The Business Of Writing

If you're like most Americans, you waited until the last minute to do your taxes the other week, and if you're a writer, you most likely received one of those 1099-MISC forms from your publisher, agent, or, if you self-published, from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Smashwords or the like. It doesn't matter if the amount on the forms was a respectable one or if it was as low as $10 -- that income was reported to the IRS, making you, believe it or not, a business. The amount of money I made from Amazon last year? $10.85. Pretty pathetic, no? It's because before the past few months, all I had available were a few novellas -- three, specifically, and with each of them priced at 99 cents each, not much money was coming in. Also, I wasn't doing much to promote them because I didn't see a point. But then as we entered the new year and I began to open my eyes to the true potential of e-books, I realized that that measly $10.85 could increase drastically. And so far it has. In fact, recently I'm making more than that number each day now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Novels, I've come to quickly realize, sell a hell of a lot better than novellas and short stories. Readers are more apt to try a new writer's novel than they are a short story or novella. Short stories and novellas? They're for a writer's fans. In fact, with the increased sales of The Calling (and now The Dishonored Dead), I'm beginning to see more sales of my short stories and novellas.

So my point?

My point is even though I made diddly last year off my e-books, I still had to report it. It's not like the days when I sold a short story to a magazine or anthology and pocketed the money. The amount was never that large and so who cared if I didn't report fifty or one hundred bucks? Before, it was never a business, right? Except, in a way, it has always been a business. And I think the reality still hasn't hit many of the writers I see out there in the webosphere, particularly the ones on the message boards hocking their books to the same tired group of writers and bitching and moaning how their sales are down and asking anyone what's the cheapest way to get cover art for their e-books.

Because writing is a business, and as writers we need to treat it as a business. Sure, you can argue that you write for the love of it and that it's just a hobby and blah blah blah, but let's be honest here: we all want to be published and have readers and make money. And to do that, you need to become business-minded.

If you're a writer who has decided to do it yourself, you really need to approach publishing even more aggressively than you would going through an agent or publisher. Because while with an agent or publisher some of the work rests on their shoulders, here now it all rests on you. Which means you need to put in even more time and money and energy because, ultimately, your work is an investment. This is the one thing I don't think some writers understand. They want to go the easy route and not do much work and find cheap cover art and then, when the e-book doesn't sell, complain that nobody is buying their stuff.

Of course, putting money up front doesn't always work out either (as evidenced by Exhibit A), but sometimes you can't win them all. The cover for The Dishonored Dead? It cost me a pretty penny. But this time I did much better research of the designer, I even spoke to some of the writers who had used him before, and I understood that, ultimately, it was an investment. Hopefully soon I'll earn back that initial investment and then keep earning on top of that. It boggles my mind that some of these writers insist on signing with publishers who release just e-books. Their reasons are always odd, at least to me, the most prominent being that validation of being with a publisher, but also because they don't want to mess around with the formatting and cover design and uploading.

Okay, I guess I understand that last part (for me true validation is having readers and making money), but why continue to pay someone a percentage of your royalties for a job that you could simply pay for up front?

Again, whether you like it or not, writing is a business. Look at some of the successful businesses out there. The first one that comes to mind is Apple. Despite what you think of them, they've become one of the most successful businesses in the world. And why? It's because they make great products. They make products you want, need, can't live without. It's not because of their advertisements (though those are actually well done too). It's not because they're following everyone and his mother on Twitter and constantly posting about their new e-book and asking for retweets. It's because they have a product that people want, plain and simple.

As a writer, you are a business. Your novel or short story or even poem are products. You want your products to be so good that readers go looking for more. You want your product to sell itself.

Now is that too hard to understand?

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Speaking of Apple, for those readers who prefer to read on their iPads or iPhones or iPods, The Dishonored Dead is now available for iBooks.

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Still a lot of time to enter the third annual Hint Fiction contest. The stories keep streaming in, more and more each day. Joyce Carol Oates has it easy; she only has to read the top 10-15 finalists while I have to slog through the hundreds and hundreds of stories to find those finalists. If you hear a faint thumping sound coming from somewhere outside, that might be me bashing my head repeatedly against a wall. For the time being, make sure to check out the next big fad created by Ravi Mangla: Binge Fiction!