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Former editor/publisher and now Writers House agent Ken Wright answers any business-related questions from the room. (He notes-he's not a financial advisor.)
Six months before one of his client's book comes out, Ken holds a marketing meeting with his author an their publisher.
There's no rule of thumb on advances. It's market driven. He's not fan of big advances, because of the risk of not earning them out and then not looking like an success to your publisher.
Advances for first time novelists can range from $15,000 to in the hundreds of thousands. He says first-time nonfiction authors would likely get a higher advance than for fiction.
He's a big advocate of promoting your book through school visits, but said that he has a few clients who do a little TOO much of that, which takes away from their writing. Every book and every situation is different, but self-promotion is always important and necessary.
It's OK to take work-for-hire or technical writing or other kinds of gigs if money is an issue. And you don't necessarily need to use a psuedonym--that's on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to the initial negotiation, as an agent, he takes care of sub-rights, flow through (release of money to the author), and contract delays that affect the writer.
Agents definitely increase the response time from publishers. As a rule, he checks in with editors about his submissions every two weeks.
What's a good persentage of your earning to spend on marketing? The rule of thumb is 5%.
A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending BEA2010 (no not the BEA that happened last week) which was part of the 2010NAB conference. I was there to celebrate the launch of the BBC College of Journalism Website (COJO) a collaboration between OUP and the BBC. The site allows citizens outside of the UK access to the online learning and development materials created for BBC journalists. It is a vast resource filled to the brim with videos, audio clips, discussion pages, interactive modules and text pages covering every aspect of TV, radio, and online journalism. At the conference I had a chance to talk with Kevin Marsh, the Executive Editor of COJO, and I will be sharing clips from our conversation for the next few weeks. This week I have posted a clip in which Kevin shares why he choose journalism as a career. Read Kevin’s blog here. Watch the other videos in this series here and here.
The Naked Viscount Publisher: Kensington Zebra Pub date: June 2010 Agent: Jessica Faust
Before I was published, I thought of writing as a calling. My stories were my art. I still think these things, but now I understand that writing for publication is also very much a business. My stories are products I’m peddling.
Does that sound harsh? It does grate on me a little, but I try very hard to adopt this point of view when I’m dealing with the business side of publishing. Besides making general good sense, it helps cut down on the psychic wear and tear as my “baby” is evaluated and changed by the publishing/review process.
Let’s look at The Call first, shall we? When I got my first offer, I was ecstatic. My life-long dream had come true. A real, live editor wanted to buy my story. I wouldn’t have paid her to publish it, but beyond that I wasn’t much concerned about money.
Mistake number one. Money is very important, as my lovely editor on the other end of that phone line knew very well. If I’d been agented at the time, Jessica would have pointed that out--but if I’d been agented, the editor would have called Jessica, not me. (When I was touring my publisher’s office with my editor and Jessica once, I asked about foreign copies, saying I was more interested in seeing the covers than the money. Jessica politely pointed out that I was also very interested in the money.)
It’s an editor’s job to acquire manuscripts that will sell and make her publishing house buckets of money. Maybe little tiny buckets given the current economy, but the goal is definitely to land in the black. Yes, she should love the story, but chances are--at least in commercial fiction--she’s offering to buy your manuscript because she thinks it will sell well. Jessica or Kim would know better than I since they’ve been editors, but I imagine an editor’s career is on the line somewhat with every book she acquires. Buying one or two manuscripts that sink like a stone when tossed into the bookselling pond probably isn’t the end of the world, but an editor with enough such stones to build an underwater castle will likely soon be looking for other work.
When calling to offer for your book, the editor may well start off telling you what a wonderful writer you are and how wonderful your book is, but before she hangs up, she’ll mention the advance she’s willing to offer and that might not be so very wonderful. This is where the real business fun begins if you’re a good negotiator. (And this is one reason I have Jessica--I’m more like the dog you meet that will just turn over on her back to get her belly scratched. I am NOT a negotiator.) You won’t be talking about character development or pacing, but about such very important business-y things as advance amount and payment schedule, royalty rates on print and e-book formats, delivery dates, and option clauses. If you reach an agreement, then you’ll get a contract in the mail. Chances are reading that will make your head hurt. (And even though I have Jessica, I always do read my contracts very carefully.)
About a month ago I got an email from Steve Brodner inviting me to a lecture he was organizing at SVA, where we both teach. He was asking me to participate by sending him images of alternative illustration jobs I’d done. I must confess I was a bit confused, although very flattered, because there was no mention of my actually being a speaker. Soon I found out, indeed I wasn’t a speaker, Steve had emailed me among many other established illustrators to put together a slide show that represented a strong reality of where illustration is going today. Moreover, this lecture, he explained, wasn’t going to be only about the speakers (painter and filmmaker James Blagen; comic artist and designer Mickey Duzyj; and illustrator Alex Juhasz), but also about having an active audience of both strong and new voices in the field.
A couple of days later I get an email from Heidi Younger at FIT inviting me to be a speaker on a panel with Yuko Shimizu, Marcos Chin, Zina Saunders and Fred Harper… the next day after Steve’s panel. Damn! I couldn’t turn down sharing a stage with Yuko and Marcos- I don’t know Zina and Fred- so I accepted. Our lecture is titled How I Got My First Job and focuses pretty much on exactly the same concept as Steve’s.
As excited as I was about going to Steve’s lecture, I’m not sure I can shorten my work hours at this huge restaurant project I just started in Long Island and make both lectures, though I certainly have to make mine, or course. What’s also slightly odd about it, for me at least, is that I have SVA written all over me ( I moved to NY to go to SVA, graduated from SVA, teach at SVA), so I almost feel obligated to be there. Oh well… I’m sure it will be packed anyway.
Steve Brodner’s Lecture: SVA, 209 East 23rd Street, 3rd FL, Amphitheater. Tuesday 3/23, 6.30-8 PM
STATUS: The pre-Bologna must-finish-all-stuff-before-I-leave-town rush has begun.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? MERCY by Duffy
I thought I would have a bit more time to blog tonight so my apologies for not tackling a ton of questions this round.
kimysworld asked: Compared to the first three months of last year, have you received more or less query letters in the first three months of 2010? What are the most common genres? What do you rarely see? Yes, our query inbox has definitely grown from last year. This time in 2009, we were probably seeing 80 to 100 queries a day. Now it’s more like 100-150. I have no explanation for it. Perhaps we are on more people’s radar?
Most common genres? Young adult, romance, women’s fiction.
What I would like to see more of? Well written query letters. Grin. You knew I was going to say that. I’d say that easily 50% of stuff we get is for nonfiction or something else we don’t represent.
I’d love to see more queries for literary fiction with a commercial bent, middle grade, and more sf&f. I’d like to build in these areas (and yes we are still beefing our list in the above stuff as well.)
