Turning your writing into a business that pays you an income is an aspiration of many writers. Monetising your words so that you can leave your day job is a dream for many wordsmiths.
The fact that many bestselling authors have achieved this is testimony that it can be done. But it’s not a testimony of luck, as some might think, rather a testimony of planning and hard work.
The business of writing, like show business, is a team of marketing and sales, of promotion and publicity, of management and administration. And of course, writing.
Writers, on the whole, don’t have a whole team to back them, unless they’re J.K. Rowling, Wilbur Smith, Stephen King and other mega stars of the writing world. Writers tend to be your everyday mum and dad, brother and sister, trying to do their best and get their books and words known. They are very much a one-man band. A sole trader.
So, at least in the beginning of setting up their writing business, a writer must be a jack-of-all trades and do everything themselves. Until such a time they can start to employ others to fill the roles, or wear the hats, that their business requires.
There are, in fact, a minimum of four hats a writer must wear in their writing business:
- Writing Hat
- People Hat
- Operating Hat
- Sales Hat
Let’s talk briefly about each hat in turn.
This is something that all writers are familiar with. It’s the technician’s hat Michael Gerber talks about in his bestselling book, The E-Myth.
It’s the hat writers get really comfortable in wearing. They love it. They wear it every day. They wear it out to parties, to work, to conferences. They even wear it on holidays.
Writers are writers because they love writing. They get really good at it. They go to classes to learn more about the craft of writing. They carry notebooks to write down ideas that pop into their heads at most unexpected times.
But this hat is so comfortable, most writers don’t like to take it off and put on another. But if they want to sell books, if they want to build a writing business, swapping hats is something they will need to get comfortable with. Even hats they think won’t suit them or even fit them.
The “People Hat” is something of a hit or miss for writers. Some writers feel comfortable wearing this hat, others can’t think of anything worse. They’d rather sit at their desk alone and write. Even selling is better than going out and meeting other people.
But the best writers genuinely like other people. They have great people skills. And if they don’t, they learn how to interact, to become likeable, to take a genuine interest in others.
Not only is the skill of interacting and networking with others vital for promoting and publicising yourself and your writing, it’s also great material. People you meet at book fairs or writers’ festivals, at library events or book launches, eventually end up in your books as characters.
So even if you wear this hat for the sole reason of discovering new characters for your stories, it will invariably help you to market and sell your books as well.
Your “Operating Hat” is your Personal Operating System (POS). It has three main components to it:
- Communication (the brim)
- Time management (the crown)
- Follow up (the feather).
How you communicate is important, especially if you care about how others think of you. In marketing and sales, it’s said that customers first must know you, then like you, then trust you before they’ll even consider buying from you.
Your communication style must therefore tick those three boxes if you want a successful writing business.
Time management is also a critical component of your POS. Writing is a habit, and that means setting writing goals (e.g. word count goals per week or per day). It means allocating set, protected time to do your writing, just as you would set and protect the hours you work in your job.
My writing time, for instance, is 6am to 8am each morning, including weekends. It’s the time I set and protect each day for my own personal writing, where I aim to write 500 words each day. Most days I write more, some days I struggle, but it’s the habit of allocating time only for my writing that lets me write a 100,000 novel in roughly 6 months.
When it comes to sales, however, the feather in your hat is follow up. Marketing research shows that a buyer needs between 5 and 12 touch points before they agree to purchase. It probably has something to do with the ‘Know, Like, Trust’ model of selling: the more someone hears from you, the more they get to know, like and trust you. It’s also keeping in front of mind, so when they need your service or product you’re the first person or business they remember.
Examples of touch points include emails, phone calls, SMS texting, blogs, social media posts, and face-to-face meetings.
The fourth hat of your writing business is sales. Selling is probably the least likeable hat of them all. For a lot of writers, not only does it fit awkwardly and uncomfortably, it’s distinctly out of character, like a paper bag with two holes cut out for eyes.
In fact, most writers I know would rather wear a paper bag over their head at a Greek wedding than ask somebody to buy their book.
Nonetheless, a writing business is nothing without sales. Cash flow is the lifeblood of every business, even writing. Like your POS, there are 3 basic skills to selling:
- Prospecting (leads)
- Presenting (pitch)
- Agreement (sale or close).
Thousands of books have been written on this topic alone. Selling, like writing, is an art form, a craft. Just as there are born storytellers, there are born sales people. Most writers, however, are not born with the gift of selling. They have a gift – a gift of writing – but that’s about as far as it goes.
Nonetheless, selling techniques can be learned, and are a must if you want to succeed in your writing business. Briefly, though, here is a list of some prospecting approaches to think about:
- Paid advertising (e.g. Google Adwords, Facebook ads, posters)
- Promotional activities (e.g. author events, workshops, public speaking, library talks)
- Publicity (e.g. media interviews, social media, book reviews, specialty magazines)
- Asking – a simple technique, but one many writers forget about
Your sales pitch must also be honed. That means it must first be planned, then scripted, then tested, then reviewed and improved. It’s a process, and there’s some basics to pitching that when included improve your chances of success:
- You – your experience, your story, your expertise, your credibility
- It – your product, your service, your book
- Them – your reader, your buyer, your client
The best pitch makes the most of these three elements and creates a story out of them.
This brings us to the last point – the sale. Remember, facts tell, stories sell. Facts can certainly add credibility to your book, but it’s the story behind the book that will sell it. People buy on emotion and justify their purchase with logic. Stories tap into people’s emotion and engage your reader or client at a personal level.
Your writing business therefore requires you to wear four hats:
- Your Writing Hat – to produce the book you want others to read
- Your People Hat – to meet the readers you want to read your book
- Your Operating Hat – to get readers to know, like and trust you
- Your Sales Hat – to promote, pitch, publicise and sell your book
Dr. Scott Zarcinas is the director of DoctorZed Publishing and the founder of the Business of Writing School. He is also a writers’ mentor at the SA Writers’ Centre.