Monday, August 17, 2009

The Business Savvy Author

Stay tuned for the next edition of How I Got My Agent with debut author Lark Howard. Meanwhile, here's a post to tide you over. Let me know your thoughts!

After nine years working as a market research analyst for a F500 corporation, I've learned valuable lessons about professionally managing my day career. I apply those lessons to my writing career as well. Here are my tips to become a business savvy author.

You are your own public relations manager.
Every time you speak or post on the Internet, you are essentially putting out your own press release. What you say and how you say it affects your reputation as an author. Consider how you want agents, editors, booksellers, other authors, and readers to view you as an author. Act accordingly.

In marketing, perception is reality.
In focus groups, I've witnessed the shock of engineers and product managers when they hear respondents' erroneous perceptions of a product. I always tell them Perception is Reality. What that means is that it will take a great deal of work and positive messaging to reverse the incorrect or negative perceptions. As writers, this means avoiding shooting yourself in the foot. Recently, I've seen several authors publicize bad news such as poor reviews, low sales or rejections online. If you get a negative review, don't publicize it. Focus on the positive ones. If you are currently submitting manuscripts, don't post about recent rejections on your blog or website. Why? Because you may create a negative perception about your work to other agents or editors. Remember, perception is reality.

If you want to succeed, don't make enemies.
You may have had negative experiences with a former critique partner, agent or editor, but be wary of venting your frustrations to anyone except the most trusted friend. Be honest with yourself as well. There are always two sides to a disagreement. If a relationship goes sour, then have the strength to do what you can to either improve it or sever it if necessary. Don't burn bridges because you never know when you might have to work with that person again.

Propose solutions.
One of the most important lessons I've learned in my marketing career is to avoid complaining. My previous manager gave me some great advice. She worked hard to overcome emotional reactions because it wastes energy. Instead of complaining, focus on finding solutions to the problem. Others will view you as a team player and a positive influence.

Do network.
You don't have to be an extrovert to form relationships with other authors. Dare to reach out. In my opinion, the majority of RWA writers are friendly and helpful. If you're a newbie, volunteer for your local or online chapter. Take advantage of mentoring programs if they're available. Write favorable reviews for an author whose book you enjoyed. Give and you will receive.

Formulate a marketing plan.
Set an overall goal and then list realistic steps to achieve it. Periodically review your intermediate goals and be flexible about making necessary changes. Setting an overall goal to publish in five years is unrealistic; it may happen sooner or later. Instead, honestly evaluate your writing capabilities and let that guide you.

Kick the green-eyed monster to the curb.
At some point in your career, you'll likely feel a pang of envy over another writer's good news. It's especially difficult if you've gotten a rejection or a low contest score. But don't let that pang of envy turn into raging jealousy. We've all seen authors give back-handed compliments to a writer celebrating good news. These back-handers are the types who let jealousy fester and spend their time ripping others apart. But while they're wasting energy disparaging others, the successful author is working hard on her next project. Develop strategies to deal with the inevitable disappointments in this writing business and keep your focus on your own career.

Ask for what you want.
If you don't ask, you'll never get it. This particular subject highlights the importance of having a business savvy agent. Sometimes what you ask for is inadvisable. Other times, it doesn't hurt to try. In the latter case, the worst that can happen is the other party will say no.

Take control of your career.
Yes, there are aspects of the publication business that you have no control over. Lines fold, editors move to new houses, and trends change. You have two choices: whine about your misfortune or reinvent your career. Successful authors do the latter.

Dare to Submit.
Once you've polished your manuscript to the best of your ability, do your homework and then start submitting. Fear is your greatest enemy in this business.

Have the courage to say no, thank you.
There may be times in the course of your career when you will be offered an opportunity that does not align with your goals. The decision is often gut-wrenching. Take your time, ask questions, and do your research. You can only make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. Remember, it's your career. Do what's best for you, even if it means turning down an opportunity. For the record, I've done it, and I have no regrets.

Finally, the best advice I ever got.
When I was a newbie, an editor told me something I've never forgotten. She put her fist to her heart and said, "Listen to your own inner voice."

May the Magic Romance Fairies be with You!


Jo Anne said...

As always, Vicky - excellent advice from a standpoint of both knowledge and experience.

Well stated. Thanks.

Vicky said...

Thanks, Jo Anne. As a fellow businesswoman and savvy writer, I've no doubt you could add a few things to the list (feel free!).

TJ Bennett said...

Very savvy advice indeed, Vicky. You'll be a great asset in the publishing business, just as you are in the marketing business!


Linda Warren said...

This is such great advice. I've come back to read it twice and just had to comment.

All my best,

Vicky said...

Thanks, Linda. As writers, I think we have to compartmentalize. When we're writing, we're using the creative part of our brains. But when we must attend to the business aspects, we have to think like business women. While the culture of my day job is very different from that of publishing, I've found that much of what I've learned in the corporate world applies to the business & marketing aspects of writing.

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks for the link, Vicky. This is all outstanding advice!