My Writing Business

18 Comments 19 February 2014

This year I’m Writing. Every year I’ve been writing since waaaay back (even when I was in 7th grade and my friend Tracy and I used to write Chapters, a sort of soap opera about two Mary Sue’s and their Adventures with their Favourite Band, the name of which I shall not tell you). But this year I’m doing it with a big W. Why? What’s the big deal about the big W? I’m prioritising my writing like never before and thus, the big W makes it official.

I explained in my Writers Circle last night that I am treating my Writing like a business. I love it, and I do it because I love it, but for me and for my family to take the time I spend writing seriously, I need to put it in a serious bracket and do more than just capitalise it. Calling it a small business means we all think about it differently.

So what do you do to grow a small business?

You work long hours.

I know some writers only write a couple hours a day, and that’s fine, but if I am going to treat it like a business and get stuff out there and published within a time frame that is reasonable to me, then I need to spend more than two hours a day on it.

You make notes about new ideas that aren’t directly related to what you’re working on and save them for future projects.

I keep my mind open to new story ideas all the time because when I finish the one I’m working on now, I want to be able to get started on a new one straight away. So I have a file of first lines, twists, what if’s, opening scenes, and an outline or two. Some will never be used, others get me excited about starting them every time I look through the folder. But getting the idea down and put away in a safe place so I can return to my current project means I can stay focused.

You develop skills that will help your business.

My blogging has helped me with writing discipline and helped me understand what readers respond to. And blogging about my long-term expat life has helped me understand more about my and others’ experiences as long-term expats, which in turn has helped me develop a couple of characters.

You network with people who can help you.

For me that’s agents, book doctors, editors, and fellow writers. I have a friend who won’t follow fellow writers on Twitter or Facebook because they aren’t his target audience. But I do because I’m not just in the business of selling; I’m in the business of growing. To grow I know I can learn a lot from fellow writers: which conferences are good, which agents are looking for psychological thrillers, websites and books with great tips, and so on.

You develop a personal brand

(More on that next week–it’s a really interesting, crowd-sourced post, look out for it!)

You look at what others in your field are doing; you study what the successful ones have done.

So in my case I read read read read. And I follow fellow writers.

Who do I read?

– I enjoy the way Robert Goddard makes a mystery from the past explode onto the surface of the story today. I also love how his stories are more about Mr Everyday confronting the mystery than the police.

– Michael Robotham’s characterisation of psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and retired cop Ruiz. And his unique plots are always interesting, good reads for me.

– Popular psychological thrillers are good to read because understanding current trends or what people are talking about is always useful. I don’t like all of them but I do like to know what people in my genre are doing and how they’re doing it. Gone Girl, Before I go to Sleep, and Apple Tree Yard are a few of the bigger titles of the moment. I really enjoyed the twist in Sister, by Rosamund Lupton.

– My favourite books have a bit more depth, and as an example I loved Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith.

– Classic thrillers like The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith are also good to read.

But I don’t always stick with the psychological thriller / crime genre. I love all kinds of books. Some of you know I love to read fantasy books in autumn. I love literary books, some chick lit, autobiographies. I really really love reading Kitchen Diaries I and II by Nigel Slater. He has a beautiful writing style. Read his autobiography, Toast. And one of my favourite all time writers is Patrick Ness. His Chaos Walking trilogy is completely captivating both in concept and execution.

As far as following authors on social media my very favourite author to follow on Twitter is Partick Ness. He really understands the medium and uses it well.

You help others where you can.

Because helping people is the currency of the Internet. Internet karma works in not-so-mysterious ways. People talk. Your reputation often precedes you, and anyway, your attitude is pretty easy to read from how you act and what you write online. The golden rule is the best rule for the Internet: Treat others how you want to be treated.

Think you, as a new and unpublished writer, have nothing to contribute to an online relationship woth other authors and publishing professionals? Of course you do! Each time you read an interesting article, you can send the link to someone who you know will appreciate it. That’s a good start.

You learn about your target customers and work for them.

You focus on creating a quality product that they will want to talk about.

Reading reviews on Amazon and Goodreads will give you an idea of what people like and don’t like about books. I’m not convinced reading reviews in the big papers is all that reliable as a learning tool as I often see a wide gulf between professional reviewers’ opinions of a book and the customers’ opinions.

* * *

Most of the time when you see an article titled something like ‘the business of writing’ it’ll be about how to find an agent, what to expect from publishers and editors, how to tweet about your book on launch and so on. I rarely hear new authors writing about how they see the process as a business. Viewing it as a new business makes a world of difference in how the new writer and the new writer’s support group (i.e. family, usually) view the time spent on it.

Perhaps for some, it sounds too commercial to say it’s a business. I know some people feel embarrassed to say they’d like to make money from their writing. Either they worry that it cheapens the art, or they worry that it sounds too much like wishful thinking. But if you’re spending all those hours devoted to creating a thing, whether it’s a book, a series of bird paintings, blog templates, or whatever, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put food on the table as a result?

