author advice

Unagented Authors Thinking Like Business People

First, this is only subjective info, and when it comes to these things there are no set rules for anyone. I want to make that point clearly, so no one thinks there are set rules. All authors have to make their own decisions, and mistakes, when it comes to how they handle their careers.

When it comes to conferences, conventions, and other publishing gatherings, I know it’s important for agents and publishers to attend…to a certain extent. As I’ve stated before, one of my best friends has been a successful NY literary agent for over thirty years and he doesn’t go to any events anymore, not even BEA. He doesn’t think it does anything for book sales in the digital age. He doesn’t get clients from events either. But he’s already well established, with more than one big book on his list, and he can afford not to attend publishing gatherings unless it’s absolutely vital to his business.

I’ve heard that younger agents and new publishing houses believe these gatherings and events and conventions are important. Some claim they find new authors there. Others claim that going to these events helps sell books. I don’t know about these things because I’m not a publisher or an agent. I can only speak from an author’s POV.

I used to go to events for the same reasons all authors go. I wanted to meet agents, other authors, readers, and publishers. And I always looked forward to big name authors who were guest speakers. But these events were expensive, I didn’t really get anywhere with my own career by going to these events, and I found it was wiser to spend my time writing and trying to produce better books.

If you’re an author who has big books out there and huge sales, it’s probably wise to at least show up at a few events during the year. Established authors can connect with fans, and it might help sell even more books. But I’m not so sure about midlist authors going to these events. And I’m even more on the fence about authors who write in sub-genres like erotic romance. In my case, because I can only speak for myself, I’m in contact with readers all the time…on a daily basis. And all this is done through the magic of technology. And because the m/m erotic romance genre is such a discreet genre…for readers and authors…connecting online is a comfortable way to communicate.

And, it doesn’t cost a dime to send an e-mail. Speaking as an author who has been writing for almost twenty years, I’ve learned to be a good business person, too. I work extra hard to keep an updated blog, I work extra hard to communicate with readers, and I take extra time on social networks because I care about what my readers think and want to know. Next year, I’ve even decided to get a professional web site for reasons I can’t get into right now. And I’m doing it all for the reader.

I would probably feel differently about publishing events if I were older and I didn’t have a mortgage and I was looking at publishing events more as social events than work. I know people who are in that position, and it’s a nice place to be. But I was one of those people who bought my home ten years ago and I didn’t overpay and take out a ridiculous mortgage. I made a lot of money selling a condo, put all the money I made as a down payment for a larger single family home, and took out a mortgage I knew I could afford at the time. I’ve always owned and operated my own businesses. I have a guest house on my property and I’m a landlord. I try to make responsible choices and decisions. In other words, I care about the fact that my credit rating is the best it can be. And I don’t invest money unless I think I’ll get a good return on the investment. I also have two dogs, and I don’t board them or leave them with anyone. When I took on the responsibility of pet ownership, I took it on seriously.

And when you have a mortgage and other obligations that are important, not to mention the staggering cost of having private health insurance, you tend to look at things differently. When you figure out that air fare to X-romance convention in X-city is going to cost close to a thousand dollars, and then hotel accommodations will cost hundreds of dollars…not to mention rental car fees and food…author travel turns into what could have been a double mortgage payment (I don’t do public transportation or fast food at this point in my life anymore). Or at least a single mortgage payment. And if I’m going to spend that kind of money, I want to know I’m getting a return on my investment.

Then there are personal matters. I don’t have kids, but I have a lot of family and many family obligations. I have to be in New York soon for a family birthday dinner I can’t get out of. I also live in a small gay community where I’ve been friends with the same people for twenty years. Sometimes there isn’t enough time in the week for anything social or family. I’m giving a dinner party tomorrow night and it’s the first one I’ve given since July because of my work schedule. And going to publishing events for most people is work, not a social event. It’s nice for those who can go and make it a social event. But most authors, especially those with young families, simply can’t do it.

Publishers will argue that all authors going to these events will help book sales. They may be right. I honestly don’t know. But my own gut business intuition tells me that even though book sales might spike for a few weeks after a publishing event, they aren’t going to change drastically enough to pay for the investment the author made to go to the event. This is just a fact of life. And I’ve seen too many people in business waste time and money for me to make the same mistakes they did.

But publishers will disagree, bless their souls, and that’s because they want to get as much out of an author as they can. Which, in this case, is good business sense for the publisher. You can’t blame them for being pushy. However, an unagented author who is representing himself/herself, has to be wise about how much they are willing to spend out of their own pocket in order to accommodate a publisher. This is why I also believe it’s always best to keep the relationship between author and publisher strictly business at all times, never personal (it’s also why authors will always need good agents). Of course if the publisher is willing to pay all expenses, wonderful. But I’ve yet to see this happen with small presses. The author usually foots the bill on his/her own.

So be wise about how you spend your money and where you spend it when it comes to publishing events. And your time is important, too. Writing in a sub-genre isn’t the most lucrative profession…it never was and never will be…and you have to think like a business person at all times. I know that’s hard to do for some new authors. They get caught up in the emotional aspects of getting published and they can’t wait to attend every event that comes along. But if you’re looking to get a good return and better book sales, it might be wiser to open yourself up online with blogs and other social networks and focus on communicating with readers and doing things that aren’t going to cost you a dime.After all, we are living in the beginning of the digital age. And we should be taking advantage of the smart opportunities as much as we can.