Are Writers Entrepreneurs?

by Jami Gold on October 6, 2011

in Writing Stuff

Neon open sign

Have you ever visited a restaurant where the food was fantastic, but the service was atrocious?  I’ve known several places like that.  People who love to cook might dream for years about opening their own place—and then once they do, the restaurant fails.

Why?  Because the skill of being a good cook is different from the skill of running a business.

The same goes for writing.  Just because we’re good at writing doesn’t mean we can turn ourselves into a business.

In fact, some of us don’t want to think of ourselves that way.  We might even hate the idea with a passion.  Others of us look at that approach and think, “Duh.  How else would it be?”

Philosophies Make Us Different

Like my post last time on avoiding the publishing kool-aid, there is no “right” way to approach the business aspect of writing.  Katie Ganshert commented on my post with a link to her blog asking about our personal philosophy as writers.

This idea that writers have different philosophies is important.  It’s so important that I suspect differing philosophies about whether to consider writing as a business is behind much of the vehement disagreements between some advocates of traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Do You See Your Writing as a Business Endeavor?

Some writers aren’t comfortable thinking of themselves as a business.  Maybe they know they wouldn’t be any good at it.  Maybe they want to avoid risk. Or maybe they don’t want to deal with learning all the business stuff, much less doing it.

They’re looking for agents and publishers to be their partners, and in some way, maybe even like their employers.  They produce the product and someone else does the rest of the work.  They might even equate their query letters to job applications.

This approach is not wrong.  They are doing what is right for them.

Other writers would consider themselves a business no matter how they published.  They are entrepreneurs at heart.  Their writing endeavor is a start-up business that needs an upfront investment, just as a new restaurateur has to spend money on tables, uniforms, and kitchen equipment.

They don’t see themselves as employees of publishers.  Publishers are a means to an end.  And if the publishers can’t get them to that end, there’s no point in staying with them.  These writers are perfectly fine with finding other resources to get them there.

This approach is not wrong.  They are doing what is right for them.

Where Does the Name Calling Fit In?

So why does this difference of philosophies cause so much name calling?  Because like most philosophical things, we don’t consciously think about this stuff very often.

Instead, we look at the actions of so-and-so and think they must be an idiot.  Even if they try to explain their actions to us, they talk about the circumstances surrounding that one decision without going into the depths of their philosophy.

We see only the symptoms rather than the cause.  So we have no way of knowing that their actions make perfect sense for their philosophy.

Think about it for a minute.  How are we taught how to tell if something is a writing scam?  We’re told: Money flows to the author.  We’re told: If a publisher charges you to publish your book, run away.

And yet, how do self-published authors get started?  By spending their own money on editors, cover artists, and designers.

For those who embrace the writing-is-my-job philosophy, the entire concept of self-publishing looks suspiciously close to vanity publishing.  I could name twenty ways self-publishing is different from vanity publishing, but I can still understand the confusion to someone who thinks authors shouldn’t take financial risks.

Yes, to some authors who don’t see themselves as a business, those who self-publish look like idiots.

On the other hand, for those who embrace the writing-is-my-business philosophy, the idea of sitting back and hoping a publisher will have good cover art, will do enough marketing, and won’t make wonky editorial changes gives them hives.  They can’t imagine not championing their work.  They’ll gladly take the financial risk to reduce the other risks.

Yes, to some authors who see themselves as a business, those who go with the flow of traditional publishing look like idiots.

No One Is an Idiot

Hmm, no one?  Okay, I take that back.  I’ve known some people who did truly stupid things to mess up their lives, but that wasn’t about publishing.  *smile*

We all have good reasons for making the choices we make, even if those reasons aren’t apparent from the surface.  And those reasons might be hidden from others because they are such a core part of our philosophy that we don’t even realize they’re there.

Our philosophy can influence whether we pursue going to conferences, paying dues to join professional writing organizations, blogging, getting a website, developing a brand, deciding whether we should even have a brand.  In other words, our philosophy profoundly affects everything we do and how we do it.

I’ll end this by cautioning those who don’t want to consider themselves a business.  Make sure your goals are compatible with markets that don’t require a business philosophy.  And as the publishing landscape gets more complicated, those who rely on their agent/publisher for the business side of things will need to make sure they can really trust them.

Maybe if we’re aware of our philosophy and understand how that’s influenced our decisions, the name calling of others won’t hurt as much.  Or maybe we’ll know how to defend ourselves against those who disagree.  Or maybe we’ll discover our philosophy and our approach don’t match as well as we thought they did and that the “idiots” were right.  *smile*

Do you agree with my theory that differing philosophies causes much of the vehement disagreement?  What’s your philosophy when it comes to the business side of writing?  Do you consider your writing a business endeavor?  If you see your writing as a business, do you treat it that way?  Will you spend your own money upfront to invest in your business?  How has your philosophy has affected your choices?

