“Why do I need to run my writing like a business?” you may be asking yourself. Isn’t writing about the stories we tell and the message we want to put into the world?
Yes, it is. Simply said, when you run your writing like a business, you create more space to share your work in the most authentic way possible. Building a business plan for your writing begins with one question. “What do you want to write?”
It’s the first question I ask anyone who comes to me for mentoring because the answers to this simple question help pave the way for you to create the writing business and writing life you desire most.
You may feel a huge sense of trepidation when answering this question. If you’re like 99% of the people who work with me, it’s because you’ve been told so often that you can’t make a real living writing.
Let me first say that all of these things are 100% possible. It’s untrue that you can’t make a living writing, although I understand why so many people believe the lie.
Gone are the days when you dash off a story, send it to a publication and suddenly you’re like Isaac Asimov, writing installment series and being paid regularly for sci-fi magazines. Gone is the time a publisher loved your book, bought it, then did all the marketing and audience building for you.
Now, publishers want their authors to arrive with a platform of hungry readers. They want collateral. They want to know your writing will bring sales. Even if you do manage to get a book deal without a huge platform — which can happen! — you’ll find yourself responsible for much of the business end of the book promotion yourself.
Writing is a business by default, and here are ten ways to create a writing business and set yourself up for sales and success.
You can’t get where you’re going if you don’t have a destination. This is the main metaphor I use in my book The Writer’s Roadmap: Paving the Way To Your Ideal Writing Life. Would you go on a road trip without knowing where you’re going and without doing any planning? Well, you might, but it’s a very different kind of trip than the kind you plan.
While a free-form, no-destination in sight road trip might be fun, it creates chaos and confusion when applied to your writing life.
When you don’t know what you want, you’ll find yourself jumping at all kinds of writing projects and genres. You’ll be pulled in so many directions, you can’t focus. You won’t finish projects. You won’t know where to publish them, and you’ll ultimately find yourself strapped for time and cash.
When you have one clear intent, you work toward that intent until you’re done. You learn lessons along the way, develop your skills and best of all, you finish what you start. Which leaves you free to move to the next project and desire.
Once you know what you want, you’ve set a direction for your writing. Your mission and vision guide you as you move in the direction of your dream writing life. Your mission creates a framework for what you’re currently doing and the values that guide you. It answers the questions What? and Who? of your business.
Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
Tesla: Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
Your vision shows where you want to go in the future. It’s aspirational and gives a view of how the company would look after achieving all your strategic goals. A vision statement answers the questions Why and How? You can often see the vision of each company in each of the mission statement examples above.
Warby Parker sees a future of socially conscious businesses.
Tesla wants to create a world that uses only sustainable energy. No more fossil fuels.
When you have clear values, a clear direction and a clear image of your writing future, it’s easier to make the myriad choices and answer the endless questions you’ll face along the way.
Your mission and vision will inform and guide your choices along the way.
While vision and mission set the overall path for your business, goals and strategies form the day to day projects and to-do lists you’ll complete in order to reach your vision and mission. When you already know what you want to accomplish in the big picture, you choose projects that make sense within that vision.
For example: If you want to write romance novels that inspire young adults to be more independent, you probably don’t want to spend your time pitching sports magazines about the latest big outdoor trekking craze.
Instead, you want to write books and spend time in romance novel circles on social media.
That seems pretty straightforward, but the next time a big potential job comes your way or you see an editor looking for pitches on Twitter, you have to decide if the job or pitching fits into your big plan.
NOTE: Sometimes we make choices because we need an income. Income is as important to begin a business as it is to a beginning writer. There are times you make choices that aren’t entirely aligned with your goals, strategies, mission or vision. That’s okay. Eventually, you’ll phase out the things you don’t want to replace them with things that do meet your needs as a writer and a business.
Your audience is the people who want to read your writing. They gladly pay to read your books. They’ll come to your lectures, join your courses and rave about you online. What you write interests them enough to click a share button and say “I love this book!”
You write for these people first and foremost, so you want to take what they want into account while you’re writing. But take note. I’m not telling you to write in order to satisfy an audience so you’ll make more money. Your audience arises naturally from the vision and mission you create for your writing life.
There will always be people who want to read what you have to say. Your audience is out there. That’s why it’s so important to know who they are and where they are. Then when you finish a book and have something you want them to read, you know exactly where to find them.
People often use the terms market and audience interchangeably, but these terms have different meanings in the business world. It’s a subtle difference and one that cuts right to the heart of a writing business strategy.
The market decides where you want to sell your products and how you’ll advertise what you’re selling to those in the market. Audience refers to the interests of the people within that market. It’s how you present your products and engage people.
Knowing your market space allows you to identify the people who are most likely to buy your writing and helps you target the kinds of advertising and marketing you’ll present them so they become customers.
You may not need to worry as much about market early in your writing career, but it’s important to keep in mind as you begin thinking about sales.
Writers make money by writing different types of content for different publications, and Each type of writing brings in a different “stream” of money. Some streams take time to complete while others are fast. Some pay well while others bring more prestige than income. Some are passive income. Once you’ve set up the initial writing, you can let the money roll in. Others are active income. You must write and do more in order to keep the money flowing.
A novel takes time to write but once it’s out in the world and marketed to the correct audience, it can bring in passive income for years to come. The books you write tie directly into the audience you’ve developed so they can continue to buy books you publish later.
When you pitch a freelance article to a commercial publication, you’ll likely be paid just once. You’ll need to continually pitch and write articles in order to keep money flowing through this income stream.
