With the advent of companies like Etsy this really has become the age of the indie business. And if creatives such as painters, graphic designers and furniture-makers can turn their passion into a small business, why can’t writers?
The increasing availability of self-publishing services has enabled writers to do just that, but treating writing like a business is not just for self-publishing. There are lessons to be learnt from the Etsy moguls that can benefit writers of every ilk.
So whether you follow this guide to the letter or just cherry pick bits and pieces that work for you here are some pointers on how to treat writing like the business it is.
Developing your product
A piece of writing is a piece of art. We like to think of it this way and we aren’t wrong. However, writing is also, undeniably, a commercial product. When you write an essay, story or article you’re creating something that can be bought and sold.
Sometimes we don’t want to think of our writing through such a corporate lens, but it’s crucial to do so if you want to treat your writing like a business. Let’s look at three major concepts that retail businesses consider when developing a product line.
Know your niche
To some a niche is a small recess in a wall designed for displaying a vase or statue. For businesspeople it is your unique selling point: the specific space that you occupy that sets you apart from other companies or, in this case, other writers.
There are a lot of writers out there and a lot of them are struggling for the same opportunities you are. It can be overwhelming, especially when recalling the far too familiar expression ‘There are no knew stories’.
While this may be true, there are always new ways to tell a story, write an article or turn a phrase. Only you can do it your way, because there’s only one of you.
For a writer finding your niche may be more akin to finding your voice. Neil Gaiman writes within a variety of mediums: short stories, adult and children’s novels, TV and film scripts and collaborations with other writers. All of these ring with a certain Neil Gaiman-i-ness. That’s his niche and probably has a little something to do with his hordes of devoted fans.
Take a look at your own interests, skills, occupation and personal history. These are the things that make you who you are as a writer. Perhaps you’re a fantasy writer who repairs shoes for living? Maybe that’s how the story of the elves and the shoemaker was born.
You don’t have to lock it all down and take out the magic of writerly creation but if you have a general idea of where you sit in the writing world you’ll have a better understanding of which groups to be involved in, which markets to target, and which opportunities to pursue.
Pricing your work
Writers are underpaid. This isn’t news. Sometimes they’re so underpaid they’re actually unpaid. So the idea of pricing your work like a potter would a plate might seem unusual or even a little pointless.
It’s not. When you know what your writing is worth you know what goals to set and can plan how to reach them.
There are a couple of ways you can go about pricing your writing. You can treat every piece like a physical item and use your hourly rate, material costs (if any), overhead and desired profit to calculate that story’s price.
There is a formula for this method on Designing an MBA. All I’d suggest is to only work out the wholesale price unless you’re self-publishing in which case you should work out the retail.
Another method, perhaps more suited to writing, is to determine an appropriate hourly wage. Don’t just pluck a number out of thin air though because you’ll probably undersell yourself. Consider things like your experience level and your cost of living, and always consider growth.
Growth is a critical aspect of any business and it is crucial to making your career as a writer sustainable. Adding a little extra to your hourly rate, like adding profit to an item price, is what allows you to develop your craft, take workshops, go to seminars and rest occasionally.
It isn’t easy to find work that will pay your hourly rate and even if you do there will be a lot of competition. If you manage to land these jobs more power to you, otherwise think of these figures as guides.
It’s important to know what you and your writing are worth, even if being paid what you’re worth isn’t immediately achievable. It tells you what to aim for, helps you set your goals and also allows you to manage your expectations.
Have multiple revenue streams
We’ve already talked about the importance of knowing your niche, so it may seem counterintuitive to suggest creating multiple revenue streams. This is not the case. Having multiple revenue streams doesn’t have to detract from your unique selling point at all.
Now you know your niche you know you have a lot of knowledge and a variety of skills, but you’re probably only using these skills in one or two ways. Let’s take it up a notch.
A fantasy writer doesn’t just have to write epic novels which can be years in the making. They could also write a combination of short stories, essays, articles or give talks and take workshops.
By diversifying your ‘product’ you not only create more opportunities to make that all-important money; you also get your name out there, which gives you more opportunities to be ‘discovered’. By keeping your niche in mind you may be discovered by the same people who will interested in your main passion: that fantasy novel.
