The Hidden Danger of Business for Creative Workers

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“I just want to create things. I’ll let someone else handle the business and marketing side of things.” I hear this all of the time. I thought the same thing for a very, very long time.

That mindset may have been the most damaging mistake for my creative work. It laid a foundation for a myriad of other mistakes, resulting in hours and hours of work for books that suffered from my ignorance. Had I actually understood the business of publishing, how the industry has evolved, and where I fit into it (the hardest piece to sort out), I could have invested significantly more time in projects that would have been both creatively fulfilling and financially sustainable.

I’m not alone with my mistakes when it comes to the business side of creative work. I’ve seen friends literally lose control of their books because an inexperienced agent made a bad publishing deal with a new publisher who went out of business right after the book released. I’ve seen colleagues get more of less dropped by their publishers before or during their book releases, with publicists offer very vague, limited support.

Other professional writers and bloggers have suffered from SEO changes that hurt their websites or social media shifts, such as changes to Facebook’s author pages, that sent their click-throughs and ad revenue diving.

There are so many things that I wish I had done differently 5-6 years ago that could have helped myself immensely today. That isn’t to say that I wish I had given myself over completely to the business side of the publishing and writing industries. Rather, I wish I at least knew what I was missing and had been more intentional about the direction of my creative career.

Creative workers can mistakenly think that ignorance of business is a virtue that makes their work pure. 

Ignorance of the business end of creative work is by no means a virtue. It may actually hold your work back, deprive you of opportunities, and even prevent you from being generous with your work. For instance, some publishers make it very difficult to share a high quality eBook with potential readers and reviewers. You would think publishers understand the value of putting books in the hands of reviewers who can help improve your ranking on Amazon by putting your book over the 50-review threshold. However, there are many, many cases of employees at publishers shipping PDF’s of the book’s print file to reviewers, which appear as a mangled garble of words and punctuation in most eReaders.

The more you know about business and marketing going into creative work, the better off you’ll be in choosing the direction that is most sustainable and consistent with your values. I have taken one self-directed crash course after another in the publishing business and marketing. I’ve made enough mistakes over the years that I’ve been very motivated to sign up for industry publications and blogs such as Digital Book World, Jane Friedman’s blog, Writers Digest, Joanna Penn’s podcast, and many more. I’ve read books about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and how independent authors make it work. I’ve read about the marketing strategies and tactics that are available.

None of this has taken away from my creative vision. I’m not changing my plans dramatically. Rather, I’m learning where my creative work can overlap with the strategies that work best today.

Here’s the ironic part of this shift: the more I understand the publishing business and where I fit into it, the more I’ve been able to invest in the kind of work that I love. Back when I was completely ignorant of the publishing industry, I wasted so much time on social media, chasing influential people, and more or less wringing my hands about the things that didn’t work out.

With a better picture in my mind of what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve invested in tools that make my work time more efficient so I can focus on my creative projects and the freelancing that will help pay the bills.

Understanding the business side of my creative work means I can choose what to ignore and compensate for the gaps that creates. For my independent books I spend very little time courting endorsements or reviews on top blogs. Rather, I focus on sharing guest posts and give out the books liberally to all who will read and review them. It runs against some of the industry advice, but it feels like a good path for my work. It’s a choice that I’ve made with full awareness of my options.

These are the decisions that no one else could make for me. I couldn’t just “trust” the experts to tell me what to do. The experts can tell you what has worked for them and for other people, but they can’t tell you how to chart your creative career.

Most importantly, if you don’t set your own course with the backing of research and self-knowledge, you could end up running from half-baked ideas to half-hearted projects over and over again. It’s far better to spend time focusing on what you need to do and then jumping in with both feet and playing the long game. It’s a risk and you’ll certainly need to make adjustments along the way. However, it’s far better to give yourself to a particular plan in order to know with a fair amount of certainty that it doesn’t work than to dabble in three different directions without a clue about what would actually work if you give yourself fully to one of them. 

