business

Dealing with the ‘Business’ Side of Being an Author: tips and tricks.

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 PLRif 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 AssociatesA 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).

What does success look like to you_

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?

 

 

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business

Aligning Planets, Aligning Dreams: How to be an efficient creative being.

I didn’t see the eclipse this morning. I was lying in what felt like the world’s most comfortable bed, in the most gorgeous hotel, having drunk a leetle too much champagne the night before and simply breathing. I lay there in this comfortable bed and thought ‘Ah, I remember this. This is what it feels like not to worry.’

I am a worried. I am also a planner, a schemer, a long-term investor, a busy body and someone who gets rundown easily. I am possibly the worst person to be self-employed. I do maths, I make charts- ‘How can I increase my efficiency?’ ‘Can I squeeze in any more hours this week?’ ‘How much more can I get done if I learn to be happy with six hours sleep a night?’

This is not the right way to be efficient. Or creative. Or a human being that other human beings want to be around.

This is the way to a nervous breakdown and a heartattack before I’m thirty.

So as I lay there in this very comfortable bed, doing nothing but ruminating and breathing, I thought to myself ‘Why am I panicking when everything seems to be going right?’

I wonder if you ever have this sensation too? That you are so full of dreams and hopes and plans that they never feel like they’ll get there soon enough. And by the time they arrive, you are too busy worrying about the next plans to fully enjoy them.

This, I believe, is about alignment. On my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, I was required to write a five year arts and business plan. This was meant as a tool to equip me on my writing career. It had contacts, it had aims and goals and ways of achieving them. But nowhere in that plan did I factor in the astonishing realisation that whilst you’re working towards these goals, life is still happening. Life doesn’t stop to let you catch up, or get ahead. I could sit here and work out that x+y = 13 books a year, and how much a % commission is and what likelihood it is that I could write full time…but you know how my time would be better spent? Writing book 5. And letting book 13 work itself out when I get there.

I spend a lot of time tutoring kids in analysing Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. It’s a brilliant book, and often the essay question the kids get is: ‘Explore the importance of dreams in the novel.’ It throws them, because they can’t see any dreams in the novel, no-one’s asleep and imagining crazy things, no-one’s looking up at the Hollywood sign and saying ‘I’m gonna be a star’ (although one character thought that, once). It’s a landscape of failed dreams and unachievable goals. But here’s the catch, the important thing was to have a dream. To let it nourish you, to give you strength to get through another crappy day where nothing seemed to change. To let it be your lullaby when your weary head hit the pillow.

My lesson here, dear readers? Dreams should be invigorating, they should give you purpose and movement and strength. But they are no substitute for real life. Let your dreams inspire your life, but let your life be more important than your dreams. Work hard, play hard and BE PRESENT. Only then, can your creativity align with your passion. I’d also recommend mindfulness, and I’ll be posting some mindfulness writing tasks next week for those of you who want to be more present in your present!

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How to Make Art and Influence Your Bank Balance

(Or ‘Why I’m Poor’)

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Having been spreading the gospel of creative entrepreneurship left, right and centre, you think I would have figured out how to be a millionaire by now. Sadly not. It still remains that often creative fulfilment and the ability to buy a pair of Louboutins are not aligned.

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I am (technically) quite successful at the moment. I am working, I am getting published, I’m moving into the area of adult creative writing workshops, something I’m absolutely passionate about, and all in all, life is good. To feel creatively content, I think the only qualifiers are that a) you’re writing and b) people are recognising that you’re writing.

However, that doesn’t mean that you’re being commercially successful. Talking to another creative entrepreneur recently, we came to the conclusion that whilst both reaching artistic milestones, and being happy with our achievements; we’ve never been this broke.

How can the creative entrepreneur align this? Surely the idea is to make art, and then sell it and make a lot of money doing it. Or alternately, make two types of art: one for your own enjoyment and one for the monies.

So does being creatively ‘in the zone’ mean that you’re not focusing enough on profitability? Perhaps you’ve just wanted to create something you love. Fair enough. If you haven’t been focusing on your cash cow, maybe you should be considering your target market. How can you maximise profitability on your current project?

Mr BrainWash. From 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'. Biggest artistic sell-out I've ever seen
Mr BrainWash. From ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. Biggest artistic sell-out I’ve ever seen

I have never written books expecting great wealth. I do, however, lead classes and do workshops and work with kids, and explain the themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ over and over again until I want to punch myself in the face. These are the compromises we make. I’ve recently been wondering if maybe I could just do a nine-to-five and write in the evenings, like countless writers do. But somehow, that feels like it reduces my sense of legitimacy. Plus, I hate routine. And being told what to do. And sitting down for eight hours a day.

So, as my mother very politely tried to offer me alternatives, I realised one thing: Commit to a career in the same manner you commit to a project. I write a novel knowing that there are going to be certain bits I love (the random scribbling) and the bits I hate (the fourth round of editing) and that it will eventually have a purpose and an end. I may not know what that is whilst I’m writing it. I have a chic lit book I wrote last year sitting in a box, that I may not use for years or so. But I trust that at some point, it will find its purpose. I must look the same way at my career. The jobs I am doing now may not be particularly profitable or enjoyable, or easy, but they are paving the way to their own purpose. I just may not be entirely sure what that is, yet.

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Dear entrepreneurs, we have always said to have an endgame, and find your focus. But sometimes, it’s just about riding the waves and getting on with it whilst you’ve got your creative head on. And that’s fine. You don’t always know the end before you’ve written the middle. Trust that what your doing will either serve a purpose, or it will reach its limit, and be left behind. If we do that, perhaps, the penniless artist will cease to be a cliche, and the business-minded artist will have both creativity and cash.

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Creative Entrepreneurship

As many of you know, I’m taking a Masters in Creative Entrepreneurship. Most people don’t know what this is, but it’s becoming very relevant in today’s ‘Big Society’. This is the time for the Artist to step up, embrace their role in society. Artists are relevant during a recession. They brighten things up, provide colour and vibrance, and through that, hope.

They also are the only people who stand to make any money during our dry economic times, and this is due to innovation and adaptability. There will always be writers and artists and musicians, just as there will always be accountants and businessmen and bank managers. But one group of people work within a recognised structure. They get up and go to work, and yes, they worry about whether they’ll be fired, but the job that they do won’t change. The other group have to make that structure they work within. Find their jobs, and if there is no market for them, create a market for themselves.

So is creative entrepreneurship just creative business? No, it’s a form of survival. Business entrepreneurship is about making capital. Social entrepreneurship is about making change happen. Creative entrepreneurship is simply about making.

So that’s what I’m up to right now. I’m making stuff. And I’m making a space for it in the marketplace. My workshop plans are coming along nicely, my Cafe idea has made a large jump nearer reality (thanks to the excellent advice of ex-local authority Arts Officer Wendy Lockwood).

The writing, however, the true defining point of me as an Artist? Well, I should be off doing that instead of writing this.