Recommendations in this post:
- “Jealousy Among Writers” (article) by Anne Emerick
- Understanding Michael Porter (book) by Joan Magretta
- The Go-Giver (novella) by Bob Burg & John David Mann
- Book Yourself Solid (book) by Michael Port
One of the things I appreciate about this article, “Jealousy Among Writers” by Anne Emerick, is that it is honest without being accusatory and encourages us all to focus on learning, rather than whining, wallowing, or sniping. I’m naturally a very chill person – hence, the handle – but it’s always good to be reminded about the “how” and “why” of channeling problematic emotions into more productive activities. I remember reading somewhere (and I unfortunately don’t recall exactly where) that feelings are not facts, so feeling something doesn’t inherently make it true. When I feel rubbed the wrong way or frustrated, overlooked or just plain covetous, I remind myself that feelings are not facts and whatever’s going on probably has nothing to do with me and will ultimately affect my path very little or not at all.
Writing, as with much of life, isn’t a zero-sum game. Many of us can win, even if we win different things, at different times, or in different ways. I feel like no one will believe me if I say that professional writers (and artists and other striving-to-be-self-employed folks) should pick up Understanding Michael Porter, a business essentials book by Joan Magretta, as well as The Go-Giver, a business-oriented teaching tale by Bob Burg & John David Mann. I will recommend them here anyway, though. The Go-Giver is an easy, quick read, so I will understand if that’s the only one you pick up. If you can concede that writing is a business for you (or you would like it to be), however, then the way Magretta sums up and synthesizes core business concepts in Understanding Michael Porter will be deeply relevant to you too – even if you have to think outside your creative (un)box!
The point of any business is not to “do better than the Other Guy” (whatever that might mean) or to “crush the competition.” The point is to provide value to customers or clients, consistently and at a price that they are able and willing to pay. Regardless of the way you publish or distribute your writing, it has to be something in which readers find value, something that fulfills a need or want and does so well – by their standards, not yours! Whenever possible, you want to make your work the best mix of “unique” and “familiar” that you can manage so that readers want to turn to you again and again to meet that need/want, to be “topped up” with the value you provide. I go to certain writers when I want smirk-worthy wit and wordsmithing, others when I want lush worlds to get lost in for days, and still others when I want to contemplate humanity in its darkest as well as its most beautiful moments. That’s value, for me. No competition necessary.
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As a READER, what value do you find in the works you most enjoy? If you could order up a tasting menu of fresh new works, what characteristics or elements in the writing would satisfy your hunger?
As a WRITER, what value do you think (or have you been told) that you offer your readers? How might you describe the needs or wants that your works best satisfy? (Note: Don’t just say “the need for SciFi” or “lots of werewolves.” Think about it like a business would. People aren’t buying microwaves and ovens to have metal boxes with buttons and beeping noises in their kitchens. The core need/want is cooked/hot food! It doesn’t have to be a philosophical treatise, but you should probably try to think about what readers GET out of reading your works.)
Which reminds me … the other business book worth picking up is Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port (not Porter, just Port). It’s for service professionals, yes, but weren’t we just talking about providing value to our readers? That sounds like a service profession to me! His approach isn’t universally loved, but there are many really excellent tidbits of advice in there and it’s a very accessible read for non-business folks.
The business of writing isn’t really about the publishing system, the politics in your niche market, or who has advance cash in their pocket. The business of writing is providing value to readers. When tempted to stray from that focus, pick up a book you love and remember why you don’t regret – and maybe even cherished! – the hours spent with it. That is value AND good business.
Pass it on.