October 11, 2011

Are Writers without Business Sense Doomed?

Sepia-toned picture of bison skull on the dirt

The comments of my last post led to a great conversation about how not having a business mindset will likely hurt authors.  However, I didn’t say writers absolutely, positively must be business-minded.  I don’t think writers without an entrepreneurial spirit or business sense are doomed.

The truth is that we can’t be good at everything.  We all have weaknesses, whether that be craft or business sense or something else.  And just as some amount of craft can be passed off to an editor, the business aspects of writing can also be handed over to someone else.

Is that risky?  Sure.  Whenever money is involved, we risk people trying to screw us.

The same risk comes up with anything, however.  We risk spending money on inferior editors, cover artists, publicists, etc.  The saying “If you want something done right, do it yourself” applies equally well any time we hand over control of an aspect of our work.

No Business Sense? Don’t Give Up

As I stated in the comments:

“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.”

I don’t want those facts to prevent talented writers from even trying to get themselves published.  The push to force writers into a business model could make those without business savvy feel there’s no place for them in the industry.  Many creative people don’t have a money-wise bone in their body, and I’d hate to lose their stories from the world.

So rather than saying that writers must be entrepreneurs or business-minded people, I say everyone should be fully aware of their weaknesses and have a plan to deal with them.   As discussed in the comments, those writers without business sense need to watch out for:

  • Unnecessarily limiting themselves to a single publisher, when another might provide better pay or perks.
  • Having less sense of accountability (this might work in reverse for some people who like externally imposed deadlines).
  • Making sure their career plan  includes marketing themselves and building a platform.
  • Getting emotionally involved in situations rather than making the best business decision.
  • Working as hard as they would if they were working for themselves.
  • Going the self-publishing route without being willing to invest in themselves, as a half effort won’t bring full results.

All of those risks to not seeing writing as a business are real, but they’re not insurmountable.  So those writers have a choice to make:

  • They can concentrate on markets that require less business sense, such as being a staff writer, part of a publisher’s stable (like Harlequin’s category lines), etc.
  • They can find good, trustworthy partners (agents, accountants, lawyers, assistants, etc.) to help them with the business aspects (sometimes even a spouse can be a great sounding board for making business decisions).
  • Or they can withdraw into denial and pretend that this career—which involves figuring complicated taxes and contracts—is only about the writing.  *smile*

There is room in the publishing industry to be successful without business sense.  And no writer should give up their writing dreams because they don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit.  But they should know their options and the risks just as much as any writer should.  Even self-publishing might be possible if they have a strong enough team, but it would be more difficult than usual.

As I stated in my last post, it’s okay for us to have different philosophies toward writing.  And I really don’t think there is any right or wrong answer.  Withdrawing into denial wouldn’t be a smart choice, but neither is saying that writing is only about the money.

Writing Is about More Than Just the Money

My friend Gene Lempp left a comment comparing the publishing industry to a gold rush, and how we’re all prospecting according to our best guess.  Except those who were most successful in the California Gold Rush weren’t the prospectors.  It was the merchants selling shovels and gold pans to the starry-eyed hopefuls.

Similarly, if writing were only about making money, we’d give this up and start a business selling services to the poor schmucks who still have delusions of being a writer.  *smile*

I don’t have any plans to give up writing, and I know I’m not alone.  We want to be paid for our work.  But we also have a passion for the writing itself.  Of making our thoughts and imaginations manifest on the page.  So even those of us who see our writing as a business see it as more than just a money-making venture.

This is the real reason why I don’t like seeing one faction of writers beat up on another.  No matter our differences, our similarities are more important.  And whether we have business sense or not, we have the passion for words in common with other writers.  I prefer to concentrate on that fact.

Do you think writers without business sense are doomed?  What advice can you think of to help those writers?  Do you disagree with me—Is writing just about the money for you?  How/why did you pick this career over others?

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Comments — What do you think?

