Writing is a Business

The Writer's Desk

The Writer’s Desk

I am a writer and a published author. I am working on my second book, and researching my third. I also blog — at one blog post a week this takes a fair bit of my time. Managing my marketing on Twitter and Google+ takes time, too. Finally I have a job that supports my interests, because my interests do not support me. In full, I am a business-person who is in charge of writing, publishing, and selling my books.

That’s a big job. And yet, I have people who ask me to talk in front of their group, but they do not want me to bring any of my books with me to sell to them.

I am a business-person. With huge expenses, I might add.

I purchased copies of all of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s maps, and it cost me some $2,000.

I purchased copies of all prints that I used in my book, and I also paid for permissions to use any and all of those prints. This is not cheap — it’s quite expensive, in fact.

And yet people ask me to talk in front of their group, without allowing me to bring any of my books with me to sell.

It took me ten years to write my book — a long time, perhaps, but I had to learn how to write a book.

I researched the book on microfilm from Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, which were rented to me for free. So that’s makes my research free? No, it does not. The hours of labour of transcribing the information from microfilm to computer should never be considered “free.”

Firstly, there is the purchase of the computer and the word processing program that is necessary for writing the book.

When you consider I borrowed several hundred reels from HBCA, that, too, amounts to a lot of unpaid work. My labour should be considered and rewarded.

When the book was put together, I paid for my editor. She is one of the best in Canada, and I am proud to have been able to use her services, but those services were not free.

I did all this work long before I knew I had a book that I could sell to a publisher. I learned to write an argument for my book, and then I learned that writing the argument for submission to a publishing company was an entirely different argument! I learned how to write the submission. But after all this, it was still possible that I could do this work and pay those fees, and still not be able to publish my book!

And yet people still ask me to talk in front of their group, with the proviso that I cannot bring any books to sell to them.

I run a small business. I am a business-person; not a free service or a charity. I should not be asked to donate my time and energy to anyone for free.

When I was a newbie to this business I was asked to talk in front of one of the Vancouver-area history clubs. I was flattered, of course, and said yes, and took a month to prepare my speech and power point it. I booked a hotel, and I took my sister along with me. But when I reached the meeting place I found only six or eight people were in attendance, and only one person bought the book. My surprise gift for making the journey from Victoria to Vancouver and back — a second-hand donated book of history!

This is the kind of thing a writer will do as a newly published author. You will feel flattered that someone asks you to speak, and you will expect enormous book sales from each expedition. You will consider it marketing. But the costs of an excursion like this will almost certainly cost more than your earnings. As a new author you will need to learn that you are a small business, and not a free service or a charity.

I had another occasion on which I traveled to a more distant city to give a talk, but the museum there (who was supporting me) insisted that they sell the books at the event, and not me. They did not understand this:

If I sell my book myself, I will instantly make $10, which I can take off the cost of the books that I already paid my publisher for.

If I sell my book when the interest is hot — right after my talk, for example — I will sell many more books than if I allowed that so-called interest to cool. Every salesman knows that, and as a small business person you must also be a salesman.

So, if I am not allowed to sell my own books then the persons who listened to my talk MIGHT go to Amazon, or they MIGHT shop at their local bookstore for my book.

If they buy it at the local bookstore, I will receive $3 up to nine months later.

If they buy it through Amazon, the same delayed payday remains but I will receive even less than $3.

So that is what the museum did to me by insisting on selling my books — I got paid up to nine months later and earned one-third to one-quarter of the price I would have earned had I sold the book myself. True, more books were sold because she sold them at the meeting at which I was speaking, but my profits were both delayed, and drastically reduced.

I am a writer, and writing is a business. A new writer needs to understand this immediately so as to not allow such abuses to happen because of the absolute ignorance that people have about the publishing world.

And yet, people still ask me to take the time to write and power point a speech to give to them because “they are so interested,” but without allowing me to sell my books to them.

I am a small business-person, struggling to make my business profitable. There are those who understand and appreciate this, and who offer honorariums to speak. What’s an honorarium, you ask? As a newbie author, you should know what this is:

From an online dictionary called: Investopedia: “An honorarium is a voluntary payment given to a person for services for which fees are not legally or traditionally required. Honoraria are typically used to help cover costs for volunteers or guest speakers.”

There are, however, those who do not understand that the joy of speaking to them is not enough reward, and make no mention of such a thing. But I am a small business, and I demand that they recognize and respect the reality of the author as a small business owner.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014. All rights reserved.

One thought on “Writing is a Business

  1. Julie H. Ferguson

    Well said!
    I stopped speaking pro bono many years back. As a professional speaker, before I retired, I got used to explaining, “I’m the same as your plumber. Do you pay your plumber for his/her services?” … “Yes?” … “But not me?” … “Then I have no option but to refuse your request as this is my livelihood.”
    Problem is much worse today, because Amazon charges the same price for my books as I pay for copies with my author’s discount. It’s a mug’s game, in my opinion.
    And that is why I support my traditionally published books with my self-published titles. Oy!!

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