Anonymous asked: If a writer has gained success in one genre (over twenty novels that have made money, helped build a large fan base, and five contracts for five more books) and he/she wants to switch genres after the contractual obligations have been met because he/she always wanted to write mainstream, is this writer starting from scratch again? But more than that, would this writer be taking a huge chance by walking away from a good thing and trying to pursue another? I’m a little leery about answering this question. There are so many factors that need to be taken into consideration. Also, this is a conversation you really should be having with your current agent. Now having said that, I will try and answer—although my gut tells me that you already know the answers to your questions and perhaps you are simply looking for encouragement or validation as you walk this new path.
Of course the author would be taking a chance by walking away and starting something else. You already know that is the answer. My question is this: does it have to be one or the other? As in do you have to walk away or can you scale back the number of books in that genre in order to give yourself time to work on something mainstream?
Are you no longer passionate about the genre you are established in? If that is the case, then it may not be worth pursuing more books because your heart isn’t in it. What is your financial picture and can you afford to take a risk? Will fans of your current established genre be open to a move in a new direction? Can you live with that fact if the fans aren't willing to follow you?
If you want to be safe, I’d keep a foot in your current genre and then test the waters with a new work that is more mainstream. If your heart isn’t in staying in the old genre than you just have to jump in and try it.
There are many stories where this has been successful for the author and I can probably highlight as many stories of where it hasn’t.
Anonymous asked: How much of your time do you spend reading query letters versus time spent blogging? I'm just wondering because there are several agents who blog every day and I often wonder where they find the time. I actually don’t spend a lot of time reading queries. First off, we’ve hired a wonderful assistant named Anita. Her job is to read all queries that come in as we can get up to 150 a day. She sets aside the ones that Sara and I need to review. Given that, I try and check my query email inbox once a week. It usually takes me 15 mi
STATUS: Today was about foreign rights and taxes. One fun. The other not. I’m sure you can guess which is which…
What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by The Fray
Last week we got a query from a writer who had published a fantasy series outside of the US. This person was looking for new representation to shop the series in the United States. There was only one problem. It sounded like the writer’s prior agent had already done so.
Just to make sure, I wrote the author to inquire about that. The return response listed a wonderful submission list with all the editors I would have gone to if I had repped the project.
This author is between a rock and hard place. The submit list was good and if it was rejected by all those places, there’s only smaller publishers to try and to be blunt, potentially not worth the agent’s investment of time.
I responded to the author to say so. What advice would I give in this situation? As hard as it may be, it’s time to write something new. Go out with a fresh project in the US. If that book does well, then the agent can always go back to that initial series and rekindle interest in a possible buy. (Good sales can do that.)
Unfortunately, this author did not have anything new to share but I did respond again to say we’d be happy to look at new future work.
An author whose mystery I considered received an offer from a smaller press and had some questions for me before accepting the offer . . .
What are your thoughts on my pursuing this route? Is it worth doing in hopes of landing a big-time agent and/or publisher? Is it better to keep editing and approaching big-time agents? On average, what is a fair advance for a first-time mystery/suspense author w/a large publisher (what's too low?) and how many hardcover units do most first-time authors sell?
Of course the answer to these questions are going to vary widely, but I’ll see what I can do.
Whether or not you go with a small publisher depends greatly on your goals for your book. I’ve often said the same about those who choose to self-publish. Is your goal simply to get published or is your goal to be published with a big house? Certainly there are plenty of stories of authors who started out with smaller presses and moved on to big success with agents and larger houses. One thing that I think I’ve failed to address when this issue comes up, however, is not just how few and far between those successes are, but the time in which those successes happened. Sure, many of you will point to a bestselling author today and remind me that she did it that way, but did any of you consider that she launched her career 20 years ago? Publishing has changed dramatically in the past year, which means it’s difficult to look at something that happened 3, 4 or especially 5 to 10 years ago and use that as your guide.
A small press, heck a large press, does not give you an easy in to landing an agent or publisher. In fact, most often I see it hurting the author. An unpublished author only has to overcome the market and her own writing, a published author has to overcome the sales numbers of any previously published book. Those sales numbers, if low, are going to be a much higher hurdle to jump than any market shifts or agent subjectivity. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Bookstores place orders based on sales numbers of previously published books. If your last book only sold 5,000 copies in paperback, they are only going to order 5,000 copies of your book in paperback, and even fewer in hardcover (not that you would likely get a hardcover deal if your numbers were that low). Again, there are always exceptions, but this is the norm and this is what agents and editors will need to consider with any new project. And by the way, 5,000 copies is not enough to please a publisher.
How fair is an advance? There’s not a clear-cut answer to that because it depends on what you’re writing. Since you said mystery/suspense my question would be is it mystery or suspense? In all honesty, there aren’t that many publishers actively looking for new mystery authors. There are more looking for new suspense authors, but they are only looking for a few. Unlike romance, you don’t see many mystery/suspense-only editors these days. It’s a tough market. And how low is too low? Whatever the market supports. A lot of mysteries are published first in paperback; those that are published in hardcover receive higher advances. As to how many copies most first-time authors sell? That number could range from 1,000 to 100,000. The crazy thing about this business is that the extremes are great and so are the variables. A cozy mystery differs greatly from a thriller, etc.
So there’s essentially a list of non-answers for you, but maybe some of my published mystery/suspense readers would be willing to share their experiences, advances, sales numbers. Anonymously, of course.
Over at Illustration For Kids, we girls have been answering the question this week: “How Long Have You Been Working As An Illustrator?” I posted my reply here. So if you go over there to read it, please also check out what Holli, Jannie, Jenn, and Anette had to say. Hopefully Claire and Susan will [...]
I often discuss with you how a big part of my job is career planning, and to me that doesn’t mean just sitting down and plotting how to make the bestseller list, but discussing what direction the next writing project will take. Should a series writer continue her current, successful series and add yet another to her plate or would she be better off dumping this series altogether for something fresh and new? Should a historical writer change her style to meet some of the current trends in historicals (more sex, more sex) or is part of her appeal the fact that she hasn’t embraced market trends? Should a contemporary author with declining numbers move away from contemporary altogether (is it the genre?) and embrace the paranormal trend, or is it less about the genre and more about the hook or the ideas she’s coming up with?
Just as it is for unpublished writers, published writers are constantly looking within themselves to discover their strengths and find out what would be the next best direction, and as an agent it’s my job to help support them in that as well as to give any input they might want. For each author this is a different experience and I really let my authors decide how they want to use me best. For some we have many, many email exchanges and phone calls, while others prefer to spend “alone time” writing, reading, and exploring new and different directions. Either way, I will tell you that this is a frustrating and nerve-wracking time for the author, and if I can do anything it’s really just be there as a show of support and try to guide the author in a positive direction.