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43 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee October 6, 2011 at 5:51 am

The problem with the “Their mindset is right for them” idea is that writers are entrepreneurs. Legally. Technically. Tax-wise.

Staff writers are employees (and their companies own what they write), but your average author? Nope. You’re an independent contractor. You’re a business.

You can refuse to think of yourself as an independent business. That’ll only hurt you, in the long run, because you’ll stick yourself to a single “employer” even when another would pay you better and/or give you better perks.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you are a business.

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 7:55 am

Hi Carradee,

Honestly, I don’t disagree with your point. 🙂 Authors are a business as far as taxes and whatnot.

However, my point here is that I suspect the lack of entrepreneurial spirit is behind the attitude that self-publishing is a scam (and thus the name calling from some on that side of the field). Those who don’t see themselves as a business can’t understand the concept of investing their own start-up money or taking financial risks. Given the way the industry is heading, this attitude can hurt them. However, I can think of several markets (category romance, participating in anthologies, etc.) where it is possible to function well without the business mindset.

Some people don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit. That is a fact. Some people couldn’t run a business to save their life. That is a fact. As long as their goals match with the markets that don’t require a business mindset, they can be happy. Their goals wouldn’t be about trying to find an “employer” with the best pay or perks. They want stability, consistency, etc. We know these types of people in other industries. The ones who would be perfectly happy in the same job their whole life. They exist within the writing world too. It’s not anyone’s place to tell them they’re doing it wrong if they’re happy right where they are. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Liza Kane October 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

yes yes yes, LOVE that reply!

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

Hi Liza,

LOL! Thanks! Apparently, this is me being opinionated about being live-and-let-live. 🙂

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Carradee October 6, 2011 at 2:34 pm

There’s still the detail that the average bloke who doesn’t consider what other options are available ends up shorting himself. An employee who doesn’t even look at other companies may miss out on increased pay and benefits—either because he doesn’t see that his company’s taking advantage of him, or because he doesn’t notice when he can ask for a raise.

You don’t necessarily have to “think like a business person” to know your options.

My contention is that the one-employer mindset is unwise—but then, my experiences with regular day employers calls them unstable, which isn’t the common experience.

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Hi Carradee,

I don’t disagree: People who don’t look into options might miss out on things.

But I know (as in literal “know,” so I’m not just theorizing here 🙂 ) some authors who write because they love a certain Harlequin category line. They grew up with it, and it kept them company through high school, college, and beyond, through breakups and heartbreaks. They didn’t start writing because they wanted to be an author. They started writing because they wanted to write for that line. And that’s all they want to do. If they can’t write for that line, they’re not interested in writing. Period. So for them, it’s less about the business aspects and more about simply making sure they meet their HQ editor’s needs.

I won’t judge them for wanting that. They know what will make them happy and that’s more than many other people are aware of. 🙂 Might they get screwed over? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean their choice to do what they want to do while they have the opportunity is “wrong” for them. 🙂 On the other hand, all this conversation is doing a great job of making me think deeper about this issue and give me ideas for a followup post. LOL! Thanks again for the great comment!

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Katie Ganshert October 6, 2011 at 11:16 am

Thanks so much for the link, girl! Great post!

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 11:22 am

Hi Katie,

Thanks! I’ve had the vague idea for a while, but your post brought it all together. 🙂

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Liza Kane October 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

Great post Jami!
My one observation that I would add would be a level of accountability toward the business. I’m a store manager, and though I don’t own the business, I am still accountable to it, and work like I DO own the business.
I plan on publishing traditionally, not because of a lack of entrepreneurial drive, but because I want to be able to focus on the writing, and not be pulled toward the other aspects of publishing like marketing and cover art decisions. The accountability that I feel toward my writing is to ensure that I produce the best work I possibly can.
I actually see the traditional publishing route like a small start up asking investment groups for money/sponsorship. The query letter (and really, the submission round) is like a business proposal, and eventually a publishing house will see the merit in investing in my small business/product.
I know it’s not all that cut and dry, and I’ve not experienced ANY of this first hand, but that’s just the way I have looked at the publishing process when I first decided to make “novelist” as my career goal.
Thank you for sharing!

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 11:54 am

Hi Liza,

Great observations! And yes, none of this post is meant to imply that business-minded writers should only go the self-publishing route. As you point out, there are many reasons behind any decision. Thanks for the comment!

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Kait Nolan October 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Fantastic point. I think this absolutely lies (for many) at the root of our vehement disagreements. I am constantly saying that self publishing (most specifically the formatting) is not hard, and that’s because it’s not. But to writers who think that their only job is to write a salable book, I’m sure it seems like a lot of unnecessary work (the fact that they’re living in a fantasy world if they think they won’t have to do stuff other than write in traditional publishing now too is entirely beside the point). Thought provoking and interesting as usual.

