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.



Less Platform, More Sanity


I’m posting less on my blog these days, but I may be writing just as much compared to times past. The difference is that over half of my posts stay on my computer where no one else will ever read them.

I don’t feel bad about these unread posts. I needed to write them. Otherwise they would continue to buzz around in my head, demanding my attention and trumpeting their worth and, at times, “genius.”

In truth, I suspect that I would have posted almost all of them in the past. Such has been the pressure to pump up my blog numbers, to keep people engaged on social media, and to, let’s be honest, stir the post just a bit from time to time.

Now that I’ve stepped out of the traditional publishing platform rat race for the foreseeable future, I’m letting posts develop at their own pace and evaluating them with a far more critical eye. Some need a few weeks to settle into themselves. Others are ready to go after a bit of tweaking. And still far many more are done after the writing. The latter is a good thing.

I didn’t realize how badly I needed to just write things down and end it there. I often have an idea or the kernel of an idea bouncing around in my brain, and it can be such a relief to finally see it appear on a page. Once it lands there, I can make a sound judgment about its merits.

This has come into focus for me as I started praying with the Examen. Just writing out the good and the bad parts of my day on the “Examine” app provided clarity and a simple chance to vent a little. I have a moment of bracing honesty each day where I can tell myself, “There, I said it!”

I found that processing my issues in a private way via the Examen provided just as much if not more relief than a more public processing on my blog.

I still believe that blog posts are an important first draft of my ideas. I still think that blogging can be a helpful way to process ideas in public. I still love the idea of writing the best piece of short form content possible and then immediately finding out what readers think. As an author who develops book ideas for years, this immediacy is a blessed relief.

Every person who leaves his twenties behind and starts to stare down middle age or “old” age, whatever that is now, likes to think that some wisdom and gentleness has been added to the mix over time. Whether you call that moving from the first half of life to the second half of life, mellowing with age, or simply realizing that you were a bit of a jerk in the past, a bit of evolution on our parts strikes me as appropriate. I hope that I write differently ten years, twenty years, and even, gasp, thirty years from now.

At this point in my life, sacrificing a bit of consistency for the sake of picking only my best thoughts, rather than sharing ALL of my thoughts, feels like either a wise or a “less dumb” shift. I truly do need to write a lot, but it doesn’t all necessarily need to be shared.

Removing myself from the race to keep growing my blogging platform in order to catch a publisher’s eye finally gave me permission to let up a bit. I still care deeply about reaching more readers with my writing, but my higher priority is letting my work evolve at its own pace and recognizing that oftentimes my writing is only for my own eyes.

Perhaps it would be easier to write for others if I could first learn to write for myself.

Your Writing Problem Isn’t Too Little Time

bombI’m all for peaceful, non-combative metaphors that describe the work of writing and any other creative pursuit. However, when it comes to time management and creating space to write, only military metaphors can truly capture what’s going on today.

Brands, companies, and marketers are waging war against you. The battle is for your time and money.

Companies are on a full war footing, invading your visual and audio space through any means possible. Cell phones are mobile advertising tools that just happen to be phones. Computers are being turned into ad placement billboards that happen to provide productivity tools. Television and radio dump ads into our lives at a blinding speed along with our favorite shows and sports.

When I walk down the street I see ads on billboards, newspaper stands, buses, and benches. I could be listening to a podcast sponsored by a company. I could also browse the internet on my phone and buy anything from shoes to a new computer.

With so many companies desperately working to catch your attention so that they can sell you something and keep their profits rising, your only choice is to counterattack by working all the harder to guard your mind and your creative time.

Today, you don’t just happen to write. There are far too many distractions around, and many of those distractions are linked to selling products for companies that need to keep selling products in order to survive. They NEED to distract you. That is a huge part of their marketing plan. With so many options for how we can spend our time, writers must be equally intentional and strategic.

Here are some of the ways I fight back:

How to Start the Day

I make a list of everything I need to do each day. The night before I leave my to do list on my desk and note what I’ll do first. I have a backup project in case I get stuck.

