The Business of Writing: 101

I found this sitting on my hard drive. I thought I’d posted it, but couldn’t find it again. Regardless, it’s worth posting (or reposting).

The Business of Writing 101

publishing.pngI wish this had been a panel at any of the conventions I’ve been at. It’s basic stuff – or at least, it seems that way to me now. But it’s not basic when you’re a new writer, when you’re wanting that first sale so bad you can just taste it.

So let me outline some of the things I would want to say, if I were running this panel. These are intentionally vague – not only are your circumstances different than mine, but the world’s changing pretty rapidly. These principles should stay reasonably constant, regardless of the technology and business models you apply them to.

Business is not the same thing as friendship. It’s not. I can be friends with you – even respect you – but not want to work with you. The reverse is also true. Nepotism is only a good thing if your friends and relatives are also the best people for the job.

Everything is relative. And that’s not just a pun on the above nepotism bit. A competent editor whom I can trust implicitly is a better person for the job than a super editor whom I have doubts about. That goes for everything else here – there are so many possible factors and conditions that it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome of every situation. But you can think about every situation and examine where the benefit is.

Money flows toward the author (or content creator). If you, as an author, are paying someone, they damn well better be able to show you where the extra value is. Paying a legit freelance editor to go over your first novel before shopping it around? Investment. Paying an agent to read your work – and then take a cut off the top? Scam. Paying an agency to do the same thing that Ralan does and printing out address labels? Scam.

Your time and work is valuable. Period. For example, I worked for about twelve to fourteen hours writing “Memories of Light and Sound” (now available for digital purchase). I got paid approximately $10 (pre-tax) an hour to write that story. Not horrid – though realistically, I’m only counting time I actually spent actively writing and revising, which took place over four days, which makes it look a lot less attractive. Realistically, the “pro rates” given by SFWA (though abysmally low) are a good starting point.

Profit and value are not the same as money. Have I written for less than pro rates? Absolutely. I’ve given stories to a local ‘zine called Mock Turtle simply because I believe in them and believe in supporting a local independent arts scene. That’s valuable to me. There was no up-front payment for The Burning Servant. While I hope to earn something akin to a pro rate for writing it (feel free to pitch in a few bucks or buy the ePub/Kindle versions!), it also has value by exposing my work (and me) to a larger audience, directed to me by a person who has a dedicated fan base. That’s also value.

Pay is not the same as up-front pay. Sometimes taking less money exposes you to new audiences, which would be worth more over time as more people like (and buy) your work. Sometimes taking less per-word but sharing in royalties will end up paying more over time. But each time, that’s a calculated risk. “Kicking the Habit” – which appears in Hungry for Your Love – had a much smaller up-front pay than “Memories of Light and Sound”. The royalties for that book more than made up the difference. It was the exception, though. It was a calculated risk, and paid off. I have no illusions that it will happen again.

What is worthwhile for you to do now may not be worthwhile later. When you’re trying to build an audience, trading pay for new eyeballs might make more sense. Once you have one, though, why settle for less than you’re worth? If you’re working in an affiliated field (editing, proofing, typesetting, eBook conversion), I can understand doing a job or three for the byline. After you’ve established that you can do the work, though, why sell yourself short?

Networking is about what you can do for other people. There’s entire panels on that, but this is the key bit. What can you do for them? If it also furthers your own project, then great – but do it because it helps them, too. Otherwise you’re not networking, you’re just begging for favors.

Everything you do should benefit your career. At least in some way. Your time blogging should help. If you’re on Facebook, spend time making connections.

This does NOT mean kissing ass. For example, I’ve probably annoyed some editors wanting to hire slave-wage help in affiliated fields. I’ve probably annoyed some “for the love” markets (especially those who didn’t read the next point carefully). But this is the thing – if I say something in public, if I give advice, I am putting my reputation on the line. That kind of honesty benefits you. You get (hopefully) valuable information. It benefits me. You’ll believe me when I recommend something, including my own work. If you find yourself in a position to work with me, you’ll know that I’m going to be completely straight with you. You’ll come see me on panels at cons, or ask convention organizers to invite me. These things help you and benefit my career.

And that’s the way business should almost always end up. Win-win situations, where everyone benefits.

If you’re not in that kind of situation, leave and find (or start) a new one.

I’d like to hear your additional suggestions in the comments.

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