Author, Know Thy Business

By: Marie Force

Several of my fellow authors have said the same thing to me recently, and what they said has inspired what I hope will be a series of posts about our business. The line I keep hearing is this: “I couldn’t do what you do (presumably self-publishing and other entrepreneurial activities) because I’m not the businessperson you are.” Every time I hear that, my reaction is the same: I wasn’t born a businessperson. I made myself into one over nearly a decade of researching and reading and absorbing information. I learned what I needed to know by trial and error. Sometimes, I made it up as I went along—and I still do that from time to time.

My father and brother ran their own businesses for years. I always used to think I didn’t get the entrepreneurial gene that they had. I was one of those people who needed to know where her next paycheck was coming from. I was not, by nature, a risk taker. Well guess what? I did get the gene! I just needed the right set of circumstances to allow me to tap into the latent ability that was with me all along.

It took a long time to grow a successful writing career—and by successful I mean a career that more than supports my family and allowed me to give up outside employment. It took years. My twenty-fifth book was the first to hit the New York Times list. My eighth book was the second to hit the NYT list. Yes, you read that right. More on that later. In short, it was a long slog. Nothing happened overnight. I had very few highs and a LOT of lows. More than a few people and businesses disappointed me along the way. And all the while, I learned.

I learned, for example, that publishers’ customers are booksellers, not readers. I learned there’s a huge difference between being published and being well published—and that low print runs can haunt a career, sometimes forever. I learned about a pesky practice called “returns,” in which booksellers can return unsold books for a full refund—after they tear the covers off them. Incidentally, if I spend a hundred years associated with this business, I’ll never reconcile the overwhelming wastefulness of a process that leads to thousands of perfectly good books tossed in Dumpsters each year. But that’s a debate others have waged for decades without bringing about meaningful change.

Back before social media replaced blogs as the most timely and relevant source of information, I read a lot of blogs every day. I read agent blogs like they were going out of style. I read the less snarky industry blogs and soaked in the free knowledge. It was all there for the taking if you knew where to look, so I figured out where to look.

I learned about the roles of agents and editors and copy editors and production managers and publicists and booksellers and other players in the business and who to go to when I needed something. I learned that even though writing a book can be an intensely personal process, publishing is a business. It’s not personal. While we can be friendly with our agents and editors, our goals aren’t always the same, and relationships often go bad when our goals diverge. I learned that it’s okay to step away from these relationships if and when they no longer work for me, and I discovered that the sky won’t fall in if your agent dumps you or you decide not to sign another contract with your publisher. Both those things happened to me, and I survived and thrived in the aftermath. Sometimes shit doesn’t work out. Being able to know when to pull the cord on a failing relationship can be a critical part of running a successful business.

Right when I believed I had this gig figured out, everything changed. Self-publishing exploded and all new doors were opened to authors. I had to learn the business all over again, and from an entirely new perspective. Now I was the author and the publisher, and all the responsibility for putting out outstanding products fell on me. I learned about where to find quality editing and cover design and formatting. I learned from my fellow authors who had started down this road ahead of me, and I took some of the same steps that had worked for them. I experimented with pricing and release dates and covers and every part of the process. I figured out what works and what doesn’t, again by trial and error. I learned that offering book 1 in a series for free works beautifully whereas a free offering of book 2 does absolutely nothing to help the cause. I learned that giving a little something away reaps rewards far and beyond my wildest dreams. I learned that most advertising is a complete waste of time and money. Note I said most. Not all. Some advertising is worth its weight in gold. You have to know what works and what doesn’t.

I learned about social media and how to harness the unbelievable power of Facebook and Twitter to connect with readers and sell books. I figured out the ins and outs of growing my following on Facebook and using groups to promote my series and books. I figured out how to max out my profile and build my page following. Twitter was less of a natural fit for me, so that has taken longer, but I’ve continued to chip away, one follower at a time and hit 6,000 followers just today.

I learned a lot about e-book and print book formatting, so much that I decided I could offer some of what I know to my fellow authors. The e-Book Formatting Fairies business was born in March 2012. In the last 18 months, I left my 16-year day job, put an accountant on retainer, incorporated my business, started a second business, hired a part-time employee and then an additional full-time employee. In December, I sold my one-millionth book. In March, I hit the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists with Waiting for Love, book 8 in my self-published McCarthys of Gansett Island Series. Two weeks later, I hit the New York Times and USA Today lists with a 99-cent sale of my book The Wreck, which was written in 2007 and self-published in 2011. How crazy is that? And what a metaphor The Wreck is for the state of our business right now (I mean the sales projectile, not the title—LOL). In the past, how often did a book written six years ago and published two years ago hit a bestseller list after all that time? Not very often.

We live in strange and wonderful times in which anything and everything is possible for authors. We live in a time with front-row access to readers via email and websites and social media and other tools authors twenty years ago would’ve sold their souls to the devil to have. To make all these tools work for us, first and foremost, we must know our business inside out. In the next few weeks, I hope to blog about topics such as taxes and when to incorporate and how do you know if you need an accountant and advertising that works and do you still need an agent and can you successfully work in self- and traditional publishing at the same time and some tips for making the most of social media. These issues are on my mind lately, so I figured I might as well share them with you the same way the people who went before me shared what they knew. They helped me. I hope this helps you. 

I leave you with this statement of belief: Authors who think it’s enough to just write a great book are going to struggle more than authors who get that they have to wear multiple hats and do many things well at the same time. What do you think of that statement? Agree? Disagree? Why?

And this second statement of belief: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, and what you’ve always done hasn't worked, what makes you think it will work in the future? Agree? Disagree? Why?

What would you like to know more about when it comes to authors knowing their business?

Marie Force is the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling, award-winning author of more than 25 contemporary romances, including the McCarthys of Gansett Island Series, the Fatal Series, the Treading Water Series, numerous stand-alone books and the Green Mountain Series coming from Berkley next year. She is also the founder of the e-Book Formatting Fairies. While her husband was in the Navy, Marie lived in Spain, Maryland and Florida, and she is now settled in her home state of Rhode Island. She is the mother of two teenagers and two feisty dogs, Brandy and Louie. Visit Marie’s website at marieforce.com. Subscribe to updates from Marie about new books and other news at marieforce.com/subscribe/. Follow her on Twitter @marieforce and on Facebook at facebook.com/MarieForceAuthor. Join one of her many reader groups! View the list at marieforce.com/connect/. Contact Marie at marie@marieforce.com.
Check out Marie's FREE book, MAID FOR LOVE, book 1 in her bestselling McCarthys of Gansett Island Series!

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