May 7, 2019

Self-Publishing and Entrepreneurship

Business card with "Author" label and text: What Are We? Entrepreneur or...

In many ways, a writing career has a lot in common with being an entrepreneur. Even if we’re with a traditional publisher, we still have to manage our own branding, contracts, and acceptance of risk in ways that corporate employees usually don’t.

In the realm of self-publishing, the comparison to entrepreneurship is spot on. Our writing and publishing endeavors create our own little company. We’re responsible for assembling our team of editors, cover artists, and everything else—and we won’t succeed if we drop the ball.

This truth can be a big reason why some writers (understandably) don’t want to self-publish. Some of us feel we don’t have the business sense or entrepreneurial spirit to run a company. That’s okay—no one can be good at everything.

I could write a whole series of posts about how writing—and especially self-publishing—relate to entrepreneurship. (And as those links demonstrate, I already have a few here.) But let’s dig into this question from another perspective.

Those who watch the show Shark Tank might be familiar with Lori Greiner, one of the “sharks” who evaluates product ideas and inventions for potential investment. In an excerpt from her book Invent It, Sell It, Bank It, she came up with 6 questions to test how well our abilities match the needs of entrepreneurial life.

Now let’s see how those 6 entrepreneurship questions apply to our writing career… *smile*

6 Questions to Determine Our Entrepreneurial Spirit

Lori’s questions are obviously geared toward inventors, but we might be able to learn more about ourselves if we apply them to the needs of a publishing career.

#1: Are You Filled with Passion?

Lori confesses that she thinks of her inventions as her “babies,” and many writers can relate. Plenty of us think of our stories as our babies as well.

Do we have the entrepreneurial spirit to self-publish? Check these 6 questions... Click To TweetWe might spend months or years getting the words just right, and then we have to either pursue agents and editors or gather our own publishing team to bring it to readers. The sheer amount of time and work involved means that we need to be passionate about our stories and storytelling ability, wanting to share our ideas with others.

At the same time, while we’re not likely to like, love, or enjoy every aspect of the writing, editing, and publishing process, we probably do need to be passionate about some aspects of the process to make it through the brutal learning curve. Maybe we’re passionate about exploring our characters, or we love finally figuring out what’s missing in a scene.

In other words, it’s easy to see how this trait applies to writers. If we’re not passionate about our stories and/or some aspect of the process, we’re likely just in it for the money, which isn’t a good path for success.

#2: Are You Super-Confident?

*falls over laughing* Uh…no. In fact, most writers fight self-doubt on a daily (or hourly) basis.

Lori’s insight on this trait is that we need to believe in ourselves as passionately as we believe in our work. She’s absolutely right that we’ll encounter plenty of people who will tell us no, so we shouldn’t add our own name to that list.

However, in general, we’re not trying to sell ourselves or our ability to create a business to others. Unlike in the inventor world, if we can’t run our business well, readers generally won’t be too affected. Instead, we’re just trying to sell our product, our book.

That means in the writing world, as long as we’re not putting ourselves down to others (“You probably won’t like this story, but I wanted to see if you’d represent me anyway”), we don’t need to be confident because we can fake it. How we perceive ourselves won’t automatically dictate how others perceive us.

In other words, Impostor Syndrome is rampant among writers, so we don’t really need to be super-confident. But we do need to have enough confidence in ourselves and our stories to try to share them with the world. That said, faking it is 100% acceptable. *smile*

#3: Are You Fueled by Drive and Determination?

Similar to #1, these traits do apply to writers. Lori defines these traits as:

  • Drive: Our inner momentum, the need to reach our goals
  • Determination: Our will, our conscious decisions to set and commit to goals

Like anyone with a job that requires a healthy amount of self-initiative, these traits are important to writers because if we don’t have the need to be published or the will to do what it takes, it won’t happen.

To be a good writer, we have to want to be published enough that we stick through the learning curve. Reaching the point of being good enough to publish can take years of studying, getting feedback, growing, and learning more than we thought possible.

Without drive, we’d be one of those who say they want to write a book but never actually do anything to make it happen. Without determination, the first setback would be the end of our attempt to be published.

As Lori explains, our drive fuels our determination, and our determination helps us persevere through all the obstacles in our way. In many ways—from querying again after a rejection to writing a second story—we don’t take no for an answer.

#4: Do You Have an Organized Plan?

Lori calls this trait the ability to balance the big picture with the details. Rather than talking about a business plan vs. a per-unit production cost like an inventor, writers have to think of writing craft and story structure along with ideas of self-publishing, marketing, etc.

In other words, our plan is related to our determination in #3. If we’ve set and committed to goals, we need a plan for how we’re going to achieve them.

Do we need to improve our writing craft? Maybe we’ll take classes or workshops or dedicate time teaching ourselves what we can from free writing blogs.

