Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Writing - a Different Kind of Business

By Chester Campbell

The common wisdom is that we authors should treat writing as a business. I agree, but it requires a little shift from the normal business model. Unless Uncle Sam thinks you're "too big to fail," normal businesses face the prospect of going under if they operate in the red for too long. Most writers operate in the red most of the time.

Good old Wikipedia says of businesses that most are privately-owned and formed to earn a profit that will increase its owners' wealth and grow the business itself. The owners and operators have as one of their main objectives the receipt or generation of a financial return in exchange for work and acceptance of risk.

So where do we fit in this picture? Writers do plenty of work. Writing, researching, promoting, selling, and, of course, business management. That's right, management. Who pays the bills, keeps the books, makes the decisions on what needs to be done, negotiates over book signings, websites, and all that good stuff? And we accept the risk of the time and resources we put into the job.

We love to write, but we go into it with the objective of generating a financial return and making a profit. The fact that few of us do but still remain in business is what separates us from the "normal" company ranks.

I'd always heard that you should break even with your fourth book. Didn't happen for me. Or the fifth, shown here. Actually, I'd show a profit this year if I hadn't spent money on two conferences where I only sold enough books to pay for a couple of meals. So, like a good business owner, I'm reconsidering the best expenditure of my book income next year.

Up to this point, I've been spending not only my book income but bunches of money from other sources, like investments and retirement benefits. I don't plan to go down like Lehman Brothers, and I don't expect to get  bailed out like AIG. But it would sure be nice to see a little green at the end of he rainbow.

Maybe next year.


Ben Small said...

Yes, I'm thinking conferences don't pay off, too. I'm focusing more on targeting libraries, especially those with lots of branches and, of course, the internet.

I think the good old 80/20 rule applies here.

Beth Terrell said...

I love conferences, but they can really eat up the funds. I think they're helpful for getting your name out there and meeting potential readers. I would hate not to do any, but I don't know if they're worth the expense. My compromise is to limit the number I go to, and try to pick the ones I think I'll learn the most from or get the most exposure from.

Of course, I always go to Killer Nashville.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree, Chester. I used to attend conferences here in Wyoming as well as in various parts of the country, but my trips were paid for because I was an officer in various organizations. I can no longer spare the time to serve and travel is too much of a hassel with airline security, so the Internet is my sole form of promotition, with the exception of a few local appearances. Cutting down on travel expenses takes those puny royalty payments out of the red.

Bill Kirton said...

Completely agree, Chester. The problem is, we quite enjoy the writing process and the contact with readers is a part of that. I suppose writers should follow the conventional advice for parents - i.e. aim to do as little harm as possible as you bring up a kid, and try to lose as little money as possible as you keep churning out the novels.

Chester Campbell said...

I agree that contact with readers is good, but not being the outgoing type, the only readers I meet are ones who sit beside me at a meal function or in a session. And they're usually other authors who spend all their money on the likes of Lee Child or Charlaine Harris. Beth and I are looking for events close to home where we can sell books. Got one tomorrow at Old Hickory Country Club.

Anonymous said...

I've loved the conferences I've been to mainly because of the chance to meet other authors. With rare exceptions I got very little from panels or keynote speeches.

Three exceptions: keynote speeches by John Dunning and Loren Estleman, when they spoke about how they work, and a great play-by-play workshop on writing short stories by Marcia Preston. I have tapes from Dunning and Preston.

One other valuable experience was an after-hours session with 2 agents who took pitches from several unpublished authors. Listening to their critiques and advice was an eye-opener.

Those experience all took place at small conferences in Fresno 9 years ago.

At B'Con-Vegas and LCC-Monterey, I spent a lot of time in the bookrooms -- a real delight for a small-town author without no real access to brick-and-mortar stores.

But by far the most helpful conference I've attended was Poisoned Pen's virtual con this October -- PPWebCon. I'm so glad they are doing it again next year.
Every author should get on board for some painless learning and promotion.

Sorry for rambling on -- I'm sitting here waiting for the blizzard we were promised.

Pat Browning

Sheila Deeth said...

Good article and comments to read, though discouraging. Still, some dreams need a touch of reality. Thanks.