Want to be a published author? Take a business course or two first…

It seems that, for a lot of new writers, becoming published is the end game. I remember when I was still lost in the dream that publishing a book will mean that I am an official “author” and that perhaps I could make a living off of my writing. My novel, Butterfly Warrior, was published in 2006. I’ve published two (2) other books since then. And I’m still doing other things to fund my hopeless addiction to writing.

To all aspiring writers thinking that publishing is their goal: Take a business course, or two, or three. To be honest, I wish I had learned that selling books (for me anyway) is a helluva lot harder than writing them. I mean, I’ve written and published three (3) books, but I make more money finding change on the floor than I do from my writing. Really. At my favorite supermarket the other night, I found 75 cents. That’s exactly 75 cents more than I’ve made off of any of my books for the entire year! Had I known that selling books is really the goal, I would’ve taken at least as many business courses as I did writing courses.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning the craft of writing. I’ve learned poetic techniques, I’ve studied great writers. I’ve even attended playwriting workshops. I can say that I love writing and I love learning all I can about how to become better and better at it. However…

Publishing a book hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans for me. The primary thing that any book needs (other than a premise and words), is a marketing plan that the author can execute. Regardless of the publisher, the writer is the primary salesperson for his or her book. Since I’m a horrible salesman, I don’t move a lot of books. I mean, I’m sure I can sell water to a man who’s been in the desert for a month, but even then I’d probably struggle. Therefore, selling a book that I’ve spent months (or even years) writing is dang near impossible for me.

The problem is see is that as an artist, I thought that someone else would be responsible for the business part of my art. I thought that the publishing house would take care of booking readings and appearances. I figured that the publisher would find venues where my books would sell. I assumed that publishers had people to take care of the money and bean-counting details. But I was wrong on all counts.

I’m sure there are those lucky writers who get movie deals and six (6) figure advances just from their manuscripts. But luck like that and I haven’t been introduced. I’m pretty sure it’s more normal that I, as an author, am the primary seller of my wares. And as the primary seller of my books, I can only hope that more people drop change at the supermarket so that I can buy a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop and write my next book.

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7 comments

  1. I agree that understanding the business aspects of the publishing industry is important for anyone who aspires to be a published author. Most writers that I know are creative types who think “marketing” is a dirty word, but most successful writers have to strike a balance between being an artist and being an entrepreneur.

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  2. It’s too bad that the romantic media image of artists we absorb is of those who either were supported by others, or died broke and were discovered afterward. Yet so many successful artists could teach a beginner how to get started, if we would ask.

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    1. i think there are those successful artists who could help, but don’t how they became successful. I do fear that it comes down to “right place, right time” and lightening then strikes….

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      1. Lots and lots of networking and shameless self-promotion. Fairs, conventions, hanging around bookstores begging managers for promos and displays, hanging around publishers’ loading docks asking dockworkers where the sales are happening, branding and all that stuff. Never sleeping. Living on road dust and determination until the money starts coming in. And it still doesn’t always work. That’s what I’ve heard.

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  3. Yes, writing is creative and marketing is business oriented. I’m still in the writing phase but have picked up a few resources for marketing that I’ve saved for when the time comes. I love your honesty and humor (maybe unintended). I’m reblogging your article. It resonates with many writers.

    Thanks, Juan, and keep on trucking (remember that phrase?) All the best.

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  4. Reblogged this on AlvaradoFrazier and commented:
    As the author of this post illustrates from his experiences, publishing is not the end game.

    There are numerous marketing tips and tipsters sharing and selling their knowledge. Although I’m not at that step in the process, yet, I’ve read that one should start the marketing aspect of writing at least twelve to six months prior to publishing.

    I’d like to add a few resources to this reblogged post so writers can seek these people out and decide if the advice they find is right for them and their writing.

    Write to Done: 10 Ways to Promote Your Book.
    David Gaughran: Using Categories to Drive Book Sales.
    Jane Friedman: Book Marketing 101.
    Tim Grahl: 11 Best Book Marketing Books. 
    Joanna Penn: Marketing Your Book.
    Yes, there are probably a thousand more people giving advice, but I’ve read the blogs of these authors and believe they give solid advice. 

    And yes, marketing takes up more time than a writer wants to give because writing is fun, and marketing is not so fun. 

    I’m all for sharing resources, so if you have another marketing article to share, please post it with your comment. 

    Now, on to the post:

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