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The Business Of Being A Novelist, by Helene Young

I recently read an excellent post on Rock Your Writing about how to sell your books without annoying the heck out of all and sundry. (It’s laugh-out-loud entertaining.) While I’m not going to comment on the ins and outs of using social media to sell books the post did make me ponder the whole idea of being a published author and all the skills that entails.

Has it ever been enough to simply write a unique and compelling story? I suspect not. In today’s climate with the debate raging over the longevity of books and traditional publishing versus self-publishing it’s even more crucial that a writer has a game plan.

Years ago my husband and I looked into buying a Brumby’s Bakery Franchise. We started a Queensland Government small business course and lasted two weeks. The paperwork, the regulations and the red tape were enough to make me weep. The one thing I did learn was the importance of knowing your product and sticking to a budget.

As a writer you are both product and producer, so you have two briefs to write for your business plan. Before you can do that, however, think about defining what it is you want from your writing career.

Is it fame and fortune and a place on the New York Times bestseller list like Stephenie Meyer? Is it truckloads of money like JK Rowling? Do you want to earn enough money to pay some bills and allow yourself to loll about in PJs (and drink too much coffee…)? Do you write for the sheer pleasure of putting words on pages and evoking powerful emotions in your readers? Or do you write because the characters simply won’t leave you alone until you tell their story?

Let’s base this discussion on the premise you want to see your book published and you want to make some money – whatever the amount.  Once you’ve written your book you have to put on your salesperson’s hat, with its bells and whistles, because when you’re pitching to an agent you’re selling your personal qualities, along with your work, so that they can on-sell this to a publisher.  It’s kind of like a wholesale market.

Once your book is published you are then selling to your readers. That’s the retail end of the business. If you’re planning to self-publish then you’re skipping the first step and increasing the amount of work you’ll need to do in the second step.

I know selling isn’t easy, as I did one of those gigs trying to flog discount cards at the Brisbane Ekka when I was fresh out of school.  Swallowing glass would have been easier. The good news is that when you’re passionate about something, and as writers it’s all about passion, then it’s a little easier to sell your stories. Most of us struggle with the me, me, me, part of selling ourselves, but if you plan it right you can let other people do that me, me, me’ing for you.

There are numerous blogs about ways to increase your presence in social media and in the public gaze. Joanna Penn’s blog has some excellent information, so I won’t bore you with my ideas. What I do want to stress is that you need to have a plan with a budget and you need to be realistic.

A budget can be a simple as a word doc with bullet points saying you expect to earn ‘x’ amount of dollars and therefore will spend ‘y’ amount, leaving ‘z’ in your wallet.

In anticipation of a stellar career you could set up a simple spreadsheet, you could invest in a business course, or you could speak to your accountant about establishing a system for taxation. Your accountant should have lots of good advice about tax deductions for writers.

It’s easy to go overboard with promotional products, giveaways, advertisements and attending conferences – probably even more so if you’re self-published. Traditional Australian publishing houses bear the responsibility of advance review copies and selling to bookstores, freeing you up to do blog posts and social media. Either way you need to decide how many of your hard earned dollars you’re prepared to spend. You will have some idea of income if you’ve received an advance. If you’re on a royalty only contract then make a conservative estimate of sales. It’s far better to find extra money at the end than a great big negative…

My husband fondly refers to my writing career as a self-sustaining hobby, as I made the decision to plough most of what I earn from my first three books back into promotional opportunities like attending conventions, conferences and free library talks. That’s an easy choice while I have a day job to pay the bills but it’s not right for everyone.

Whichever path you choose the sooner you have a plan and a budget the sooner you will treat your writing like the business that it is. Writing stories is the fun part. When you put on your business suit, metaphorical or actual, that’s when the hard work begins. So, do yourself a favour and take thirty minutes of your time to write down your business plan for this year, for five years and for the next ten years.

Keep it simple, keep it realistic and then do your best to stick to it.


Helene Young’s author website:

Helene Young’s bio page


Wings of FearShattered SkyBurning LiesHalf Moon Bay     Stillwater CreekRotten Gods

Writing Novels in Australia

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. kerriepaterson #

    Some good points there, Helene. At least your hobby is self-sustaining – most aren’t 🙂

    April 20, 2013
  2. Good post, Helene. I think defining what you want from writing is very important. If you are certain of your postion and needs then decisions are easier to make.

    April 21, 2013
  3. Jenn J McLeod | Come home to the country... #

    You were meant for the wide open spaces, not the brumbys bakery biz!!!!!!! Good decisions. I know all about that small business paperwork bogging yo down. Good post, as usual.

    April 21, 2013

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