The Hidden Danger of Business for Creative Workers


“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.



Want to Get Published? Get a Discounted Nonfiction Book Proposal Evaluation This May


book-proposal-editingIf there’s one thing that’s tough for new writers, it’s putting together a successful book proposal that effectively pitches a book idea, promotes their qualifications, and demonstrates an ability to market a book to an existing audience of readers.

No one goes into publishing with the experience required to write a good proposal since it combines marketing with top notch writing. Most writers are good at one of those two things, but it’s hard to merge them together into one document.

I’ve been working on book proposals since 2005, and my first book proposal was terrible. I needed someone with experience to help me figure out the best way to make my project clear and appealing. After selling five of my own projects to publishers and advising countless aspiring authors on their proposals, I have an idea of what will and will not work for a nonfiction book proposal.

This past winter I offered a huge discount on nonfiction book proposal evaluations ($200 per evaluation), and I had a great time helping aspiring writers improve their proposals. Now that the end of the semester is here, and I’ll have more time to work on writing projects, I’m offering six discounted evaluations for the month of May at the same rate: $200 per proposal. 

That’s a savings of $100 from my usual price of $300 per proposal. I’ll also toss in a free download of my book A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book. 

Remember, there are only 6 slots available at this price, and it’s first come, first serve. 



How does it work? 

Sign up in the form below during May 2014. I’ll write back as soon as I can.

Send me what you have, including 1-2 sample chapters and any marketing information and a summary of your nonfiction book. I’ll set a deadline for the project and will format what you have into a proposal with feedback on what needs to be rewritten or added.

I can’t promise success, but I can promise feedback and suggestions that will improve your chances of catching an editor or agent’s eye.

Sign up today:

What Could Writers Learn from Monastic Ministry?

writing ministry like monastic ministryWhen I started to take my writing seriously, I hit a point where I had to cut out some interests and leisure activities from my life, including most sports (except hockey OF COURSE), television shows, radio, and almost all of “pop culture” (I dare you to ask me about the latest top 40 songs or movies in theaters). That was the only way to make some space for my work.

There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, and if I wanted to take writing seriously, I had to make some sacrifices. When I saw how badly I wanted to write, these weren’t very difficult sacrifices to make. In fact, I’ve sometimes made a loose connection between my calling to write with the calling of a monk.

Mind you, these are “loose” connections, but it’s not so far-fetched to compare the calling of the writer to the calling of a monk—at least a writer who is committed to seriously writing. In fact, I’d suggest that many writers could stand to learn a bit from the commitments of the monastic way of life.

Without minimizing the commitments of monks, here are a few ways writers resemble monks:


Monks and Writers Withdraw

Monks devote their lives to prayer and work. Some may be more in tune with the times than others, but generally the task of the monk is withdrawing from the pleasures of this world in order more perfectly align themselves with God.

Monks serve as a living signpost of sorts that the goals and promises of our world are fleeting and feeble.

Withdrawing is essential for writers. Writers can’t just hammer out 1,000 words while watching a hockey game or while a kid hammers on your leg with stuffed rabbit—not that I’ve tried to do either…

We have to withdraw for contemplation and reflection in order to feed our writing time. Time for reflection is needed in addition to the actual time we sit down to write.

Those of us with kids and other commitments will need to withdraw in small chunks of time, be that while doing the dishes, showering, driving, or taking a walk. I’ve had to cut way back on my podcasts over the years just to make sure my mind has time to develop ideas before I sit down to write.

If you keep saying, “I don’t have anything to write about,” there’s a good chance you need more time to withdraw and let your mind wander.


Monks and Writers Develop Awareness

From my outsider perspective, it strikes me that a major part of monastic work is learning to become aware—especially aware of what can get in the way of God’s presence. If a monk’s primary task is to commune with God, the first step is to remove the obstacles that get in the way of God.

Writers learn a similar kind of awareness—identifying their emotions, stories, and contexts and then sharing stories and ideas that flesh them out. We have to recognize what drives us, what stirs our anger, and what leaves us devastated.

When we write from this place of awareness, we create meaningful connections with readers. We’ll hear people say, “You put my experiences into words perfectly.”

I don’t think writers have a special “writer sense” that allows us to see the world differently. The main difference is that good writers take time to become aware of the world and then reflect longer.

There aren’t extra hours in a day that writers get. We have to develop our awareness and then let it flow into our writing, testing out different phrases and metaphors as we work on putting it all into words.


Monks and Writers Practice and Practice and Practice

Monks take vows of long-term commitment to their way of life. It is a life-long apprenticeship that they won’t get right overnight.

Writers commit to the long term with their work. Developing a personal style and learning how to effectively communicate with readers in print is no small matter. I started writing for publication back in 2005, and I’m just now starting to understand what I need to aim for in my writing—whether I can actually succeed at connecting with readers in the end is another matter entirely!

Keep working at your writing. Keep practicing draft after draft after draft. I have found that new writers, myself included, tend to overestimate their abilities, even if they have to overcome their insecurities in the first place. There’s no way around it. We have to labor over our words, absorb feedback, and keep hammering at our keyboards and scratching with our pens.


Monks and Writers Serve

Writing serves others just as monks have a calling to serve the church. They create a space for the holy through both their monasteries and their practices. Whether monks host retreats, intercede for others, or provide for the needs of others, the monastic life is not self-serving.

Writers learn this lesson as they figure out  how to write for an audience, providing what their readers need and connecting with them on a level that matters to them. When I started out as a writer, I tended to “preach” to my readers. I ranted and lectured.

