What Business Do We Have Being Writers? - Guest Post by Blake Atwood

In “What I Earned (and How) During My First Year of Full-Time Freelancing,” publishing guru and writing expert Jane Friedman shares her exact income breakdown from her first full year of working for herself as a writer.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the reality of what’s required of many working writers today: we can’t just rely on that one huge advance from a traditional publisher. (Even when we could, you still had to be one of the lucky chosen few.)

So, what’s a writer to do these days if they want to make a career out of their calling?

What business do we have being writers in the twenty-first century?

The Business of Being a Writer

Thankfully, Jane has compiled her decades of experience into The Business of Being a Writer, an accessible and overarching book that looks at the many avenues and possibilities that exist for today’s working writers.

In many ways, we live in a Golden Age of Publishing. You can self-publish online in seconds. But just because technology makes publishing easier doesn’t mean it’s made the business of being a writer any less so.

In fact, with so many voices wanting to be heard (and often for free), how can we ask—even demand—that we be paid for a commodity that’s become as plentiful as air?

Although we should always strive to become better writers, your writing skill won’t necessarily result in a writing career. (I’m sure there are thousands of stellar blog posts that have never led to paid writing work.) But, when you’re able to marry your writing talent to your business sense, that’s when a world of possibilities opens before you.

Jane wrote The Business of Being a Writer to address what she saw as a fundamental flaw in our system of producing writers, from MFAs to self-published authors. We lack a knack for business. We may know how to spot a dangling participle or critique others’ work, but we generally don’t know how to turn that hard-won knowledge and experience into something that produces income.

My Business of Being a Writer

Maybe it’s stereotypical—I certainly live down to it—but our artistic sensibilities tend to trump our business sense. It wasn’t until I took The Creative Class that I learned how to run a freelance business. It wasn’t until I joined a couple of close-knit online groups for editors that I learned how to garner leads. It wasn’t until I spoke to my CPA wife about what I charged that I learned I was devaluing what I offered.

In other words, it wasn’t until I admitted to myself that I was not a business-minded writer that I finally found myself incorporating BA Writing Solutions LLC—a business run by a writer.

I had (too much) confidence in my writing and editing, but I didn’t want to admit my ignorance on the business side. However, once I realized how much I had to learn, and how much I could gain, from getting real about my severe lack of business knowledge, that’s when my creative calling became my career.

I’m four years, dozens of books, and seventy-plus authors into my freelance work. Though my numbers aren’t quite like Jane’s (yet!), my pie chart breaks down in similar ways, through editing, writing, ghostwriting, book sales, affiliate sales, course sales, and teaching. In the last year, I’ve also added speaking to that assortment.

I’ve come to learn that Jane is right: “Despite ongoing transformations in the publishing industry, there are fundamental business principles that underlie writing and publishing success, and those principles are this book’s primary focus. Writers who learn to recognize the models behind successful authorship and publication will feel more empowered and confident to navigate a changing field, to build their own plans for long-term career development.”

I still doubt myself from time to time. I’m a writer, after all. But, after amassing paid experience across multiple avenues that all have writing as their foundation, I do “feel more empowered and confident” to keep doing this crazy thing we all love to do and secretly—or not so secretly—hope to get paid, and paid well, for doing.

If you want to get into the business of being a writer, join me for eight weeks every Wednesday from May 30 to July 25, 2018 (excepting July 4) from 7–9:30 p.m in my class The Business of Being a Writer. We’re going to work through Jane’s new book, and I can’t wait to learn even more about what’s possible.

Blake Atwood is an author, editor, and ghostwriter. He leads seminars and classes for Writing Workshops Dallas, co-leads the Dallas Nonfiction Authors Association, and hosts All Apprentices: Quick Editing Tips, a short podcast for writers seeking to become better self-editors.