‘Don’t give up your day job.’
It is a well-worn mantra among agents and editors. I’ve banged on about it myself at times. After all, there is some truth in it. It would be foolish to pack your job in on the assumption you’ll get rich quick with your writing.
However, what this mantra has done is make some authors think that writing should be for the love of it only, and money shouldn't even be a consideration. But if you love writing so much, then surely you want to be spending most of your time doing it? Many of us need a day job to pay the mortgage though. This means fitting writing in at weekends and evenings. The only way to change that is by making enough money through our writing to turn writing into a job... or at least reduce our day-job hours.
Some authors are lucky. They strike that six-figure deal quickly, or their books sell hundreds of thousands without them having to think too deeply about the business or marketing side. Others can happily hold down a full-time job while meeting increasingly demanding publishing schedules.
But this is rare.
Most of us are what the industry refers to as 'mid-list authors': we're in a contract with a publisher, but we can never guarantee we'll get a new contract. So there's always that fear hovering over our heads that this dream we've worked so hard for will be snatched from our hands. It can all feel a bit precarious. Most of all, we feel we can't control things. Our writing fate is in our publishers' hands.
But I disagree. I think there are ways you can take control as an author. And it starts with changing your mindset. The fact is, to have a chance of a long-term writing career, you must adopt some CEO attitude.
I can imagine some of you cringing right now.
Treating your writing like a business can feel disheartening for some creative types. We have this view of writing as a dreamy creative experience. We don’t want to sully it with talk of business and money.
But by changing my mindset, I've been able to continue earning enough money through my writing to live in that dreamy creative world all day, every day (that's before the four-year-old comes home from school and all hell breaks loose!).
So how can you start changing your mindset? Here are some tips:
1) Don't waste time
When my latest novel The Lost Sister winged its way to my editor, I took a break. But then I was back on it, working on my author brand. You need to do the same. Don't sit around doing nothing when you’re waiting on feedback from your editor and / or agent. Take a break and recharge for sure. But do not stagnate. Instead, make plans and take responsibility for your author brand. Engage with your readers. Plan a marketing strategy for the launch of your next book. Network. Check your finances.
2) Shrug off your Grateful Sap persona when liaising with your publisher
We're constantly told how difficult it is to get a book deal. So when that deal comes along, we're so grateful to the people who’ve taken a chance on us that we become blinkered to the fact this is essentially a business relationship. Editors love words, of course they do. They're our cheerleaders and our support. They can become our friends too so it often feels like they're so much more than just a business associate. But, at the end of the day, the books they edit need to make money for the company they work for. And remember, for every book sold, your publisher is taking a much larger percentage of net sales than you.
So don’t be so humbled by them taking a chance on you that you lose sight that this is essentially a business partnership. Approach any communication with your publishers knowing you are a crucial part of the process. You are creative and business partners. Ask them probing questions. Chase them if you don't get replies to emails.
3) Stop panicking you won't have time to write by adopting this mindset
Of course you will! For all this talk of thinking of this as a business, the most important thing you need to do is WRITE. Writing comes first. The more you write, the more you learn. And the more books you have published, the bigger the potential for making money out of them and getting that long-term full-time writing gig. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
Read it: Though Joanna Penn aims much of her advice at indie authors, I found two of her books very useful for changing my mindset: Business for Authors and The Successful Author Mindset.
Listen to it: I enjoyed listening to this podcast with Joanna. Definitely worth a listen when stacking the dishwasher!