I know. We’re artists. Creatives. Imagineers in a world of drudgery and darkness.
But we still have to do our tax returns.
Being an author is a fine balance between the art-driven self, and the money-driven self. If you want to write for free, and just want to have a couple of people read your book, of course that’s fine. It doesn’t make you any less of an author. If, however, you’re one of what I assume is tens of thousands of us who would like to be able to write full time eventually, then it’s time to start thinking about the business side.
I’ve spent a few months doing research on this, as though I did an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, which made me thinking about funding streams, deal-making, self promotion and branding, it didn’t tell me much about the specifics of being a writer, and what that means. Sadly, neither did my writing degree. We focus on the art, but the business side needs a space.
So, here’s some points I found useful if you want to work your way towards making more money, writing full time or just feeling like you’re achieving more:
- Register with the HMRC – if you’re making money from your books, however little, it’s worth registering straight away. After all, even if you’re just making pennies now, this time next year, you’ll be a millionaire (Rodney), won’t you? Keep any receipts for relevant writing-related spends, including things like printer ink, tech, books, promo costs, and any training/travel to training, and any journals or memberships. It’s costly being a writer. Think of all the pens.
- Sign up for PLR – if you have a book that’s currently out in the world, ebook or print, it might be in a library. Signing up for PLR means you get a little back whenever someone borrows your book. Now again, might be pennies to start with, but we’re setting up for long term success, aren’t we?
- Join Amazon Associates – A similar thing – when you share a link of your book on Amazon through your website or social media pages, you get a little back for recommending people come to Amazon, even if they don’t end up buying your book, but buy something else. This also isn’t just for authors, so anyone can do it.
- Get your branding house in order – Don’t like social media? Tough luck I’m afraid. If you’re an author hoping to sell some books, research has shown Facebook ads are the way to go. Make sure you have everything you need for people to know who you are, and find your books easily – a website/blog, a Facebook author page, a Twitter handle, and anything else you want. Research is still being done as to whether making boards on Pinterest, sharing images on Instagram, sharing videos on Youtube or making book playlists on Spotify will help sell books, but it will help give your readers a sense of who you are and what you do. Find the things you enjoy, and make them a way of selling who you are. It also helps with the next point…
- Find your tribe– your fans are out there. So find them. Call out for them! Offer prizes and goodies, ask what they’d like to see in your next book, ask how they want to be advertised to, or how they choose which books to read. Your existing fans are your greatest insight to what you’re doing well, and what you’re not. Author and marketing specialist Mark Dawson has offered some great advice about how he gets his books out there, sending non-finalised copies to an Advance Reader Team of fans, who will come back to him with criticism. When he felt unsure about an ending, it was his readers who agreed with him, and encouraged him to rewrite a more satisfying ending. The result? 200 people who felt valued as readers and fans, and who immediately gave a good review on publication day. You can hear more about this on the podcast Self Publishing Formula and on Joanna Penn’s interview with Mark on The Creative Penn podcast. (Both of these are invaluable resources, even if you’re traditionally published).
The most important factor that I keep coming back to, and was the same thing I learnt doing my creative business degree is – define what success means to you.
My idea of success has changed over the years. At first it was ‘write a book’, then it was ‘get a book published’, then it was ‘get some reviews.’ Whilst I did manage to survive as a full time writer for a couple of years, supplementing my income with workshops, classes and tutoring, I am aiming for a life where I don’t have to do that. Now, that might not be achievable until I’m a few years off retirement, but luckily, writing is something you can do for the rest of your life, if you enjoy it.
Success for me looks like over a hundred reviews on this new book, a lot of promo, noise and visibility on this new series, getting an agent, and in the next two years, being able to go down to four days a week at work. This job is a long term goal. You build a backlist, you build fans, a readership, a writing community. These do not come the minute your book goes live, or is placed on shop shelves. And my biggest mistake has been in not collecting that data, recording my fans, getting a subscription newsletter up and running, or a street team. I’m working on those things now (if you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, please do) as well as experimenting with different types of social media, exploring promotional tools I’d never thought of.
So, what does success look like to you, and which tools would you recommend for the ‘business’ side of being a writer?