Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Musing on Monday: Identifying Your Business Philosophy

In recent months, I’ve come to realize that writing is a lot more business than art. A lot more. Oh, the writing part is still the most important thing–it’s the production end of the business equation. You can’t sell a product you haven’t made (and although it’s possible to sell an unfinished product on proposal, in the final analysis, you still have to produce it at some point!).

As authors, we spend a lot of time and effort worrying about the writing end of our jobs. About all the C’s: craft, conflict, characterization. We read books about these things, about how to hone our product to perfection. We chat about them with our critique partners and writer friends. Agonize over them during revisions, and stress over whether we’ve done them “right” when we start submitting to agents or editors.

But oddly enough, I think most of us spend very little time analyzing our business philosophy when it comes to actually selling our product. Just getting an offer of publication can seem so remote and unlikely that we rarely think beyond that point about what we want from being published.

I know when I got the call from my Kensington editor offering to publish Behind the Red Door, I was so thrilled someone loved the book enough to want to publish it at all, I didn’t think very far ahead. I had achieved my dream–I was going to be published, my book was going to be in bookstores across the country. That was enough. I didn’t think to worry about how big my print run would be, which bookstores would have my book in them, whether my book would have any special in store placement (i.e., coop), what the publisher would do to market my book, or what they would expect/like me to do to promote it myself. None of those questions occurred to me and now, I really wish they had.

Now, I’m not saying any of this by way of complaining. I am still thrilled and delighted that Kensington published my book, that they gave it a beautiful cover, and that their sales force obviously did their job in terms of getting it into bookstores. But…I wish I’d gone into this whole publishing gig with a clearer idea of my business philosophy and strategy.

So, as I pursue that next contract, I’m thinking long and hard about the business end of things. Asking myself what will, for me, constitute not merely being published, but being published well. These are questions not just about money, but about things like format (would I be happy with another trade format book, or do I really want mass market paperback?), distribution (I want to be in WalMart and Target if possible, right?), promotion (is the publisher going to provide me with a publicist or other marketing support?), and so on. And they’re not questions to which I have perfectly straight answers. In some cases, the answer is it depends on the book. But by and large, I have a pretty good feel now for what I want versus what I need, and I know the difference between them (i.e., I know what’s a dealbreaker and what’s not).

The thing is, as a writer, you have to know enough about your business philosophy to walk away from an offer for publication if it doesn’t meet your minimum requirements. But you can’t do that unless you know what those minimums are. So, before you start seriously pursuing publication (especially with any of the major New York houses), be sure you know what you need. If you have an agent, be sure she knows what you need.

And then don’t take less, even if it means a dream deferred.


  • Evangeline August 17, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I don’t visit very many blogs, but yours has become a must-stop because of your honesty. It’s so rare to see such openness (well, as open as you feel comfortable being) with romance writers–even on private loops everyone maintains a rah-rah, as-long-as-you’re-published attitude. I know I hesitate to talk about things on my own blog (hence its dormant state) because of that unspoken taboo about talking about the industry, career, etc. It’s even rarer that debut and mid-list authors talk about what’s going on–the obfuscation further feeds the myth that once you sign a contract you’re on Easy Street. Thank you for your honesty.

  • Elyssa Papa August 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    This is a fabulous blog! It made me think a lot.

  • Bev August 17, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Fabulous blog!!!

  • Amie August 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Yeah, how to be a businessperson AND a writer isn’t exactly something anyone actually teaches (that I know of–and for the reason Evangeline stated!) and the learning curve is STEEP baby!!

    You already know, of course, that I”m in complete agreement with you. After four books in print, I’m ready to move to the next level but sometimes i feel like for every one step forward, I take two steps back.

    FWIW…and i know you’ve said this but I want to say it out loud for the lurkers–the more they pay you, the more they invest in you, the harder they’re going to work to make back that investment.

    Just something to think about.

  • admin August 18, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Hey Evangeline, thanks for the compliment. I sometimes worry that my publishing business talk is boring to folks, but at the same time, it’s what’s on my mind, so it gets a lot of play here. I try to be pretty honest about what I see as the ups and downs of the publishing industry, but that’s because I wish I’d seen some of this stuff coming a little sooner. I figure I can’t go back and learn this stuff in advance, but maybe it’ll help someone else.

    And Amie’s 100% right–the advance you’re offered is absolutely a signal of how much effort the publisher is likely to put into promoting your book(s). Also how many books they’re willing to buy in one shot–even if they spend less per book, if they buy three or four in one shot, they’re looking at being in it with you for a pretty long haul.

    For me, the formula for what I need in a contract depends on a mixture of factors, including not just dollars, but number of books, format, distribution expectations, etc.

  • Amie Stuart August 18, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    And bonuses….don’t forget the bonuses!!!


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