Business 101: Smashing Assumptions on Day One

This week, for five days or so, I’m pulling back the curtain and blogging about what you need to know from a business perspective as a new writer. I’m a little punchy, because I’ve been seeing so much b.s. not related to the nuts and bolts about the business of writing, so please forgive me if I come across as blunt and overly comma splice. These posts are not going to talk about administrative-related piecemeal crap or “theories.” This, quite frankly, is about a word I understand very well — survival. Not everybody can be a writer full-time or make a career out of it. That is totally fine. That’s why I’m blogging this week, because if you’re ready to make that decision, then these are the questions you need to ask yourself.

Today’s post is very important to understand where I’m coming from in my business philosophy. Every business has one, whether you see it or not. There is no one way to run a business and, for everything that you could be doing, there’s another example of someone who was successful doing the exact opposite. These are my opinions on the subject, and no doubt you have yours. Good. Own them, but put them into practice. Otherwise they are just theories, and thinking does you no good unless you actually go forth and do.

On to the assumption-smashing!

Agents are not satanic worshippers who sacrifice new writers at the gilded altar of publishing.

If you go the agent route, look at that person as somebody you want to enter a business relationship with. Don’t worship them. Don’t stalk them or be pushy. Don’t expect that they owe you anything, either. Listen to them. Respect them. Follow their guidelines and ask questions. At the same time, return e-mails as appropriate. You may decide not to seek out an agent and that’s okay! This is one of many business models. This does not mean you’re right and they’re bad, though. Different does NOT equal bad. Different is just different.

Publishers are not six-horned beasts with eight toes who drink your blood and suck you dry.

Publishers are business owners. Some are good at running a business; others are not. These business are large, medium, and small. To trust that the publisher will automatically do everything in your best interest is foolish. Let me be very, very clear about this: you can have faith, yes, but you cannot build a business based on your expectations about what other people should be doing for you. At the same time, being overly skeptical or nervous about basic business practices like contracts and the like will send up a red flag. When you get a book/story published, you are entering a business agreement. This is not your first born child you’re sacrificing here. This is about selling your work for money. Dinero. Soldi.

Anyone can be a writer.

I hate semantics, but I had to put this one in here. Yes, anyone can be a writer – as long as you write to get paid. Being a professional writer means that you are either providing a service, by freelancing, or you are selling your finished work to a publisher or publishing it yourself. There are multiple business models out there with a variety of levers to push and pull, but in the end: the goal is to earn money through your business either full-time or part-time.

Any model you choose or build should serve your core competency as a writer who wants “x.” That “x” could be a dollar sign or number of copies sold, but bottom line: “x” is career-related. If you’re in this for the long haul, then “x” changes. Maybe there’s a new “x”. Maybe you raise the bar or remove it completely. Either way, “x” isn’t about achieving the one goal and quitting. It’s about the milestones you achieve to build your career.

I don’t need to make money as a writer. I’m creating Art!

Okay, then. Well, you’re probably not the writer who needs to read posts about building a business. The process of creating Art is separate from selling it. If you only want to create it, that’s fine. Just don’t shit on any other writer who feels differently than you do.

Only writers who write “X” are real writers.

My answer to this statement is usually an eye roll. I’m very good at them. :-p

I can post whatever I want online and not experience any consequences.

Bullshit. Yes, it’s true: we’re all human. The more people get online, the more common certain behaviors might be, the more social pressures you’ll encounter, but silent judgments are always occurring. Never mind the legal implications of what you post online, bias is a fact of life and it’ll never go away. Posting about your long, laundry list of medical ailments, begging for money, revealing the intimate details of your sex life, always being negative and reactionary about rumors/politics/etc., attacking other writers, being so desperate for attention that you have to give us the sordid details about your personal sob story…

Folks, if I’m pissing you off, slow down for a second. People do read what you post and either stop reading or make an instant assessment about you. New writers without a proven track record are not treated or viewed the same as established writers. Do you really want to come across as someone who can’t get their shit together? If you’re applying for a day job, the answer would be: “No.” Then why the hell would you present yourself in a way that gives people a reason NOT to work with you or buy your work? If you tell people you’re broke, you come across as desperate. Then? The offers you get will be lowballed. After all, you’ll sign any deal on the dotted line. You’re broke. You’ve broadcasted that… And now you’ll continue to be so.

I wrote my first book and it’s a guaranteed best-seller. I write better than [insert famous author here] and you should be privileged to publish my masterpiece.

Let me be blunt, because if you’re reading this, you probably have dreams. So, allow me to crush them by saying one word: no.

To end today’s post, here’s a breakdown of this “No!” point-by-point.

    1) Bragging leads to buying your own bullshit. When you’ve got those blinders on, then you make really terrible decisions for yourself and your business. I’ve seen this happen all too often, sadly. Have some amount of pragmatism and find a way to remain grounded. This is not the same thing as letting success get to your head. This is full on “I’m a very successful writer” delusion territory, even though you aren’t making any money. That’s dangerous.

    2) Agents, editors, and publishers are inundated with people who make broad, sweeping claims – all of which can now be researched by a click on the internet. It’s just not possible to make shit up anymore. The rapid speed of communication and the way people are super-connected to one another, especially in this industry, means that if you talk smack you will get caught.

    3) Even if your story is that good? You still have to find a way to sell the book. If it really is that good, it’ll sell itself. Focus first on the story, not on the fact that YOU wrote the story. Marketing comes later.

    4) You will not sell every book and story you write. You cannot sell every word. At times, you will suck and you will need to revise. Own it. This is the unsexy part of being a writer.

    5) Your first book usually blows. I say “usually” because this obviously isn’t always the case. There are exceptions, but this is not the rule. Laugh. Rip it up. Delete it. (I did!) Write the next one.

    6) The only way to get better as a writer is to write, and that takes time. I’ll be talking about time this week as a stand-alone post. This one… Oh, you may not like that one in particular. But, it must be said.

    7) Success can be desired and dreamt about, but you will starve if you bank on what you haven’t sold. Pay your flipping rent and put food on your table. If you aren’t selling enough to pay rent and eat, then get a job. Your health and safety are important. You may be able to write anywhere and cheaply, without a ton of equipment, but take care of yourself. Sheesh!

    8) You cannot predict what will be popular and will go Cthulhu-crazy if you do. I’ve tried to analyze books after the fact, but that’s after the fact. BAD MONICA! See also: before I knew what the story was about, I thought 50 Shades of Gray was a book about graphic design… The moral here is: the market is unpredictable and publishers are always operating way ahead of you. The trick is to always have a polished story to sell — one that you’ve loved to write!

    9) Quality is subjective. I have unsold stories like every other writer out there. Sent a story to a publisher who has two editors. One loved it, the other hated. The “No” won out. This has happened to me twice. Besides quality, there are other factors that influence buying decisions. Good stories don’t always get published according to YOUR schedule. Sometimes, it takes a while.

    10) FFS, write like yourself. Writing like Stephen King or Nancy Collins or whomever means you’re writing like them. You’re not writing like you. Have some flipping pride in yourself and in your work. Readers will make that comparison – DON’T DO THIS TO YOURSELF. The only way you can write like you? WRITE. Just [1,000 F-bombs] write.

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Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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