One of the blogs I follow asked a difficult question this morning: "Are you writing a blog or running a business?" The problem was actually aimed at businesses who promote themselves with a blog, but it still brought me up short for a moment. While I really think of myself as a writer, and I use this blog to talk about writing issues, I'm also starting to realize how much "business" is involved in what I do. Here are some of the things I'm involved with at the moment:
1. As most of you know by now, I'm getting ready to publish a little book entitled "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese." It chronicles my experiences as I made the switch from academic publishing to self-publishing. By the time "Beyond All Price" hit the best-seller lists on Amazon, I had confronted various traps set for oblivious new writers who know little about the publishing world. Sometimes those traps snapped firmly on the neck I had stretched out; at other times the trap just clicked harmlessly behind me. But in every case, I learned my lessons. This book offers to help other new writers avoid the worst of the troubles, but in the process it sets me up as something of an expert on self-publishing. I'm just coming to realize that the appearance of the book will obligate me to my readers in on-going ways. It turns me into a consultant, and that in turn turns my writing into a business. Talk about unintentional consequences!
2. In the past few months I've had three different people approach me about my "publishing company" (which I set up only for my own convenience) and about the possibility of using that company to front for other self-publishing efforts. One wants to publish a family cookbook; another is planning a photography coffee-table book; the third has in mind a historical reference collection that would appeal to the customers of his own business. To make matters worse, these would-be writers have no experience in the book world or in writing, which means they would need a lot of coaching along the way. The teacher is me says, "Of course I'll help." The writer says, "Wait a minute here. I have my own books to write." And the business owner says, "Why is nobody asking what I would charge for such assistance? Am I a publishing company or not?" Of ourse, it's a good thing nobody asked that question, because I don't have any answers -- at least not yet. Is this something I want to get into? If so, I need to figure out things like consulting and editing fees.
3. I've already been trying to think in terms of a "business plan" for the coming year. "Beyond All Price" is still selling fairly steadily, and I have at least one speaking engagement scheduled to talk about it. I don't want to ignore it completely just because I have new books coming out, so I need to figure out a new approach to its promotional needs. I'll have a new book out by the first week in January, however, which will need lots of promotional efforts on its own behalf. I've already scheduled one book talk, but I should be contacting local writers' groups and arranging other speaking opportunities. At the same time, I'm trying to finish the first draft of an ambitious historical novel -- one that an important advocacy group would like to sponsor as part of their own major anniversary celebration next November. I've agreed in principle; now I need to make that happen.
So am I a writer or a business-owner? Obviously the "ivory-tower" image of a writer who sits in glorious seclusion day after day turning out eloquent prose is not happening. Being a writer and a self-publisher today means being a business-person, too. I just haven't quite figured out the balance between all the elements of this new career. In other words, the real answer to the question posed at the beginning of this blog is "Yes. All of the above."