What is fascinating for me through all this is watching the author process work. It’s different for everyone and it should be different for everyone. We’re all unique individuals with unique experiences and ideas so why should we expect a writing process to be the same? However, one thing that is the same is the reaction the author has when suddenly she reaches that Eureka moment, when after endless hours of discussion and writing, some of which just wasn’t clicking, it suddenly strikes. Like lightning from the sky, the author does a 180 and just knows what needs to be done. I swear it changes her as a person. The heavy burden of writing lifts and putting word to page is joyful again. What is so fascinating about the Eureka moment is that I know when it hits too. Not that I have some psychic premonition, but when I get the email or phone call that suddenly this is it, I know it in my heart, in my bones, in the same way the author does. I can honestly say, I get chills when it just feels right.
STATUS: I finished up to client full manuscripts this week. I’m finally catching up.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? ICE CREAM by Sarah McLachlan
As promised, here are some of the books that I’ve read over the years. Please note that this isn’t an endorsement of any book. Read at your own risk. Big grin here. I’m simply highlighting some of the books I have read.
This is by no means a complete list. Just what I can remember off the top of my head.
STATUS: Bursting at the seams. Got two bits of exciting news for one of my clients and it’s under gag. We’re not allowed to share yet. So I guess I’ll just tease all my blog readers with it instead.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? LET'S STAY TOGETHER by Al Green
This topic obviously resonated with quite a few people. In all honesty, I probably should have one of my clients do a guest blog about the topic of finances as a published author. Hopefully they’ll all just chime in on the comments section.
Okay, if you are a published author, here are some things that I recommend.
1. Find and then pay for a good tax accountant who can give you sound accounting advice for your writing business. You may start as a sole proprietor but as many of my authors have done, when real money starts coming in, it may pay (as in tax advantageous) to be an LLC or an S-corp instead.
When I say “pay for,” I mean it. It’s worth every dime to pay a CPA for his/her expertise. Be sure to ask around to other writers and get recommendations for a good one. Like all people in service industry, levels of expertise vary.
Gee, that’s true of agents as well.
2. When you have your contract, note the dates in your money management software for when you can expect to get paid. Then pad it by two months at least. I say this because things don’t always happen on time. The contract can take 2 to 3 months to negotiate and then it’s always another 6 weeks after signing for you to get paid. Foreign monies take even longer than that. As the agent, I always expect payment 6 months from when I’ve sent off the contract to my client for signing. It can take that long. For one client, the foreign publisher lost the contract and it took us a year to get paid. And that was even with me bugging them every other week for it.
You as the author might run into draft problems and not deliver the manuscript on time and so that d&a payment you were hoping to trigger might not happen until several months later. Trust me, this happens more often than not so keep that in mind.
So a couple of addendums to this: --If you are a debut and your career is young, don’t start by living off your writing. I think you’ll find yourself in a world of hurt if you do that. Writing money is gravy money. Not factored in as part of the monthly living expenses but it can pay for a great vacation or a down payment on a car or what have you. Personally, I say put all of it into a good interest CD that you can’t access for a year. That way you’re forced to ignore it for a while. But heck, I know that’s not always feasible. I’m just suggesting it.
--Don’t quit you day job until the back end royalties can pay for your daily living expenses without issue. Back end is the royalty money you earn once your advance has earned out. This does not include the advance you might earn for your next book because that’s an advanced that hasn’t earned out yet. And just an FYI, statistically speaking (and this is by no means exact), only about 10% of books actually earn out their advances. The good majority of them don’t. And here’s another interesting tidbit, if a book does earn out the advance, it can take 2 years or more before that happens. One of my authors just earned out (which is hugely exciting) but it took 4 years. Now you know why I emphasize back end royalties that pay your daily living expenses without an issue.
3. When you get your check, pay your taxes right then and there. Now some folks are really great money managers. If you are, then you can ignore this. However, I think the majority of us are not quite that anal and I’ve heard stories time and time again where authors don’t do this and find themselves in a world of hurt. Work with your tax accountant to find out what is the likely percentage that you’ll owe and don’t wait, just mail the dang thing to the IRS and tell yourself, this was never my money anyway. If you don’t have a tax accountant, a good rule of thumb is 20% of whatever the check was and send that in. If you’ve overpaid, you’ll get it refunded.
If you’re disciplined money manager, okay, stick the monies you owe the IRS into a high-interest bearing account and then only draw from that account to pay your quarterly taxes (April 15, June 15, Sept. 15, Jan. 15). Make some money on the interest at the very least. Now if your honest with yourself and know that you’ll fall into the trap of thinking the next advance will pay those taxes, don’t wait. Mail your check to the IRS the minute you get your check from the publisher or agent. I can’t force you to do this but I’m really encouraging it.
4. When you get your check, pay yourself first. What exactly does this mean? That means you put away money for retirement even before you pay your bills. If you’re under the salary cap, open yourself up a ROTH IRA (one of the best investing tools out there because when you retire you won’t be taxed on monies you withdraw from a ROTH because you will have already paid the taxes on it). Damn straight folks. And even if you are not good with numbers and investing, just go to Vanguard’s website and look at the ROTH IRA here. Sign up for an index fund that follows the S&P 500. Usually those are the safest with the least amount of crazy ups and downs.
Max it out. Pay in the full amount you are allowed to legally in any given year.
And folks, I’ve been investing for years but I’m no expert. My suggestion here is not to replace advice from a professional financial advisor but if you don’t know where to begin, maybe this will help you to get started.
I’ll also try and dig up the money management/investing titles of all the books I’ve read over the years. It might be a good reading list for you.
5. Open up a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension Plan). You’re a writer and you’re self-employed. This is a retirement vehicle for the self-employed and it allows you, percentage wise, to put the most money away for retirement than you can in an IRA.
6. If you are living off of your writing, create a budget with all your expenses and only pay yourself X amount a month and stick to that. That way you won’t suddenly run out of money and be really anxious for your next payment (see above—which might get delayed, or yikes a contract canceled, or a manuscript rejected and you have to pay back the advance). All grim scenarios but can be a reality.
7. Buy yourself something nice to remember your first check by. I know. Totally opposite of everything I’ve said above but your first check from your first book advance is special. Celebrate it.
As a young editorial assistant I had the luxury of exploration. I was just starting to get my feet wet in the acquisition waters and could request everything and anything that came my way. I had the opportunity to find my niche in the publishing world and see what really fit for me. One of the things I so strongly remember about those days was trying to fit that square peg into the round hole; in other words, I tried over and over to do the kinds of books that weren’t true to me, but that I felt were “cooler” than the kinds of books I really had a knack for. I’m not sure where this mentality comes from, but I can tell you that at some point in our lives every single one of us does this. Whether it’s wearing an armload of rubber bracelets, styling our hair in the latest Flock of Seagulls ‘do or trying to impress the boss in a manner that doesn’t fit any better than a pair of blue suede shoes, part of life is exploration and we all make mistakes along the way. What I’m asking is that you be very, very careful of not letting those mistakes torpedo a rising career.
