Creating Manageable Business Growth for Authors
Guest Post by Irene Watson
Once a writer becomes a published author, he or she also becomes a small business owner. Authors may not want to be businesspeople, but the most successful authors have good business skills and learn how to balance their writing with their business activities, realizing that even writing is a business investment and activity that should produce dividends.
Authors who publish books become business owners immediately. Initially, many authors do not realize that being a business owner is one of the hats an author wears, but if they want to be successful authors, they also need to be shrewd business people. No matter how well you write, it won’t do you much good if you’re not successful at marketing and promoting your books, or investing your money so you can afford to print and produce future books in your product line.
Being a good business person and author simultaneously requires several skills, including pacing yourself, using your time and energy wisely, and using basic common sense, as well as producing books your audience will want to read. Following are some key tips and areas where authors need to apply their business sense.
Timing: When to Bring Out a Book
Books do not sell well in winter. Anytime from May to November is a good time to bring out a book, but if you bring one out in January, you may be disappointed in initial sales and unlikely to gain back your money invested for several months. How quickly you break even on your production and marketing costs will depend on your efforts and the quality of your book, but six months is a good estimate.
That said, if you’re a new author, March or April might be a good time to bring out a book so you get your feet wet and can get ready for the busier summer season as you make contacts. Of course, how busy you are will depend on how many contacts you make with bookstores, reviewers, summer art and craft shows and festival organizers, and anyone else who can help you to promote your book.
What about bringing out the second and future books? Many authors find that once they bring out the first book, they are so busy with marketing it that they have no time to write. Generally, it’s a good idea to have a good head start on writing the second book before you publish the first so you don’t have to worry about rushing out a second book. Nor do you want to break any momentum started with your first book. You may want to plan for the second book to come out in six months, a year, or two years. If you’re writing a series, I’d plan for six months to a year. Making readers wait more than two years for a second book may result in their losing interest. But don’t bring out your books too close together if you don’t have time to focus on marketing the second one. Be sure to give all your books the time and attention they deserve.
Finally, make sure you know what your audience wants. If people love your first book, great. If they suggest other topics, listen to them. Being a successful author isn’t only about writing what you want, but about fulfilling a demand for a product. There’s no point in writing a book you want to write for your own fun if no one else will want to read it; it may be fun, but it’s not a good business decision.
Booking Events and Pacing Yourself
Book as many events for your book as possible. Events could be craft shows, radio interviews, talks to various groups, conference presentations, and so on. Whenever you’re asked to do an event, try to say, “Yes” but don’t book so many that you wear yourself out. Remember that summer and Christmas are the two busiest times to sell books so plan to be busy during those seasons so you can keep your stamina up. It may not be uncommon to have a book signing every weekend in the month leading up to Christmas. Rest up in winter and get as much of your writing done in the slow seasons.
Think like a business owner when it comes to investing your time and energy in marketing activities. If you go to a book fair three hours from home and you sell only two books after sitting there for eight hours, don’t invest your time and money in doing the same activity next year, or figure out what you could do to make the activity more effective. If the next year you also have poor results, find something more productive for investing your time and money. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Such failed activities result in loss of time and money because you could have used that time to participate in other activities that would have served you better in promoting your book.
Budgeting and Cash Flow
Make sure you talk to your accountant early on about what you need to know as an author concerning collecting sales tax, what counts as mileage for your business, and what are viable expenses. Keep track of everything, from mileage for driving to the store to buy tape for packaging your books, to postage costs, to craft show and conference fees.
Marketing books can be expensive as you print marketing pieces and invest time and money into traveling. Make sure you make good decisions about what will be likely to repay your investment. If you talk for an hour, is the sale of one book going to be worthwhile to you?
Perhaps most importantly, don’t spend your profits. They become your fund to keep your business going. You need to have cash flow to reprint your books. The first year, I suggest you save all your profits to build up an investment egg for yourself that you can pull from in the future to print upcoming books and for all your other expenses. Put your money from book sales in that account, and only withdraw from that account for your business expenses. In time, you may decide to pay yourself or reward yourself with some of that money, but that shouldn’t happen until you’ve broken even on your initial costs and earned profit for a couple of years to ensure you’ll always have a source of money to draw from. How much money do you need? It will depend on your expenses. After the first year, determine what you spent and how much you will likely spend in the future and keep that amount on hand for a nest egg.
Capitalizing on Outside Resources
Authors are busy people, and you’ll soon learn that you can’t do it all. Capitalize on other resources and don’t be afraid to pay other people to help you. For example, you might start out printing bookmarks and business cards off your printer at home, but they won’t look as good as if you go to a professional printer; don’t spend the time to fuss with designing and making them if someone else can do it faster and better than you. Spend your time writing, or making contacts for interviews, or some other money-making activity instead.
Find an accountant to help you keep track of everything so you don’t have to spend hours fussing over sales tax and other things that someone could do in less time because he or she is an expert at it. Anytime you can hire someone to do something for less time or money than it would cost you to do it, or for less time and money than you will make working at some other activity, take advantage of it. If you need your house cleaned but you also need to write an article you’ll be paid $100 for, and you can get a cleaning service to come in for $50, then it’s a no-brainer. Pay the housekeeper, and you’ll make money and have a clean house both.
Make the Best Use of Your Time and Money
Being a business owner boils down to making the best use of your time and money. You may start out being the accountant, book delivery boy, author, public speaker, janitor, and everything else, but as time goes by, you need to make good decisions about what activities you can do, what isn’t worth doing, and what it would be best to hire someone else to do. Spend your money wisely, asking yourself if money spent will allow you to make more money, or if spending money having someone else do work for you will free up time you can use to make more money or produce a book that will make money.
It doesn’t matter how great a writer you are if you don’t have good business sense, and good business sense boils down to pacing yourself, investing your money wisely, and using your time to your best advantage. Good business sense is a necessary addition to having writing talent if an author wants to be successful.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.