Turning Whine Into Gold
To navigate the gauntlet that is publishing today, your best strategy for success can be to embrace your new paradox: you are both artist and businessperson.
Because it’s not all business. Your publishing team is well aware that they would not have their salaried jobs without the creative talent that is willing to gamble for dollars in order to drive the industry.
Because it’s not all art. Oh they want your art, all right, but if truth be told, they’d rather not add one ounce of your artistic temperament to their business meetings.
Here are some strategies for achieving that all-important balanced perspective that will help your support team to thrive. Each one presents a new paradox.
1. Be both entrepreneur and team player.
No matter what path you took to achieve it, your decision to pursue publication meant that you were starting a home-based business. This is true in the eyes of the IRS and it will help if this also feels true in your heart. You are the author and therefore the brand; your story is now a product. And no matter how many times you tell yourself “I only want to share my story with others,” your publishing team will appreciate you getting on board with the fact that sale of your work is how you all intend to make money.
It therefore behooves you to understand the basics of running a small business as concerns record-keeping, budgeting, and the tax ramifications of your endeavor. Donning your role as sole business owner, ironically, will empower you to step onto the publishing team. You will see your agent, editor, cover designer, publicist, and marketing department for what they are: your business partners.
Too many authors feel sidelined in their own careers, saying things like, “I don’t know how my book is selling because I don’t want to bother my editor.” Um—why? If your publisher wants you on the sales team—and they do—you have a right to periodic sales numbers and whatever explanations you need to understand your contract and your royalty statement. You have a right to know where your agent is submitting your work and what kind of feedback your work is getting. Only by defending these rights can you be an effective part of your publishing team.
2. Be both field marshal and herd dog.
Each member of your team has such an all-consuming role that they can forget they are on a team. Especially with a larger publisher, the right hand may not know what the left is doing. You are the lowest common denominator—without you, there wouldn’t be a team—so it’s on you to remind them.
Sometimes that will require you to get out front and take the lead. I needed to do this when my in-house publicist failed to achieve even one little piece of her ambitious PR plan for my second novel. As uncomfortable as it was, I had to get out front and act as field marshal: this is the new plan, and this is the support I expect from each of you to make it happen.
Other times, if you sense a member of your team lagging, it is best to herd from behind, calling to remind that you are awaiting edits or a cover concept or whatever. Ask to be apprised of the revised publication schedule. In the case of overdue services—unless you make the mistake of unleashing the full wrath of your artistic temperament—as long as you respect each member for the expertise each brings to the table, such “poking” is not an annoyance. It is simply gathering the information you need to best manage your time and contribution to the team.
3. Be both enthusiastic and realistic.
Many writers pin up a mock cover for their manuscript that comes with “New York Times Bestseller” pre-affixed. There is nothing wrong with lofty goals! They can propel us through the muck and mire of workaday publishing. But we must also bring our A game to workaday publishing, and find value and joy in it, or we may never hit a list.
4. Let both emotional validation and data feed your sense of success.
A business person wants the data—how many books sold at the event, how many attended your Twitter chat, how many hits your blog or Facebook ad received. Such data may point to the most efficient use of your limited time and resources, but it will not tell the entire tale of your success. Your inner artist will feel successful as soon as readers email to say how your book moved them or opened their hearts. People do not forget books that touch them or excite them—they recommend them.
We must all start somewhere, after all, and not everyone will start at the top of their game. Use the feeling of success engendered by positive reviews to motivate your team to even greater heights.
It is a universal truth that everyone wants to play on a winning team. Set the bar high, with your inner artist holding one side of the bar and your inner business person holding the other—and then ask as much of yourself as you ask of others.
Do you ever feel torn between what seem to be conflicting roles in your publishing journey? How have you navigated such paradoxical moments?
To catch up with this series of posts, check out:
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Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” will appear in the forthcoming guide from Writers Digest Books, Author in Progress, available now for pre-order.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she leads workshops and speaks often about writing.
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Good points, Kathryn.
I've always considered the first draft as mine. It's my time to explore and grown and learn. But once I start revisions, it's all about making that product shiny - and yes, it's a product, it's something I want to sell. 🙂
I heard something similar once from one of my writing mentors, Juilene Osborne-McKnight: "Your first book is the only one written between you and God. After that, the publishing industry must have its say." Your take on it is more optimistic, since each first draft can also be ours. Although many of us wouldn't really want to claim our first drafts, LOL!!
You know, that first draft may not always be the prettiest or most eloquent and you may not want to make eye-contact with it in the mirror, but it's got that fresh-out-of-the-shower potential. Edit it with a bit of make-up, a spritz of perfume, a classy outfit, and it transforms into a must-have. 🙂
I love your example of how to make that "plain" first draft into something that is SO appealing.
I love this "gussy it up" analogy, Orly!
Ha! So true, Kathryn. It is a business, and I thought I treated the first one like a product, but the writing initially really was between me and God. 🙂 Love that!
As always I love your down to earth advice on how to navigate these writing waters. See how I got two cliches into one sentence? But really, great article!!
Yes you're multitasking those sentences and I am embracing their earth/water paradox, lol. Thanks Ella!
This may work with everything in life?
Knowing that two seemingly opposing notions are equally true can get you through some trying situations, for sure. One of them may be that publishing is one of the most confounding and exhilarating roads you take in your life!
Just now training my eye on publishing. I'm agreeing with all the post and the comments. I am making notes of all I read from my experts, you guys. You'll hear me yelping when I'm polishing The End. I've been a good business partner now I have to learn to share and listen instead of leading on the artist end. Thanks Kathryn good info for beginners. Maybe I can learn before I need to use the info because of it.
Best of luck to you Jo!
Yup. All great advice here!
Thanks much for this Kathryn.
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