As an unpublished author you get the luxury of freedom. You can write whatever you want, whenever you want, and however you want. Once that first publishing contract is signed and sent off, things change. Now you have deadlines, readers, sales expectations, and a brand to build. While you certainly still have creative freedom, you are no longer as free as you used to be. Sure, authors explore new genres and new directions all the time; the difference is those who are able to do it while remaining true to themselves versus those who do it because they feel it gives them a certain credibility or respect they don’t think they’re currently receiving.
I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a long time and the reason it’s taken me so long to write is that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to clearly get my point across, and even when rereading what I’ve written I’m still not sure that readers will really grasp what I’m trying to say, so let me try with this. We all have our strengths in this world. My strengths as a literary agent lie in commercial fiction and nonfiction. I’m not a literary reader and don’t have a natural inclination to understand what makes a literary novel marketable and appealing to the public. I do however have a knack for commercial fiction. Not only can I read a book and get a sense of whether editors and the buying public will find it appealing, but I can also read that book and help guide the author to make it stronger in both plot and character. I’m not going to say it’s easy and I’m not going to say I don’t struggle at times, but it’s where my strengths lie. And boy have I been abused for it over the years. Let’s face it, any of you who write commercial fiction have faced, at some point, the stigma of someone who is not writing “real books.” Whether it’s that you should be writing something more literary and more “meaningful” (whatever that means) or that you should be writing in a genre that’s more respected (whatever that means), someone, somewhere had to make a snarky comment that made you feel bad about doing what you love. Do not let that person or those people take control of your writing career. Be True to You.
Not everyone can write women’s fiction, not everyone can write romantic suspense, not everyone can write literary fiction, and not everyone can write epic fantasy, and that’s a good thing. I’m not saying you can’t explore new genres or you shouldn’t take your books to that next level. I’m saying that before you call your agent and tell her that you're abandoning your romantic comedy*** career for something “more respectable” like romantic suspense, you should try on that romantic suspense first, stand in front of the three-way mirror and really, honestly tell yourself if it fits. It might not and that’s okay, because not everyone can get away with wearing a fedora either.
Be proud of the person and the writer you are, take ownership of your strengths. Stand up now, out of your chair, and say it, out loud, what you write. Say it, “I write cozy mysteries” or “category romance” or “horror” or “literary fiction” or “poetry.” Are you proud? Is your head held up high or are you apologetic and meek? If your answer is the latter, then do it again and again and again until you can say, with all the pride in the world, loud and clear, what you write.
Be true to yourself, toss out that ill-fitting cowboy hat that was never you anyway and put back on the bunny ears. Write to your strengths and you will find the success you crave, and don’t go asking for people to respect you and your writing, demand it.
***I apologize to all romantic comedy writers; you were the first sub-genre that popped into my head and in no way do I mean to imply that you are not respectable, so please don’t go jumping ship to start writing horror about blogging literary agents.
Taking risks is a gamble, especially with your career. There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. Some people will work at a job they hate for years rather than “risk” trying a new endeavor, something they don’t know how to do. So, they stay stuck—and unhappy.
I know how that feels. I was published in 1995 in Historical Romance by Berkley Jove with a western romance. It was fun to write, and it became my first published novel. Writing the western was a change for me. Up until then I’d been writing big historical novels set in the 1600s, 1800s, and medieval times. However, those novels weren’t selling. I was stuck. So, I took the risk of doing something different. I wrote the western, and it sold quickly.
That’s a lesson I’ve had to remind myself of several times over my 25+ year writing career. A few years after the western, I decided to take the risk of writing something different once again. This time I started listening to the contemporary mystery characters that were waiting in my “story queue.” They wanted onstage. Once I let them loose, they stormed the stage, chased the historical characters into the bushes, and took over. Later mysteries went on to become a nationally bestselling series—the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries with Berkley Prime Crime.
As writers, we should never stop taking risks. Whether it be through story ideas, characterization, or our craft. We need to stay open to new ideas and different writing styles. That’s how we stay fresh. And every now and then, we need to take risks.
I took a risk with my new release, the 7th in the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries, DROPPED DEAD STITCH, out June 2nd. Amidst all the good times with Kelly and the gang and warm and fuzzies in the knitting shop, something bad happens. A murder, right? Well, yes, someone is murdered, and Kelly has to solve it. But something else occurs before that. Something bad happens to one of Kelly’s close friends.
It’s a sensitive subject, and I did my best to handle it with respect and sensitivity. Why take the risk and include the subject at all? Because I had to. My characters bring the stories, and they expect me to pay attention.
Risky? You bet. I had no idea how it would be received. I’m extremely gratified that reviewers have responded so favorably. DROPPED DEAD STITCH’s cover was even featured in the May 4th Publishers Weekly article on Traditional Mysteries. All of that is wonderful. But I didn’t take the risk for the reviews. I took it for my characters, because the whole point of what happens is not the trauma, but the transformation that follows. For me—it’s all about the characters. Always has been.
I started my undergraduate degree at the fairly traditional age of 19. But my economic situation necessitated working for a living and I was limited to one class at a time. Eventually I married and started a family, putting the thought of finishing that degree farther and farther away. Finally I found myself at age 35 with no degree and a resume with a big hole in it. I had lots of experience in non-profit marketing, but every ad would list "college degree required." Luckily I discovered distance learning programs and finally finished my bachelor's degree at the age of 37 in the Adult Degree Program (then part of Norwich University). But I remember being embarrassed by my lack of a college degree. I felt it was unfinished business and I was smarter than that...wasn't I?
But with time working in higher education I've come to realize that my story is more and more typical. In the past, adult college students were considered “non-traditional.” This is no longer true. In fact, we have become the fastest growing demographic in colleges across the country. Once I was empowered with finally earning my bachelor's degree, I was hooked. I went on to earn two master's degrees and a certificate in writing children's picture books. With the current economic climate being what it is, I've been thinking of many people who are in a similar situation and find themselves needing to return to school and build up their resumes and experience. But what if they're facing challenges like I did? Working, kids, community obligations. Or even struggling with a disability or, just like me, the thought of doing math makes them feel as though they are going to vomit.
I wanted to get some advice for those who are taking this kind of plunge. Practical advice, advice about things you might not feel comfortable talking about with an admissions counselor you don't know on the other end of the phone or via email. So I turned to Anne Connor to get some answers.
Anne has been working in higher education and educational counseling for many years and specializes in helping adults who are returning to school. She's done ESOL, disability and ADA counseling, as well as advising people on things like time management and study skills. She knows what it takes for people like me to succeed in this quest. Anne runs her own business called Taproot Academic Coaching, an online enterprise in which she offers a full spectrum of support for adult learners returning to school.