Social Media Boundaries

I only look at social media on my tablet while standing in the kitchen in the morning. Once I sit down to work, I try to avoid the internet altogether until after two hours of work. I don’t visit Facebook unless I know what I’ll be doing next.

Use Pen and Paper

By using pen and paper to outline and draft my chapters, I can provide myself with extremely focused writing time. In addition, I usually revise my first drafts significantly, so drafting it on paper makes it easier to revise a chapter when I enter it into a computer. When I get into the hard work of book editing, I often print out my chapter and make changes with my pen first.

Understand How Habits Work

I learned that my first move when I get stuck on a writing project is to bail out and check my email. That has been my habit for years now. Once I realized that I was using email as a pressure relief valve, I started using Freedom to cut off my internet connection while working on an offline project. If I need to be online, I try to set time goals for myself so that I have a better incentive to stay focused.

Take Breaks that Make a Difference

The sweet spot for advertisers is the bored, listless, or frustrated consumer who is looking for something to make him/her feel better. I’ll be the first to admit that I like wearing my new hiking shoes and our new car is a pleasure to drive. Buying new things brings a measure of happiness and a rush of sorts. However, if your goal is to write a book, to post to a blog regularly, or to get published in a magazine, you’ll need clearly defined work time and leisure time.

Read books that will expand your imagination or teach you something you can write about. Take a walk without a phone or headphones on to clear your mind (bring along a little notebook too!). Watch a creative or inspiring show that will help you relax without tuning in for an all-day marathon. Leisure is great, but only if you use it to refresh yourself rather than making it the goal of your life.


Does This Resonate with You?

If developing a strategy for your writing and creative time makes sense to you and you live within driving distance of southwest Michigan, consider joining myself and fellow writer Kristin Tennant for the Renew & Refine Retreat for Writers on May 24-26.

We’ll provide professional, creative, and spiritual sessions for writers looking to take their work to the next level. And best yet, our early bird rate of $225 includes all sessions, meals, and lodging (It increases by $50 on April 1st).

Learn more at today!

Welcome! If You’re New, Start Here

I’m the author of multiple books, including the Kindle bestsellers A Christian Survival Guide; Pray, Write, Grow; Coffeehouse Theology; and Write without Crushing Your Soul. I freelance (mostly book editing, author coaching, and website content) and write books in Columbus, OH.

The best way to keep in touch is subscribing to my e-mail newsletter. You receive:

  1. TWO free eBooks: Become a Better Faith Blogger and Why We Run from God’s Love.
  2. Book discounts and updates about my latest projects.
  3. Reflections on prayer and writing, as well as off the record publishing lessons.
  4. I write about twice per month, and I never spam or share my list.


Not convinced? Check out a sample e-newsletter.

Never miss a blog post by subscribing to receive new posts via email.

How to Claim You Are a Rock Star When You Are Not a Rock Star

There are all kinds of people today on social media who call themselves “rock stars” who are most decidedly NOT rock stars. This can be confusing.

How does one arrive at such a position without having accomplished any of the required “rocking” or “stardom” that is typically associated with rock stars?

Don’t worry, I’m a professional writer, and I’m here to help. While I am not a rock star in either the literal or self-proclaimed sense, I have observed enough self-proclaimed rock stars to cobble together a handy little guide that will show you the can’t-fail path to self-proclaimed rock stardom:

Step 1: Choose A Non-Rock Career

Choose a career path that is most certainly not related to rock music—the more boring and technical, the better. For example, marketing, website design, or social media consulting are particularly fertile careers for non-rock stars to claim rock star status.

Step 2: Adopt a Peppy Tone

Rock stars are passionate, off the chain characters who defy bland copywriting. Jazz up your website’s about me pages and social media profiles with peppy descriptions of how awesome you are. You’re really living on the edge if you can also claim you’re a ninja while weighing over your recommended body mass index.