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I’m a freelance web writer/ghostwriter, as well as a self-published fantasy author. This influences my answer:

Writing fiction isn’t all about money for me, but if there weren’t the possibility of making money at it, I’d focus on writing non-fiction. I do like writing tutorials, and I’m told I’m good at them. 🙂

I could even write & sell my personal patterns for crochet and knitting. I’ve had friends ask me for duplicates of items I’ve made for myself (jewelry, belts), so I’m sure there could be a market.

If my fiction still isn’t selling well by Christmas of next year, I may even swap gears and focus on those things. In the least, I’ll reevaluate my business plan.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

I have very little business sense. And unfortunately, I have very little true ambition as well.
I want to be a well known author, see my books dominating shelves, sit at a signing with a line of eager readers waiting to get my autograph, but sometimes my deflated ambition blankets my ability to be a prolific writer. When that happens, goals are often smothered and dreams are quietly snuffed out.
That being said, I think puny ambition can be a bigger detriment than a lack of business savvy. If you can’t produce, there’s nothing to sell in the first place.
Your lists of what to watch out for and the choices we have, however, are a big help. I’ll take all of them into consideration.
I picked this career because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE telling stories. Even if I never sold a book I believe I’d still be writing. So in the long run, a lack of business sense shouldn’t hurt me too much. I’m not in it for the money (though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the quarterly pay checks)
I’m in this for the joy of story telling…pure and simple. If I earn a contract, a stellar review and a few very happy readers, all the better.
Thank you for your wisdom.
Have a fantastic afternoon:)


I agree that a lack of ambition is probably worse for a career than any lack of business sense. To some extent, business sense can be learned. Ambition, not so much.

The important thing is that you’re aware of it, right? I’m a bit socially inept, myself, particularly in person; I don’t pick up on body language cues well.

Susan Sipal

I don’t think writers without a business sense are doomed, but unless they are incredibly lucky, they will probably have a harder time of it. And I’m included in this “they.” I’m learning to have business sense, but that’s after several years of writing and forcing myself to learn. Business snese definitely does not come naturally to me.

Brooklyn Ann

I think unless the author has the PERFECT editor AND the perfect agent, they need at least a little business sense. Loved the remark about the shovel salesmen!

Kerry Meacham

I’m a general manager in a mid-size company, so I deal with business all the time. I’ve been a field salesperson too, so I know what’s required in a B2B (business to business ) setting to sell yourself, which being an author is, on the front end. At the end of the publishing road it is B2C (business to consumer), but you have to sell yourself at some point to another business person, be it an agent, publisher, editor, etc. Being a salesperson before, I’m not afraid to put myself out there, sometimes before I’m ready. However, the old saying that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take is so true. I’d rather be too aggressive than not aggressive enough. Maybe that’s just the salesman in me. Now, on the craft side I am not where I need to be. However, I constantly write, I take craft classes, and I talk with really smart grammar nazis…uh, that would be you. Jami. 😉 This helps me shore up my weaknesses. I’m constantly amazed at people who won’t take the time to learn about something, at least at the basic level, and then they are surprised when they are taken advantage of by others. Educate yourself about the business side of writing, and at least you can make better decisions on who to work with if you don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit. Great subject, Jami. I hope I didn’t come across too aggressive.

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

I think some people may misjudge what the business part of writing is about, as well, and may assume they’ve no aptitude for it. Or assume they’ll not enjoy it.

At least in writing, you’re not dealing with large, faceless corporation. You’re dealing directly with people who have the same love of books that you do. And those people need to know you personally to do their job.

Your agent needs to know you in order to help develop your career and sell you to editors. Editors need to know you and your writing style to improve your writing for publication. Publicists need to know you in order to present you in the best light to everyone else.

And you gotta know them in order to build a working relationship with them. Interacting with these people can be fun and fulfilling, as everyone has the same goal in mind, and the same love of writing.

