Breaking the Mental Cycle: Or Why I’d Rather Be a Bitch in a Lap Pet World

Please give a Big Welcome to my guest, Suzan HardenShe’s an awesome writer with a wealth of information that she’s always willing to share.  No matter which path you choose, you’ll need to think smart and be ready to follow this every changing publishing industry in order to succeed.  So let’s not waste another second. 🙂 Take it away, Suzan!

When Melissa Ohnoutka asked me to talk about the writer’s need for a business plan, I racked my brain. What could I possibly talk about that I hadn’t covered in a zillion other blog posts?

Then I noticed how writers were reacting to the rapid changes in the publishing industry. Some were embracing the new paradigm, throwing any ole’ story up on Amazon. (Let’s call this group ‘Cats’.) Others were sure the changes wouldn’t affect them, that their agents and editors would “take care of them.” (We’ll call this group ‘Dogs’.)

And then there are a handful of writers that sat back and said “How can I leverage this brave, new world to my advantage?” This small handful put together a plan, and in many cases, they’ve have had marvelous success. These writers are generally referred to as assholes (if they are men) and bitches (if they are women) by the other two sets of writers. (In other words, the SA&B writers.)

Now if my handful of SA&B writers were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and they engineered some innovative technique that shot their companies’ stock through roof, they’d be lauded as geniuses. So what’s the difference between the successful handful and the other two sets of writer?

I know what y’all are saying right now. “Well, duh, they had a business plan, Suzan.”

True, but the real key for the other two groups is getting past their own mental blocks in order to create a successful business plan.

There are three main problems with the Cats and Dogs:

(1)  The first problem applies to both Cats and Dogs is that they refuse to view their writing as a small business.

As suspense writer Russell Blake noted in a recent blog post <http://russellblake.com/in-defense-of-writing/>, there are two groups of writers:  Camp A view writing as a product to sell. Camp B writes solely “as [an] expression of art/craft.”

I’m sorry to burst your balloon, but if you put your books up for sale, you’re in business. Period. End of story.

(2)  The second problem applies mainly to Cats. In many cases, Cats have a sense of superiority, that they can perform every aspect of publishing perfectly by themselves.

 When their single book fails to sell, the Cats sniff and say that no one could appreciate their genius. They refuse to take a hard look at craft, cover, marketing, etc. The Cats get pissed and quit, instead of acknowledging their mistakes and applying lessons learned to their next writing venture.

 Now, there are a few renaissance folks who may be able to pull off everything by themselves. A few. I don’t know anyone personally who can, but I’m willing to admit this writer might exist.

 (3) One subset of Dogs buys into the myth that they are Class B writers, and they mustn’t get their paws dirty. Therefore, someone else must take of the messy details of *gasp* money, like publishing houses, agents and assistants.

I hate to tell you, but this refusal to understand the publishing business is why Danielle Steele got ripped off by her assistant to the tune of six figures. This is why published authors got shorted on royalties by their publishing houses. This is why your agent disappeared with your last advance to a certain Caribbean island that has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

The other subset of Dogs believes they mustn’t anger their masters, i.e. the publishing houses and agents. Suspense author J.A. “Joe” Konrath compares this mentality to Stockholm Syndrome; science fiction author Sarah Hoyt to battered spouses.

This view scares me more. I know from ugly experience that you can’t get someone out of an abusive situation unless they’re willing to leave. And too many writers have bought into the myth that they are helpless with someone to “take care of [them].” (And yes, I HAVE heard traditionally published writers use that exact phrasing.)

 So what does the SA&B group do that’s different than the Cats and the Dogs? There’s seven key points:

 1) They recognize that writing for profit is a business.

 2)  They have a plan to maximize their profit.

 3)  They understand their personal strengths and weaknesses, and they hire professionals they have vetted and trust to assist them on the weak points.

 4)  They understand that mistakes can and will be made when owning their own business.

 5)  They learn from those mistakes and take steps to prevent themselves from repeating those mistakes.

 6) They understand that dealing with business aspects such as collections and negotiations are a part of owning a small business, and they endeavor to educate themselves.

 7)  They believe in themselves and don’t allow fear to rule their decisions and actions.