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hi Kait,

Yes, no matter which way we publish, the days of just writing a story and not needing to do anything else are mostly over. If a writer doesn’t want to be a business, they’re going to have to choose good partners (agent/publisher/publicist/accountant/etc.) to handle all the stuff they don’t want to do. It can be done, but I’m not sure how much easier it is. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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A.T. Russell October 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I blogged about this subject, but not quite as well as you did. Yes. Writers are entrepreneurs, business-folk. We have to realize that and then maximize our opportunities to broaden our e-footprints and platforms from a marketing standpoint. Thanks for the post.

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Hi A.T.,

Ooo, you just gave me an idea for another blog post! 🙂 Thank you!

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Roxanne Skelly October 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm

People often need to think that their own path is the right path, and many people find it easier to judge themselves against others. Hence, it’s a boost to self confidence to think that the path of others is wrong.

Me, I try to compare myself to myself. I also tend to break things down.

Given that, for me, I see writing as a set of agreements with others. Were I to write full time, I’d be negotiating hopefully equitable deals with publishers, agents, publicists, reviewers, tax folk, the government, health insurers, and so on.

I guess that falls on the entrepreneurial side of things.

The employer/employee relationship is also negotiated, of course, but IMHO the employer usually takes care of all of that stuff, and unfortunately, IMHO, the relationship tends to not be so equitable.

A long time ago, I tried to do my own business for a bit, and ended up shutting it down ’cause I hated doing invoicing, taxes, purchasing, and so on. I simply wanted to do what I’m best at.

These days, well, I’m open to having other people do all of that stuff.

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Hi Roxanne,

I’m open to having other people do all of that stuff.

Yes, and I think that’s the best way to handle keeping yourself out of the business loop. It’s okay to not be strong at everything, and if you know your weaknesses, you can build a team to help in those areas. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Gene Lempp October 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Philosophy is at the heart of practically every human argument. Yes, I know this seems like a sweeping statement but if you consider it for a moment I think you will see the veracity of it. Unless your philosophy is different then mine and then you’ll disagree *grins*

Writing, for me is a business. Yes, I write what I enjoy, but I do that with the long range goal of supporting myself and my family on income gained by writing. I’ve spent my life to this point working for other people and the experience is one I have not generally enjoyed. I do however, like working for myself just fine.

Nothing is easy when we start out, but that is how all business is, whether we are selling ice to eskimos or self-publishing “speculative fiction”. The term speculative is used for a reason. During the gold rush in the U.S. West, many started mines based on their best guesses. A few succeeded big time, others to varying degrees and many failed and headed for other opportunities in order to avoid starvation. Publishing is the same.

Off to prospect 🙂

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Roxanne Skelly October 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I thought gettin lai…uh…attracting potential mates was at the heart of every human argument 🙂

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Gene Lempp October 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm

That would be a difference of philosophy would it not 🙂

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm

LOL! You both are cracking me up. 🙂

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Hi Gene,

Interesting analogy! And you’re all adding fodder to my followup post idea. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Erin Brambilla October 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Jami–I’m with you on the “live and let live” side of the argument. I am not going to say which side is right or wrong for another person, I can only decide that for myself.

Like, Liza Kane, I consider publishers to be sort of like venture capitalists. They decide if my writing/product is worth investing in. This means I have a lot of work to do, not just writing, but I like the idea of getting that kind of backing.

As of this moment, I’d like to pursue traditional publishing, but I’m also in the “leaving my options open” camp. I can’t say for sure what will happen until I have the right book in my hands. So for now, I’ll just keep writing :).

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Hi Erin,

Yes, I like that analogy as well. 🙂 And I’m leaving my options open, but I’d be surprised if I didn’t end up a hybrid author, with books under each publishing umbrella depending on the story. Thanks for the comment!

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Kerry Meacham October 6, 2011 at 8:07 pm

For most writers, I think they are fooling themselves if they think they don’t have to work to market/sell their product. In today’s market, agents/publishers/etc. expect authors to have a platform. If they aren’t willing to do so, they may be left at the station wondering what happened. Times change and so must we. Buggy whip makers had to change with the advent of the automobile, or they were left in the dust….with the horse $#!+.

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Jami Gold October 6, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Hi Kerry,

Yes, the markets that don’t expect any marketing/business sense are very limited. But I know some authors who are happy with their market, so they don’t need to adapt. Yet. Might that change in the future? It’s possible, but no one can say for sure. Thanks for the comment!

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Laura Pauling October 7, 2011 at 3:49 am

At this point, yes, I do see it as a business and make plans without the emotion involved – or try too!