I’m still learning to this day the art of writing books that say, “Do you struggle with this? Me too, here’s my story…” It’s far easier to just tell people what to think. That can be a ministry I suppose, but ministry is far more likely to happen when we share the stories of our imperfections and struggles, inviting readers to join us as we try to sort things out.


Is This a Stretch?

It may be a stretch to compare writers and monks, but if Micha Boyett can compare stay at home moms to monks, it’s worth a shot. My experience of monasticism is limited to what I have read and to a few conversations with monks. It’s not exhaustive by any means.

Nevertheless, I can’t help noticing the connections between the ministry of monks and the ministry of writers. And if we can’t imagine how a writer could possibly be like a monk, perhaps we’d be better off if we could start imagining such a notion and give it a shot next time we struggle to focus or hit a creative roadblock.

Why Hire a Professional Writer? 5 Reasons to Hire a Writer

Perhaps you’re running a business, and you’re considering whether it’s really worth hiring a writer to put together a communications piece. Or perhaps you’re a writer hoping to be hired by a company, but you aren’t quite sure how to quantify the value you bring.

Based on my experiences as a freelance writer over the past five years, here are some reasons why it’s worth hiring a professional writer:

  • Writers offer an outside perspective and feedback that add clarity to a message.
  • Writers choose stronger and fewer words in the pursuit of clarity.
  • Writers know how to delete the parts of a message that aren’t working.
  • Writers have experience quickly recognizing problems in a book, article, or communications piece.
  • Writers with experience know techniques and forms that work for particular writing pieces.

Whether editing a book or writing copy for a web site, I find that my clients usually hire me because I can quickly write something clear and concise. Most of my clients feel lost in a forest of words and ideas, and I chop out the non-essentials that are obscuring the path forward, leaving the sturdy trees and adding blazes so they know which way to go.

In fact, my book A Path to Publishing does something quite similar for prospective authors.

Ironically, even the most talented authors need talented editors, who are also skilled writers by another name, to eliminate rabbit trails and dead ends. That’s because no matter how good you are, when it’s your own book, article, press release, web site, newsletter, or whatever else, you’re often too close to the material to effectively evaluate its clarity.

That’s where writers can prove invaluable. Every author and business has something to communicate, and writers help send that message out quickly and effectively.

However, the monetary value of a writer’s work is quite another matter, even if we can all appreciate the need for writers today. A fair wage for writers is where we’re going next, though I can’t promise to be completely objective on that one.

Should You Edit Your Twitter Updates?

Yesterday I almost sent out a press release with a horrendous sentence in it that would have made nuns weep. Are you ready for this?

“Actor NAME will be dramatizing the birth of Jesus.”

I wrote the release late one night, sent it to someone else, edited it the next day with that person’s feedback, and then I opened it the following day to give it one last read-through.

Then I caught it.

Two sets of eyes reading through the release a total of four times before catching that whopper of a sentence. And that got me thinking, are there any other forms of communication where we need to exercise extra caution with the words we use?

If there’s one medium that welcomes, nay begs, for gaffs and awkward statements, it has to be Twitter. Designed for quick, instantaneous communication, Twitter allows us to share anything we’re thinking with thousands of people with a tap of the finger.

The possibility of saying something so stupid, so quickly to so many takes my breath away.

I worry about having moments like Michael Scott (a la The Office) where I’ll mean one thing and inadvertently say something offensive or rude when the words leave my lips. That’s why I fear on Twitter.

While I may have deleted a few tweets in my day, more often than not I simply abstain from tweeting anything that could possibly be misconstrued. In addition, I read and reread my tweets before I send them out into the world.

And yet, I still worry about writing something dumb.

How I communicate with others is important, and I want everything I send out to have some kind of value as information, humor, a question, or encouragement. Misspelled words, bad grammar, or a careless phrase damages the overall impact and value of the rest of my communication on Twitter.

Even if a tweet can be deleted, damage may be done among those who read an errant tweet before it’s removed. The words we use matter, even they’re part of an endless stream of 140-character messages that flood the internet. The last thing you want is to be noticed for the wrong kind of message.

A Writer’s Secret Weapon: Honest Feedback


When I wrote a short story for a contest a few months ago I gave it to my wife and to a friend for feedback. They both love to read, but I hadn’t anticipated the results.

My wife felt comfortable telling me that it was terrible. My friend just said it was alright.

I thought they would both say something similar, but my wife ended up giving me the feedback I needed in order to rework my story. She was right. The original one didn’t work.

Paying $15 to enter a lousy story into a contest is not my goal.

Just about every article that passes the “wife test” is accepted by an editor or at least receives praise. One story, that passed the wife test, even received an honorable mention in a Glimmer Train contest.

I’m lucky to have such a talented reader in my home that I can trust implicitly to provide honest feedback. She is my secret weapon who has saved me a lot of disappointment and frustration in the long run.

I have read similar stories from writers who rely heavily upon one trusted reader who is sometimes a spouse and other times a member of a critique group. Keep in mind that a spouse is not always the best choice for feedback.

What to look for in a reader:

  • Interest in the same subject matter.
  • Attention to the details in your genre (eg. what makes for a good plot in a novel).
  • Trust and comfort to tell you the truth.

No writer can catch all of his/her mistakes. If there’s a hole in an argument, a weak point in the plot, or an explanation that falls flat, oftentimes an attentive and critical reader is one of the safest bets in finding them. If you’re waiting for an editor to catch your mistakes, chances are you’ll just receive a form letter saying, “Your work does not meet our current needs.”

That could be a clue that you really need better feedback before you submit your work.