Step 3: Crown Yourself a Rock Star

Peppy copy alone does not make you a rock star. Rock stars are self-confident and cocky enough to call themselves “rock stars,” critics be damned. Claiming rock star status for yourself, even if you’re hardly a social media maven or a blogging guru, is about going out there and taking what’s yours.

You know you’re a rock star already, so go out there and type it into your profile now, you… you… rock star.

The Benefits of a Limited Social Media Fast

During the 40 days of Lent, I decided to fast from social media in a limited sort of way. While I know it’s probably more common to quit these things cold turkey, I didn’t think that 40 days separated from social media would actually provide the benefits I needed for the long term.

The Problem

I was using Twitter and Facebook as sources of constant distraction from my work, family, and spiritual life. I wanted to use social media as a tool to communicate with potential readers, to network with fellow writers, and to keep in touch with friends. Instead I checked them both an unseemly number of times in search of links, conversations, or anything that I could read.

I responded to any mention or post immediately. Links to interesting posts were pursued, and I left comments without thinking about the time they consumed.

Any time I hit a tough spot in my writing, I’d drop by Twitter or Facebook.

I needed to break my dependency on these tools, while learning how to use them in healthy ways. It wasn’t going to help me if I could quit cold turkey for 40 days, learn a few lessons, and then gradually forget them over the following months while rediscovering the lure of social media again.

I needed a practical way forward so that my personal, spiritual, and work times were equally guarded that would last beyond Lent.

The Plan

I settled on a plan to spend only 30 minutes each day on Twitter and Facebook. To be honest, that seems absurdly long, but in practice the time goes by quickly! I broke it into 3 ten-minute slots. This meant that I needed to make the most of my time online and if I really wanted to interact with people, I needed to space my time out.

This required a decent amount of discipline, since I wanted to think of interesting things to say, but I also wanted to read what other people were sharing. I didn’t have unlimited time to follow blog posts and links.

In addition, effectively tracking your friends on a tool like Tweetdeck, as I do, I needed to leave Tweetdeck open for a while before I could look at it. I hide my menu bar so as to limit the temptation, but I still knew it was there.

The Results

While I certainly missed my sources of distraction, I soon appreciated the limits of my fast. Sometimes I followed links and ended up reading them beyond my time limit, so I had to subtract time from my next 10-minute session. I probably interacted online a lot less to my detriment in some ways, but I also thought a lot more about effectively using my limited time, which is a real benefit.

I’m most grateful that I broke the habit of checking social media first thing in the morning. Instead I spend my early morning time writing fiction, drinking coffee, reading scripture, and praying. My mornings are SO much better without Twitter and Facebook.

Waiting until 11 AM or later for social media really helps me use my most productive times in the most effective ways—both for work and spiritual growth. I never catch myself thinking, “Damn, I wish I’d spent 30 minutes on Twitter this morning instead of praying or editing my novel!”

In addition, HubSpot marketing found that more people are willing to retweet something on Twitter around 11 AM, so I really have no reason to use Twitter before 11 AM. I can share my links and socialize at 11 AM just fine.

Perhaps my biggest problem was that I found new distractions such as checking my e-mail, but even that was a bit easier to resist since it’s much easier to convince myself that no new e-mails have arrived in the past 15 minutes. Twitter guarantees fresh content. In addition, an empty inbox isn’t all that distracting even on my worst day.

Here are some outcomes from my limited fast:

  • I now budget an extra 30 minutes for blog reading and networking.
  • I stick to the 3 ten-minute social media sessions on Tweetdeck and Facebook. I aim for 11 AM, 2 PM, and 5 PM.
  • I try to avoid social media at night. If I want to drop someone a note or need to send a message via Facebook, I can drop in, send the note, and then log off.
  • I allow myself to visit Twitter online if I want to post something, but I can’t do anything else.

How have you dealt with your bad habits in social media? Have you tried sometime different that worked? 

What You Need to Know About Self-Publishing: Solving the Distribution Problem

One of the greatest obstacles that self-published authors will face is finding people to actually buy their books.