Have we decided to self-publish? We’ll learn everything we can about about the steps and options of self-publishing.

While we could just copy what someone else has done, if we don’t understand our options, we’re likely to make choices that don’t work well for us. All our goals are different, and we might need to follow a unique path to reach those goals. Figuring out our path—even if we change it and adapt and adjust—is the type of plan we need.

#5: Are You Self-Sufficient and Independent?

As Lori says:

“I’ve lost count of the number of entrepreneurs who ask me, “Couldn’t you just tell me what to do?” One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is there is no one around to tell you what to do.”

Like Lori, I’ve lost count of the number of newbie writers who ask for a brain dump from me of everything they need to know. I understand, believe me. The Matrix style of learning would be much easier.

In fact, my Indie Author Series at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University was my attempt to give a brain dump of everything I knew about self-publishing. And even now, when learning something new, I’m just as likely to wish for that instant download of knowledge as those newbie writers. *smile*

Authors and Entrepreneurs: For both, no one can tell us exactly how to succeed Click To TweetHowever, as I mentioned with #4, our goals are all different. In addition, our background, our prior knowledge, our assumptions, our values, our genres, our themes, our strengths and weaknesses, etc.—they’re all unique.

That means when we do need others’ expertise, we’re better off listening to those who say “here’s what worked for me, and here are some other options in case that doesn’t work for you” than those who tell us “here’s what you should do.”

We’re all going to need help, advice, feedback, and mentoring throughout our journey. Being self-sufficient and independent doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to reach out for help, but we have to be prepared to put in the work to apply the insights to our situation.

#6: Can You Talk the Talk?

Just as inventors won’t succeed if they never leave their garage to share their tinkering with others, we won’t succeed if we don’t share our writing with readers. No one can read our story if we’re not querying or publishing our work.

Plus, not only do we have to let our “baby” out into the world to be experienced by others, we also have to talk up our story to potential readers. At minimum, we have to create an online presence of a website.

More likely, we need to embrace the power of social media. While no one will care what we have to say if we’re just pushing our writing all the time, we do want to at least mention our work from time to time and let potential readers know it exists. Even better, we probably should set up a newsletter to share our publishing updates with those who enjoy our writing and seek out more information.

All of those require us to “talk the talk”—sharing details about us and our stories with others, enticing them to buy our writing. Luckily, much of what we do as writers can be done online, which can help those of us on the introvert side “fake” being an extrovert one social media post and newsletter at a time.

All of those other traits help us succeed in “talking the talk” as well. If we’re passionate, driven, and determined to share our stories with others, we might feel more confident in telling people about them, and so on.

In other words, a writing career matches up pretty well with Lori’s traits of an inventor. So that’s all the more evidence that authors—especially those who self-publish—need to encourage and embrace their entrepreneurial spirit. *smile*

Do you think writers need to be entrepreneurs? Can you think of any circumstances where authors would not need to worry about business stuff? What do you think of Lori’s questions? Do you think they match up with traits that might help writers succeed? How well do you match up with those 6 questions?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Kathryn Goldman

Great post, Jami. The minute you sell a book, you’re in business. But most writers don’t set out to be in business, they set out to tell the story they need to tell. Once it’s written and you come out of the creative fog and look around, there are all these other things that need doing to self-publish. That’s where the 6 questions come in. Self-publishing is entrepreneurial, no doubt about it.

Star Ostgard
Star Ostgard

I think the questions are definitely good ones for any entrepreneur. The problem, from what I’ve seen and the SPs I’ve interacted with, is that too many authors forget that a) they may think they can honestly answer yes to them all, and b) they forget to hang up their author hat when they put on their publisher hat. But the questions posed are very similar to those in SBA classes I’ve taken. You have to be ready to take on the hard realities of running your own business.

I did take a small issue with the statement “That’s okay—no one can be good at everything.”. Just a bit condescending to those of us who have no interest in self-publishing. I could answer yes to five questions (#6 would be uncomfortable for me, but I’ve done the “social/sales talk” thing in other jobs and done passably well) – but I have absolutely no interest in being a publisher. I’m a writer, and I already feel like I don’t have the time I want for writing (like 24/7!).

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

I’ve been an entrepreneur all my working life and the writing started as a way to fill the off-season (though I would have written anyway). Best advice is not to give up the day job/ other income unless and until the writing takes off.


Spot on article. I certainly look at my writing as a business. I am the brand, my stories are the products. It helps that I have a qualification in Business Administration so it doesn’t seem quite so daunting and I don’t fall into the trap of thinking one book is going to bring me success and run crying when not a lot happens immediately. I’ve got a five year plan, and just like any other business, I don’t expect to make much headway for the first couple of years. But in that time, I can produce as much quality writing as possible and spread my brand. As self- publishers, we are playing the long game.

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