Monday, September 30, 2019

Why Being an Author is Like Being a Small Business Owner

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody!  Hopefully you haven't found me too terribly out of sorts lately, but I have been burning the candle at all three (?) ends between my day job, writing, and...

(drumroll please)

I am now the co-owner of a small business!  I don't want this post to be all about that, but I'm sure you'll have some questions, so the deal is:

- I bought a balloon store
- It's in central Pennsylvania and while external support is nice, our customer base is local
- No, I don't know anything about balloons, but my partner and our staff are awesome
- No, we don't make balloon animals
- Yes, the helium shortage is a real thing
- No, we don't have any special helium connections

So what am I doing for the business exactly?  Well, I'm running the numbers and doing some social media, so, yay Blog Number Three!

What's struck me in the last few months, though, is how much the skills I've developed as an indie author translates to being a small business owner.  This probably comes as no surprise to any other authors out there, but it may be interesting to our readers and aspiring authors.

The TL;DR for this post is: being an indie author means you are a small business owner.

Writing is a craft, an art, and in some cases a vocation, which is why people can forget that it's a business as well.  You're selling books.  In many cases, you're not just selling books, you're actively aspiring to sell books full time.  Should you ever achieve that goal, you will be a one-person business.  (Or, possibly more.  You could hire an assistant, for instance, but at the end of the day the paychecks are coming in because of you and what you're writing.)

Now, I know it may not be true that you're trying to sell books.  There are some people who simply give away their work for the love of having it out there, or, in fact, don't show their work to anyone at all, a la Emily Dickinson or Henry Darger.  If that's the case, then God bless you for it, God bless you for the purity of your dedication to your art.  But at that point you are a hobbyist, and since the purity of your art is the point of your art, then there is no advice I, or for that matter, anyone else can give you that would be of any value.  And since this post is writing advice, I'm going to table that discussion for now and focus on pro authors, and those seeking to become pro authors.

So what does being a pro author entail?  It entails selling your books, which means you need to be reasonably good with money and finances.  You need to, at a minimum, track your sales, through your various platforms and hand-selling at conventions, signings, and the like.  It means you need to maintain and keep track of inventory for hand-selling, which means you have to make certain predictions about how much inventory you will need, and then order it in time for events.  These are all the very basic fundaments of business.

But it goes beyond that, as well.  One of the first things we had to do with the balloon shop was establish our brand, which is all wrapped up in this handsome logo right here:

We came up with a name that represented how we wanted people to think of our business: not just as a balloon store for kids, but an art studio for sophisticated clients.  An author, too, in many cases, has to decide on a name or a pen name which represents their work, whether it be a compelling element of their genre or just a strong but ultimately generic name.  In certain gender-dominated genres you may wish to choose initials to portray a gender-neutral or even counterfactual gender for marketing purposes.

But marketing doesn't stop with a name.  We came up with a logo and a website to capture the public persona we wanted to project.  And, of course, as an author, you'll be projecting a persona as well.  Now, don't take that as me saying that you need to make up a whole new person.  Just consider how you would act in a business setting - completely professional if you're in a very uptight setting, or perhaps with a bit of humor or charisma if you're in a more performative setting.  It's not that you're faking who you are, you're just projecting different aspects of yourself. 

Now don't get me wrong.  Your author persona may also be completely made up.  I doubt Chuck Tingle really acts that way, for instance.  But most likely your author persona will be some version of your real self, somewhat curated for public consumption.  (Not unlike social media in general, now that I think of it.)

What about marketing?  One of the first things we did for the store was to order cards.  As an author, your "card" will probably be a bookmark - but, of course, you can also make a card.  You'll also want to look into advertising.  For a small business, that may consist of local newspapers, billboards, or small donations to raise your profile.  Similarly, as an author, you'll be looking into book blogs, marketing sites, and giving away ARCs (or advanced review copies) of your books.

The similarities go on, and I could go on for days, but I think you're starting to see the picture.  And to be honest, I've directly ported a lot of the skills I learned while marketing myself as an author to the balloon shop.  For instance, starting a blog and a newsletter.  How about you?  What skills have you brought from your business work to writing, or vice versa?

1 comment:

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I think one of the hardest things to get through my head is that indie publishing is a small business. I need to think of marketing as if I bought a balloon store.

Best of luck, btw.

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