Wayne Stinnett, Author

Wayne Stinnett, Author

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Writing, Are You a Hobbyest or a Business Person?

In a number of discussion forums and blogs, I've seen this topic come up. It amazes me how many writers think of their work as a hobby until they reach a certain level of success. That level for them might be anywhere between being able to pay for a night out with their spouse to doubling or tripling the income from their day job. But, at some point they have to concede that it is a business.

I've got news for you. That point is with the sell of your first book. It's not some lofty goal "that I'm working toward". It's the minute you sell your very first book. How important do you treat your business? Many will still continue to call what they do a hobby, even after writing and publishing half a dozen books or more. The truth is, as long as they look at it like a hobby, which it clearly isn't, their success won't come. Success is measured in book sales. Bottom line.

Why is it not a hobby? Consider the definition of each. A hobby is something we do in our spare time, that relaxes or invigorates us. Something we like to do, even feel passionate about. Whether we're good at it or not doesn't matter, we love to do it and we'd do it for free and eventually we'll get better at it. In fact, that's the only way it can still be a hobby. If you do it for free.

Once you produce a product and offer it for sale, you're still in the realm of a hobbyest. But, as soon as someone buys it and you're compensated in some way, usually money, it's no longer a hobby. It's a business. It fits all the parameters of a hobby up until money is exchanged. From there on, it fits all the parameters of a business. Make no mistake about it, if you're an indie writer and someone has bought your book, you're participating in the capitalist marketplace that can either eat you up or make you a success.

So how do you guarantee success? You can't really. However, there are a lot of steps you can take to minimize the resistance. Very few businesses can be started up without some kind of seed money, or venture capital. We're very fortunate that our chosen profession doesn't have a really high buy in. In fact, the biggest part of your venture capital can be time. We're indies, we do it ourselves.

We write the stories and hopefully they're the kind that people want to read. Some of us do our own cover designs, our own formatting, and our own editing. The more we can do of the former and spend less or no time at all doing the latter, the more successful we'll be. That doesn't mean a first time novelist has to spend hundreds on cover design and thousands on editing and formatting. But those expenses should be a goal. I look forward to paying my editors and cover designers over a thousand dollars. It puts me one step closer to making that money back in spades.

Story tellers all have one thing in common. We're able to tell a story and hopefully keep a person interested through to the end. Cover designers have an artistic flair that the story teller might lack. As much as we might like to tell ourselves that you can't judge a book by its cover, people do. A really good blurb needs a salesman's touch. It's basically a sales pitch, your first chance to hook the reader after they're attracted by the cover. Your cover is the first sales tool in your belt. Without it, your book won't get a second glance. The blurb is the second tool.

So how do you get a really great, eye-catching cover to adorn that first masterpiece and put together a blurb that'll make a snake oil salesman envious? You can do it yourself, right down to the individual pixel level and word choice. But, for a story teller, that'll get old real fast. There are alternatives in between doing it yourself and paying a high price for professional cover design and marketing blurb.

Look at your friends. Ask around. There are some talented people trying to break into the business that will do the job just as well but for a fraction of the price. Or you might have a buddy that can whip out a quality cover for a beer. Give a copy of your book to someone you know whose career is in sales and offer them a steak dinner to write a good blurb. Sales people love a challenge.

A network of friends that are willing to beta read your manuscript can be your first editing team. No, they won't find all of your mistakes (we all make them) and they might take weeks to get to it, but they'll find a lot of the mistakes you miss, because they don't know the story. The writer knows a line is supposed to say, "They went across the street, hand in hand" and can easily miss the fact that it actually says, "The went across they street, and in hand." Soon, you'll be able to hire someone to make it even better and make your second book even better than the first one. Your investment with using friends is minimal, financially speaking, but could be expensive in time. Take whatever time required to create a good quality product.

A small investment in time and perhaps a little money, will allow you to present a better product for sale. Don't rush. I know, the world's gonna be a much better place after people start reading your book, but they'll wait. With every sale of your first book, you're building residual income. Keep that income separate from your personal money and use it only to better your product. After a few months, when a little royalty money starts coming in, you can use it for a better cover on your next book or make the first one even better. My first book has had four cover revisions. A little more money comes in and you can use that to have a professional proofreader look at it. They'll catch more, but don't give up your betas. They can help with specialty things in the plot that the proofreader or editor might not be familiar with. As sales pick up, keep funneling the income into your business, making your product better and better.

Having a separate business account can make this a lot easier. All your book income goes into it and nothing more, while all your expenses come out of it and nothing more. Congratulations, you just made your first profit and loss statement.

It's not a hobby. It's a business. As soon as you come to grips with that, regardless of how low your sales might be, you'll start making business decisions. Make the wrong ones and the business world will let you know. Sales will falter. Make the right ones and you'll know that, as well.

But make no mistake, if you've sold even one book, you are a small business person, not a hobbiest.

1 comment:

  1. Good info and guidance for those who want to earn income from their writing, which is usually the point of publishing. Despite starting years earlier, I didn't start tracking my marketing expenses until this year -- which is dumb, in retrospect, I wish I'd done the separate accounting stuff right from the start. OTOH, I fell into the "I'll do it if I ever make enough sales" line of thinking. Setting this up right in the beginning might take a little effort but it's almost certainly worth it. As for determining the hobby/business distinction, those in the US will want to refer to what the IRS says about that (it's not simply a matter of making your first sale), but even those whose publishing efforts would be classified as a hobby should still keep good records of revenue and expenses.

    ReplyDelete