Thursday, 5 November 2015

Writing Business: Getting Creative Professionally

To be clear, I don't mean getting creative with anything which leaves the government or local law enforcement annoyed.  Instead I mean the eternal juggling act of balancing time, money and other commitments with the creative impulse and business necessity.

Whew, it's exhausting just to write out.

This is something which kept coming up at Can-Con: finding the time to write, finding the time and money to promote and the intimidation of dealing with dozens of potential independent contractors.  So I decided to put my two cents out there.

First and most important rule: Write Your Book.  Or Draw Your Picture.  Or whatever else gets you going creatively.  No matter how brilliant your business plan, it means nothing without actual product to put out there.

I've got a full time job and a household with kids to run.  I've had to teach myself to write in the cracks of my life.  Kids have a swimming lesson?  Score!  Forty five minutes of writing time if I pack along my laptop and plot book (a photo album with my ever expanding mass of index cards).  One trick I've learned is to spend the last five minutes of each session writing out notes for where I want to go next in a scene.  That way when I next get to write, I can get right back into it.

Another trick is to pawn off whatever work you possibly can.  I get a cleaning service in to deal with the major housekeeping issues (wash the floors, clean the bathrooms).  I know authors who trade work with other moms (one does the cleaning, the other cooks meals for both families).  And there's always the classic option of roping your spouse and kids into doing more work.  Figure out what someone else can handle to give you time to write.

Final advice on writing: figure out what environment and tricks work best for you to get creative.  If I have my music and an outline, I can do a thousand words in under an hour.  If I'm trying to write where people will be interrupting and bumping into me, not going to happen.  For some people, they need quiet.  For others, they need noise and interaction.

Next rule: Promote!  Promote!  Promote!  Books sell by word of mouth, so your job as an author is to start as many word of mouth chains as you possibly can.  Some will fizzle out but you never know when one will take off.

Set your budget for promotion.  Don't plan to make back your money in sales every time.  Odds are good that you won't be able to recover costs, particularly in the first few years.  But that doesn't matter, because you're creating your platform to grow your business.  Figure out what you can afford both in time and in money.  There are a lot of services which will help you promote in exchange for a fee and there are a lot of free services which will cost you time.  Free services tend to be saturated, requiring a lot more effort to be noticed.  Paid services can get expensive in a hurry and results are never guaranteed.

I chose to join KDP Select through Amazon, even though it meant I couldn't submit my book to Kobo, Apple or Barnes and Noble to take advantage of those marketplaces.  I did it deliberately because Amazon offered promotional opportunities in exchange for exclusivity.  My book in front of more eyes was worth the potential loss of income.  I'm hoping to reach a point where my sales are sustainable even without Amazon's support, but that's probably several years off at this point.

I also do a lot of blog visits and posts.  I have a number of blogs where I'm friendly with the person who runs it and some of them are starting to have quite the following.  By being available, polite and professional, I've built up a relationship where they're willing to give me better placement and support when possible.

Final bit of advice for promotion: Plan for a marathon.  The work never really ends so don't burn yourself out trying to do everything. 

The last key issue of intimidation is choosing the team who will work with you: editors, cover designers, beta readers, tour managers, promotional team, and distribution, to name a few.  There are lots of people out there with slick sites but maybe not much experience and there are also some real gems.

I found recommendations through my writer's group (thanks ORWA) and I'm pleased to say I've rarely found myself in a position of wasting my money on a service I didn't like.  I probably could have found the same services cheaper, but I knew the people I was dealing with were reliable and professional.  I didn't have to spend weeks and months searching and researching, which left me more time to write.

No matter whether you traditionally publish or go independent, you are still working with a giant corporation when it comes to getting your book out there.  Amazon wants to make money, not nurture the dreams of every author who submits a book.  Ditto for the traditional big six.  Know what you're getting into with every contract and read the fine print.

It's scary from the outside but it's not something you have to master instantly.  There's time to figure things out and figure out what works for you.  Some people will be able to publish quality work rapidly, others will have to plan for a longer term approach.  Some people have time and money for lots of promotion, others will have to choose to focus on one or the other.

Figure out what works best for you and you'll be surprised at how quickly the barriers between you and your dreams come tumbling down.

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