying to take pot shots at you every week. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that the vast majority of writers who have signed with traditional publishers see little if any real push from their publisher. In fact, the publisher — and the author’s agent — expect the author to do their own promotion. Oh, you might get reimbursed for your expenses if you go to a con or do a book tour but don’t bet on it. Don’t believe me that publishers aren’t spending as much on promotion of those authors they haven’t pegged as best sellers or the newest “best thing ever”? Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore. Now ask yourself how many times a year your local bookstore has such signings. How many of those are authors who aren’t best sellers or local authors?

Now, look at your local newspaper and tell me how large the arts section is and how many book reviews appear per week. Oh, wait. Sorry. Part of the reason there aren’t as many reviews is that there aren’t as many people reading the newspaper. Reviews, especially book reviews, were some of the first things cut when newspapers started cutting costs to make up for the lower advertising revenue and lower subscriptions rates. Few newspapers have their own book reviewers any longer and the books being reviewed are either best sellers or the newest best thing. Hmm.

But, Amanda, you get those huge advances and you don’t have to work any longer.


And this is where you have to remember that this is a business. Most advances, especially for “new” authors fall in the four-digit range. Yes, some new authors get more but they are the except and not the rule. You don’t get the advance all at one time and you aren’t going to see any more money from the publisher until you have earned out the advance and, believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. How can it when publishers use Bookscan to determine how many books are sold instead of a simple inventory tracker program?

That means you have to make sure you have a way to pay your bills between advances. This is why the vast majority of writers aren’t full-time writers. They have families to feed and are like me. They like having a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Even if your first book is a success, you don’t know that the second book will be. More importantly, if you are publishing traditionally, you have no guarantee that the readers will remember you two years or more after your first book by the time the second book comes out. Remember, when you publish traditionally, you have no control over when your book is released and you are just one of many the publisher is having to slot into a finite number of slots per month.

I can’t repeat this often enough. Writing is a business and the writer is the business owner. Yes, you might sign a contract with someone to distribute your work (a publisher) and promote it (publisher or someone else) but it is still your responsibility to make sure the job is being done. You can’t just sign the contract and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, trusting the person you contracted with to do the job. You need to understand the supply chain for bookstores and the reality of how long a book is left on the shelves before it is pulled. You need to understand the financial aspects of the business and you need to study the numbers when it comes to sell through, resigning authors, etc.

What started me thinking about this again today was this article. The author in question signed a contract with a major publisher for her first book. It was critically acclaimed and not long before it was released into the wild, she quit her job. Yep, you read that right. The author quit her job — the job that helped support her family — so she could promote her book and write full-time. She did so after signing with the publisher for only this one book. There was no second book that would bring in additional advance payments. Nope. Just the starry eyed vision of living the life of a writer.

Now, I don’t want to kick this woman when she’s down but her story is illustrative of the problems so many writers — and folks who start their own businesses — face. They get a great review for a product before it hits the shelves and based on those reviews, quits their regular job to do this full-time. The problem is that reviews don’t always turn into sales and sales, especially for books, will slow down if the author doesn’t bring a new title out in fairly short order. For those authors going the traditional route, that very likely means no payments after the book is released because the advance isn’t earned out. So what are you going to do for money?

This particular author did finally go out and get a job — for awhile. But what struck me is that she doesn’t really seem to want to work. She would rather be writing but the worry and stress of not having enough money has shut down the writing. But a job makes her too tired to write. You see the circle. I feel for her but, to be honest, she needs to man up — or woman up — and realize that the situation she is in is the same one so many of us face on a daily basis. We face it and learn to live with it as we continue to write and put our work out there.

The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t have at least six months — preferably a year or more — of living expenses in the bank, do NOT quit your day job. If you are worried about putting food on the table for your kids or if you are worried about how you will pay the bills, do not quit your day job. It makes it more difficult to write, yes. But this is a business and you learn to adapt. You find the way to carve out time to write. But having all the time in the world to write isn’t worth anything if you are worrying about losing your home or having your utilities cut off.

It’s a business, damn it, and you need to look at it that way. Have your business plan. Have your promotion plan. Know that you aren’t going to get a regular salary that is the same from paycheck to paycheck.

And since I am a working writer, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the series will be released soon. You can check out snippets from the book starting here. (Edited to add, Dagger is out and you can find it here.)

7 thoughts on “It’s a Business – A blast from the past

  1. I remember the days I had the starry eyed dreams of being a big name author. Had those dreams stepped on by a few people. I understood and carried on. As I know explore those dreams again I have a more jaded and cynical viewpoint of the whole process. Also I have been researching a lot about what it takes to be published these days.
    Yes, it is a business, and a proper plan is needed before one does anything foolish. This may be a BFTP, yet it still remains relevant even today. and possibly going on into the future.

  2. My first agent lived by the theory, “A dollar you get in advance is a dollar the publisher can’t hide from you later.”

    Not that I would ever accuse publishers of creative accounting, oh my, perish the thought.

  3. I remember reading that author’s story when it came out. There’s a part of me that felt bad for her, but there’s another part that says, “You quit your job before your book had even come out, much less sold a ton of copies. You’re writing ‘literary’ fiction, which everyone knows doesn’t pay huge money even for the top sellers. What on Earth were you thinking? Oh, and your constant list of reasons that you can’t write feels more like a series of excuses to me rather than an actual inability to write. Finally, that whole bit at the end about how you would gladly take a salary of $40,000 a year (something you’re happy to tell us is far below what you should be earning) to just ‘write’ but never actually have to produce anything? Yeah, and I’d take $40,000 a year to play video games. I would be producing just as much value for the world as you were.”

  4. What’s funny is that there are people who make a living playing video games online but the successful ones did just what is being recommended here. They did not quit their day job until their “hobby” had monetized itself. And as a teacher of math and science, to middle schoolers In a small school, who is not making 40,000 a year, Ms Entitled annoys me.

  5. I had a loooooooooooooong chat with a couple of my daughter’s friends this weekend; one of them has a big dream of ‘studying art and Japanese and Bakamatsu era samurai then I’ll become a successful manga artist and translating Japanese manga.’ Asked a few pointed questions if they had any clue about how much they’d be earning while on apprenticeship. Asked questions about how they planned to prioritize their spending (happily, they answered this one right.) I disabused them of the notion, however, that they would be going straight into manga or animation, because Australia is NOT one of the big animation hubs in the world, and worse, what little there is here is FIERCE. They COULD go the Youtube route, but they’d have to come up with very good, competitive and entertaining content, and then compete with the hundreds of thousands of people doing exactly that, and hoping they’d caught the attention of enough people to keep as fans and maaaaybe then think of putting up a Patreon or similar.

    “Find a job that will feed you and keep you in house, supplied with food and necessities; dream of what brings you joy after the bills are paid.”

  6. Can’t add anything to this – the military pension keeps me afloat and the mortgage paid, while I write my own books and work on other people’s books for the Tiny Publishing Bidness…

  7. > Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore.

    I remember when we had a local bookstore. Well, it was mostly a video and tchochke store, but they sold some books. Closed up four or five years ago. So “local” would be the one… [checks Google Maps] 35 miles away. In the middle of the state capitol, with Hell Traffic.

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