Think about it. No one will visit a book store and stumble upon your book. No one will find it on a publisher’s web site. No one will read about it in a catalogue. No one will want to stock in a book store because it’s self-published.

Oh, of course you can sell it online, but how will readers find it?

That is the trick. Can you assemble a realistic marketing plan that will sufficiently take into account all of the setbacks that self-publishing brings, while still connecting with readers on a scale that will ensure you sell enough copies to at least break even?

Ah, distribution is a huge problem for self-published authors. Heck, when self-publishing A Path to Publishing, I still didn’t quite grasp the amount of work ahead of me or the sheer quantity of potentials readers I needed to connect with in my niche.

Where should you start if you’re self-publishing?

For starters, check out my free online marketing guide. That gives both traditional and new ways to market your work.

However, the most important principle in selling books is to make a real connection with a potential reader and to communicate clearly why he or she may want to buy your book. Someone else may be able to do that for you by way of an endorsement or a review, but kicking it all off depends on you and you alone.

I began this series saying that “self” is the key word when it comes to “self-publishing”. If you have any hopes of selling your book, make sure you have more than Plan A and B for distributing your book. You’ll probably need to have plans that range from A to Z.

Your job is to find the communities, blogs, forums, Twitter users, Facebook users, groups, societies, and any other group of potential readers in your content niche. That is the publishing sales game in a nutshell, and it’s a tough one on your own!

What You Need to Know About Self-Publishing: Get Known First

In conjunction with the release of my self-published book A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book, I’m offering this series of posts on what you need to know about self-publishing.

When you’re self-publishing all of the work falls on you, the author. No matter how much published authors complain about the lack of marketing support provided by their publishers, which can be spotty at times, the worst publicist will do more than upload a file to a web site, which is all you’re doing when self-publishing.

The Basic Ways Publishers Market

Publishers have established lists of contacts who receive their catalogues, e-mail newsletters, and browse their web sites. They represent authors at book stores and can send releases out to major press services—something that can be quite costly to do on your own.

The staff at publishers generally have social media accounts and blogs, and they may even generate some buzz for your book through these tools. At the very least these publishing professionals will tell potential readers about your book. You’ll at least have a few warm bodies with a measure of interest in selling your book.

Any way you slice it, the least that a publisher provides still puts their authors way ahead of the self-published ones.

What Self-Published Authors Need to Do

While it’s important to seek out some reputable endorsers and reviewers who have a large group of readers, I don’t think self-published authors realize the number of readers they need to pull off a self-published book that sells more than 25-50 copies. Simply put, self-published authors need a massive number of connections with potential readers.

The “potential reader” part of this is crucial. Authors may have lots of “connections” through social media, their blogs, or more traditional means, but many of these connections may not view their books as something they’ll want to purchase.

I’ve done quite a bit of networking, but I have been reading Crush It! by social media expert and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, and he’s been blowing my mind. I usually drop by some blogs to leave comments and contribute to writing forums, but he advocates a scale of networking that few would ever consider.

I sure didn’t!

I could try to describe it to you, but to be honest, I’d be doing you a disservice because I can’t do his methods justice. Crush It! is available at a pretty low price as a Video Book, which I highly recommend, though it’s also available in print. You may not do everything Vaynerchuk suggests, but I think he’ll give self-published authors the reality check they need about how involved the marketing process will be for their books.

An author who is new to the publishing process will underestimate the amount of work necessary for marketing. Count on it. As a published author I still underestimate the amount of work I need to do. Before you invest heavily into a book, begin marketing yourself and making connections today. It’s a worthwhile investment you won’t regret.   

Next Steps

What You Need to Know about Self-Publishing: Know the Publishing Business

PTP150 In celebration of my latest book, A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book, I will be posting a series on what you need to know about self-publishing. I chose to self-publish A Path to Publishing and discovered an enormous amount of material online, but some of it was dated. Over the coming weeks I will provide an updated guide to self-publishing today based on my latest experiences.

What Self-Publishing Involves

The most important word in self-publishing is “self,” not publishing. The publishing part is fun. The self part is not.

