The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

Recommendations in this post:

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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Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

The unfortunate reality with many otherwise great “get yourself published” or “do-it-yourself publishing” books is that they rapidly become outdated if they’re not repeatedly and regularly revised. Talking about e-reader technology as “electronic gizmos” that haven’t really “caught on in a big way” and how to market to now defunct booksellers will do that to you. I state that upfront for folks who might be looking for a book wherein the definition of “self-publisher” is probably going to *mostly* be about ebooks and POD. This is not that book.

What this book DOES offer, however, is a profoundly comprehensive (sometimes maybe a little *too* comprehensive) look at how every step in the self-publishing process – from the idea to write a book in the first place to collecting checks over a lifetime – actually WORKS. Now, I know you’re thinking … “How can it do that if it’s out of date?” To that, I would say, “Think of this book less as a place to find THE singular answers to your questions about publishing and more as a place to find A) the right kinds of questions to ask, because there are far more you need to ask than you probably think, and B) effective ways to think through, research, and strategize toward the answers you need.” The author has opinions, of course, and discusses a variety of his own experiences and those of his clients and friends, but ultimately it is very much a book focused on helping the reader develop a detail-oriented frame of mind when it comes to this process.

My major takeaways from this book:

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