It’s January, 2014. Time to put my cards on the table, while talking about the business of writing and publishing. Because it is a business. Yet business is one of the things that often seems to get covered least, when people discuss their writing. In fact, great whacks of “How to Write” literature focuses on different aspects of craft, and craft only. As if merely honing craft were the whole of it.
But unless your sole objective is to get published in college literary journals, then you owe it to yourself to study and understand the business history, underpinnings, trends, and realities of the publishing marketplace. Because the moment you sell your story or your book (be it through traditional or independent means) you are officially “in the stream of commerce” to use the vernacular of the trade.
It’s a bit like merging onto the freeway. You can get off at the nearest exit and go back to being a hobbyist.
Or you can depress the pedal and change lanes to the left, picking up speed and getting ambitious with your planning.
For me, things got off to a modest start in 2009, when I cashed my first ever check for writing: my Writers of the Future prize money, for having won a spot in Writers and Illustrators of the Future, volume 26. At that time I was so desperately focused on merely proving my (prose) chops to editors, I had not thought much about business; though I had attended one brief weekend workshop during which business had been a significant component. Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith each had a range of opinions on various business topics, but without having received any compensation for my work (yet) these topics were a little abstract.
Everything changed when that first check rolled in.
Suddenly, I had a third career blooming under me. To compliment my primary career (healthcare IT) and my secondary career (U.S. Army Reserve.)
I realized fairly quickly that I had to begin devoting time to business planning and goals. But without more information, I also felt like I might be stabbing in the dark. Kris and Dean’s weekend workshop had been a good start. The Writers of the Future workshop in 2010 was an even better follow-up.
But I didn’t feel like I had a solid business footing until I attended Kevin J. Anderson’s Superstars Writing Seminars three-day event in January 2011. Just four years ago.
So, what did the Superstars Writing Seminars do for me?
Allow me to post some raw data, in the form of a graph.
In the four years since my first story saw print, I’ve managed to double my writing income almost every year. To the point that my (formerly tertiary) writing revenue stream has now displaced my (formerly secondary) military revenue stream. A not insignificant thing, considering the fact I am a CW2 with 10+ years behind me. And there’s every sign that things will continue to improve.
Because Superstars is the kind of forum where successful professionals are infectiously enthusiastic about sharing their experiences, and have a genuine desire to see others succeed as they, the instructors, have also succeeded. Dave Wolverton, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Brandon Sanderson, and excellent guest lecturers like Tracy Hickman, all devote themselves exclusively to pouring forth their hard-won experience. Offering both statistical and anecdotal proof that writers with a little bit of talent, a lot of patience, and a lot of work ethic, can turn their writing into a lucrative enterprise.
For me, the single biggest key has been production. As a hobbyist, I could afford to take time off whenever I wanted, because I had no skin in the game. Bills didn’t get missed if I didn’t feel like writing that week, or that month. But Superstars hammered home (at numerous points) the idea that a vocational writer writes. Every day, or several times a week, in whatever hourly chunks possible. Eschewing television or games or other distractions. Work first. Work always. And while it might have been easy for me to overlook or ignore this truth when I was unpublished and still wondering if I’d ever break in, spending time at Superstars greatly impressed upon me the fact that every single instructor — and they are all full-time writers with significant publishing track records — has managed the trick of putting production at the top of his or her priorities list.
Also, each and every instructor has formulated a strategy, replete with sound business practices, for not only breaking into publishing, but staying in the game; post-break-in. None of them has a career that looks like anyone else’s. But all of them have made very explicit business decisions while selecting and pursuing specific agents, specific editors, specific publishers, as well as specific projects for development. There is art involved, no question about it. Each Superstars instructor is very much in love with storytelling, if not also craft and prose. But each of them is also very much focused on the art as a component of an overall livelihood, and it was supremely beneficial for me to spend time talking with so many pros for whom details of the livelihood were paramount in their minds.
Such as: deciphering novel contracts, understanding the agenting process, understanding how money flows to the author from various sources, when to recognize that a deal may or may not be worth walking away from, how to approach editors and publishers with new material, how to handle questions of taxation, how to be your own best salesperson, what kind of marketing an author can or should pursue to help boost sales, and perhaps most relevant for today’s emergent electronic publishing market, how to be your own publisher and publicist in the event that you take your work directly to the consumer.
Again, very little of any of that was ever covered in my many “How to Write” books that I’d read over the years.
Thus I found Superstars to be a revelation.
The kind of thing I believe is best experienced live. Because half or more of my personal learning took place off-hours. Not as part of the official agenda, but as part of conversation with the pros and other students in attendance. Because Superstars offers you the kind of intimacy that you need to ask detailed, candid questions. So that you can get detailed, candid answers; the sort not always available during in-between-panel chats at conventions.
So, a great deal of my own success can be tied back to Superstars to one degree or another. That graph (see above) has Superstars written all over it. And the best part is? I am just getting started. The informational web of contacts, associates, and mentors from Superstars still pays dividends. And each year I am in the business, I learn a little bit more, push myself a little bit harder with my goals, and (as the graph shows) manage to make even more money.
All while getting to do what I originally dreamed of doing back when I was barely 18 years old, and reading authors like Larry Niven, and fantasizing of one day getting to be a “for real” writer.
Now, to the matter of cost. It is rightly said by most competent pros that money always flows to the writer. The one reasonable caveat that I can attest is true, would be continuing education. Dean Wesley Smith emphasized that for me right up front: with publishing changing so rapidly, it’s not a bad idea to try to stay on top of the latest ideas, thinking, innovations, and direct-from-the-marketplace experiential data. So that you can keep up with the trade, in the same way so many other professions and vocations must stay current on the “state of the art” as it were.
Personally, I feel the investment has paid for itself a hundred times already.
Maybe yours will too?
The next Superstars is coming up quick. February 2014. I hope to see you there!