There’s a danger for creative workers when it comes to the business side of their work, but the danger in most cases is ignorance of business, rather than selling out. I only have my own network to go on, but I think the number of sell outs to business are far fewer than those who flounder because of ignorance of the business side of their work.

Authenticity and integrity do not demand ignorance of business.

If you value integrity and your creative vision, there’s no harm in learning about the business side of your creative work. Dig in and sort out which advice rings true and which doesn’t. Take a look at how you fit into your industry and how your creative work can either reach more people with this knowledge.

If any particular practice in your creative industry strikes you as troubling or unsustainable, no one will blame you for avoiding it. It’s better to see the opportunities and obstacles with clarity than to avoid them both in ignorance.

 

 

Keep Showing Up and Finishing Stuff

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I didn’t hit rock bottom when I started out as a writer. Sure, I kept failing and struggling for a few years, but that wasn’t the worst part. No, the rock bottom came when I had experienced a little success, had some potential for even more success in the future, and then everything fell to pieces.

I met with a friend a few years ago when I didn’t know what else to do. As we talked through my fragile little career as a writer, I ended up with this resolution: Well, it’s not like anyone can stop me from writing, and it’s still what I know I need to do. So I’ll just keep writing.

In the weeks and months and years that followed that conversation, I kept writing books, pitching proposals, posting on my blog, and publishing independently. I kept sending newsletters. I kept attending conferences and connecting with my writing friends and colleagues.

I don’t know what it looked like on the outside, but I suspect that some people thought I was super focused and on target. From MY side of things, I felt like a wandering hot mess who couldn’t take my work to the next level—whatever that meant. I’m sure my definition of success changed weekly.

I didn’t do too many things right over the past ten years, but here are two things that I know worked: I showed up and I finished stuff.

I showed up to my desk each day to work on my projects and the work my clients needed. I showed up at conferences despite my track record of failures, and I kept connecting with colleagues and friends in Facebook groups despite my insecurities.

I won’t say that I’ve arrived or achieved success or reached any kind of milestone. Rather, I’m working on giving up these measurements and labels. This is the cliché of all Christian writing clichés. I’ve rolled my eyes when other writers shared it with me. But today, this is the truest and most helpful thing I have learned: My only goal in writing is to be faithful.

For me, being faithful means I show up and I finish stuff.

During a panel on independent publishing at the Festival of Faith and Writing I saw this same thread come up with each panelist, especially with Andi Cumbo-Floyd, Kris Camealy, and Shawn Smucker (see also this). Shawn shared, “Finishing stuff is important.” As those words sunk in, I realized that was at the heart of my resolution a few years back as I discussed my future with my friend. They could each write their own versions of this post, and I suspect that the message of each post would be roughly the same: show up and finish stuff.

No one can stop you from showing up, writing, and finishing stuff. Sure, people won’t read it, editors will reject it, and eager Facebook posts about your new project will slip away unnoticed into the ether. You’ll show up at events and wander around in search of conversations while everyone else seems to know everyone else. You’ll get really close to a big break, and then it will fall apart, never to materialize again—or so it seems.

I’ve been through all of this: the loneliness, the feeling out of place, the failure, the years of not being read, and the gnawing fear that I don’t belong anywhere and that perhaps there’s no hope for me to do anything meaningful or worthwhile.

I kept showing up to write because I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself. I kept showing up at writing events because it was the only place that made sense for me. I don’t know what it means to be successful any more, and there are times when I want to be more successful and times when I genuinely fear success. I know enough people who have suffered through the downside of success to believe that “success” at any level won’t solve all of my problems. Some days “success” just feels like exchanging one set of headaches and risks for another set of headaches and risks.

