authors as business people

So They Brainstormed Without Her!

This past weekend an author friend of mine e-mailed asking advice regarding something that recently happened to her. In short, her publisher decided to brainstorm new book ideas for her, one of which included a pen name which is something she’s never done before. She’s also a new author and isn’t familiar with the way things work all the time in publishing.

Brainstorming is a good thing when done with the right intentions. It is done all the time. I brainstorm with myself, silly as it sounds, every morning when I go for a six mile run along the Delaware River near Washington Crossing. I come up with some of my best ideas with these brainstorming sessions. I’ve brainstormed with my editors at Loveyoudivine.com with e-books like “A Young Widow’s Promise.” In that case I wasn’t sure whether or not I should use my own name or a pen name because AYP isn’t m/m romance. It’s a m/f historical romance set in the Civial War, which is something I don’t write often. Those brainstorming sessions with my editors at LYD, and others like them, have always been productive and I’ve valued the time the editors and the publisher have spent with me.

But there are some brainstorming sessions some (not all) publishers do that leave a great deal to be desired. One of which is the one my author friend told me about this past weekend. Her publishers decided to brainstorm…without HER. From the way it sounded to me they were treating her more like an employee of their publishing company than an author. The pushy editor didn’t say, “This is what we think you might like doing.” The pushy editor said, “This is what we want you to do.” It wasn’t a choice. It was an order.

There is a clear distinction between authors and publishers in most cases. Authors and publishers work together. The author doesn’t work for the publisher. Of course it does happen, with certain publishers, where they will brainstorm without the author and then expect the author to do whatever they want without asking any questions, but this is when the author needs to seriously take all this into consideration. Authors who have good literary agents are lucky in this sense, because when this happens with a publisher, a good literary agent will go to bat for the author and help them decide whether or not what the publisher wants them to do is good for his/her career. You would think that anything a publisher would ask an author to do would be good for his/her career. But that’s not always the case.

And this is why it’s important for all authors, even those working with e-publishers, to learn how to represent their own best interests when it comes to dealing with what publishers want from them. And it shouldn’t be assumed by any publisher that an author will agree with anything they want. Again, this is why authors have needed good literary agents in the past, and it’s why they will need good literary agents in the future. Publishers have one concern: their own best interests. And what they consider good for them isn’t always what’s best for the author.

In the case of my author friend, I told her to weigh all her options before she signs anything or agrees to anything, especially if she isn’t comfortable with what they want her to do. I also told her to make it clear to her publisher that the next time they decide to brainstorm about her career, or about something they want her to write in the future, to please include her in the brainstorming sessions. Like I said, most publishers do, indeed, take this into consideration. But there’s always one pushy aggressive type out there who thinks they know what’s best for the author and they aren’t always right. Trust me, I’ve seen it more than once, where an author will agree to something he/she knows is questionable. It never works out in the end for the author. And this is when the author who doesn’t have an agent has to start thinking like a businessperson. No one else knows your career better than you do and please don’t ever underestimate this. If you have to turn something down now that you’re not comfortable doing, you won’t regret this in the future. Because if you’re not comfortable with it now, you’re never going to be comfortable with it.

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.

Authors Spending Money on Promotion and Marketing

I’ve always been in business for myself. I owned an art gallery for ten years and another small business I sold in 2006. I learned a lot about running a business from the art gallery because it was in the tourist town of New Hope, PA and surrounded by other small businesses that catered to tourists, too. I also learned what not to do when running a small business.

Unfortunately, in the ten years I owned my gallery I saw dozens of small businesses come and go, and usually within the first year. People thought it would be fun to open their own business without taking into consideration you have to be there seven days a week, hold on to your money as if you’re holding on to you life, and carry merchandise that people want to buy not just merchandise they love. Yet people with no business experience would invest their nest eggs (or their mid-life crisis divorce settlements) into a small business that was their dream. Unfortunately, again, this dream wasn’t shared by their customers and they wound up going out of business in less than a year’s time.

It reached a point where I stopped getting too friendly with new business owners I knew weren’t going to make it (you can always tell). Especially when they started asking me to spend money on group efforts to advertise and market, sometimes a lot of money for TV commercials and magazine ads I knew were a complete waste of time. I always refused. I knew it would be a waste of money for everyone concerned. I was in a tourist town, filled with thousands of people from Monday to Monday, and I didn’t see the need to advertise anything other than my gallery, the merchandise I sold in my gallery, and how I presented my gallery to the public and treated my clients.

And I feel the same way about my work as a writer. I’m not against all marketing and promotion. I think on a grand scale, if you have thousands of dollars to invest in an ad in People Magazine it certainly can’t hurt. But if you don’t have that kind of money to invest on a grand scale, the good thing is there are plenty of ways to promote books on the Internet without investing any money at all.

In other words, if someone starts up a m/m romance blog, for reviews or just to promote m/m romances and authors, I will support them completely. I’ll contribute my time, I’ll write blog posts, and I’ll shout about them all over the web. But I won’t invest any money unless I’m absolutely certain I’m going to see excellent results. And most of the time I don’t think I’ll see excellent results. Most of the time I see a nice effort by nice people with good intentions who don’t know what they are doing. But that’s not what business is all about. And, in many ways, authors are business people whether they like it or not.

I will get involved in author events and donate time and money, where there’s a give-a-way to readers, like an e-reader or free books. I donate free pdf files all the time to these things. I believe in these types of promotions strongly. And I think it’s a nice gesture to offer free give-a-ways to readers as a show of appreciation. I don’t even care about the promotional aspects. I like doing this because it’s fun.

But when it comes to joining a group effort where I have to pay monthly or yearly fees (no matter how small they are), I usually pass. I know these things are done with good intentions and I know the people doing them are working hard. But I also believe I can market and promote in other ways that aren’t going to cost anything. Authors can pull together and come up with tons of ideas that don’t cost a cent. The Rainbow Awards is a wonderful example of this. Authors promote together all the time. And whether the promotional effort works or not, at least they had fun doing it. And, most of all, they didn’t have to take any money out of their pockets.