Anne, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing an adult returning to college these days?
There are actually a number of top challenges, one being the indecision – what degree should I get and at what college? What is it I really want to study? For an adult learner, this question relates to his or her passion, but that is usually countered by the very real concern of is it going to pay off, relating to job viability. Once someone can bring focus to the "what" and "where", then there are the financial considerations, the how am I going to afford it? Often these three top considerations – the what, where and how - play off against each other.
When an adult learner gets past these larger issues, which often take some time to research and process, then there’s the next block – pure unadulterated fear! The adult hears the inner voice of the critic with low self-esteem, “I don’t have what it takes to be a student again; I’m a crummy writer; I can’t do tests; I won’t be able to keep up.” Adult students will often say to me with terror in their voices, “I don’t even remember how to do footnotes!” It’s ironic because footnotes really aren’t used anymore in higher education having been replaced by in-text citations, but who knows that if one hasn’t been in school for the last twenty years?
The other piece that comes into play for the adult student nervous about returning to school is, “How will I make the time in my life to attend classes when I’m already so busy and not even attending school? The life-balancing act comes into play and adult students can use some support and coaching about how to prepare for their return to school; also they need to re-think organizing time and resources to be successful. Once they’re actually back in the classroom, or even before that, adult students will benefit from a refresher course on effective academic skills such as analytic reading skills, effective note-taking, academic writing and critical thinking, especially as these relate to an individual’s distinct learning approach.
What would you say to an adult considering a return to college?
Each of us has a preferred approach to learning, organizing and producing academic material. There is no one cookie-cutter method that works for everyone, yet earlier schooling would have many of us believe that there is only one way to write a good essay or take notes or find the “right” answer that they think the teacher wants to hear. Adult learners believe that if it didn’t work before there’s a really good chance that it won’t work again – “it” being the whole school experience. The joy of being an adult learner is that you get to employ your best strengths in accessing the education that you choose now. If the writing approach that you learned in high school doesn’t work for you in college, there are other writing strategies that you can learn that will work better for you as an adult. That reading habit of skimming indiscriminately that got you into trouble again and again in college the last time you tried it in your twenties might actually work really well for you now that you are a busy adult juggling many things – with a little focus of course. The point is that as an adult learner you have developed skills in your varied life experiences that have naturally prepared you to be a stronger learner today than ever before. You are more aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you know what you are interested in, and you are motivated to succeed at your goals in a way that a traditional-aged student is not.
Okay, I have to share my biggest anxiety, one that I know is shared with most adults who have been out of school for some time. What about the math? I have terrible math anxiety! How can I possibly return to that humiliation?
You’re right; this is one anxiety that is shared by many if not most people. What I would say is that it’s more about the fear of the fear than the fear of the math itself! Most adults, with a little review, are capable of doing the minimum amount of math that’s required for graduation from most college programs. There are also tutors and learning support programs available to you for support – and maybe you are more likely as an adult to get that help than you were as a younger student. Teens usually think asking for help is uncool – by the time we are adults, we know the importance of asking for help, getting support and working with each other. There are also many college programs, like the progressive colleges with which I am most involved, where you can show your ability to understand and do math as it relates to hands on-experiences or study math in the context of other content areas – such as sacred geometry in nature, or geometric forms in art, or creating charts and graphs in social sciences, or creating budgets and accounting sheets for a business enterprise. Don’t let math be the thing that stops you – you can do it!
What about someone with a learning disability? What resources are available to them?
Quite a good number of adults who return to school have a disability of some kind, whether it is a learning disability, an attention disorder, a physical or psychiatric disorder and again, students should not let that stop them from earning a degree. By law, an educational institution must provide reasonable accommodations to a student with a disability – accommodations which, in effect, should level the playing field for those whose disabilities impair their academic functioning to a certain degree. In addition, many schools have disability offices or learning support departments with trained specialists who can help students with disabilities learn strategies specific to their strengths that will increase their chances of success.
In my experience, many adults returning to college after many years may suspect they have a disability, especially if their children are now being diagnosed with special learning needs. Some adult learners have no idea they have a learning disability but once they start to flounder, and if they are referred to a learning specialist who can help them look at the possible reasons for weak skills, they may get the help they need. Assessment of and knowledge about learning disabilities and ADHD has come a long way over the years. Many adults returning to school now did not have the benefit of evaluation and assessment when they were in school before. Therefore many adults today learn that they have a disability and finally can begin to understand they are not “stupid” or “lazy” or any of a number of other things they may believe about themselves as a result of growing up with an undiagnosed learning disability. They can reframe their sense of self with a diagnosis, get the academic support they need, and successfully earn the degree they desire. I have witnessed many, many stories of educational struggle and success working with adult students with disabilities in every field imaginable.
Last piece of advice?
Ask for help, ask for help, and ask for help! Educators understand that adult learners have needs and abilities that are totally different from those of traditional-age college learners: you work at a different pace; you are juggling different demands; and you have experiential bodies of knowledge that are vast compared to younger learners. As a result, programs geared toward the adult learner are structured to support these differences, and they employ professionals specifically to help adults be successful. You can talk to career counselors, faculty or an academic coach to help you make decisions or work with instructors who understand the demands of juggling career, family and school. In addition, adult students can access academic support from the learning support office that most colleges have or again from a tutor or academic coach. An adult student doesn’t need to struggle alone; be sure to ask for help. You’ll get it.
As a first-time author, I'm trying to get my brain around query letters. Maybe I'm just thinking of it too much like a resume or a CV, but I feel that I need to include something that says "I'm easy." That is, I know that:
I'm a first-time author.
Pretty much everyone else is going to have a better concept of "the right thing" than I will.
I have a day job so I'm not starving and freaking out trying to get published.
I'm willing to shut up, listen, and do what it takes to enjoy the ride.
Whether it takes 2 weeks or 2 years, 2 or 200 rounds of revisions, I'm cool with that.
But . . . I'm having trouble coming up with a way of saying all of that so it doesn't also sound like "I'm doing the writing thing as a lark and don't really care about it." It's not that I don't care -- I care quite a bit -- but I'm smart enough to not let my ego get in the way. I'll save the crazy high-maintenance stuff for when I've published 20 books and optioned them all to movie studios.
Is there a concise way of saying all of that? Or am I on the exact wrong track?
You are on the wrong track. Here’s the deal: note to all of you aspiring writers out there, you better all be “easy.” It’s not an option. Here are my thoughts on your list.
I couldn't care less if you’re a first-time or fiftieth-time author; if the book wows me, I want you. From there, each book is a new experience and we’ll ride that wave together if necessary.