I don’t know what the best path forward is for myself most days or what the next step should be after enjoying a little bit of success here and there. I think that’s why these words ring true: “Show up and finish stuff.” It applies to any season and situation. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re on the brink of a major break, showing up and finishing stuff isn’t about measurements or goals or accolades. It’s about faithfulness and sticking with the things that God places before us.

To a certain degree we all start out with the same insecurities, struggles, and failures. No one gains experience without a ton of ground work and failure. Every successful writer I know has a very similar story of laboring over their work for years in obscurity. They suffered heartbreaks and failures. They were rejected and ignored. Of course all of these things hurt. They were devastating. Believe me, I could talk your ears off with all of my own stories of heartbreak and disappointment and devastation. How many hours do you have?

They all kept showing up and finishing stuff. And sure, they did other things. They learned and experimented and took risks and networked. That doesn’t mean they didn’t try out some different ways to make connections with readers. However, they did the work and kept showing up because they knew that faithfully doing the work and following through was their only calling card.

I honestly have equal respect for the person who has written several unpublished books and the person with multiple bestsellers. I think both people get it. They know what it’s like to faithfully show up, do the work, and finish. If that isn’t enough right now, I’m not sure what will make things that much better.

May we find the fulfillment and peace we crave in the simplicity of faithfulness. May we never believe the lie that online accolades and paper contracts are the measuring sticks of faithfully sharing the gifts we have been given from God.

A Big Risk Isn’t Always What You Think

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I  often compare the risk of releasing a book with jumping off a cliff. I don’t know what waits over the edge, how far I’ll drop, or how I’ll land.

As I prepared for Write without Crushing Your Soul to release, I had an epiphany of sorts: anything related to my work isn’t an actual cliff. Yes, my work is important, but the stakes aren’t “cliff jumping” high.

A major challenge at work or with a family member or some other situation in life may appear to be a leap off a cliff. It may feel like a major leap in the moment. The reality is that such situations are more of a ledge or a wall, not a massive leap into the unknown that could make or break us.

I have made the mistake of assuming too much was riding on the success of my work.

My work is important, but it’s not a cliff.

The cliff I’ve had to jump of off, sometimes every day, revolves around my identity, whether I know that I am God’s beloved, and whether I can let something wholly beyond myself carry me to safety when I leap.

Each day I can find my identity in my work, in what other people think of me, or in some other talent or skill. I can take the leap into my day and expect these accomplishments or people to carry me to safety.

Richard Rohr reminds us that you can’t really do anything to find your true self in God. You can only nurture it and give it room to take hold in your life.

Each day I’m faced with a decision to work harder at validating my identity or resting deeper in my identity as God’s beloved.

Life can be terrifying sometimes. We face pain, loss, disappointment, and struggle. We can feel like we’ll never dig ourselves out of the mountain of work, debt, and failure we’ve amassed.

As I jump off the cliff, the reality I am slow to realize is this: I am already held even before my feet leave the ground. I am held safe in Christ as his beloved child, and if that isn’t good enough before I jump, it sure won’t be good enough after I jump.

Every failure, every stumble, every time we fall flat on our faces after a giant leap is painful, but these are never the end.

Write without Crushing Your Soul is primarily addressed to writers, but the central message in this book extends to any kind of work that threatens to supplant your identity as God’s beloved.

Sustainable work that doesn’t crush our souls means we fight tooth and nail to preserve a place where God can whisper the truth about ourselves.

Sustainable work means we stop listening to every self-crowned master, expert, super-ninja, and high flying CEO who weigh us down with impossible to-do lists and impossible goals that may well only crush our souls.

Sustainable work means we work to set and reset boundaries and more limited goals because we understand that our calling to work is below our calling to God and our calling to others.

Failure isn’t just an option. It’s inevitable. And when you do fail at your work, there’s nothing that can touch the furious longing of God for you. There’s nothing about your work that has to end your relationships.

You are held and loved today, so take the leap, use your talents to do your best work possible, and don’t worry about the moment after you jump.