 If you have specific questions on how to create a business plan for your writing venture, Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writers, which contains the series I did for Indie U plus some extras, is still available at Smashwords .  Use coupon code EW59P to obtain a free copy. The coupon expires on September 30, 2011.

 Suzan Harden is the author of the Bloodlines series. Her latest e-book, Zombie Love, is available through Amazon , Barnes & Noble , Smashwords and XinXii . She lives in Texas with a husband who believes writing is a practical career, a son who believes she’s too enamored with zombies, and a beagle who just wants his belly scratched.

This was awesome, Suzan! Lots of great points to think about. Thanks so much for joining us today! And Best of Luck with your Books! 🙂

**While you’re here, don’t forget to sign up for ENLR’s quarterly newsletter filled with news and gossip about the ENLR ladies! Click here

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36 Responses

  1. Perfect title, and so perfectly “Suzan”!…:)

    Suzan is 120% correct, as she usually is. Following your Muse is nice, and something we all do, but the reality is this IS a business, and needs to be treated as such. Everyone wants to make a living with their writing, but it doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a great deal of time, effort, and patience to achieve success.

    Great blog, Ladies!

    • I agree with you on everything, Suzan. As a small business, writing and selling ebooks allows for a great deal of flexibility. You learn as you go, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to learn from our mistakes in real time and adjust quickly. I’ve read that the best way to do well in business is to try many different things until you hit on what works for you. But most businesses don’t have that luxury. An ebook writer does have that luxury. At every juncture, you have a choice. You have to look at the cold hard facts, even about your writing – what kind of audience do I appeal to? What do readers like best about what I write? Can I improve in these areas – a, b, or c? If something isn’t working, time to shake it up. And always provide the best reading experience you can.

    • Thanks for stopping in, Will! Time, effort, and patience. Yep, I think you’ve covered it all. LOL 🙂

    • LOL Will, I’ll be the first to admit patience isn’t one of my strengths. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s been less than six onths since I put up my first book

  2. Another great blog, Melissa and Suzan.

    Susan

  3. Great blog with very true points. As a reader I have found that there are some great indie/self published books out there but then there are some that aren’t so great. They are full of typos, bad grammer and the cover is awful.

    I know several published authors that are now venturing into the world of self pub and they seem to be doing well with it. Moira Rogers, Kate Douglas, and a few others.

    Thanks for joining us today.

    • I think it’s opened up doors for everyone, Heather. Like everything, there’s always a downside, but readers are smart. I believe they will have no trouble finding the gems out there. It’s a great time to not only be an author, but a reader as well. 🙂

    • “They are full of typos, bad grammer and the cover is awful.”

      Unfortunately, those three elements (among others) separate the serious business people from the ones who look at self-publishing as a get-rich-quick scheme. As Will said, it takes time, effort and patience.

  4. Great post!!!!!! Everybody needs a plan!!!

  5. Hey…who you callin’ a bitch? LOL! Great analogies to get the points across, Suzan.

    Jenn!

  6. Very interesting post. Certainly food for thought.

    I think the business plan of having someone who works for you (i.e. an agent) get your paycheck (i.e. advances and royalties), take their cut and then send the remainder on to the author is crazy! Who thought up that system? Seems like the author would want all paychecks sent directly to them and then THE AUTHOR pays those we work for her/him. How did this system come to be?

    And the problem with so many indie-published books is that they are loaded with typos, poor plot, bad covers and immature writing. As a society we are impatient to “get what’s coming to us,” meaning that too many newbie authors get tired of trying to get editors and agents interested in their work (after a few months or maybe a year,) or tired of learning HOW to write and want to get on with publishing, so they self-publish a work that should join the dust bunnies under the bed. I am 1000% PRO-Indie publishing, but caution writers to learn the craft of writing along with the business of writing.

    • I agree with you, Cyndi. While the whole indie movement is exciting for all authors – cats, dogs and porcupines and any other beastie – many books remain so meh that it’s difficult to find the gems among the cow dung. I’ve “bought” some freebies that I immediately wanted off my kindle. So bad. But I’ve also found some gems, and I’ve always been pleased to see people take the bull by the horns and wrestle it in their direction.