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Jami Gold October 7, 2011 at 8:22 am

Hi Laura,

Good point! Another aspect of looking at our writing as a business is keeping the emotion out of our decisions. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Roni Loren October 7, 2011 at 6:59 am

First, did you read Chuck Wendig’s post about this debate? (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/10/05/the-publishing-cart-before-the-storytelling-horse/) I love his take on it. It’s also a live and let live kind of philosophy.

So I think the decision to go self-pubbed vs. traditional pubbed is definitely a personal one and a decision a writer shouldn’t be judged for. However, I will say, like some of the commenters above, that I think it’s a mistake for a writer of any sort not to think of themselves as entrepreneurs or the owner of their own business. It’s a dangerous mentality to think of yourself as simply an employee in this scenario. Even in your example above like writers writing for one of the Harlequin lines–just because the writer is writing shorter books in a an already established line doesn’t mean they aren’t the head of their own writing business like anyone else.

As you know, I have an agent and a traditional book deal. I do not work for my agent, she works for me; she is there to be my advocate and consultant. The publishing company is not my employer, I’m self-employed. Sure, it’s a partnership and everyone is working toward the same goal, but I’m still the “business owner.”

And the image of the traditionally pubbed author just writing and handing in their books and not having to do anything else is not reality. A big publishing house can take some of the things off your plate–cover art, editing, placing you in the right markets/stores/websites, all things that IMO still make traditional publishing very worthwhile. But you, the author, are still leading the charge on your platform and building your career.

Also, I think it’s not all that accurate to paint self-publishing as “harder” because you have to be more of an entrepreneur. Both ways are hard, just in different aspects. You could argue that self-pubbing is “easy” because you can skip pass that whole finding an agent thing (terribly hard), going on submissions and finding an editor that loves your book (even harder), working on tight deadlines, etc. I had to write three novels before I was able to get an agent. If I had had self-pubbing as an option then, I may have pubbed that first book (which was SO not ready to be seen by others) and wouldn’t have been forced to keep honing my craft.

Now, having said that, I think self-pubbing is a viable option for many. And I think those best positioned for the future are going to put a foot in self-pubbing AND traditional pubbing. Those are the authors who are really doing well right now. I don’t think it needs to be an either or.

But I also think it’s a mistake to think writers can get away with not thinking of this as a business. Unless you’re just all about the art and never care if you sell a book, then that’s cool. But to be successful as a writer, you can’t mentally hand the control over to someone else. You are the CEO in your writing life.

Whew, this is a long comment, lol. Guess I’m passionate about this. 🙂

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Jami Gold October 7, 2011 at 8:02 am

Hi Roni,

I love long comments! 🙂 I agree with what you’re saying (about how not having a business mindset is dangerous), but I won’t go so far as to say it’s always a mistake or required. My post next Tuesday will talk about why. 🙂

On the other hand, I see plenty of people who want to keep the control of their work (like a business) for self-publishing, but aren’t willing to invest seed money to make it happen. These are the self-publishers who don’t want to pay for nice covers or competent editing because they don’t want to take the financial risk. I say to them, you can’t put a half effort in and expect full results. They need to be willing to put their money where their mouth is. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jacquelyn Smith October 7, 2011 at 8:59 am

I definitely see myself as an entrepreneur now that I’ve gone indie, where as when I was still querying agents and publishers, I thought of myself as applying for a job.

I see the costs involved in self-publishing as an investment, but that doesn’t mean investing indiscriminately. To me, what really makes me an entrepreneur is all the work I do (in addition to writing) to fill in the gaps of an agent/publisher/publicist, etc.

I think seeing myself as my own business is empowering and forces me to take initiative and responsibility. I would never work this hard for anyone else. 🙂

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Jami Gold October 7, 2011 at 9:07 am

Hi Jacquelyn,

I would never work this hard for anyone else.

Isn’t that the truth. 🙂 Yes, whether we self-publish or traditionally publish, if we have the attitude of working for ourselves, we are often willing to work harder. Thanks for the comment!

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Matthew Wright October 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Thanks for your post. And, indeed, to0 true! The thing for me has always been that as soon as you step writing up from being a hobby, it has to be considered a ‘business’, both for the author and for the publisher. That’s even true for authors who – like me – have been picked up by mainstream publishers. But there is always that inevitable tension between ‘creativity’ and ‘hard nosed commercialism’. Sometimes the necessary skill set for being a good writer doesn’t always equate to having the skill set for business. Nor should it. But as the world veers more towards e-publishing, I can’t help thinking that the writers who get ahead will be the ones who are particularly business-savvy. Food for thought, anyway. Thanks again for your insights – great stuff.

