Lately, writing conferences have been buzzing with this idea of the author entrepreneur. Writer’s Digest Conference East earlier this month was no exception. One theme came up again and again and it was this idea of writers as entrepreneurs.
Self-publishing is no longer a synonym for vanity publishing. Authors have more options than ever before to get their books in the hands of their ideal readers. And even if a writer gets a book deal with a big publisher, they still have to don that entrepreneurial cap and help sell and market their books. One thing is clear: you can’t be just a writer anymore. There’s a certain business savvy that’s now expected of writers and we have to accept that, whether we like it or not.
But I feel like the pendulum has swung too far. In a world where writers used to work in quiet solitude, they now have marketing responsibilities and social media foisted on them (along with all the noise that comes with it). It used to be that writers’ primary responsibility was honing their craft and writing the best book possible. Now writing the best book possible is a given and writers have a mountain of other jobs as well.
I’m beginning to worry that in the course of this shift, some amazing writing voices are going to get lost in the shuffle.
Fans of self-publishing love this idea of author entrepreneurs putting their books out into and owning their publishing careers. But let’s not forget that we’re no longer working in a one-style-fits-all publishing world. Just as self-published authors didn’t like what they saw in traditional publishing and carved out a model that worked for them, we must also understand that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone.
Not all authors want to be entrepreneurs but we all have to be entrepreneurial.
There’s a difference.
I recently had a conversation with a writer who expressed apprehensions about this growth in self-publishing. She said that self-publishing could be great for some writers, but that she herself wouldn’t do well in that situation. She confessed that she didn’t want to be her own boss.
This came as a shock to me because–as an entrepreneur practically since birth–it never occurred to me that some people might actually like working in a traditional job with a regular boss and normal schedule. Similarly, for many writers having the structure of working with a traditional publisher is worth all the difficulties (dozens of query rejections, loss of control over many details, etc.) Not all authors are cut out to be their own publishers–or in other words, be author entrepreneurs. This is why traditional publishers will never disappear altogether.
But whether you publish via the traditional model or you choose to break out on your own, every writer needs to be the CEO of his or her career. You need to be entrepreneurial no matter which publishing path you choose. Being entrepreneurial means being constantly on the lookout for:
- Potential partnerships both inside and out of your field,
- Opportunities to get your work in front of new audiences (i.e. marketing and PR opportunities),
- New possible business models (i.e. ways to get your stories into the world),
- Information about new technology and learning how to make it work for you.
It might look like I’m letting writers off the hook, giving them opportunity to complain about the injustices of the changes to the publishing industry. That’s not what I’m doing. I might be saying that not all writers need to be entrepreneurs, but if we must all be entrepreneurial then it means there is no longer room in this industry for writers who are lazy. There’s no room for excuses and no room for complaining. We just have to do the work.
There are two ways we can look at how things are evolving in the world of publishing. On one hand, we can throw our hands in the air and wail “the end is nigh!” until we’re hoarse, but how much good is that really going to do? The other option is to accept that change isn’t just around the corner–it’s already happened–accept it, and start looking for new opportunities. In this new publishing model there’s no more opportunity to get comfortable with the status quo because things are going to continue to change constantly. The industry is going through some growing pains and we’ve got to grow with it.