Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It’s Just Business (No, Seriously)

by Sophie Perinot

It takes a long time for the fact that writing is a business to sink in.

Let’s face it, when you get that offer from an agent (or two, or ten) it feels like the Hogwarts letter—magic baby, pure magic.  You are the few, the chosen, the 2%.  Then you take the next step, a book contract.  Now you are a lottery winner (since only roughly 50% of represented debut authors get this far). And you are being told you are brilliant and you might even think you are an “A”rtist.  But what you are, plain and simple, is a craftsperson under contract and beyond this a business entrepreneur with a small personal brand.

The sooner you recognize this the better.  Not just because it will allow you to make rational decisions about contracts, deadlines and promotions either.

The main reason to remember that writing is a business is so that when the bumps come—and they will my darlings, they will—you do not take them personally.  I have now been a published author for two years and from my not-so-lofty perch I’ve observed lots of other published author friends.  Every bit of feedback you get, every rejection (and rejection never really stops—whether you have a later project turned down or just get a really nasty review questioning whether English is even your first language) is NOT a judgment on you as a person nor even, really, your competence at your craft.

If you make everything personal you will spend a lot of time curled up in a fetal position over stuff that does not warrant that level of emotional angst.   

Example One: you turn in a manuscript to your agent or editor.  You a) think “well, it’s my best work product, I’ll have to see what they think and meanwhile I will work on X, or b) worry yourself sick that they won’t like it and that in rejecting it they will be rejecting you as a person.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE THE ANSWER HAD BETTER BE A!  If it is not try substituting an evaluation at any other job into the scenario and see how silly it sounds to be second guessing your worth as a human being based upon that assessment.

Example Two: you pitch some ideas to your agent for your next project.  She/he doesn’t like one of your ideas (if you are lucky you haven’t written 200 pages of it already).  If you drank the cool aid you begin to feel both aggrieved and invincible—you will just write the book after all YOU love it and you are the “A”rtist.  And that is perfectly defensible—perfectly—if you are willing to take the chance that agent-dude won’t be able to sell the completed work you've now dumped two years of your life into and if you are not relying on writing to pay any bills.  BUT If you can view this as a business in which you produce a consumer product then chances are you will take the input, swallow hard and write something else.  After all, you hired your agent for his/her expertise and market savvy.  And the best book (or technology for that matter) doesn't always win in the market (says the women whose family owned a Beta Max growing up).

There are dozens of additional examples I could list.  But the point remains the same—almost everything that occurs after publication can be viewed either as personal or business and in nearly every case the latter view will lead to preserved sanity in a way the former will not.

Ultimately the MOST important reason to view writing as a business is so that you can rationally assess whether it suits your professional needs, and for how long you wish to continue in it.  If you worked at a widget factory and started to dread going to work every morning you would probably ask yourself some very pointed questions – 1) do I need this job to keep roof overhead and bread on the table? 2) Do I have the resume (qualifications and experience) to do something else that will achieve roof/bread while making me less crazy? 3) If roof/bread are my primary goals here might I be able to better afford them doing something else?  4) If I don’t need to work for roof/bread am I getting satisfaction out of my business that warrants sticking with it?  5) Is there a way to change my personal business strategy so that my job is more satisfying, provides greater remuneration or both?

Folks, those widget-maker questions work just as well for writing.  The number of writers I've met lately who seem tired of what they are doing (or actually crushed by it) is astounding and time and time again I find myself thinking “if the business of writing is killing you why are you still doing it?”  Of course the obvious answer is that for some people it is what pays the bills and there is no nice alternative.  I am not discounting that possibility for an instant.  I am saying, just make sure, as you would with any other business, that you are evaluating what you do under the right rubric.  This is not a “survival test” and leaving this business is no more a sign of personal failure than is leaving one employer for another.

1 comment:

JeffO said...

Great points all around, Sophie, thanks.