Matthew Wright
http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com
http://www.matthewwright.net

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Jami Gold October 8, 2011 at 8:46 am

Hi Matthew,

Great points! Yes, I think those writers who have business sense will have an easier time in the current (and as it looks, future) publishing industry. Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins May 19, 2014 at 6:40 pm

I know I harp on this point all the time, Jami, but-

Why can’t naturally business-minded writers get that “Can’t” is not lip service for “Won’t?”

As hard as I try to be positive, it’s HARD to keep healthy self-confidence without becoming a jaded fool, I still fight that battle daily.

I don’t need to be convinced how vital it is to do what you’re saying above, Jami. But even if you have the drive, sometimes the money’s just not there, but if you had it you’d not hesitate to make those investments.

That’s why I sometimes I worry all this pressure to be entrepreneurial is coming down to how rich or poor you are.

We don’t talk enough about the nuance between being “Cheap” and just plain not having much money to work with. Period.

Until more writers across the financial spectrum understand that being “Cheap” isn’t the same as being “Frugal” we won’t get far.
At least, in terms of respecting the differing choices writers make toward their publishing goals.

Some of the greatest writers don’t have countless riches to their name, should they have to be left behind in today’s publishing landscape?

Just you see yourself as a business , that doesn’t mean you can always make the “investments” many entrepreneurs make.

That doesn’t make you “Cheap.” That’s being honest with yourself, and Jami, given your rant on what constitutes great editors, I’d think you’d get that this realization requires honesty, too.

That’s why I resisted any kind of indie publishing, in part because of the stigma of going indie, but also because I knew the upfront costs were steep for me, and at the same time, I can’t start ANY business if it take decades for EVERY project. (Note that I didn’t say ALL projects…)

It would take me months or YEARS to save up for just ONE pro-level thing a quality self-published book needs. Be that the cover, illustrations (I mostly work in Children’s books, where that matters A LOT), editing, etc.

I say all this to say that sometimes we have to compromise our ideas of what’s “Enough” to be professional or we can NEVER start.

Besides, you still have to WRITE THE NEXT BOOK, dang it, and you can’t do that if you’re consumed with the stuff one book needs to thrive.

That’s something authors who preach about being entrepreneurs don’t seem to get, or if they do, they’re mantra of “being a business” clouds that understanding in my opinion.

At least, most of the writers I know who think more pragmatically than I do.

I also think we discount emotions too much in the “business” world in general.

Yes, we need to be rational, but we also couldn’t write what we do, or take ANY risk however small, by willfully denying any and all non-pragmatic thinking. That’s why machines can’t replace what living beings can bring, despite our capacity to be wrong…

I hope I don’t sound whiny, Jami, but I’ve had a hard time this month emotionally, and I’ve wanted to speak to this for some time.

For my debut novel, I had to go with a small press, for me, THAT was being flexible, while still treating what I do as a business, and when I saw how well I worked with this editor when we started on my debut novel, I knew I made the right choice.

Plus, I trusted a writer friend of mine who also worked with this editor and had a solid book published from them. Hers was a picture book, mine was a novel, but both were in the Children’s market, and like romance, that has it’s unique challenges, so

A few years back, I wouldn’t have been as open to this, most of the fabled small presses that I keep hearing treat you better than the Big 5 (once 6) are HARD to find, at least in the Children’s market from my personal experience.

Despite the changing attitudes toward ebooks in general, only YA, Adult, and the New Adult areas thrive on the best of what’s out there, those of us who write for readers UNDER 13, print still MATTERS, even if kids have access to tablets or hand-me-down readers from their parents or whatever.

So, keep in mind that I’m speaking from that mindset a lot of the time, when I talk about weighing the difference between “Can’t” and “Won’t.”

Just because I can’t afford to self-publish the pro way Jami and others described, that doesn’t mean I don’t take what I do seriously, and I didn’t “Sell out” going with a small press. But I can’t have a career of any kind if I publish NOTHING!

I’m not going to live forever, none of us are, and I think sometimes we misread impatience as arrogance, and sometimes it is, but for me it’s from the SANE fact that I don’t want to say “I should’ve” and for me, choosing a small press was not a mistake, it was the ONLY option available to me because if I’d tried to go indie with this book, it wouldn’t be professional enough to get the readers I want to have.

As Jami and others have said, an occasional typo or two won’t kill the book if you love it, but too rough, and you put your reputation as a writer at risk, but this current pressure to have a backlist (however valid), series or not, doesn’t help dealing with this push-pull within you. Period.

Fact is, there’s a BIG difference between writing 10 books and those books being equally high quality. I think a post about that would be in order, Jami.

It’s one thing to say “Take your time” when you haven’t thought it through. It’s quite another to be sure that necessary learning curve doesn’t morph into fear that prevents us from not just finishing what we start, but actually getting it out there.

I guess my major question is this-

How can you have a “Team” when your finances are limited?