If you run a copywriting business, you’ll make more money per word than most commercial publications are willing to pay, so it’s a more lucrative stream with regular payments, but you will need to maintain it regularly. It’s not passive income.
Your job is to identify the types of writing you can do and figure out how they fit into your big picture vision and mission.
You may find yourself overwhelmed by all the terms, tasks and ideas it takes to run a business. There are so many things to consider when you sell your writing or writing related products and services. Marketing. Advertising. Social media. Client intake.
Creating processes for each of the tasks in your business, tame those feelings of overwhelm.
You can create a process for everything you do in your business. These are the steps you take to start a project, complete it and ultimately be paid for it. When you identify and write down the specific steps, that’s a process document. Processes make sure your business runs smoothly and according to methods that work within your mission.
You can use processes for pitching editors, client intake, writing books, finding new copywriting clients and pretty much anything else you do.
For example: Pitching an article to an editor at a magazine begins with writing the pitch (step one). Once you’ve sent the pitch, you follow up (step two) until you get a yes or no. If yes, you write the article (step three), submit it (step four) along with an invoice (step five). Then you follow up with the editor until you get paid (step six).
You have a clear list letting you know what to do next. You never have to waste time figuring out what worked last time. Having a clearly written process document allows you to outsource some of your processes to others, clearing your schedule to focus on the things most important to your writing business.
Processes help you evaluate whether or not your plan is working properly within the framework of your mission and vision.
For example: The pitching process. What happens if you find at Step Two, editors reject your pitches 95% of the time. Then you evaluate your pitches to understand why you’re not getting more yeses. Or let’s say editors love your pitches and routinely reply with a happy “Yes, write this for me now!” But you notice, once the editor receives your article, you’re not getting paid.
Then you can look at your process and see where things aren’t working. Are you sending invoices on time? Are the editors making sure you’re getting paid? Are you not receiving checks properly?
Your process document allows you to pinpoint where the problem lies in your system and helps you remove blocks so your business runs smoothly.
Each time you write, speak or teach, your message does the double work of carrying your mission and vision while simultaneously connecting your audience to the rest of your body of work.
The article you write for Business Insider can bring clients to your copywriting business. The guest post you write on the 8 steps to write a book may inspire someone to contact you to mentor them as they write their book. The book you self-publish contains end notes that lead people to your website so they can buy more books. You get the idea.
When your ideas and ideals are aligned and you’ve chosen projects that amplify your main vision and mission to a targeted audience, it’s easy to cross promote. It happens naturally.
It goes without saying in order to cross promote, you must continually put yourself and your work into the world. Write, speak, teach, maintain your social media presence so you are creating content with which people can connect, share and ultimately buy and become fans.
It’s natural to start your writing business by taking one-on-one clients or pitching one article at a time, but that kind of plan doesn’t work well for everyone long term. If you want to make more money and allow your writing to spread widely, you’re going to want to scale your business.
Scaling, simply put, is allowing your business to grow in volume — more sales, more customers — without having the additional effort for each sale.
Book sales are an excellent example of a product you can scale. When your book sells on Amazon, there’s no limit to the number of people who can buy. Ten or ten million, the effort you put into setting up your profile, preparing your book for publication and the rest stays exactly the same.
One-on-ones cannot scale because there is only one of you. So instead, you can create an online course you can sell on Udemy that has the potential to reach tens of thousands of customers (or more) without additional input from you.
This does not mean everything you do must scale, but when you plan your writing long-term, you will want to include at least some projects that bring in income by regularly, passively and on a big scale.
You know the image of the lonely writer, sitting in her room writing alone? There’s a certain romanticism to it, but that romantic scene doesn’t usually include a lot of the grunt work of being a writer. Checking up on clients. Chasing down invoices. Making sure your website is updated and backed up. Keeping your social media profiles active and growing.
You can hire people to support you with almost any part of your writing life. You could spend a week trying to work out technical details you don’t understand. Or you could simply e-mail the expert you hired to handle it for you. You could manage all the tedious aspects of taking a new copywriting client, entering their details into your customer management system. Or you could hire someone to do that for you.
Hiring saves time, makes your business more efficient and allows you to focus on the things most important to you.
Running a writing business and being a writer seem like two very different things. Writing is creative, fun, frustrating and generally flows in whatever way it flows. It requires faith and patience. Business, by contrast, feels like a mathematical, calculating endeavor that has little to do with creativity.
But business and writing are two sides of the same coin.
Your creative mind allows you to see into the future and imagine the writing life you most want. Your writing business plan allows you to pave the road to get from where you are now and takes you step-by-step toward your destination.
This is the real secret of running your writing like a business.
Yes, there will be setbacks and disappointments. It’s a lot of hard work and yes there will be ups and downs. When you align that blue sky version of how you’d like your writing life to be with your goals, your values and the hard work you put in every day to write, craft, communicate and share, you will find yourself living your ideal writing life.
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Leigh Shulman lives with her family in Argentina where she writes, mentors other writers and leads international book writing retreats. You can read her work in The Washington Post, New York Times, Vox, The Establishment and elsewhere. Her book The Writer’s Roadmap: Paving the Way To Your Ideal Writing Life is available now. You can read more about her and her work on her website.
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Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month - created to help authors market their book. She is also the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader's "Best of 2015" top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and two live Twitter chats: #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with TheRuralVA, Emilie Rabitoy) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with C. Streetlights and Judith Staff. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.
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