Monday, March 31, 2014

Ups and Downs - the Business of Writing

For the last few weeks, I've been dealing with some website issues. Without going into too much detail, what happened was that a third party was redirecting my website domain to an advertisement instead of my website. I hadn't been very pleased with my web-host already, and this situation was the proverbial last straw. On top of that, I had been toying around with a new (wordpress) website, which has been something of a distraction. At any rate,  I think I've got the situation handled, but it brought something into focus. 

Most writers I know don't have any desire to run a business. We're often solitary types, better at massaging grammar and dialog than stroking egos. We like to sit in a quiet room with a computer rather than rushing to meetings or taking business calls. We tend to believe that someday we'll get a big publishing deal and never have to worry about anything again, except for doing the thing we love. It can be somewhat disappointing to learn we can't just sign a contract and then disappear into our fantasies. It never really did work that way, and these days a writer has -and must have- more control of his career than ever. Traditional publishers still exist, but most of them have little interest in promoting or nurturing new talent. Contracts have become notorious for grabbing authors' rights and financial payouts are worse than ever. Most traditionally published authors have become hybrids, fulfilling contractual obligations on one hand while self-publishing at the same time.

Writers have more options than our predecessors, but none that lead to guaranteed success. There's more competition in the marketplace than ever before, and while we have options to distribute our workload, those decisions come at a price. We walk a line between the complete lack of control we had traditionally, to a minor lack of control at greater expense, at least up front. More and more, we find ourselves wrapped up in the details of running a business rather than writing books. We're reaching out to editors, artists, and readers. We're trying various methods of promotion. All of these arrangements must be handled professionally, because money changes hands. Don't even get me started on taxes.

At some level every writer has to micromanage his career, and while we may not like to look at what we do as a business, that's really what it us. And it comes with all the same benefits and drawbacks. Yes, we do have more freedom, but we take risks both financial and emotional. In the business world we may never get that management promotion because the owner's nephew got the job instead. In writing, we don't always face a landscape of fairness and decency, either. One writer may get published because of who he's related to, rather than how well he writes, while another extremely talented writer toils in obscurity. That's just the way the world works. As businesspeople, we have to learn to manage our time; to deal with the things in our control, and let go things that are not. 

On the bright side, we can still choose to be successful. We can't force a million people to buy our books, but we can keep putting them out there until somebody pays attention. We can take advantage of the opportunities we have. We can try new things. We can experiment with different types of promotions. We can change our book covers, or change our websites. We can write in fifteen different genres and publish in a hundred different languages. When you set aside the financial incentive, the rest of it looks pretty cool. I guess what I'm saying is, even though writing may turn out to be a lot more work than just writing, we're still pretty lucky to do what we do, especially in this age. 

In the opening, I mentioned that I'd been toying with another website. For the moment it simply redirects here, but you can take a sneak peak if you'd like: or