Here are some potential revenue streams you may not have considered:
- Public speaking
- Articles/Essays/Blog posts
- Different genres: Short stories, flash fiction, scripts, poetry
Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo have put together a detailed list of even more potential revenue streams for writers.
Establish a presence
What’s the point of having a product if nobody knows about it? In order to succeed as a business you have to have a presence. These days this mostly means an online presence so we’re going to focus on the digital space when examining target market, branding and getting your name out there.
Know your target market
A business’ target market is the specific demographic of people that their product or service is aimed at. For a writer it’s exactly the same thing. It’s why categories like Young Adult and True Crime were born, to help target markets find what they’re looking for and help writers find their readers.
Understanding your target market is a great benefit to writers. It enables you to seek out publishers, agents and editors whose target markets align with you own, thus increasing your chance of getting published. It also helps you locate appropriate venues and people to whom you should market yourself.
Understanding your target market allows you to tailor marketing copy such as book proposals, blurbs and even social media posts for the greatest success.
Be aware that on most of your platforms you will be primarily communicating with your readers but this will also be how agents, editors and publishers engage with you.
Target market, niche and branding (which we will discuss in a minute) are all tightly connected. When they are understood and clearly presented to the public they are a powerful marketing tool that will enable writers to both be found and develop a strong following.
Create consistent branding
As a writer in an age where your entire life story is but a Google search away you are in many ways a product yourself—or, at least your author persona is. As writer and entrepreneur Kimberley Grabas says “An effective author brand can give you a major edge”.
Most of the time people will engage with your author persona online, so it’s important to have a consistent brand image across all the platforms you use so you don’t confuse your potential fans.
Design and content can make a mess of things but they can also attract the right people and make you recognisable to your fans. Fonts and colour schemes say things to people. You may love pink but if you’re writing crime novels with rough male leads you’re not going to give them pink covers.
Look at J.K. Rowling who obscured her gender by using initials instead of her name as to not alienate her male readers or the many Victorian women who wrote under male pseudonyms in order to get published. It’s all branding.
Think about your niche and target market when making decisions. Your content should be as consistent as your design. A hard boiled crime writer may blog about the latest John Grisham but they wouldn’t post unicorn emoji’s (unless their protagonist has an unhealthy obsession with unicorn emoji’s).
You’re trying to establish a loyal readership and it’s important your readers find your online persona recognisable across your platforms so they know they’re in the right place.
How to get yourself out there
If you want to treat writing like a business you need to have a presence online. For Etsy sellers, this means a store; for writers, it will most likely be a website.
You can easily create a professional website on WordPress or another blog hosting site for no money at all. There are three key things you should have on your website: a bio, contact details and content.
Content is king. Your bio is content and a blog is a treasure trove of content as well as an opportunity to showcase your writing skills. Unique content also improves search engine optimization (SEO). Another way to improve SEO is through links. Links pointing to your site tell Google and other search engines that your site is valuable; therefore featuring it higher in their results.
Three places you can link back to your website:
- In your author bios when you’re published elsewhere
- When referencing a previous blog post in a new blog post
- In social media posts.
Social media can be powerful in garnering followers but only when used well. Post regularly; it doesn’t have to be often, but if it’s at least regular then people will know following you isn’t a waste of time.
Post about what you’re passionate about but make it consistent with your branding. And, most importantly, be social. Interact with your followers and those you’re following. Networking is critical, both on and offline.
Persistence is key
Persistence isn’t specific to indie businesses at all. In fact, it’s crucial to success in every career, perhaps every aspect of life.
You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t knuckle down and do the hard yards. And there are a lot of very hard yards so you’ve also got to be able to pick yourself up and brush yourself off when you face difficulty or disappointment.
Once you have these bare basics down keep an eye on what’s working for you and what isn’t.
Is Twitter account more active than your Facebook page? Cull Facebook; it will save you time and energy. Is your niche too narrow? Broaden it. Do you want to diversify into an entirely different genre? Some Etsy sellers open a second store; some writers create a pseudonym. Go for it.
This guide is designed to help you grow not to limit you. Never stop exploring and never stop writing.