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Guest post: ‘Writing as a business’ by Paul Hurst

20 Oct

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of the business side of writing, and welcome back author and musician Paul Hurst.

Writing as a business

So, what is your job? How do you describe your profession?

If you said a writer (or author, or similar) and you expect to earn a reasonable sum for your work, then I would humbly suggest that you reconsider.

The fortunate few may have a large enough income to cover everything else apart from the actual creative bit, but for the rest of us that just ain’t the case. You may be blessed with an active and efficient agent, your publisher may be a shining example of the breed, but you’ll still be expected to get involved with publicity and marketing, sort out your accounts, keep an accurate diary and stay up to date and connected with your readers. If you don’t take on most (if not all) of this on yourself then you must sub it out to others. Either way, whether running about like a blue-arsed fly, or managing staff (and possibly doing both), you are a business person. Your writing is your product, and it has to be targeted, advertised, distributed and supported by after-sales service just as much as any other product or service. And even if you do have your very own devoted and dedicated posse who’ll wait on you catering to your every whim, please remember that delegation is fine, abdication is not. Many a creative has been royally turned over by the ‘suits’ when their back was turned.

Of course, you can decide that the money isn’t important, that the whole point of your creative output is simply to bring pleasure and/or illumination to others. Or just because you enjoy it so much (or enjoy the status). That’s fine, no harm in it at all and you are quite entitled to do that. Just scrub the ‘earn a reasonable sum’ bit from the job description because you are now indulging in a hobby. However, by accepting that this is the case, by embracing the realities of market needs, competition and everyday logistics you can now gain a huge advantage over rivals who fail to do this.

Back in the late 90’s I decided to turn a paying hobby into a business. Problem was, you were not expected to be able to make a profit from folk music. There were many ‘hobby’ bands happy to turn up for little more than fuel and beer costs. I wanted to tempt the really good players by paying a proper fee as well as making a decent income for myself.

As it happened, this all turned out to be rather a good thing. There was no option but to investigate every single possible method that I could use to out-manoeuvre rivals. A lot of reading and experimenting followed. Fortunately that path turned out to be rather a lonely one – none of the others seemed particularly interested in making any kind of an effort. They were musicians and were not going to ‘prostitute their art’ by getting involved in publicity, or by pandering to any weird thing the customer may want. If clients wanted to book them, on their terms, then fair enough. Hoo-bleeding-ray! A very happy period has followed ever since. Here are a few of the ideas that have worked, and which should translate into the field of writing as well.

Theory of mind

Sorry, spot the O.U. psychology student. It’s the old chestnut about ‘walking a mile in some else’s shoes’ so you understand their viewpoint. It also means that you get their shoes as well, and by the time they realise that you are at least a mile away – but that’s by the by.

In other words, understand who your audience are and what they want. You don’t have to sell out and head for the popular genre of the moment, stick with the style for which you have a genuine passion, but look for ways you can target that to keep your readers happy. Do they want illustrations, shorter/longer books, different formats? No experienced market trader will set up their stall without knowing first what is likely to sell that day. With all the social media options, and other joys of the interweb there is no excuse for failing to engage with your readers. Concentrate on customer service – the aim is to convert readers into raving fans by finding out what they want and then delivering it in abundance.

Risk reversal

Someone has to blink first. We’re the ones wanting the hard cash that readers have, so by the normal rules of the game it’s up to us to get things rolling. If selling paperbacks, offer a full and absolute money-back guarantee. If selling ebooks, let them download a fair chunk of the book first, as a taster. Better yet, give away a complete book first – just make sure you have links to your follow up books or services. Don’t get all anal about the DRM (Digital Rights Management) to stop readers passing on copies to friends – you won’t stop anyone who knows what they are doing. You will however wind up genuine customers who want to read ‘their’ book in more than one format. Keep giving, be open and generous and long term the reciprocity effect which is hard wired into almost all of us will kick in. Always consider the potential lifetime value of a fan.

Add-ons

When you are making a sale, that’s the best time to make another. If you sell your own books on line, find out how to use a pop up screen. These can let you offer something extra at a reduced price in a bundled deal – after all, you’ve made your main profit and are now going to send out a package anyway, so why not use the opportunity to increase the margin a bit? It could be a mouse mat, T-shirt, coffee mug or key ring – whatever. It could even be another book, but at a reduced price.

That’s great, thank you Paul!

Paul Hurst has run his own companies since the mid 1980’s. Small, stable ‘niche’ affairs with the absolute minimum of overheads. Two of the companies cover his work as a musician and performer since the late 70’s, and as band leader since the early 80’s. Working through his business The Solutions Agency Ltd, Paul provides book keeping, accountancy, training and consultancy services to a wide range of small companies, drawing on his experience in banking, County Court, retail, management accounting, advertising, building, civil engineering, importing, engineering and now psychology as a student with the Open University.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at morgen@morgenbailey.com with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

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6 responses to “Guest post: ‘Writing as a business’ by Paul Hurst

  1. williamdoonan

    October 20, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks, Paul, for this important reminder to anyone who is serious about making it as a writer. I get asked often if writing is my hobby, and I have to say no. It’s not. A hobby is a leisure time activity, and anyone who has ever sat down to craft a story knows, there ain’t nothing leisurely about it. On the other hand, I don’t currently make a living at it, so writing isn’t my job either. So now I tell people that writing is my hinterland, that uncharted and barely-explored region that’s not yet on any map, but someday will be.

    William Doonan
    http://www.williamdoonan.com

     
    • Paul Hurst

      October 21, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      Hi William
      Thanks for your comment.
      No shame in treating it as a ‘recon’ period either – that’s what I’ve been doing with ebooks. Am finding out what sells and at what prices this year, then can concentrate on that from 2012 on.
      I think our attitude of ourselves here is the key thing, the time the journey takes is of less importance than being on the right path.

      All the best

      Paul

       
  2. morgenbailey

    October 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Hello William. Lovely to see you again. This is very timely for me… on the journey between hobby and living (eek) – getting the eBooks ready certainly is a learning curve… but we do it because we love it, don’t we? :)

     
  3. OL Shepp

    October 21, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Paul, Great advice! And not a bit too soon. Unfortunately, I am still considerer a hobby writer by most. In order to change this, I now realize that I must take my writing serious and treat it as a career.

    I appreciate your comment about keeping readers happy. I’m not sure that I ever thought about it like that, but wow!! You nailed it! (OOPS- Do forgive any scuttlebutt of the English vs. American language. lol)

     
    • Paul Hurst

      October 21, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      Hi OL
      Many thanks for your kind comments.

      Never apologise for using your own vocabulary! As writers it is of great help to expand our repertoire through inter-pond dialogue. English is a robust enough language to absorb relevant new words through usage, and has been doing so at least as far back as those dastardly Normans popped over on a day trip and decided to stay.

      Good luck on your journey. So long as you have absolute clarity in your own status, others will come round in time. Have you tried ebooks? It can help revise the perceptions of others if you can talk of ‘worldwide downloads’ – or even sales.
      I banged out a quickie on how to read tarot cards earlier in the year, drawing mainly on an existing web site of mine, only 8,400 words, so priced at $.99 but sales are pottering along nicely on autopilot – are there any subjects you can use for ‘How To’ books to get started?

      All the best
      Paul

       
  4. morgenbailey

    October 21, 2011 at 6:29 am

    Sounds good to me. :) Thank you OL.

     

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