Beyond multiple beta-readers, what else can writers do to work around a tight budget that doesn’t allow for many of the “Must-haves” a book needs to have a fair chance at success?

(Understand I ask this in the vein of “I don’t expect to make my living on my writing.” but I NEED SOME MONEY, not just for food, taxes, etc. But also to have more financial freedom to INVEST in the things I can’t prior to having any other source of income)

To me, that isn’t an either/or issue. It’s both. Am I alone in this thinking? (I know I’m not, but I do feel this is esoteric to most of the writers I know personally…)

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Jami Gold May 20, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Hi Taurean,

I’m not sure what (if anything) in this post brought up these feelings of self-doubt, but the whole point of this post is that we should find what works for us. It’s not about saying that there’s only one way to do things.

I’m thrilled you’ve found a small press and editor that work for you and your genre. 🙂 That’s a great thing and shouldn’t make anyone feel ashamed or defensive.

Especially when we’re dealing with small niche audiences, self-publishing may not be successful–no matter what we invest. So in cases like that, we might not want to self-publish or to invest a lot of money to do things right/perfect/etc.

The other half of the investment equation is not investing beyond what we’re going to get in return. If the market for a book is going to return only $X amount, it wouldn’t make sense to invest more than that in a push for more.

Think about it this way, movies have budgets all over the map. They come up with a budget–how much money they have available–and do the best they can with that. For some movies, that means their special effects budget is $200K, and for others, their special effects budget is $20 million.

All anyone can do is the best with what they have. And yes, just as some movie audience members will complain about the cheesy effects, some readers will complain about a cheesy cover. But if it’s the best we can do, that’s the end of the story.

It’s better to release at the level we can than to never release at all because we can’t make it perfect. 🙂 I hope that makes sense. Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins May 20, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Thanks for replying, Jami, I was having a really hard time last week, and I’ve been debating about how to proceed with future projects.

I snapped and I’m sorry if I sounded mad at you. I just needed to get this out. I guess sometimes I still get confused between what you’re saying and how it differs from what entices readers.

Maybe you’re more sure of yourself here, or at least you hide your frustration well…

I know everyone’s approach is different, but how do you personally gauge when it’s just you, versus what can be perceived as sloppy?

At times, I fear a less than stellar first impression will keep potential readers away.

Otherwise, writers wouldn’t get lectured to “be professional” all the time. I look at the books in my personal library and worry my ideals don’t match up to the execution.

Keep in mind, I’m speaking solely in terms of design and presentation right now.

Writing is subjective, but cover and interior design has some level of objectivity, you know? Perhaps I’m still too hard on myself.

Nothing you said in your post above got me upset, but re-reading it again made me rethink what I once thought.

While I don’t buy a book solely on the cover, it’s a factor, and even you have said as much. Regardless of whether something’s niche or not, the right impression still matters, do you not find that’s not as true anymore, Jami?

How do you discern between “Being Cheap” and “Making an investment.” Is “Spending money to make money” now obsolete? I know you can’t know for me, but how do you work through this for yourself?

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Jami Gold May 20, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Hi Taurean,

No worries, I didn’t take it personally. 🙂

All of the things we know and hear about still apply, but we can’t treat them as absolutes. After all we wouldn’t want to think that if we had a budget of $100 that would be great but that if we had a budget of $10,000 that would be 100 times as great.

From an economic perspective, unless spending $10K was going to bring in OVER $10K more in sales than spending $100, it wouldn’t be worth it to spend that much more. Maybe $200 or $500 would be worth it in increased sales, but unless $10K would bring in OVER $10K more in sales than $100, we’d be losing money.

In other words, there’s a concept of diminishing returns that we have to keep in mind too. So we want to find the budget that works for our wallet and not overspend in ways that we won’t recoup. Make sense? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) April 4, 2015 at 7:40 am

I’ve been thinking about this again, and I have to ask-

From your experience, what’s the difference between “profesional” versus “Amateur, even if not scammy.”

On the one hand you say-

“From an economic perspective, unless spending $10K was going to bring in OVER $10K more in sales than spending $100, it wouldn’t be worth it to spend that much more. Maybe $200 or $500 would be worth it in increased sales, but unless $10K would bring in OVER $10K more in sales than $100, we’d be losing money.

In other words, there’s a concept of diminishing returns that we have to keep in mind too. So we want to find the budget that works for our wallet and not overspend in ways that we won’t recoup. Make sense?”

Well, how do you get “Professional” without spending thousands of dollar you just don’t have?

There are times I feel like I have to get a credit card and charge up a storm just to get even the most BASIC “Must-haves.”

Editors for every stage of editing you outline often.

