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  • Writer's pictureCharles Harned

The Business of Writing

Last week I published a post about striving to add value in your writing. In this weekly iteration, I'm going to dive further into the business side of writing and (hopefully) publishing books.

A writer with commercial aspirations is ultimately a salesman. Think about it; the entire process after the actual writing part is done is entirely predicated on an ability to convince others that they need to represent, acquire, and publish your work.

And all of that comes before the ultimate challenge - persuading the end consumer that they should shell out $15.99 at the local Barnes and Noble or click the "Buy" button on Amazon and actually purchase your book. Querying an agent or pitching an indie publisher is all about the ability to sell a vision. Effective and fresh marketing becomes vital once your book is actually on shelves (physical or virtual). A writer really isn't all that different from the millions of salespeople all across America.

But how to accomplish all this effectively? There lies the intial roadblock. Many writers, or creatives in general, have highly honed skill in their respective field but lack the business acumen and experience to take on everything that comes with getting a book to market. Or they simply abhor this part of the process.

It makes sense. Most artists probably don't harbor aspirations of moonlighting as marketing experts or salespeople. If they did, why not just start a career in one of those fields without the added burden of dreaming up the product (book) as well? In addition, mastering the craft of writing is hard enough. It doesn't exactly lend itself to loads of free time for learning the intricacies of business.

For the record, I graduated from business school (specifically focused in entrepreneurship). That doesn't make me special or an expert by any means. Far from it. If anything, studying entrepreneurship taught me how open-ended and allowing for creative thinking and novel processes starting a business from nothing really is.

Authors are entrepreneurs in the most literal sense. And while writing is somewhat of a free flowing venture with plenty of different avenues, a few fast and firm guidelines can be very helpful.

  • Embrace the Business: Treat writing like a business and your books like your product. This should go without saying for any writer with commercial aspirations. Your manuscript is no different from some guy's rideshare app or the prototype for an electric car. As the saying goes, "Any idiot can have an idea. It's the execution that sets winners apart." Embrace every aspect of selling your book to the industry gatekeepers and then understand your target audience and how to reach them.

  • Competitive Advantage: No business can succeed without this. Pretend you're pitching your book on Shark Tank. Why will people buy it? What separates your book from countless others? A competitive advantage puts you in favorable or superior position compared to your competition. That sounds daunting. In the literary world it doesn't have to be. Condense the gist of your book down to a quick and effective pitch that will hook readers. What makes it compelling and original? That's your advantage.

  • Find Your Niche: This goes hand in hand with the point above. Hone in on your genre and subgenre and figure out what elements set your work apart from direct competitors. A niche is vital for any new author. What will readers think of when they hear your name?

  • The Long Game: While waiting for the perfect moment has been the downfall of scores of entrepreneurs, so is rushing things. Spending up front on professional editing and even cover design might seem extravagant, but it could pay off immensely down the road. It's no wonder that the first thing most startups do is seek out investors. The time and resources put in at the outset of your journey can be crucial to future success.

  • Objectivity: Humans get attached. It's what we do. It's normal to think of your book as something perfectly infallible that will blow the collective minds of millions. Inevitably you'll be disappointed and will have done your work a disservice. That emotional connection will almost certainly hinder development. Break it. This is referred to as "killing your darlings". Once you can look at your idea objectively you'll start to see things from the consumer's perspective. Emotional attachment is like wearing blinders.

  • Broadening Knowledge: Entrepreneurs truly harboring the need to succeed will do absolutely anything to get ahead. Every advantage helps. I encourage any writer to read more than they write. Read all about the publishing business. Learn about sales and marketing. Learn how to pitch your ideas. Research the literary industry and popular trends. Of course, it's imperative to read other successful authors and professionals you'd like to emulate. As many competitors as exist in this business, there's also an unbelievable scope of knowledge waiting to be acquired.

  • Get Creative: One of the great advantages to being an author entrepreneur is that there is no real need for tons of start up capital. Don't be afraid to get creative and explore all avenues. Self-publishing versus traditional presses. Creative funding like patreon or other crowdsourcing can be a powerful weapon. And there are a million different ways to market that don't cost a fortune. This is your opportunity to be innovative and creative. It's what comes after the last word is written that can make the difference between a financially successful smash hit and a book that no one ever hears about.

  • Believe: Believe in your book and its ability to be successful. If you don't believe, no one else will.

  • The Next Idea is Always the Best Idea: Entrepreneurs fail. It comes with the territory. Writers are no exception. When failure strikes, don't give up. The entrepreneur who lets a setback bury them was never really an entrepreneur to begin with.

  • Make it Dope: I heard Jordan Okun say this on a podcast the other day and realized I've had practically the same mantra floating around in my head for years. At the end of the day, consumers want something that's original, adds value to their lives, and is good. Strive to make your writing all three. Understand what readers like and how you can take that and make it better. Or find a need that isn't being met and attempt to capitalize. But above all...Make it Dope.

Thanks for reading. For more articles like this subscribe to my site and hit me in the comments or at Be on the lookout for an announcement about the release of my newest topical thriller, A Day in Fall.

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