Often times, authors start out writing a book as a hobby, then realize they want to turn it into a business. In this guest post, author Peter Mulraney shares his tips and ideas for treating self-publishing like a profession.
There is a difference between doing something as a hobby and doing it as a profession.
A hobby is something you do in your leisure time for pleasure. A profession, on the other hand, is a commercial activity – something you do with a profit motive, something you do with the intention of excelling. You can still enjoy it, and derive pleasure from all that it entails, but a profession requires a higher level of commitment than a hobby.
If your intention is to make money from the writing you self-publish, be like any other professional and treat it as a business. Although your writing and publishing might initially be a part-time business, that you work on outside the hours you devote to your 9 to 5 job, that’s no reason to treat it like a hobby.
It’s all in your mindset. If you want to be treated as a professional, act like one.
Develop a business plan
Being successful in business requires a plan. It doesn’t happen by itself.
Developing a business plan simply means setting some measurable goals, for example:
- writing and publishing a book every year – that means scheduling time to write
- building a body of work within a defined timeframe, for example, ten books in five years – that means committing to the long term view
- setting sales targets, for example, selling 10,000 or 100,000 copies – that means scheduling time for marketing
A business plan is nothing more than a roadmap unless you commit to the actions required to convert that map into reality. That’s where the commitment part comes in – and only you can do that bit.
Another aspect of being a professional is regarding your books as products once they’re written. The creative artist part is all in the writing. Once you have the book published, your focus needs to be on marketing it as a product, while you work on the next creative project.
Being in business means being flexible with what you write and publish. There is no point in persisting with a product line that does not sell. Remember, plans are written on paper or computer screens – not in cement. You can change them if things don’t work out.
An example from my business plan
By the end of August 2015, I plan to have published eleven titles, across four genres. My main product is crime fiction but that hasn’t stopped me from publishing non-fiction and developing some coloring books to launch in August.
My plan is to have a diversified catalogue – just like any serious investor has a diversified stock portfolio. The decision to publish the coloring books was commercial, not artistic. It’s a hot market and I have the required skill set, so it made commercial sense to pause from writing the third crime novel and spend some time working on the coloring books project. Naturally, I’m planning for those coloring books to increase the reach of my marketing activities.
Having spent the last fifteen years working in taxation, one thing I can tell you about being in business is that you need good record keeping habits to keep the tax man happy.
The best advice I can give you on record keeping is to start keeping a record of your writing income and your writing, publishing and marketing expenses now – even if the amounts are nothing to write home about. It’s all about a professional mindset and developing the habit.
You don’t need an accounting software package but a spreadsheet application like MS Excel or Apple’s Numbers will help.
And don’t assume that the IRS, HMRC, the ATO or whatever your tax authority is called, will regard you as a professional writer simply because you’re making a few hundred or a few thousand dollars from your writing. They all have thresholds you need to exceed – and you need the records to show them that.
When it all starts getting too complicated, get a tax accountant to help you sort it out.
The tax authorities may treat you as a hobby writer, until you meet their definition for being a professional, but that doesn’t mean you should agree with them. You get to choose the mindset with which you approach your writing.
This is the real difference between professional and hobby writers.
This is the only ingredient that you have total control over and it’s what turns business plans into reality.
I encourage you to adopt a professional mindset. It will make a difference.
Peter Mulraney is based in Adelaide, Australia, where he works as a public servant. He is the author of the Inspector West series of crime/romance novels, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men who find themselves living alone, and Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic. You can find out more about Peter and his books at www.petermulraney.com and follow him on Twitter @PeterMulraney1