Authorship, Publishing, Books and More

The Business of Writing



I spend most my time teaching my students how to write. However, last week I thought about a topic that I should be at least discussing with them before they enter the world of authorship.

That topic is the business side of the writing life. It’s something I’ll be including in my future coaching sessions but you’ll get a preview here because I really do think it’s important.

Most of us pursue writing because it’s a creative outlet for us. We’re creative people who like to express ourselves through words. Our main focus is on what we’re making. With writers, that’s stories, books, articles or non-fiction books.

Somewhere along the way we forget there’s a business side to writing.

Yes, this isn’t really a purely creative pursuit…unless you never want to sell anything or get published.

Business aspects are going to raise their ugly head at some point and unless you’re just a little business savvy, you’re going to get burned and you might lose money. Someone might even take advantage of you and you’ll end up signing a contract that’s not in your own best interest.

I often feel some of my students would rather land an agent than get published so I always give them a few words of advice that can also be used anytime you’re entering into a business relationship, be it editor, illustrator, publicist. Yes, having an agent or selling your work to a publisher is a business relationship.

Before you sign anything, check them out. Are they a member of a group that governs their ethics and behavior? Contact a few people who have worked with them and get their feedback.

What are the terms of the contract you’re entering into? How long will it last? I’ve had a couple of writer friends who have signed with agents for a two year contract and when the agent finally gave up on sending their work out, they couldn’t hire another agent until the first contract expired. How much commission will they charge you? Check if there’s a clause for you getting out of the contract should things not work out between you.

If you’re signing a publishing contract, look at the fine print. Does the publisher insist you let them have a first look at your next book. That means you have to offer it to them before you send it to anyone else. That might be a good thing, but if you’re not happy with the way they’ve edited your first book or some other publisher is showing interest in you, you’re stuck with publisher number one. If that new contract has a similar clause, the same thing can happen over and over again.

If you’re writing a series, does the publisher have rights to all the stories in the series? Once again it means if you’re not happy with the publisher, all your planned series stories will be tied up with them until the last contract for the final book runs out which could be five years down the road.

Getting published is the most exciting thing to happen to a writer but let the excitement die down before you sign on the dotted line. Look over everything, ask lots of questions about anything that isn’t clear to you. Even ask if they’d change things…I always say they can only say no. If you’re still not sure, then have a lawyer give it the once over to make sure everything works in your best interest.

You’ve heard the term buyer beware, but for us, it’s writer beware.

2 thoughts on “The Business of Writing

  1. Awesome post! I’m actually an aspiring self-published author, but always interested in receiving education on the traditional publishing side of things. I think there are pros and cons to both. Creatives just need to find the side that best fits them (sometimes that’s both sides). And, you are definitely correct in highlighting the importance of the business side of writing… it’s inevitable. All authors who want to have their books sold to and read by others should view themselves as creative (artistic) entrepreneurs (business people). Thx again for the info.

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