The Business of Writing

Ever wondered why you’re not taken seriously by bookshops when you approach them to stock your books? Or by the editor of a magazine you’re just dying to write an article for? I’ve had several people asking my advice on this topic. Rather than keep emailing the same responses, I thought I’d put some of my comments together in a blog post.

One of the biggest challenges that people face is what I’ll call professional behaviour. Just as your book needs to be as legitimate as possible, so your personality must come across as businesslike – non-amateur. And you need to pay attention to a few details that will be used to judge you and your product. Let me give you some examples:

Product. Whether it’s paperback or e-book, competition entry or magazine article, your product needs to be properly-formatted and professionally produced. Good presentation costs time and money, but pays dividends.

Stationery. Whether you register yourself as a business or not, you need proper stationery for all correspondence as a writer. It doesn’t have to cost anything, but headed notepaper, compliment slips, delivery notes and invoices are essential. A company logo will make it look less slapdash, but it should only be a simple picture or formatted text. Even the most basic image manipulation software (such as the one included with your Operating System) can be used to tweak an image into an attractive monochrome logo. Keep It Simple – think in terms of something recognisable that doesn’t turn every little email into a 20Mb monster.

Accounting. Again, it doesn’t need to be complex, but if you ever hit the big time, you’ll need receipts to prove what it cost you to get there. Or the taxman will take more than his fair share. Use a simple spreadsheet to track costs and income. Keep it up to date. It’ll help you chase invoices.

Honesty. The so-called budget airlines have been repeatedly criticised for adding “extras” to their headline price. Even people who use them regularly complain about their sharp practices. If you ordered something from a company and they added unagreed charges at the end of the transaction, you may decide to take your business elsewhere. So play fair with your customers. Don’t advertise your e-book as a free download when it’s not. State carriage costs (especially international) for your book upfront. If you’re offering a freebie or other incentive, make sure you include it. In particular, keep customers informed if they’ve paid in advance (I’m thinking about crowdfunding ventures where the recipient of my money has never sent the promised goods nor told me what’s causing the delay.)

Professionalism. If you take money from people, you are morally (and legally) obliged to give them what they’ve paid for. If something prevents you delivering what’s been paid for, keep the customer informed – offer a refund but be wary of people who “try it on”. State your terms on your invoice (“Payment within 30 days of delivery” etc.) and honour your commitments as quickly as you’d expect service from a retailer.

Courtesy. It doesn’t cost much to say “thank you”. It’s worth a few stamps / freebies to tell your suppliers they’ve done a good job. Make someone happy today.

I could go on. And on.

But that’s enough for today.

Technology and the internet have made it easier for us to sell to each other. But there’s still a place for old-fashioned professional behaviour. And courtesy.

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