I’m not sure I have a better concept of “the right thing” than you do. Heck, I don’t even know what you mean by that. This whole crazy business is subjective and what’s right for one isn’t always right for another. What you have to know is your book and your characters and what’s right for them.
Starving and freaking out about getting published are two different things. If you’re starving and published you’re likely to still be starving. If you’re freaking out about getting published you’re a writer.
We should all be willing to shut up and listen and do what it takes to enjoy the ride. If you’re not, get off the bus now, I don’t want you. Publishing a book is not the job of one person, it’s a team effort, and the better you are at playing with the team the more successful you’ll be.
Time is your friend in the publishing world. It will take 2 weeks, 2 years and 200 years (oh, sorry, you said rounds of revisions), and whether you’re cool with it or not you don’t have a choice. So buckle in, write until your fingers ache, and work on your blurb, because that’s what the query is all about.
I am between projects.
I don’t have a WIP. No work in progress and not sure what to do next?
One novel is being read by friends and it may have a major flaw that will mean gutting part of it. We’ll see. Another novel is making its way into the publishing world. We’ll have to wait and see if it will fly.
Waiting. Between projects.
5 Things to Do When Between Writing Projects
Read. I’m planning to catch up on some reading, go on a reading binge. Yes, that sounds heavenly. But part of my plan is to read far and wide, outside my normal reading interests to see how other genres for other audiences read. Expand. Learn. Fill my tanks with words, characters, ideas, story.
Publicize other work. Well, there’s always things to do on a website. Always letters to send out, calls to make, brochures to create, and so on and so forth. For example, I will be attending the Arkansas Literary Festival in two weeks and I will work on details for that today. Reaching out to others who love literature.
Smell the roses. What I’d really love to do is go camping. That probably won’t happen because it’s my son’s senior year and he’s deep in activities. But maybe we’ll ride our bikes on the River Trail. Or take a walk and wonder at Arkansas’ incredible beauty in the spring when everything is in bloom: forsythia, tulips, daffodils, dogwoods, redbuds, azaleas, (weeds with beautiful carpets of flowers). Filling my heart with beauty.
Free Write. I’m also just doodling in a notebook, free associating, not really writing long passages, just playing, and yes, maybe a long passage of text here and there, if I want. Just playing with words, allowing myself to experiment. Filling my writer’s soul with joy.
Go Fishing for Ideas. Ideas for a new novel? I’m looking. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about the “next book” is to look at the previous. Then ask, what is the next logical book for you to write and publish? Building on this base, what should come next? What could build a loyal readership for your work? Given that the first book was embraced by a certain reader, how can you interest that same reader and pull in even more? Building a loyal readership is a concept worth working for! Searching for that something that grabs me and won’t let me go.
Beginning June 25, I'm thrilled to announce that Suzanne Lieurance will be a guest blogger!
Suzanne Lieurance is a former classroom teacher, now a fulltime children’s author, freelance writer, and The Working Writer’s Coach. She teaches children’s writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature based in West Redding, Connecticut, and is the founder and director of the National Writing for Children Center.
Lieurance is the author of 20 published books and has written articles for a variety of magazines, newsletters, and ezines like Family-Fun, Kansas City Weddings, Instructor Magazine, New Moon for Girls, Children’s Writer, and many others. She hosts a talk show about children’s books, called Book Bites for Kids, every weekday afternoon on blogtalkradio.com.
Her daily topics will be:
Part 1 - June 25
GET READY - The Basics of Writing for Children: What You MUST Know Before You Get Started
Part 2 - June 26th
GET SET - How to Build Your Writing Resume Even BEFORE You Start Your Career
Part 3 - June 27th -
GO - How to Start Your Career as a Children's Writer
So, join Suzanne June 25-27...and tell all your friends!
Happy Canada Day especially to those readers from Canada today!
This weekend I took a break from all things related to my career. For 3.5 days a few of my friends and I hiked through and up the Canadian Rockies (Jasper national park) and while I brought my sketchbook I did not crack it. I instead focused on not falling down steep mountain cliffs, feeling "the burn" and swimming in a glacially fed lake.
Take it from me - if there's one thing we should focus on during Canada day it shouldn't be ourcareer.
I received an interesting note from a reader recently that was spurred on by an interview in the Writer's Digest Handbook of Making Money Freelance Writing. In the book, the reader came across an essay by another agent who said, basically, that he’s nervous taking on new clients who are older since there’s less opportunity there to build a career, and certainly he would be nervous about revealing the writer’s age to editors.
In the essay the agent states clearly that if you’re older than 50 you’re in trouble and will have a harder time getting published, simply because of your age. I can hear the panicked gasping now. Never fear. Stop, breathe, and let me explain. The agent in question was looking at a writer’s career from a long-term perspective. Without having read the essay I think what he was saying is that most author careers can take years to build and a good agent sees that. When I take on a new client I don’t take on that client for one book. I take on that client because there was so much I loved about the one book I read and I look forward to using that book as a basis for a much bigger career in the future. If you’re 50 and planning to retire at 62, it’s very possible that your career will finally reach its high point the day you are applying for your social security.
Does that mean that if you’re 50 or older you should keep your age a deep dark secret? Or just give up and quit now? No, not at all, but I think you should be aware that some agents and editors might think this way. In the same way that some would think that a 19-year-old is too young to write a book. Which is why I’ve always said, don’t tell anyone your age. You wouldn’t include it on a resume (although it’s easy to figure out), so why include it in a cover letter?
What’s interesting about this concern is that I definitely think it works both ways. I remember being a young editor and trying very hard to appear older as often as possible. Which wasn’t easy for someone who had a baby face. So often I would hear people exclaim about what a baby I was or how young I looked or ask outright my age. I knew this put me at a disadvantage. After all, given the choice between a fresh-faced young thing or a more experienced editor in her 30s, who would you choose? What about an agent? If all things were equal and you had offers from someone who was 25, 45, or 60, who would you likely go with?
Ageism exists, but the book matters the most. Write a good book and no one will even think to ask you your age. And I hope that works both ways too. I’m looking forward to agenting far into my senior years, if you’ll have me, that is.
I simply cannot contain the news any longer: I'm expecting a little on this May! This is certainly another reason why I have not been posting in the last month. In fact, it's been quite hard to do anything other than sleep, eat and feel sick during my first trimester (I'm three months today). I'm so glad I'm part of the blogging community and that I've been exposed to many of the illustrator parents out there that seem to be able to "do it all". While I adore where my career has been heading since I went freelance nearly two years ago, I'm also excited to let it slow down while my life shifts to new priorities. Thanks to everyone who's followed my blog these last two years!
