So You Just Want to Write

Aug 23, 2012 | Opinions

I’ve heard and read this a few times. It’s what every author wants, isn’t it? They just want to write. There’s so much work involved in getting a book to market, work that cuts into writing time. Handing it off to a publisher – or overpaying an outfit like AuthorHouse to do it – probably seems like a pretty good deal if it means more writing time.

To that I have to say: if all you want to do is write, why not just start a blog and write away? No covers needed, no special formatting – just you, the blank screen, and your audience.

“But Claire, you don’t understand! We want to make money by writing!”

Well now, that’s a different story.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a big difference between writing, and writing for a living. The bones of it is thus: anyone can just write for their own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of others, and many do. Writing for a living means that there is a transaction involved, an exchange of money for a product, that goes above and beyond the enjoyment.

Writing as a business isn’t just writing. It’s writing plus business – and the business portion is everything you do to convince readers that your writing is worth paying for.

This holds true no matter what kind of writing you’re selling. The uncomfortable reality of it is that you will never escape the business side of it if your aim is to make money by writing; you need to become acquainted with the roles of marketer, salesperson, manager and analyst to succeed. You need to adopt the mentality of profit and loss, cost effectiveness, market forces and sales trends. Much of the advice handed out to first-time business owners also applies to authors seeking to start their career, regardless of whether they self-publish or grab a book contract.

The Bare Necessities


Oh no! I said that word again! I’m sure many of you will be either recoiling in fear or shaking your head. Let me just say this much: you’ve probably got some wrong-headed ideas about what marketing actually is. In short, it’s all the things you do to encourage people to buy your book – and this includes writing more books as well as all that social media stuff that everyone either loves or hates. It’s all kinds of things you never really thought about, but in small ways they let the world know that you’re a writer, you have books, and readers could be interested in buying and reading those books.

Bottom line here, you need to get the word out about your books somehow or you just won’t make any sales, so you need to allocate some time to this. Try everything once and watch your sales while you do it – eventually you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t. But please – be sensible about it. Profit and loss, remember? If tweeting about your book all day doesn’t get your sales, then stop doing it and do something else.

Your website.

In my experience as a web designer with standards, authors tend to have the most awful sites in the world. I am begging you, get a professional to at least give you an opinion on your site. Your site is the first contact many people have with your business (that of selling books). Do NOT half-ass it. This will take some time to keep it updated, but it’s worth it, trust me.

If you’re an indie – covers and editing.

You’re selling a product. Shouldn’t that product be worth the money that people pay for it? Publishers can handle the quality control for you, up to a point, but the indies are on their own in that department. So – make your product shine, as far as you’re able, and at the very least get a professional to look it over. You’ll either spend time doing it yourself or working with someone else, but either way you need to allow for this time as well.


Alright, you may not be good at finance or money, but you need to keep track of this. Seriously. You need to know how much you’re selling versus how much you’ve spent on your product. You need to look at graphs of your sales. You need to understand, in very precise terms, just how much money you get from publishing and where it’s coming from. Do NOT half-ass this either. Get an accountant if you have to. Schedule time once a month at the absolute minimum to go over your finances.

It’s Not All Bad

Okay, no more doom and gloom… When you’re running a business to make money, you’ll just have to deal with lost writing time, but honestly? It’s not all bad.

What’s technology good at? Efficiency. The tech you use every day can help you reclaim some of that lost time by automating or scheduling tasks, especially when it comes to things like marketing and finance. Take Twitter, for example – you can schedule your tweets at the start of the week, then jump onto Twitter during the week if you want to respond or get involved in a particular conversation. I use a browser plugin to quickly post articles to Twitter/Facebook/various bookmarking sites. Rafflecopter just started up a neat new service to make running a giveaway very easy and fast. Goodreads, and Amazon’s author pages, automatically pull your posts into their system for displaying to potential readers.

WordPress blog posts can be scheduled. Reports from your site on how much traffic you’re getting can be emailed out regularly. Libre Office has a few plugins that scan a document for common grammar errors. If there’s a way of doing a repetitive task by hand, chances are someone’s thought of a way of doing it by computer in a tenth of the time.¬†What I’m saying is that you should also explore different ways of doing the same thing, if only to work out how to do it quickly. (I also recommend that you learn to touch type, if you can’t already.) Get it right and you won’t lose as much writing time as you think.

Never forget, however, that you are running a business if you want to sell your writing. It’s not as easy as just writing, but the business side of it will demand some of your attention no matter what you do – and it’s more important to get that business stuff right than it is to get more writing time in.