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.

 

 

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? 

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 Courtship with Twitter: The Why’s and How’s of Tweeting

When I give presentations on blogging and social media, I often hear folks expressing concern over the difficulty of finding readers for their blogs. I know the feeling. You’re going through all of this trouble to post something special, and then no one shows up to read it.

It’s one step removed from having a conversation with yourself.

I’ve heard lots of people unfamiliar with Twitter deride it as a silly exercise in narcissism. For those new to blogging and social media, it’s either intimidating or simply beyond their comprehension.

However, if you want people to read your blog, to learn about your work, and to hopefully pass it on to others, Twitter is an indispensable tool that you’ll learn to love once you figure it out. By signing up and then learning a simple program such as Tweet Deck (or HootSuite), you’ll soon find yourself tweeting the praises of this service. Here are a few reasons why you need to start tweeting:

It’s Easy to Follow and Connect

Start off by following all of your favorite bloggers and authors. Also do searches for those with similar interests. Using a tool like “Twitter Local” will enable you to search for users in your locale.

Following them is as easy as a click, they’ll receive an e-mail that you’re following them, and they may even follow you back. Over time you’ll notice mentions and “ReTweets” (RT) that are particularly interesting, and now you have other interesting folks to follow. After you have a few followers, sign in to Mr. Tweet to get recommendations of others to follow.

It’s Easy to Share Information

OK, now you’re on Twitter and you have a few followers, but what’s next? Did you just finish a blog post and begin to worry that no one will read it? Copy the link to your post, type something like this into the status update in Tweet Deck: “New blog post ‘Title’”, and then paste the link in there. Tweet Deck can shorten the link for you automatically.

Once you send it out there, you’ve just alerted folks to your blog post. About three to four hours later post a reminder tweet that your blog post is our there just in case anyone missed it. If someone loves your post, they may Retweet it and share it with others.

It’s a Community

As you post your own updates, share links, and send out blog post alerts, you’ll find yourself in conversations with other users on Twitter. You can either reply with a public comment or you can send a private direct message to someone who has reciprocated your follow.

You’ll find your network of friends and colleagues expanding, your knowledge of blogs and other valuable information growing, and your own work reaching new readers. I find that I rarely check my RSS subscriptions these days since I’m already following my favorite bloggers in Twitter.

The Love You Take…

Twitter is only as good as your last tweet, so be sure to write up valuable updates, share solid content, and ReTweet generously when you find something excellent. Twitter is one of those services that can become a huge waste if you don’t manage your time and content wisely.

As the Beatles said, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Put into it’s proper place, Twitter is an indispensable networking, marketing, and friend-making tool that in many cases thrives on excellence and generosity. For bloggers worried about finding readers for their posts, Twitter is the perfect place to spark the conversations all writers long to have.

Amazon Associates Now Integrates with Twitter

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Amazon has added a great new feature for Associates that integrates an associates ID with links to books on Twitter. Users can now post links to books right from the Amazon home page, much like posting from a news site.

This is a great way to utilize Twitter in both making book recommendations and providing an extra revenue stream. This will not be for everyone, but for those engaged in recommending books, products, or in sharing expertise in a particular field, I see some potential for growth.

After using Amazon Associates for a good two to three years on my blog and e-mail newsletter, I personally haven’t seen too much of a need for it in those mediums. For the most part this is tied to my blog’s topic (Christian theology), the number of readers I draw, and the income generated per sale doesn’t make it worth the effort to embed my associates ID with every book.

To make it worth my while I would need a wider audience and more marketable products to sell. An economic recovery wouldn’t hurt either. If I blogged on politics, technology, marketing, or online commerce, I could very well see the value in generating revenue from an associates account on book and other product purchases.

Nevertheless, from time to time I recommend books, mark some for my wish list, or save others in my del.icio.us bookmarks. Using this Twitter feature is yet another way to share content with friends. The potential to earn even a quarter adds a little incentive to do something I would consider doing without the promise of revenue.

The e-mail notice I received from Amazon said the following:

By clicking on the Share on Twitter button in the Site Stripe, a new window will open and an Amazon-generated message is pre populated in the ‘What are you doing?’ text area of your Twitter account (you may be asked to log in to your Twitter account). That message will include a shortened URL that already includes your Associates ID. You’ll have the option to edit this message or simply hit the ‘Update’ button to post to your Twitter account. When Twitter users click on the link in your post and make a qualifying sale, you’ll earn referral fees.

With the immediacy, large number of potential readers, and ability to share that Twitter provides, I think this is a great idea. Though I’ve given up on using Amazon Associates on my web site, I think I’ll give this Share on Twitter feature a shot.

When Does Self-Promotion on Social Media Go Too Far?

As a writer I’ve been regularly confronting the concept of self-promotion for a solid three years now. With online applications such as Twitter and Facebook many worry that we are not only falling into a nasty pattern of narcissism, but some businesses and sole-proprietor businesses will abuse their networks of family, friends, and acquaintances to make a buck.

I’d like to tackle this from the perspective of a writer. Writers face the tricky matter of essentially “selling” ourselves and our talents of weaving words together. Readers and publishers look for someone with name recognition, and so writers must think of ways they can “make a name for themselves.” If you’re familiar with the biblical story of the tower of Babel, you may recall that the attempt of humanity to do such a thing resulted in their language being garbled by God.

Such a prospect is not necessarily encouraging for writers—especially a Christian writer.

The only way I can see handling this delicate matter of self-promotion in a way that avoids the exploitation of friends, family, and acquaintances is the following:

  1. Only promote what may help them. If I’m hoping they’ll buy my book and I send updates and links their way to that end, then the book I write should be of value to them.
  2. Don’t bombard anyone. I try to only send a manageable number of updates about myself and my work via twitter and facebook. I don’t want anyone to become tired of my endless stream of self-promotion. Everyone has a different limit here, so be cautious.
  3. It’s not all business. Part of keeping in touch with friends and family is adding some color from your own life, sharing pictures and stories that may be funny, interesting, or unusual. Don’t stick to mere work concerns in social media.

I can’t say for sure if I’ve done this perfectly, but as a writer who has to walk this fine line, I find that friends and family generally want to know what I’m up to. Therefore, it’s my job to keep them in the loop without wearing them out with my updates.

How Twitter is Changing my Blogging

I signed up for Twitter because I heard it’s a great way to keep track of news and to share information. So far it has delivered. I find helpful links, share my own, and interact with the 60 or so people I follow.

The hardest part to get used to is the 140 character limit for each post, or “tweet” as they call it. I eventually conformed, and have since loaded the Firefox TwitterBar plug in to make it easier to post throughout the day. I also loaded an extension to my Windows Live Writer that automatically sends updates to Twitter about my blog posts. Connecting Twitter to Facebook means I don’t need to post the same thing twice.

As I use TwitterBar, I have actually learned to tweet well below the 140 character limit. Suddenly 140 characters seems luxurious.

Now I’m beginning to wonder if a word limit would help my blogging a bit–force me to condense my thoughts into brief posts instead of rambling down the page. While there always will be a place for long blog posts digging into important topics, Twitter hints that we can say just as much with a lot less.

200 words seems about right.

This post was originally published on www.inamirrordimly.com.