Of course self-published authors boast higher royalties, greater control, and many other benefits. These are all true to a certain extent, but consider what you’ll need to organize by yourself:

  • Researching the market and audience for your book.
  • Outlining, writing, and editing.
  • Researching a publisher and comparing the various packages.
  • Paying for and organizing the editing, design, printing, and distribution (which of course will vary).
  • Putting together a marketing plan.
  • Creating a publicity kit
  • Contacting bloggers, radio producers, newspaper editors, and other media outlets about your book’s release.
  • Contacting independent and chain book stores to set up book events. Many of them will not call you back because you are self-published.
  • Finding conferences where you can sell your book—that is, if you pay for the space.
  • Setting up book events and eating the cost if they flop.

Granted, many publishers today are quite light on the marketing end of things, especially for nonfiction books where a marketing platform is essential for new authors. That being said, at least having someone who is paid to help you send out press releases and to advise you on ideas can save you a lot of time and frustration. In other words, even the publisher who provides minimal help with marketing a book is still way better than doing everything yourself.

What You Need to Know about the Publishing Business

If all of this is new to you, then I’m guessing you’ve never commercially published a book. While self-publishing is easy to jump into from the standpoint of writing and printing a book, making it into a product that someone will actually deem worthy of $15 is quite another matter.

Here are a few things you need to know about publishing as a business:

  • Most books need significant editorial development.
  • It takes time to learn how to write for a specific audience.
  • A bad cover and sloppy interior design can be fatal for a book.
  • Distributing a book effectively will take a lot of e-mails and phone calls.
  • Marketing a book is a full time job.

If you want to self-publish and to sell more than 500-1000 books, your work is cut out for you. Thankfully it can be done. In the coming days we’ll discuss the importance of a marketing platform for self-publishing.

Looking for a bit more about publishing right now? Check out A Path to Publishing. It’s available for $10 as an ebook and for $15 as a paperback.

How to Handle Rejection as a Writer: It’s Not You, It’s Me…

Rejection is not always a reflection on you or your work. In fact, there are many good books and articles rejected each day for a variety of reason.

Good books are rejected because of similar books.

You may have a great idea and you may be an incredible writer, but if someone has written a similar book, especially for your publisher, you may be out of luck. In addition, there may be projects in a publisher’s pipeline that you could never know about unless you submitted your proposal.

That isn’t to say that different publishers will back away from your book if there are similar books. You just need to show that it has a unique message or perspective that distinguishes it from its competition.

Good books are rejected because of different focuses at a publisher.

You may have addressed an important topic, and that topic may be within the interests of a publisher, but perhaps you wrote a book that didn’t strike the right angle or genre for that publisher. One publisher may aim for literary books, while others may opt for the academic route.

Good books are rejected because of cuts or changes with editors.

Sometimes publishers may change their focus or even eliminate a line of books. With new editors come new criteria for accepting books. Editorial changes will mean a book that may have been accepted a few months ago will no longer work for a publisher. Timing and luck are huge factors when pitching book and article query letters.

Good books are rejected because editors don’t always know what they want.

While publishers have guidelines and specifications, they don’t always know what book would work best. This is something that some editors themselves have admitted.  See editorial veteran Leonard Goss’ endorsement for my new book A Path to Publishing.

That doesn’t mean that all editors are fickle and indecisive, and you should never tell them what they want. Rather, they always aren’t able to know what exactly will work and what will not. There are plenty of stories of best-selling books passing through a series of rejections before finding success. The moral is that editors are human like you and me, and that publishing is not an exact science—as it should be.

Good books are rejected because of publicity concerns.

Even if you’ve written a great book, some publishers may reject your proposals because they fear they’ll be unable to market it to a particular group of people or that you aren’t popular enough to promote it. Those are big problems for writers to deal with, but at least they aren’t necessarily marks of a poorly written book.

In addition, if you are able to write a good book, you can certainly work on raising your profile and reworking your material so that it speaks more directly to an audience of readers. These are big problems, but they don’t spell doom for you as a writer.