      At this point, I guess I’m a dog, but I’m willing to learn new tricks. I happen to think the editing, cover and promo I get with my publisher to be worthwhile. Do I want more? Sure. I’d be stupid to not want more, but at this point, I don’t want to run a business. I’ll be honest about that. Right now the return is not worth the effort I’d have to put out. So for me, it’s a personal decision that I’m happy with. I have kids, I have a business I’m running with my husband, and I don’t feel the need to do much more. I barely have time to write the books I have already contracted. Perhaps when my world feels more my own again, I’ll have the energy to do more beyond being a dog. LOL.

      I really enjoyed the post, Suzan, and the fire you have behind your thoughts. I wish you the best of luck in forging your path.

    • I don’t think there’s a perfect solution for either indie or trad publishing, Cyndi. The best any writer can do is find the path that suits him/her and put his/her best work out.

      And I promise that my first novel and short stories will STAY under the bed. And I have a waterbed so it’s a bitch to empty the damn thing anyway.

      • HAHAHA on the waterbed comment!

        But it sounds as though you know what you’re doing and are making every effort to be professional in both the content, presentation, and business model so kudos.

        I have a publisher right now for my book and I have to admit I’ve learned a lot working with a professional editor. At this point, I like having a push of a publishing house behind me HOWEVER I suspect I will wade into the indie world at point. I’m just not ready yet to make that commitment and from what I’ve seen from friends who published indie, it is a commitment. The work to get your name out there, trying to find reviewers who will review indie work, making yourself known to potential readers is hard hard hard work. I think I could be too lazy for indie! 🙂 Good Luck

  7. Well said, as always, Suzan.

    I’ve heard so much helplessness from writers to the point that I’m not sure some of them really do want to make money on their stories. And I’ve even heard, “How will I know I’m really good if an editor doesn’t choose me?” To this I answer, “If you really want to make a profit–not just write for fun–you have to take the same kinds of chances other business people take.” This means creating the best product you can, testing it (with critiques, contests, and/or edits), and putting it out there in a way you believe will be most attractive to your readers (cover, description). Then you create another product and do the same.

    Real business people give as little money away as possible to unnecessary “middle men” (I.e. agents and publishers), rather than grovelling and thanking these people for taking 92% of the profits on their products.

    I’m thrilled with what’s happened for me in this new world of publishing and the only things I give away are a few dollars for covers, a fair percentage to retailers (Amazon, B&N), and information to other authors who also want to make a living doing what they love.

  8. O man, I’m getting a copy. LOVE the premise!

  9. A huge Thank You to all who visited today! 🙂 Be sure to check out Suzan’s books!

  10. Wow, you gave me a lot to think about!

    Brandie

    • There are a lot of things to think about, Brandie. Not everybody’s cut out to do the indie thing any more than everybody’s cut out to the trad thing.

      What concerns me is that sooo any writers are making decisions out of fear. I’m not against gut instinct, but fear should never be the ruling point in a business decision.

  11. Welcome to the blog, Susan and what an interesting post!

  12. I guess I’m a bitch in training…still learning all about the business and what it takes to get me from point A to point B without killing myself in the process.
    I want to be smart about it all, but sometimes it gets to be overwhelming. It was much easier when all I thought about was my next scene!!

  13. Stacey, you gotta take those bitch lessons one step at a time. It’s no different than when you plan the Lone Star Conference.

    (And folks, Stacey is incredibly more organized than I am!)

  14. You definitely gave us food for thought. I’m munching on a mouthful right now. I have been a a business professional most of my life, responsible for all the inner workings of healthcare facilities. But I went into the first indie-pub experience with a little naivete. When I was setting up accounts I was thinking, “Damn! I’m setting up a small business. And all I wanted to do is be a writer.”
    But now I’m the writer, publisher, cover designer, publicist and CFO of my own business. I also have a vicious critique group and 3 beta readers who chew up my writing and spit it out most cruelly. But, I’m feeling pretty good about the outcome. I seem to be enjoying the control and freedom of steering my own ship to wherever its going.
    Thanks for another lesson in the business I’m trying to learn.
    ~J.D.

    • I think we all do that, June. Originally, writing was something fun, a way to relieve stress, an outlet for our creativity. For some people, writing needs to stay that way. I’m not trying to be derogatory. It’s the same reason I love to cook and I’m good at it, but I’ll never open a restaurant.

      Turning it into something profitable is a whole ‘nuther ballgame.

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