 

This post was originally sent to my newsletter subscribers. You can join my bi-weekly email list and get two free eBooks.

 

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Write without Crushing Your Soul: The Trap of Doing What You Love

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Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that we’ll find personal fulfillment by throwing ourselves into a job that we’ll love. In fact, the lure of a “dream job” could even lead to justifying an unhealthy obsession with our work.

While freelance writing or book publishing could provide a much more satisfying and flexible career for many, it’s certainly no substitute for the fulfillment that comes from cultivating a healthy prayer life, family life, and interior life.

Writing professionally and sustainably should force us to make some tough decisions and sacrifices, but those sacrifices shouldn’t extend to our families and spiritual lives.

If anything, a healthy spiritual life has been extremely important in my productivity as a writer. If I’m ever feeling stuck on a writing project, the solution isn’t necessarily to work into the evening. I typically need some time to rest, collect my thoughts, read a book, or just let my mind wander in order to be fully present for my family and for others.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

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Write without Crushing Your Soul: The Gifts of Rejection and Failure

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As you begin the writing process, remember this: nothing is wasted. If you want to write sustainably for years to come, every word you write is an investment in yourself as a writer.

Stop focusing on your output each month as the measure of your success. It’s more important that you’re learning and developing: creating healthy habits for outlining, writing first drafts with reckless abandon, and then revising with patience and awareness of your audience.

Over and over again, I’ve learned that there’s no shame in trying something new. Sometimes we fear the appearance of failure that we end up digging ourselves into deeper holes that make the sense of failure greater and greater. At a certain point we don’t just fear failure. We lose hope.

Rejection can be a terrible trial, but it can also prove extremely helpful for your soul. The rejection you face as a writer will force you to either live in misery or to find your soul’s true rest in Christ.

Any success you experience will fade with time, so the only real options you’ll eventually face boil down to disappointment in the counterfeit identity you’ve created as a successful writer or your real identity before God.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

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Write without Crushing Your Soul: Fighting Envy with Faithfulness

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While every writer should learn from others and should be personally confident in his/her own abilities, once we give in to the scarcity mentality, we distract ourselves, discourage ourselves from doing our best work, and make our success about what others are did yesterday than what we can do today. There are plenty of opportunities for all of us to grow and succeed.

The best cure I’ve found for envy is to focus on my own gifts, calling, and readers. In fact, it’s quite an insult to my readers if I spend all of my time envying someone else’s success. I’m essentially telling readers that they’re following the wrong writer!

When I focus on serving my own readers and give up on the soul-sucking envy that is fed by unhealthy comparison, I can direct my energy toward my own calling and audience.”

We have the rather obvious and basic task of accepting that we can only move forward from where we’re at instead of wishing we were further along or had made different choices. In addition, we can only go so far as our gifts and personal callings.

The good news is that we can often do more and go further than we expect. The bad news is that we often focus on the wrong things and the wrong direction.

We see someone else’s accomplishments and begin to desire them for ourselves. Another person’s calling may be the worst thing for us since we may not have the capacity to handle what others have. That is a humbling and freeing lesson!

We each have to figure out our own paths, even if we can learn a lot from those who have been more successful in different capacities and callings.

As I’ve let go of my hopes to duplicate the success of others, I’ve found a greater sense of peace with who I am and what I’m called to do. That has made me a calmer, gentler, kinder person.

I don’t resent writers who have been more successful, and when the successful complain about the challenges they face, I’m at least aware of when I start to resent them.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

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Hope for Weary and Discouraged Writers

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My book Write without Crushing Your Soul started with a very open-ended question while chatting with a group of Christian writers:

What surprised you about book publishing?

I kept my unfiltered response to myself, but I knew what I should have said:

It hurt like hell and crushed my soul over and over and over again.

To my surprise, a colleague who has published several well-received books with large publishers commented:

“I wasn’t prepared for how much publishing would hurt.”

