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.



Lessons in Self-Publishing: Format It Correctly or Else…

While no one will dispute the importance of writing a great book and making sure you connect with readers, the design of a book can be just as important, if not more so to a certain degree. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” aside potential readers WILL judge your book by its cover and its formatting.

In fact, if your font, lay out, and spacing look sloppy or are unreadable, they won’t take you or your book seriously. There are simple things you can do to correctly format a self-published book, ensuring that readers will be drawn in and take it seriously once you’ve successfully marketed it to them:

Keep Your Lay Out Simple

Don’t make your book’s lay out too flashy if you don’t know what you’re doing. Instead, use the templates that are available at sites such as Your primary job is to write a great book, and therefore a book template will save you a lot of time and pay off in the long run.

Research Your Design Options

Beyond the options offered by book templates, many of your most important design decisions (cover design, font choice, font size, and line spacing) can be figured out by researching your options and reading what others have found to be true in online forums. Some test-printings on your home printer will also give you a good idea of how your fonts will show up for readers.

Compare your design choices to the books you enjoy most, what experts recommend, and what others have found in their own publishing experiences. Readability is a major concern for self-publishing authors and deserves a lot of consideration.

Invest Where It Counts

There are some things that you cannot do well on your own no matter how hard you try. One of these things, for most of us at least, is designing a great book cover. Of course most self-publishing services provide a cover creator as part of their packages, but if money isn’t too much of an issue, I think it’s well worth paying a professional or even novice designer to at least create a cover.

Even designing a simple cover requires choosing the appropriate font to match your material and then choosing the size, spacing, color, and location that works best. This can be quite difficult to do.

A catchy, professional cover will not necessarily sell more books, but it will be an important part of the whole package. You don’t want an unappealing cover to give customers a reason to ignore your book!

What You Need to Know About Self-Publishing: Seek Opinions

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 working on a self-published book you may have put together a passable first draft, and even managed to spruce up a pretty decent second draft. However, chances are your argument or story will have some significant holes in it, to say nothing of some sections that readers will find confusing.

While working on my third draft of A Path to Publishing I couldn’t think of any significant changes to make, so I sent it off to several friends and colleagues to read it. Sure enough, one reader found the same glaring flaw in two of the book’s chapters.

She very gently suggested that those two sections needed significant revision. She was absolutely right. I had a few doubts at first about those sections, but I had decided they worked fine. Thankfully she pointed out some other reasons why needed to be not only rewritten but largely deleted.

And that brings us to the challenge of editing your own book. You always need perspectives other than your own to make sure your book flows and makes sense. No matter how talented you may be as a writer or an editor, you can’t catch all of your own mistakes.

Depending on your relationship with your friends and family, you may ask them for help. However, remember that a good editor will not worry about hurting your feelings. A good editor needs to feel comfortable pointing out all of your book’s flaws. Will your friends and family be able to do that?

My friends through social media and blogging have been a tremendous help in reading drafts of my books, while several key friends and family members have helped at times as well. However, I think it’s important to choose your readers carefully and to give them deadlines that can be flexible if need be.

In addition, keep in mind that these friends may publish their own books some day. Guess who they’re going to e-mail before anyone else for help…

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.

A Path to Publishing is Now Available!

PTP_final03_texOrange450 I’m happy to announce that A Path to Publishing is now available as a paperback book through Amazon and most other distributors, as well as an ebook through Lulu.

The price through Amazon is $15, while the ebook price through Lulu is $10.

So far the feedback has been really encouraging, including comments from readers who have found the book both informative and well-organized. One book publisher enthusiastically purchased a copy, and he’s someone who certainly could have taught me a thing or two about publishing! So I’m grateful to see positive responses to the book as it starts out.

If you’re interested in hosting me for an event with your writing group or book store, I offer group discounts and free publishing workshops along with my book events.

Throughout the third and fourth weeks of May a number of bloggers will be posting reviews and interviews. I hope to have the schedule up soon.

In addition, I’ll be posting a series here next week covering what I learned in the self-publishing process. If you subscribe to my e-mail newsletter (in the right column), you can also read about the inside story of self-publishing, the decisions I made throughout the process, and why I followed the course I chose.

There are a lot of decisions to make in the self-publishing process, so believe me, reading about my process will help you a great deal! I learned a ton over the past 6 months.