There are many practical steps you can take to advance toward your career goals. In observing musicians make their way in the world, I’ve noticed certain kinds of thinking and behavior that works well. I’ve distilled these habits into the ten principles below. These are lifestyle habits, ways to think about and deal with the world…
1) Know yourself. Know both your strengths and weaknesses. Know what you have to offer the professional world. Get feedback from colleagues, teachers, mentors. Their perspective and advice can help you to formulate the best career path.
2) Know about the music industry. Get savvy: Your research can include talking to colleagues and mentors and reading the arts pages regularly in your local newspapers. Know what other musicians at your career stage are doing, what types of performance work they are finding…
3) Schmooze! (Network): get out and exchange information and ideas with other musicians. When you share career and job information with others, they reciprocate. Networking happens everywhere: at rehearsals, backstage at concerts, in supermarkets, gas stations, and at most social gatherings. Even if you’re shy, you can find a style of networking to suit your personality…
4) Research your options. Start by simply reading other musicians’ bios for ideas about grants, competitions, festivals, and performance opportunities. Bios can be found on musicans’ websites, CD liner notes, and in concert programs. Read local newspapers, check websites. Find out what is playing where, to get ideas on what you can do. Read the relevant music journals, available at your library, bookstore, or music store. Information leads to opportunities. Make it a habit. Set aside time once a week to catch up on what’s going on in your profession.
5) Cultivate an attitude: be positive, resilient, flexible, and professional. Keep your ego in check; you need to be able to deal well with both rejection and acceptance. It’s human nature. People want to work with others who are pleasant, optimistic, and inspiring. Remember: Your attitude is a big part of your professional image.
6) Assess your interpersonal skills. Clean up your act. We’ve all suffered disappointments and difficulties in life. Get whatever kind of help you need but make sure you are not inflicting your personal difficulties on others. The more you can be at ease with yourself and with others, the more you can benefit from and appreciate the world you inhabit. Make sure you are contributing positively to a healthy working and living lifestyle.
The music industry is a very small relationship-driven world. Make sure you are a good colleague, because the person you snub today may be the person who doesn’t hire you tomorrow. Be considerate, polite, and helpful. People will remember your thoughtfulness, your optimism and your enthusiasm, and they will respond in kind.
7) Think like an entrepreneur. Put your imagination and creativity to work in the business side of your music career; spend time brainstorming with friends and colleagues; there may be career opportunities in unexpected places. These days, people are forming partnerships with other individuals and with organizations to utilize diverse skills, conserve resources, and boost creativity. There may be unexpected career opportunities you can create or help develop: concert series, after-school arts programming, or innovative partnerships with other performing, presenting, or educational organizations.
8 ) Have a gimmick, a hook. In order to get bookings and media attention, and an audience, you’ll need to be able to communicate what is distinctive about you and your music-making. What makes you exceptional? Do you perform any specialized or unusual repertoire? Have you given concerts with innovative programming or performed in unusual settings?…
9) Have both short-tern and long-term goals. Articulating your goals is important. You can’t get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Having realistic short-term goals, for this week or month, will help to keep you focused and motivated. Meeting your short-term goals is the best way toward your long-term goals.
10) Feed your soul. How do you recognize and rekindle your inspiration? What inspires you? What helps you recharge your imagination? What helps keep your spirit alive? Make sure you have room in your life for some kind of balance. Whether it’s your spiritual side, your family life, communing with nature, or favorite hobbies, remind yourself of these regularly. Make sure that you are living a full and satisfying life.
Keep in mind why you got involved in music in the first place. Your most basic motivations for being in music are crucial factors in keeping you moving forward in your career. Your motivation-what music means to you-should help sustain you throughout your professional life.
Part of the process of moving forward in your career involves fine-tuning your goals, assessing your strengths and discovering and exploring new opportunities. The kind of musician who puts these principles into action can be described as an entrepreneur. Cultivate your entrepreneurial skills and you’ll be cultivating your career.
I have an information science degree. I’ve been working for fourteen years, my entire adult life. Most of my jobs have been in libraries.
I am a librarian. I am not a librarian.
photo by emdot
As a student at Michigan State University, I learned Library of Congress serials cataloging.
I walked through secluded aisles surrounded by rare books, incunabulum, alternative newspapers, and gay pornography.
I cataloged comic books in the world’s largest archive of comic art, radicalism, and popular culture.
In the course of my work, I learned that Spiderman serials change their volume as often as many Spiderman readers change their underwear. By graduation, I could walk into any comic shop in the country and pick a fight about whether X-Men film adaptations should be considered canon.
When I went to graduate school (Michigan ‘02), my program had recently transitioned from “Library Science” to “Information Science.” In the process, they picked up a bunch of renegade computer science professors and expanded to include information architecture, information economics, archival theory, and a bunch of crazyass dot com bubble refugees like myself.
photo by sh0dan
We discovered that the term Digital Library can be used to describe an entire array of cool shit, including the Internet itself.
One of my professors, Sue Davidson, tells the story of how Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang called to ask about the subject guide to the web she had created for the Michigan Electronic Library. Sue answered: “that’s what librarians do, we organize information.”
Librarianship, defined as the act of organizing information, is a broad and inclusive field. Librarianship as a profession, is not. There are strict professional guidelines determining who is and is not technically a “Librarian,” but there is also a strong case to be made for the authenticity of self-identification.
There are librarians who work in libraries, and there are librarians who just Are.
It’s the difference between being a Jew by Religion, and being a Jew by Ethnicity. Both groups contribute to the cultural whole.
While a Librarian by Profession is inherently a Librarian by Ethnicity, the opposite may not be true. A trained librarian can sport a different job title, but her clarity and understanding will still contribute to her work.
photo by Syntopia
I’m a librarian by ethnicity.
Right now, I work as a user experience designer on a software team. I wrestle with ship dates, dependencies, conflicting user requirements, and engineering constraints. I design interfaces and help identify how the software should behave.
But somewhere, deep in my soul, I am doing the work of the Library.
I’m a librarian by ethnicity, regardless of the job I take. I don’t make my living as an ALA going, patron-helping organizer of resources, but I’ll be damned if I don’t use Librarian skills to battle confusing groupings of information.
Librarians bring order to chaos, and so, with a little luck, do I.
As an entrepreneur I frequently am asked for my advice on starting a new business, and while I’ve shared my so-called wisdom with dozens of future business owners, I’m not sure I’ve ever passed it along to my blog readers who, as writers, are all entrepreneurs and business owners.
There are really only two tips I ever pass out, both of which I think can easily apply to any of you in any stage of your writing career.
Tip #1: Give It Five Years I’m not sure why, but somehow I feel that five years is the magic number. No business grows overnight and a writing career is no exception. When starting a business you need to give yourself time to have and enjoy your successes and then build on them. In my opinion, five years is the time you need to really be able to judge whether or not your business is working. For BookEnds, I know that 2004 was a real turning point for us. It doesn’t mean that we were making it rich by then, but by 2004 I remember feeling as if we had firmly established ourselves as an agency to watch by both writers and editors, we were consistently selling the books we really wanted to be selling, and had taken on clients we knew we could help grow into household names. At five years I knew that we were here to stay.