His honest, vulnerable answer gave the rest of us permission to let out a kind of collective sigh of relief and weigh in with our own failures, disappointments, and struggles. We all had stories of pain and disappointment. Several expressed a fear that aspects of the publishing process were toxic for their souls.

No one was planning to give up on their publishing careers or putting an end to the writing they do for an audience. We were all committed to our work for the long term. However, we didn’t realize how unsustainable publishing has become for so many.

The pain and the challenges that face many writers today can wear you down if you don’t have sustainable practices and a pace that enables you to stick with it for the long term.

This is why I started working on How to Write without Crushing Your Soul.

  • Disappointments will come in book publishing
  • Sales will usually be disappointing.
  • Some reviews will be “meh.”
  • The influential people you care about won’t care about your book.
  • The promotions you plan may flop.
  • The stuff that you considered brilliant will be largely ignored.

And it gets more challenging if you work with a commercial publisher:

  • If you’ve never been a fan of social media, you’ll be expected to jump into it with both feet.
  • If you’ve never thought about how to sell books, you need to become an expert of sorts.
  • If you’ve never launched a book before, prepare yourself for a time-consuming, emotional roller coaster ride.
  • If you’ve never hosted a book event before, prepare yourself for either tough questions or an empty room.

I’ve been on just about every side of publishing. I’ve released books that succeeded and books that flopped. I’ve released books that were well-received by colleagues and books that hardly turned heads. I’ve heard from publishers that my email list and social media followers are ideal, and I’ve heard that I have no business publishing books.

Despite all of these ups and downs, I still persist in book publishing and know so many other writers who take on all of these same risks because there is something holy and freeing about the work.

Writers are creating something intensely personal and sharing it with the world in the hope that it will help their readers. It can be crushing to see that work go unread.

For those who persist to discover what their audiences need and how to reach them, it can be immensely fulfilling to see that work connect with readers.

How do we preserve our souls while still actively engaging in this important work?

We’ll find our own answers in two places: our mindsets and our practices.

For your mindset, begin here:

Writing cannot, in any way, shape, or form, become the source of your identity. Only God can give that to you.

A bad day, week, month, or year as a writer does not, in any way, diminish God’s love for you.

Writing is a calling to serve your audience.

The moment writing becomes a means of personal validation, you’ve handed over immense power to other people—power they don’t even want.

When “God so loved the world…” stops being enough for you, you’ll set off on a never-ending, diversion that will leave you restless and completely devoid of peace.

Writing from this place will be miserable, and it will be especially hard to bless others because the goal of writing is personal validation, not serving others.

Secondly, focusing your practices can also go a long way in saving your soul.

You can find plenty of posts sharing 50 ways to promote your book or 20 ways to grow your online platform, but most of us just need the two or three most effective ways to promote your book or writing.

Most of the writers I know who have enjoyed significant success have invested in just a few tools for connecting with readers, and everything else grows as a result. For instance, some popular bloggers I know focus on writing great posts and then hosting related conversations on their Facebook pages. I’ve personally chosen to publish short eBooks that I give away for free and then write personal email newsletters bi-weekly to those readers.

There are lots of different ways to reach readers. You can focus on developing Instagram, a podcast, Periscope videos, a weekly email newsletter, Thunderclap campaigns, or a blog that serves a niche of readers. When you’re releasing a book, don’t overlook advertising options such as Facebook ads or eBook discount sites—most of these are affordable or have lower cost options. Like I mentioned before, there are at least 50 ways to reach more readers with your writing.

Only you can tell what lines up the best with your personal talents, calling, and soul care.

Finding readers can be exhausting, so it’s best to develop the most sustainable ways that won’t eat away at your creative time, family time, and spiritual renewal.

You can’t win at everything. You can’t do it all. You’ll never be done.

I’m not a publicist by trade. I’m an author, but as more of the publicity work rests on authors, I’ve been forced to look long and hard for sustainable publicity practices for my writing work.