Cover deisgners

Printers

Illustrations (Especially if you’re writing picture books, comics/graphic novels)

ISBNs (esp. regarding print books, and some ebook retailers want them, too, though not all)

These are things I can’t do and trying would only make me more paranoid and perfectionistic than I already falesly get accused of being at times. Most importantly, the quality would not be where it needs to be.

That’s on top of the marketing and other events we might set up.

Even with having a team of beta-raders as proxy for various editors, The problem I often have with are the other things that make a solid book.

Jami, have you ever known any authors who despite their interst and tenancity to self-publish, just can’t because money gets in the way?

I know I’m not the only one, but among the writers I know, they all found ways to do it, or make compromises I’m not comofrtable with.

I know you say many are just in it for the money, and as such don’t treat their books or readers with much respect, but I can’t help they exist, I only ask because I don’t think that way.

Yet if my quality’s no better than the scammers, how does that make me any different from a reader’s POV?

Also, while I get what Caradee’s saying, I think she makes light of the fact that money gets in the way more than she’d like to admit based on her comments above.

You often told me I might be a better fit for indie publishing, despite the fact my finances are limited, and I don’t have the side jobs you do to aid with this.

I’m really trying to figure this out and all I seem to do is make myself more upset.

But I can’t ignore it, either.

I know you can’t know for me, but can you please share some tangible examples of you feel are professional, even if they aren’t the ideal? Maybe that’s why I feel your advice contradicts because you’ve seen examples I haven’t.

Do you really think it’s only fear that holds people back?

I don’t.

If I tired to release “GABRIEL” myself, I’d have brought out a shoddy book, and despite the whole “Just do it!” pep rally a lot people preach, in my case it would’ve been “selling out” just in terms of how subpar the qualtiy would’ve been.

As much as I don’t want to be a paranoid basket case, I don’t want my first impression to be that of a sloppy charleton. Is that not sane?

Also, how can you be okay with “Good Enough” without feeling like a hypocrite?

Now that you’ve published yourself, what have you done to ensure your “Good enough” was something you can-

A. Live with

B. Go to sleep at night knowing it was your best.

C. Won’t turn away the readers you want to attract?

I think I have it tougher than you as far as covers go, since in the children’s market You could use stock photos or hire models for romance covers, but readers (both kids and the “gatekeepers” known as parents, teaches and librians) prefer illustrated covers, and illustrators are hard to find, especially if money’s an issue.

Plus, since most of stories involve non-naturalistic animals and few humans, stock photos just won’t cut it, and I’ve experimented, okay? (Smile)

Because I think for most authors, the concern is their “Good enouhg” isn’t professional, and if they can’t hire a team of professionals, it hurts more than helps.

As much as you make the valid point of “diminishing returns” how can you then justify what’s “Good enough?” What questions should we ask ourselves?

Also, how far can we take self-editing?

Yes, we all should self-edit to a degree, but how good at it can we be if we’re “too close” to our work, even if we have the benefit of putting it aside for months or years at a time?

Despite trying to have an open mind about all this, I just don’t know what a “professional” compromise looks like as far as books go.

I either feel I have to be “Profesional

Or “Amateur.”

As much as I don’t like being put in a box of stereotypes, maybe I’m just more “black and white” in my thinking than I like to admit. Yet I don’t see myself as a perfectionist like you do, Jami, because I’m laid back about a lot of things, they just aren’t directly writing related.

But how can I conciously ask readers to accept a level of quality I’d have a hard time with as a reader myself? That’s something I never hear authors talk about, however they published.

As much as you and I believe there’s room for all kinds of writers, and that we do help each other, I think htat’s why for some the business stuff is harder.

How can we say “Writers don’t compete” (whether we’re business savvy or not) when business THRIVES on compettion?

We all know if there’s only one game in town, it can make a business complacent, and while not always true, some companies can take advantage of being the only game in town to cheat their customers, and we’ve certainly seen that with bookstores and publisher mergers.

Why is is so radiacally for authors? Esepcially than they’re publishing themselves. I’m not saying I disagree with you, Jami, I’m just trying to make sense of it, because clearly I find contradiction and frustration in what you and others find far more straightfoward, even if it’s not moe easier for you than me.

I guess I just don’t deal in “gray” areas very well, and FSOG doesn’t exactly help. (Sigh)

I’m not mad or having a breakdown.

I just had a hard week emotionally, between an e-friend of mine being hoptlized after a violent ordeal and trying to grow “Talking Animal Addicts” and getting my crowdfunding campaign going, and while I’m fairly confident I’m doing the right thing with “GABRIEL” it’s the books after it that I’m trying to work out the logistics of getting them out there.

AS much as you make the point that tradtional publsihing would have me wating longer to publish, another reason writers pursue tradtional publishing, despite making less.

