Too many writers would never in a million years call their craft a business, but still they hope to make a living at it, or at least some income. The cliché of the starving artist is so prevalent that it always seems writers have an all-or-nothing choice in front of them: your money or your art.
But as for other pursuits, the all-or-nothing mentality is a dangerous illusion that stifles your creativity and hides the real solutions.
Whether you consider yourself a commercially minded writer, or you are squarely on the side of “art for art’s sake”, managing the financial side of your writing like the business it is will yield unexpected and far-ranging benefits:
- grow your writing income with a methodical framework: leaving no stone unturned, you will be able to better understand what parameters influence the “salability” of your writing.
- you can also grow your non-writing income, from your day job or from a business, to be able to finance your writerly lifestyle. You know, all those research trips to Italy for your next novel…
- overcome writer’s block by researching your market: uncovering who you want to write for, and how your writing will be read, by whom, and why, will inspire you by giving your fancy specific details on which to “chew”.
In the below I will be using business terms like “market research” and “customer retention” for the sake of clarity. Don’t for one minute think that this will reduce your writing to a commodity to be flogged on indifferent customers. Business and writing are similar in that long-lasting success comes from a deep love of the craft, the resolution to always respect and honour customers or readers, an eye for detail and a constant striving for perfection.
1. Answer the bigger why. Why do you want to make more money? Is it to afford a writing workshop taught by the best of the best? A research trip to San Franscisco? Entry tickets to the writers’ conference that will jumpstart your career? Choose a goal that deeply appeals to you: then at the times when you’re about to give up, it will call to you in its siren voice and keep you on track!
2. Make a long list, as long as possible, of all the ways you could earn more money through your writing (or other avenue). Fiction and non-fiction, commercial or literary, short or long; what themes you could write about; where you could be published; what others writing-related activities could earn you money (teaching workshops, giving readings, paid speaking events, grant-aided collaboration experience, earning affiliate commissions on book sales…).
Then, sift through the list for an idea that offers a good combination of the three:
- good profit: your revenue, minus the expenses needed to earn that revenue.
- good customer retention potential: there’s a good reason the serial form has been a staple since before Dickens! In the non-writing world, getting a raise allows you to “work” (negotiate) once and receive the higher salary every month.
- short sales cycle: this is not an easy one, but receiving payment for an article usually takes less time than writing a whole novel, then waiting for an agent or publisher to accept it, then waiting for royalties. I’m not discouraging either at all, but just take the point of the “sales cycle” into consideration before expending energy into it.
3. Do your market research. Who will buy and/or read your writing? What problem do they need solved, what pleasure does your writing bring them? When and where do they read? How much? What genres? What other similar or completely opposite types of writing do they enjoy? Adapt these same questions if you prefer to earn more money from your existing day job.
4. Know the different faces of your customer: the buyer, the influencer, the budget provider, the end user. In the writing world, you might for example be looking for an agent to represent you. But why would you do this? Your agent will never pay you – on the contrary, you will have to pay them! But a good agent who shares your vision can help you find the right publisher: your agent will be the publisher’s influencer. The publisher might pay you an advance, but they are not your end user or buyer: these roles are often the reader’s. Find out who fills which role and how to address each of their concerns and how you’re the ideal solution to their problem.
5. Leave that ivory tower and lock the door behind you. Ask for all the help and guidance you can get, from mentors, from coaches, from other writers, from workshop panelists and participants… Network and make contact with all the associations, organisations, guilds and various institutes that are relevant to your writing niche and represent the interests of writers like you. Keep your eyes peeled for grants, awards and other bursaries: you wouldn’t believe the number of such funding opportunities that are left languishing, simply because nobody goes after them! Check out www.savvymoneyguide.com where I offer a directory of supports.
6. The pivotal M-word: marketing. Marketing simply means putting yourself in front of your customers and demonstrating that you can deliver what they have been looking for. This assumes that you know what, in fact, they are looking for (refer back to step 3), and that you know who you are talking to (refer back to step 4). Marketing can take many forms: going to a writers’ conference in order to meet with agents, writing a blog to create a fan base, writing articles that showcase your style and can get people interested in checking out your books.
7. Rehearse important conversations and situations in advance. So your red-letter day has arrived and an agent has called back and they want to meet you. You walk into their office… and you freeze. What on earth are you going to tell them? Save yourself the agony and be prepared, by rehearsing possible scripts. This will prevent awkward moments and sleepless nights thinking you should have said X, Y and Z instead of the lame A, B and C you came up with. (Bonus: this will have you work on your dialogue writing! In this specific instance, though, look for clarity over dramatic effect…) Same for situations: work out a plan A and follow it step-by-step to see what could go wrong and do some preventative trouble-shooting. Keep a plan B and a plan C handy, as well: sometimes the wrong train will bring you to the right station.
8. It’s Not Working, aka, you’re not seeing any results (yet). This is a very important and valuable stage, so don’t despair. Go back through previous steps and double-check that each task has been taken care of. Perhaps you are wondering why people are not “buying”, but it turns out you’re confusing your buyer with your influencer – go back to step 4 and study your customer and their four aspects. Perhaps you are at a loss and can’t figure out what is next: go back to step 5 and seek guidance from your peers and role models. Perhaps your marketing isn’t working because you are using Facebook when your buyers prefer to use Twitter or ask their bookseller for recommendations: go back to step 6. Having to go back and verify each step is not a bore, it’s your ramp to success as it will allow you to examine each strategy and isolate the origin of a problem, to solve it all the better. Remember that many people confuse failing with giving up too early.
9. It’s working! The editor has accepted your article, the agent has accepted to take on your manuscript, your readers are sending in enthusiastic emails about your latest book, or your non-writing income has hit your target. Congratulations! Now what? You have four choices in front of you:
- You can cruise and simply do more of the same. Say you love writing articles: work on customer retention and take good care of your network to ensure a steady supply of work.
- Or you can grow: you like writing articles but you would love to tackle a non-fiction, how-to book. Go back through the steps in sequence, ask yourself the same questions you answered earlier and start the process over, but on a bigger scale.
- You can specialise, also known as going niche: you want to focus on articles about relationships, or on doing speaking events related to your themes of choice. Go back to step 2 and look for the most profitable side of your activity; or the most pleasant side and try to make it more profitable.
- You could also stop: perhaps you dislike certain aspects of your money-generating activities, like contacting organisations to try and convince them to hire you as a keynote speaker. You can choose to drop the activity (because after trying it out, you realize that perhaps you don’t enjoy public speaking that much), or to delegate or outsource it (by hiring a marketing assistant who will take care of cold calling for you).
In The Savvy Guide to Making More Money, I explore each of the nine steps in a lot more detail, but the above will give you an excellent framework to start with. I wish you a very successful 2014: remember, as long as you work the nine steps, the nine steps work!
(c) Susan Hayes
The Savvy Guide to Making More Money is a one-stop shop where you can equip yourself with strategies to grow your income. From her days as a self-employed student to now running a financial training company, in her new book Susan Hayes has always approached the business of making money in a practical can-do way. It has been successful for her and the many people she has worked with. Now she shares her advice and tips with you. Among many other things The Savvy Guide to Making More Money will help you to:
- understand why you haven’t made more money by now;
- learn tried and tested techniques to raising new revenues;
- choose the best way to put your money to work for you;
- find out who can help you get to your income goals.
You don’t have to be a business genius to make money. Through a combination of skill and smart thinking you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
‘Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I was up till four o’clock this morning reading it, making notes.’ The Tom Dunne Show on The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom ‘[She writes with] humourous directness, unflinching good sense and practical advice … makes me think I can tackle my own issues.‘