Writing Mindset: Art or Business?

Keyboard_controls_writing_238875_lHere's how an author's career used to look: said author would get her first book accepted by a big New York publisher, and said publisher would tell said author not to worry about a thing, marketing-wise.   The happy author would be given a schedule for a tour and appearances and told to focus on what she does best–writing the next book.

Here's how an author's career looks now: said author's book may or may not be published by a big New York publisher.  More likely, his book was put out by a small press, or maybe he published it himself.   And said author knows that his publishers will do little, if anything, to market her work. He'll be calling bookstores, arranging guest posts, tracking down book reviewers himself.  Writing the next book?  That's something that will have to wait.

My first example is, clearly, art.

The second, business.

Two aspects of a writing career that exist side by side.  And more and more these days, we hear how authors need to master both. Gone are the days when we writers could lavish all our time on the first aspect.   This tends to upset us.  We mutter dark invectives about having to focus on the business side of our careers.  We begrudge time spent away from our writing.  

And yeah, I get it.  Every once in awhile I like to fantasize about having nothing to do but work on my novels.  And then I realize I'd hate that.  I like being on social media. (At least most sites.  You can take Facebook and shove it as far as I'm concerned.) I love working with my clients. (Please don't tell them, but I learn as much from them as they learn from me.)  I don't love cold-calling bookstores or seeking out reviewers, but hey, if it keeps me from working a real job, I'll deal.

And that's just it.  In this brave new world of publishing that shifts daily, we really do have to master both the art and business sides of writing.  I wish I had better news for you, but there it is.  I may not have the news you want to hear, but I do have suggestions for how to make it as painless as possible. Here goes:

1. Always put your writing first.  It's the basis of everything and if you're not doing it, you ultimately will not have a career because you won't have anything to market.  So do the work, then worry about putting it out in the world.  I mean this in a couple of ways:

a. Write your book before you worry about contacting an agent.

b. Put your writing before your marketing efforts on a daily basis. (For me, this means writing first thing in the morning.  Then I feel good about what I've accomplished all day long and that gives me energy to do the crap I hate.)

2. Realize that business is not a dirty word.  When we whisper the "b" word as if it were tainted, we do ourselves and our work a disservice.  Remember, people exist in the world who actually think business–and the dreaded "m" word (marketing)–are fun. You and I may not fall into that category, but realize that business can be every bit as creative as putting words together on the page.

3. Know that the situation is not going to change soon.  Don't waste your energy wishing you didn't have to master social media, or figuring out techie tools, or mastering marketing.  Don't spend time longing for the old days, described above.  Because they aren't coming back.  As I used to tell my kids when they complained about doing something, "With all the energy you've wasted kvetching about it, you could have been done by now."

4.  Get help.  Everyone can benefit from coaching, whether its for your writing or your marketing efforts.  If you're struggling, get help!  There are tons of wonderful teachers out there who can help you master the skills you don't yet have.

5. Do it with everything you've got.  You throw yourself at the page every day, right?  You express your deepest feelings and fears and truths, right?  Use the same mindset for the business side of things. Throw yourself at it, and give it everything you've got.  Approach it with the reverence you give your writing and you will do just fine.  More than that, you'll do great.

How do you reconcile the business and art side of your career?

(By the way, I have an email conversation with J.D. Frost to thank for the topic of this article. Thanks, J.D.!)

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8 Responses to Writing Mindset: Art or Business?

  1. J.D. 08/21/2014 at 05:08 #

    Business isn’t a dirty word? My mother used to tell me a tablespoon of mineral oil wasn’t so bad either. I think business changes writers. It puts a harder edge on you. It makes you think more about what’s marketable on the back cover than what flows from your heart. My writing is not high art by the stretch of anyone’s imagination, yet I think “business” harms my chances of progressing to that level.
    I can turn around and make an argument that our ability to present anything to the public enhances our creativity. Maybe so.
    Like your post yesterday, Charlotte. “The only way out is through.” It doesn’t do any good to moan about the state of the world. If you want sales, you have to market. I would like to find a totally new way to wave my book in front of readers, something no one has thought of yet. Right now, I’m slogging around the pit floor with everyone else, using the same seemingly useless marketing tools.
    If anyone on here finds the secret and doesn’t tell me, I will hunt you down with wooden stake and mallet in hand. Have a blessed day.

  2. D young 08/21/2014 at 05:44 #

    My good friend (NYT) writer spends 8 weeks pumping up her newest words.

    She pounds the pavement herself.

    THEN she tackles her next project between other life’s happenings.

    I think it’s part of ownership. Honestly, as an author, I think I’d want to be the director of that ship. Writing it and forgetting about it wouldn’t be something I’d be comfortable with.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 08/21/2014 at 06:57 #

    I have the secret! Hahaha.  Wish I did.  In the words of someone far wiser than I, "what you resist persists."  I know this to be true in my life in all ways, including complaining about having to do marketing. It may not be my favorite thing, but neither is working at a gas station, which I'd probably be doing if I weren't a writer.  In the meantime, we should put our heads together and figure out that totally new way to get our books in front of new readers.  I'm game if you are.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 08/21/2014 at 07:00 #

    Ooh, now that’s a worthy mindset to emulate. I love the idea that we, as authors, can steer our own ships best. Ownership, awesome!

  5. Kayla Dawn Thomas 08/21/2014 at 08:36 #

    Managing writing and business is a very delicate balance. I got hung up this summer with promoting Swept Up and ended up behind in my writing schedule. Live and learn. Like you, I actually enjoy being on social media and connecting with readers in person. It’s easy to forget sometimes what your actual bread and butter is: new books!

  6. Dana Masting 08/21/2014 at 09:29 #

    Yes, it is indeed a delicate balance. Since I love the marketing/business side almost as much as I love writing though, it’s not a big deal for me. However, like you, I can get wrapped up the momentum sometimes and neglect the writing a bit.

  7. Charlotte Dixon 08/21/2014 at 11:39 #

    It is just plain and simple hard to balance it all, Kayla, that's all there is to it.  When you have a book out, you don't want to ignore it, but your writing beckons also!  I think its just something we all have to work on, day by day.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 08/21/2014 at 15:56 #

    You are lucky that you love the marketing side so much!  For some of us, it comes a bit harder.  Thanks for chiming in!

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