The Business of Writing

This post is about the business of writing because writing is a business. I’m going to do my best to look at the numbers of publishing.

Author Buzz UK talked about the shocking truth of author earnings earlier this year. In that

Routes to publishing

There are two routes you can go down when seeking to publish.

  1. Traditional Publishing
  2. Self-Publishing

Traditional publishing tends to work better with a literary agent. That’s not a universal rule but that seems to be the general advice. The big advantage of this approach is that they do the stuff you do not want to do. They just take care of cover, promotion (maybe), and so forth.

Self-publishing requires a lower number of sales for the same profit. You will need to arrange your own proofreading and copy editing. Your sales are going to be more dependant on ebooks but you will take a lot more money per sale. This is where the business of writing really starts to matter.

Profit and Loss

The profit and loss estimate of a book is a tool used to guess how well a book will sell. It works like this. Someone looks at the number of books that sold for a book similar to your book. The cost of the print run needed to sell that less the earnings is the profit and loss.

This works because books are largely a commodity item that does not fluctuate in price. So getting the right number in the initial print run matters. You want to go for the biggest run with the cheapest cost per unit. However, you don’t want too many (nor too few) books left.

Percentage of cover price

The percentage you can get is the slice of the pie you are going to get per sale. With self-publishing, you will generally get the highest percentage of cover price. The business of writing is not as simple as “get the best percentage” because 70% of £100 is still less than 15% of £1000.

Generally, you are going to get a much smaller percentage of cover price with traditional publishing but you may sell so much more (and get an advance).

Small and independent press tend to sit int he middle. They don’t necessarily have the same marketing power but they can sometimes offer a much better percentage.

Getting traction to attract publishers

Marketing is expensive. Publishers usually have a very limited budget for marketing. Anything you can do to get free marketing (aka publicity) makes you more attractive. This is because publicity sells books.

Sites like Author Buzz UK are a place to establish a presence and build some publicity. If you are a Thanet based writer, joining in with this blog also helps.

If you can get a good following on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog that’s great. A good following is not a massive number of people but a large number of people that are interested in what you have to say.

Where is the money?

In the business of writing, the big question is where is the money? Some people will try to answer that romance, or YA, or something is the big “it”. The truth, though, is that the money is in sequels. Sequels sell easily because the first book creates a market for the other books to sell.

Once you have written and published a book – write another one. And then another one.

The Business of Writing with Brandon Sanderson

This video runs for over an hour and covers the Business of Writing. Brandon Sanderson is a giant of fiction writing. If you have the time, watch this video.

Brandon Sanderson’s rules of magic

magic unicorn

Do magic systems in fiction need rules? I don’t know. But I do know that Brandon Sanderson, an author that has written a lot of books, has three (four) rules for how to write magic.

What is magic?

Magic is whatever awesome or unusual stuff you have invented for your story. By this definition, the made-up science in science fiction is magic. The powers of superheroes are magic too. Anything supernatural or strange – it is all magical from a storytelling perspective.

Writing about Jedi knights fighting a long time ago and far far away, or wizards and dragons, or the X-Men fighting bad guys is, from an author’s perspective, the same thing.

Sanderson’s rules, it turns out, are a really useful tool for writers to think about what they are writing and the emotion they will get from their readers. They are really just a way to think about good foreshadowing. They work for discovery writers (pantsers) as well as planners.

Brandon Sanderson explains these rules far better than I can so I am going to sketch them out very briefly but after that, there is a video of Brandon Sanderson giving a university lecture on these rules. Yeah, this guy knows his stuff and teaches it.

Sanderson’s first rule of magic

Your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

Where the magic is not well understood by the reader you can engender a sense of wonder but if you try to resolve plot like that the reader will feel betrayed

Sanderson’s second rule of magic

Flaws are more interesting than the powers themselves.

The things the characters cannot do (limits) or struggle to do with the magic (or super science) make for the best stories.

The same goes for the cost of the power. In Dune the space travel needs the spice (which is what makes the powers work).

Sanderson’s third rule of magic

Go deeper into a magic not wider

Exploring a smaller system in an interesting way will make the world feel more real.

Sanderson’s zeroth rule of magic

Always err on the side of what is awesome.

At the end of the day, tell amazing stories. That’s pretty much the best advice anyone can give you.