It could be fun, if you work with the right people.

Gene Lempp

Kerry brings up an interesting point. If we don’t learn about all the aspects of the industry (craft, publishing, self-pub options, etc.) then how will we know where our weaknesses lie? Since deciding to resurrect a youthful desire to write I’ve spent countless hours studying craft, hanging around people and sites that show a higher degree of skill then I have (such as Kristen Lamb, Janice Hardy and, of course, you, Jami). I’ve spent time on sites like Bob Mayer’s and Jan Friedman’s learning about the industry, traditional and indie. I’ve delved into the massive amount of self-pub details from covers to publishing platforms to readers and now, after about a year, I finally feel like I am starting to get a handle on what I am good at and where I’ll need help. For instance, I am not an artist, so help with a cover will be necessary. Elizabeth S. Craig recently started a file on her site to connect those desiring to strike out on their own with support personnel, such as cover designers and editors. The resources are out there, and in all honesty, anyone that is serious about being more then a hobbyist will put in the effort to find what they need to succeed. This doesn’t apply to writing alone, but to any business-like endeavor in life. You are right on target when you say that those supplying shovels and pans were the big money makers, so why not be sure that we are only…  — Read More »

Catherine Johnson

Your last comment is spot on Jami. I know I’m scared of the tax side of it, numbers really aren’t my thing, but I live next door to a tax man so that’s easily solved 🙂 Tackling one thing you are nervous about at a time will help and those of us reaching milestones before everyone else can show how to or not do certain things. There is so much info from SCBWI and such like that we can learn the hard things in our own time if we put in enough effort.

Tahlia Newland

Great post as usual. I started out thinking I would be a writer and discovered that I’m actually running a business.
Luckily hubby has business sense, but he doesn’t understand the book market very well so it’s hard to convince him that my first offering will be primarily to give away as a taster for the one I’ll be charging for.


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Bob Mayer

I think a business sense was always needed. Some might get lucky and break out, but those writers are few and far between. I stayed alive in publishing by always looking several years ahead. Even now, despite having great success in self-publishing, I see things continuing to evolve and change. Every write I’ve seen who say back and felt like they had it made, ended up out of the business.

Julie Musil

Thank goodness writers with no business expertise aren’t doomed. While I don’t have this experience myself, my husband and I consider ourselves excellent researchers, and don’t make purchases on the fly. We research and take our time. Hopefully that will transfer into the writing world, where I won’t get caught up in prospecting without having done lots of research.


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David Rozansky

When I first got onto writing, I took up a job in a mall at Waldenbooks (this was before it was part of Borders). I was assigned to the Business & Self-Help stacks. At first, I groaned, but quickly learned how lucky the assignment was as I tore through one business book after another. Later on in my writing career, I fell into marketing writing and public relations writing.

I learned a lot about running the business side of my writing career. Eventually, my career moved into editing and then publishing; I am now the owner and publisher of Flying Pen Press.

As I work with other authors now, I am sharply reminded daily just how lucky I am to have developed a business-minded approach to writing. So few authors have had any business focus. That is the primary reason I started offering my services as an Author’s Business Manager. I coach and edit writers, manage the
marketing and telling of bopls, and keep the accounting and royalties in order. I also actively pursue assignments so that my clients aren’t hobbled by a process of blind queries.

You are a absolutely correct that authors qigong business backgrounds are not necessarily doomed, but the business end of amwriting career cannot be ignored. For authors without business acumen, it is vital they have some sort of business manager or assistant in their corner that puts their interests first.

David Rozansky
Authors Business Manager & Publisher

P. S. Your readers may ask; I am currently accepting new clients.


[…] Are Writers Without Business Sense Doomed? – Wise words by Jami Gold […]


[…] Not necessarily. We each have to make the choices that are right for us. Self-publishing is not a good fit for everyone. We don’t all have the entrepreneurial spirit needed to run ourselves as a business. […]


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