So. Are you growing a small business? Is it a creative business such as writing or art? Do you find it difficult to call it a ‘proper business’ or do you worry others don’t take it seriously?



Your Comments

18 Comments so far

  1. I’ve been a professional writer for 18 years, self-employed writer for the last five. The money writing makes me puts a roof over my family’s head and nice cars on the drive. But then I’m a do-er, whatever I want to achieve, I will achieve. It’s all about the right attitude and determination, I think

    • I think people see journalism differently to novel writing, which is why it’s important to think of novel writing as a business as well even though I currently make a hell of a lot more money from my blog than from my novel!

  2. Mary Keynko says:

    So excited to read your novel when it’s done! And you’re right – I think you have to see it as work and give it a capital W – but also love your job and revel in what you create – you are bloody good at it!

    • Why, thank you Mary! I think everyone who loves their work are lucky people and I feel very lucky to be able to devote time to writing a novel even though that time isn’t paid for (hence the importance of seeing it as ‘growing’ a business; it’s easier to justify that time I’m spending enjoying myself!).

  3. Tammy says:

    How exciting that you have made the mental leap to being a Writer. I love how you capture other ideas that occur to you for use later. What an exciting and eclectic folder that must be.

    Good luck in turning this into a profession.

  4. Sadie Hanson says:

    I totally get what you are saying when you say it’s a business… you approach it that way, you will take it very seriously, and you will also be highly disciplined. I think I should take a similar approach, I have been pretty lazy of late. X

  5. Hi Michelle, I really enjoyed this post. You should indeed treat your writing like a business. You want to get paid for writing correct? You want to be published, is that not the ultimate goal? Then you, the writer, and your writing are the products that you must sell. Chances are you won’t be discovered sitting behind your computer, you’re going to have to bust your backside to get noticed so you will definitely want to spend more than an hour or two a day. (If you’re writing for pleasure and don’t care if you’re read or noticed, then that’s a different story.) You might spend two hours writing each day but you should spend at least the same amount of time learning, just as you suggested in your post. Watch those who went before you, see how they did it, learn from their successes and failures. Learn how to market your work the best way and network, network, network. It’s what most people have to do to get “normal” jobs so why should being a freelance writer, or artist or web designer or whatever it might be, be any different? You are on the right track Michelle. Well done!

  6. Just to add Michelle, once in a while I receive an email from another business person asking how I made the blog successful or ended up with so many Facebook followers. I tell them the absolute truth and that is I work 8 to 10 (sometimes 12) hours a day on my blog. Writing, marketing, networking, learning and sharing. You have to put in the time to reap the rewards. Normally, I don’t hear back from the person after I break this news to them. I think I leave them gobsmacked. 😉 But, the fact is, if you want something to be your full time job, you have to work at it like a full time job. Hugs to you. M. xx

  7. rebecca says:

    good for you and it is totally a business

  8. Michelle, I cannot tell you how wonderful today’s post is. Wishing you all the success in this small business venture – and hope you make your first 90,000* soon.


    * Words, obviously!

  9. Expat Mum says:

    I would add to the note-taking point – Don’t just pull out a page from a mag, or bookmark a web site that has sparked an idea – Write the actual idea you had down in detail. Don”t rely on your memory. Everything I read sparks an idea for a post, but if I don’t write what I was thinking at the time, I often come back to the note and think “Why was that note-worthy?”

  10. EmmaK says:

    Wow Michelle I admire your business-like approach to all this. I also can’t wait to read your novel!

  11. I think it’s great that you are approaching it like a business, and you are sure to succeed. I find it quite hard to work on my blog like a business, because I’m doing journalism all day and then turning to it as an afterthought, but I think I need to make more effort again!

  12. Sarah Ebner says:

    Good luck with it all – really interesting post. Sounds like you have exactly the right focus and ideas to make it work. Oh, and I love the Ripley books too!

  13. Claire says:

    Great post – and so very true! I echo the post above from SmittenbyBritain – so many people have absolutely no concept of the sheer number of hours it takes to so much as get to be any good as a writer, never mind maintaining a career once you’re off the ground!

  14. Jean | DelightfulRepast.com says:

    Michelle, I’ve been a freelance writer for 13 years (I count from my first paid article). I admire writers of fiction — can’t imagine doing it myself! Wishing you all the best, Jean

  15. Iota says:

    I think, for me, this post has shown me why I haven’t written a novel.

  16. Suki says:

    I started slow by writing a bit on HubPages, and through time money started flowing in. After a few years, then I started getting serious about writing I quit my job, started a blog and still wrote at HubPages and made enough for my my rent, food, electricity and cigarettes.
    I think the biggest problem is that people want results overnight and that doesn’t happen. It takes time, even if you are slow, you’ll finish it at some point.

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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