Marketing aside, I’m also not being charged 100K upfront to print the books, ship and distribute them to bookstores, and even onlien bookstories have costs, you know. I may get paid less, but I’m also not going bankrupt on printing costs, and I know there are POD options, but quality of printing can still be iffy, as far as I know.

That’s something folks who are pro-indie don’t always talk about or forget that while they could afford it, doesn’t mean it’s easily affordable for others. That’s a FACT. NOT an excuse. Period.

I don’t need a publisher to validate my writing, but printing and distribution is something publishers have an edge on versus indie authors, if they don’t have favors they can call in, and I’m not villifying that, just stating a valid fact as I understand it.

It’s part of why many indie authors do take publisher deals if they can get them, even Amanda Hocking has said the editoral help alone was worth it forh her, that and cover design, the two biggest reasons that can hold indie authors back, and for the sake of arguement, we’re assuming the story is sound and not a technical nightmare, okay? (Smile)

If I only self-published, I’d never get in bookstores, and in the children’s market, print books still matter, despite the ebook “revolution” and people doing everything on their phones (tell that to the kids who dont’ get phones until their able to pay for it themselves, not just the phone, but the bill that comes with it, just saying….) and I’d miss out on those readers, and if I’m going to be judged by the same brutal standards of tradtional publishers anyway, why alienate myself needlessly?

That’s my view on books from a business perspective.

As much the story matters, how it’s packaged matters, too, and I think a lot of authors struggle here if they’re not also a graphic designer or illustrator who can do the cover, but have friends who do book design and maybe get a better rate than me or others with no such luck in either category.

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Jami Gold April 7, 2015 at 11:14 pm

Hi Taurean,

That’s a great question! 🙂 One thing I’ve found through my recent step into indie publishing is that the cost of a service is often completely unrelated to the quality of a service.

If I weren’t worried about a deadline at all, I had found a cover artist I loved who was going to charge only $99. Her work was fantastic and beautiful and better than most of the $500 and up cover artists out there. However, her schedule didn’t fit with my needs, and I found my current cover artist who I love and is wonderful to work with. She wasn’t quite as cheap, but still way less than many of the celebrated cover artists I’ve seen.

Similarly, I went through a lot of sample edits to find my line editor. Again, the price each editor charged wasn’t related to their quality, but it would take time to find a good and cheap editor. This goes back to the “fast, cheap, good — pick two” idea. If we’re willing to keep looking for someone who will work for us within our budget–even if that takes us a lot of time to find–we can find quality for less money than we might guess.

Honestly, I write so clean that I could probably get away with skipping copy edits. (My line editor catches most of my issues in this regard, and my copy editor just runs clean-up duty. 🙂 ) I’ve swapped work for developmental edits. I’m sticking to print-on-demand (the quality has greatly improved over the years)–there’s no reason for me to pay a printer (and shipping)–and with new options in POD, even children’s books are becoming possible.

ISBNs are a pain in the neck to acquire in the U.S., no doubt. I bought mine when they were on sale. I bought a subscription to a stock photo site (some of which include illustrations) when it was offered in a sale (30 cents an image). Etc., etc.

In other words, if we’re willing to take the time and put in the work, we often can find professional-quality services at prices cheaper than we might expect. Even if we pay for a cover and a really good line editor (who fills in the holes from beta readers doing our developmental editing and catches 90+% of our copy editing mistakes)–as well as ISBNs–we could produce a professional quality book for $500-$1000.

Now I know that’s not nothing, but it’s also not the thousands of dollars you were talking about either. Trust me, a book like that (assuming you had quality people working with you) could be professional quality and be nothing like the scammers. 🙂

As far as tangible examples, I know many self-pub authors, and many of those are trying to go about their career as professionally as possible. But maybe another way of looking at the question is figuring out what would make a book seem professional to you–because you’re the one you have to make happy. I could give examples, but if they’re not applicable examples for your genre and your specific difficulties, they wouldn’t necessarily be helpful.

The second part of the question is what would make a book feel just “good enough”? Would it have a quality cover but one you didn’t love, or would it be a serviceable cover that’s just good enough not to hurt you? Would the editing be solid and thorough but a handful of typos slipped through, or would it be decent and just good enough not to hurt you?

No one else can answer those questions for you, no one else can define what a “compromise” would look like to you, and there’s no right or wrong answer. But my point is that there might be a gap between what’s “good enough” and what’s “great but we’re not 100% in love with it.” If we have to 100% love something before we think it’s “good enough,” that is going to make it harder for us to be happy with our work.

That said, certain genres (like children’s, where libraries and bookstores are such a big part of the distribution) certainly have more challenges than others. So please don’t take any of this as minimizing the challenges you’re facing. 🙂 All I’m doing here is trying to answer your questions the best I can with insights into what’s possible–not what’s easy or likely. You know I’m rooting for you! *hugs*

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