So does that mean if you’ve been writing for five years and haven’t sold you need to quit? Not at all. Success doesn’t always mean reaching that ultimate goal, but at five years you do need to check to see your rate of growth. If you’ve been seeking a publishing career (and keep in mind that’s different than writing) for five years and still feel that you are in the exact same place you were five years ago (working on the same book, getting the exact same form rejections and not even finaling in contests), I would ask that you seriously reconsider your business plan. However, if you can see real change in where you are now from where you were five years ago (change in your writing, change in your publishing network, and a string of successes like an agent, or personal rejection letters from agents, full request, or contest wins or finals) then you’re probably on the right path.
Tip #2: Be Ready to Roll with the Punches When Jacky and I started BookEnds we never dreamed that we were starting a literary agency. We thought we were book packagers. We joined the ABPA and attended each and every monthly meeting to learn as much as possible about book packaging. Heck, just a few short months after starting the business we even made our first two-book deal. If I do say so myself, it was an instant success story. The problem was that book packaging wasn’t quite what we thought it was and, most important, we weren’t enthusiastic about taking BookEnds to the level we needed to to make it the success we wanted it to be.
During the first year or so of business we were also getting a lot of requests from authors to represent their work. Well, guess what: that didn’t seem like such a bad idea. So after a little more than a year, we called an agent friend of ours and took him to lunch to pick his brain and learn what we could about the literary agency side of things. We asked every detail we could think of about agenting, how he started his agency and what we were getting into. Now keep in mind, we weren’t starting with no experience, we already had connections and an understanding of the contract, we just needed to talk to an expert to get tips and tricks. About a week or two after that lunch we made the announcement that we were changing our status from packager to agent and we haven’t looked back since. However, we also haven’t settled in. While from the outside it appears that the agency has remained consistent, from the inside we are continually going through changes and making alterations. For example, what we represent is ever-changing. Certainly in 2001 I wasn’t representing a lot of erotic romance (in 2001 erotic romance didn’t “exist” per se), but I was actively looking for chick lit (something I’m not seeking now). And as many of you know, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I opened up my list to fantasy. Just as a reader’s tastes might change over the years, so do an agent’s, and yes, the market makes its own set of changes. In my mind, to be successful, I need to be willing and able to roll with these changes and make adjustments as necessary. And obviously, it’s proven successful for me.
Does that mean a writer should chase the market? No, never, ever chase the market. What it does mean though is that you need to be willing to roll with the punches. You might sit down with a plan to write fantasy and realize halfway through your book that what you’re really writing or what you’re really good at is romance. So go with that. Don’t force yourself to be a fantasy writer or a literary writer or a mystery writer if you really aren’t. If it seems that romance might be your thing, join RWA and learn about romance. If books are getting sexier and you’re comfortable writing sexy, then go with that, stretch yourself, and I can almost guarantee you’ll find success.
Creative businesses are fun! But, like any other business, creative businesses still require a lot of hard work. Most of us start a business because we’ve found something we are good at and passionate about, and we want to make a living doing what we love – for example, turning a favorite hobby into a business. Unfortunately, we often forget that there’s more to running a business than just doing the stuff we love.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the creative side of what we do and neglect the business side. If you want to make money and move from “hobbyist” to “entrepreneur,” here are some tips to help you make the transition.
1. Take yourself and your business seriously
Carry professional business cards, and not the free ones that have a generic template and advertising on the back. Put up your own website, even if you’re using a third-party seller. Get over the discomfort of approaching retail shops, galleries, media outlets and other professionals who can help you grow your business.
When people ask you what you do, tell them! “I’m an artist.” “I’m a handbag designer.” “I’m a writer.” Don’t shy away or show embarrassment just because you might be struggling, or don’t yet feel “successful,” or still have a part-time job. Hold your head high and be proud of your creations! When someone admires your necklace say, “Thank you, I’m a jewelry artist.”
2. Charge what you’re worth
If you keep your prices low from fear that no one will actually pay what your work is worth, you might as well stay a hobbyist. You have to take into account your materials, your labor, your overhead, your health insurance (you want health insurance, right?), vacations, family needs, retirement funding, and your general lifestyle. How much money do you want and need to make to have the kind of life you dream about?
You undermine the value of your work when you price according to fear and discomfort rather than looking at your own needs and what the market will bear. You also, by the way, undermine other creative entrepreneurs. Your customer then expects that every other soap maker, graphic designer and illustrator should offer their wares for the same low prices you do. So you hurt yourself by not bringing in as much money as you should, and you hurt the industry as well.
3. Learn all the aspects of your business, even the parts that aren’t as fun
As I mentioned above, most of us start a business out of passion and excitement for what we do. And it’s infinitely more fun to play with paint, experiment with designs, shop for materials, mix flavors and visit galleries than it is to pay invoices, maintain your website, and send out press releases.
I’m not saying that you have to do all of those things yourself. You can outsource any administrative task, hiring contract workers or a virtual assistant for example. Have a bookkeeper do your books, a web designer update your site, a rep sell your products.
However, knowing the basics of how your business works will protect you from quacks, scammers and other shady or unprofessional types. Also, if you’re without help for a period of time, it’s great to know how to add photos to your website, place a magazine ad or balance your books.
Being an entrepreneur can be frustrating, exhausting and gut-wrenching. It can also be exhilarating, rewarding and an amazing learning experience. Take pride in your work, take pride in all of your successes, and be willing to learn and grow. See yourself as a businessperson as well as a creative soul, and your business will flourish.
Lisa Braithwaite is a public speaking coach working with individuals and groups to build their skills and confidence as speakers. Her philosophy of public speaking is that it’s fun, it’s an awesome way to express yourself creatively, and that authenticity and passion are worth more than a thousand techniques.
Before launching her public speaking coaching business in 2005, she worked in the nonprofit sector in Santa Barbara for 16 years as an advocate, educator and trainer, creating and implementing programs, curricula, and training materials for nonprofit organizations. Her areas of expertise in the field of training and education have involved gender equity, domestic violence prevention, media literacy, adult learning principles, and communication skills development
In 1997, she co-founded Body Electric, an organization promoting sports, physical activity and gender equity for women and girls. In 2003, Lisa was honored for her work with Body Electric with the Louise Lowry Davis award, named for a pioneer in womens sports.
A lifelong jewelry artist, Lisa was the creative force and the “LB” behind Elle B. jewelry from 2004-2007, when she made the difficult decision to close up shop to focus on her coaching business.
Lisa received her B.A. in Theater from Pomona College and her M.A. in Education from UC Santa Barbara.