Saturday, August 8, 2009

walk the talk

I noticed that I've not exactly been walking the talk. So many times I've said, "You've got to treat your writing as if you're getting paid for it." "You've got to put on a business hat when you either query agents or self-publish." "You've got to be a marketer, a promoter, a salesperson, etc."

Those things can all get overwhelming for the writer. After all, the reason why we're writers is because we suck at left-brained activities! And some of the things I'm describing above are left-brained.

Most creative writers don't like to think of writing as a business, and they sure as hell don't like to think of their novels as "product". (They'll call them "children" before they call them "product"!) We make art. We tell stories. We tell a truth. And yet, the moment we put our books into the marketplace, the market takes over. If our intention is to sell books, then we've got to think like a salesperson. When we query an agent, we're trying to sell our book and ourselves. Why treat the marketplace any different?

The single greatest mistake I've made so far as a published author is being disorganized. I'm embarrassed to say that I've not kept adequate records, not kept track of money, not treated this like a business. I've playfully blamed my frazzled state of affairs on my Italian heritage, but really, that little cutism can only go so far. There's no good excuse. But there is hope. I'm well-intentioned, of course. It's my passion that's taken me this far, my drive to follow my desire, and to stand up to those who say "you can't do that". I've just got to stop being so impulsive about it.

There's nothing wrong with an author whose intent is to make money from the sale of his/her books. I grow increasingly dismayed at those who say "if you're in it to make money, then you're in it for the wrong reason," or "you're never going to get rich from it." Why not? Don't get me wrong -- I'm not talking about making product here. I think we've all seen in the music business, for example, those performers with a formula and an image and a record that they had nothing to do with except come in and sing the lead vocal track (to which the savvy engineer modified with auto-tune to make her sound good). And then there are artists, composers, and musicians like John Mayer, for instance. They make music, not product. But John Mayer sells a helluva lot of records. Why? 'Cause he's freakin' good. And I'm willing to bet that even if he never caught the break, he would've found a way to make a living making music. Why? 'Cause he's a musician.

My point is, if writing is what you love, if books are what you love, and you want people to buy your books, then why not put in the same hours of study that you would any other career to make it happen? Learn craft. First and foremost, you've got to learn craft. And you've got to tell a good story. But learn the business as well. Learn selling. Learn finance. Learn the market.

I hear it already: I'm an artist! So am I. If you think some of this doesn't frighten me a little, think again. But I'm also "a closet capitalist," as my brother calls me. Remember the post in which I asked what you would do if you had a million dollars, and what's stopping you? Well, here's mine: Be a full-time, published author. Why wait for the million bucks to do it? Why not make a living at it now? And the only thing that's really stopping me from this greatness is that aforementioned fear.

So, first step: get organized. And keep working on the story.


Elspeth Antonelli said...

I have always found the assumption that if you're creative you can't also be business-minded and vice-versa incredibly annoying.

Personal story: When I was running a theatre company I learned very quickly when talking to potential sponsors NOT to mention that I was also an actor/director. If this became known all my business credibility went flying out the window.

Now I understand that not everyone can do both, but heaven knows it's possible. Anyone who pleas "I'm creative - I create. Someone else has to deal with the whole business side, etc." is never going to get anywhere. I think it just goes against the grain to do conscious self-promotion. Not many people want to stand up and say "Hey, I'm terrific!" no matter how much they secretly think it.

Bottom line - good for you, Elisa. Stand up. Shout. It's just good business sense.

Elisa said...

Ahhh -- thanks so much for the support, Beth! (and the book's in the mail, btw)

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Dancing a small but tasteful happy dance whilst tapping lightly on a tambourine. Thanks, thanks and ever thanks.