Perhaps the most important rule is that we need boundaries. We have to test out a few practices and then invest in those that land in the sweet spot between what works and what’s sustainable for us.

*****

A certain level of struggle and pain will be inevitable for writers. There’s no getting past that. When I talk to new writers and aspiring authors, I’m always quick to mention that writing for an audience will always bring some level of pain and struggle. It will be especially difficult for book publishing.

That isn’t to say it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done or that some authors have had an easier time at it than others.

My hope and my prayer for the readers of Write without Crushing Your Soul is that they’ll be prepared at the outset for the challenges and hardships coming their way as they set out on their writing careers.

I want my readers to be empowered to make the best possible decisions for their souls, their relationships, and their work.

I want my readers to be as prepared as possible for what awaits them so that they can fulfill their calling to write while keeping their souls healthy for the long term.

 

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

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Write without Crushing Your Soul Preview: What Sets Healthy Writers Apart

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In order to write sustainably, you need to relentlessly be yourself. That isn’t necessarily the same thing as following a calling or your dreams. The difference is essential, in fact.

The writers who lead the most sustainable careers, at least in my circles, are the ones who recognize how they’re wired and have a sense of how God has gifted them. They know what kind of writing is their own true north, but they also recognize when they need to take on work in order to make ends meet. They also have a clear sense of what drains them and what their limits are.

We all have our parts to play, but we’ll only find contentment if we invest in seeking our own roles and joyfully carrying them out.

Sustainability means you can keep writing for the long haul even after receiving bad news from an editor, failing to land a client, or making a huge mistake on your website.

If you’re truly drawn to something and you know your role in the grand scheme of things, how can you stop yourself, let alone let anyone stop you?

 

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing. Regular eBook price is $3.99

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An Interview with Tara Owens on How Writers Care for Their Souls

What does soul care look like for writers?

What is the most important aspect of a writer’s career?

These are just a few of the questions I was fortunate enough to ask author and spiritual director Tara Owens when our paths crossed. We sat down for a 40-minute chat in a Barnes and Noble  (Note: the background music is loud but not overpowering, and I’ll happily send the file to anyone who can help remove it!). We also spent a little time discussing my new book, Write, Without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing, which releases November 10th and is available for a $1.99 pre-order until then.

Enjoy the interview!

Listen on SoundCloud or the direct file

Order the eBook version of
Write without Crushing Your Soul for just $3.99 today.

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About Tara Owens
Tara is a spiritual director and founder of Anam Cara Ministries, which is dedicated to the practice of soul friendship, of coming alongside in order to facilitate healing, wholeness, holiness and spiritual formation.  Check out her highly acclaimed book Embracing the Body. Reviewer Kristine Morris writes, “Through a gentle, compassionate exploration of our thoughts and feelings about our bodies, enhanced with exercises for reflection, Owens helps us to learn what it means to be at home in our own skin and sensitive to the body’s innate wisdom.”

Celebrate Father’s Day by Pre-Ordering First Draft Father for $.99

First Draft FatherSurprise! I’m celebrating Father’s Day by announcing my new book that’s “due” on July 14th and offering a $.99 pre-order on Kindle.
First Draft Father: An Anxiety-Ridden Writer’s Unedited Introduction to Parenthood
The Story
After a lot of promptings from friends and family, I converted my popular First Draft Father blog series and related posts into this book. I’m releasing it on July 14th in both print and a variety of eBook formats the ($.99 pre-order ends on release).

About First Draft Father

The only thing author Ed Cyzewski feared more than a rejection email was parenthood.
After struggling to establish himself as a full time writer in his 20’s, he began his 30’s with more questions about his career, more anxiety about parenthood, and a baby on the way. First Draft Father documents the rough draft of a new father’s experience working from home through a weekly journal. Along the way his faith and writing career were revised in ways he never expected.