Friday, October 5, 2012

Writing Like an Entrepreneur

Dara M. Beevas, The Indie Author Revolution: An Insider's Guide to Self-Publishing

Every day I receive two or three requests to review books which the authors have published (or rather printed) at personal expense. Most look like fly-by-night operations, typeset on an antique Smith-Corona and mimeographed in the author’s basement. They may have good content for all I know, but they don’t look like their own authors took them seriously. I wish these aspiring writers would read Dara Beevas’ new guide.

Beevas, a professional publishing mentor, makes her living guiding would-be independent writers through the difficulties of getting a professional-quality book on the market. Because the publishing business has so many aspects, many of which are not visible when you browse bookstore shelves, many guerilla writers miss important steps. Beevas’ solution is to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a legitimate entrepreneur.

Though the author gets the byline and the glamor of writing, dozens of professionals have a hand shepherding a book from raw idea to marketable commodity. You can do some of this yourself: Beevas gives detailed instructions on how, for instance, to devise your marketing plan. But I especially appreciate Beevas’ explicit advice on knowing when to bring other professionals into your “self-publishing” fold.

For instance, you absolutely need an editor, to act as a sort of surrogate audience. Your best friend who spells really well is not an editor. Beevas describes not only what an editor does, and what you can expect to pay for an editor’s services, but what you need to do to get a manuscript in shape to present to an editor. Remember, you’re a professional; don’t give collaborators product below your ability, or below their dignity.

Dara M. Beevas
Likewise, resist the temptation to think that, just because you set your Word document in PDF format, you know how to design your product. Book designers make books look clean and polished for today’s media-saturated market. We say not to judge books by their cover, but we do so just to winnow today’s overcrowded shelves. (Beevas gives many good pointers, but Joel Friedlander goes into even more detail, if you need it. And you do.)

And marketing means more than buying ads or listing your book on Amazon. Beevas discusses topics like knowing if your book meets a real marketplace need, and how to distinguish your book from similar, but not identical, titles. Will you sell more print or e-books? Do you know how to sell your book on social media and other new platforms? Nobody knows with scientific accuracy, but Beevas knows which questions to ask in finding the answers.

Beevas repeatedly claims throughout this book that we have entered the age of the independent author, when writers armed with a little ingenuity have the market power once exclusive to media conglomerates. I’m willing to say that’s possible. However, I have a cabinet full of books, mostly from vanity presses, that indicate such an age faces an important counter-influence. Indie authors still need to pay their dues if they want the prestige.

Many vanity presses like to point out that William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf self-published the books that made them famous. This is true, and it does not jeopardize their prestige with literary history. But all three were more than just authors. They were skilled entrepreneurs who managed their careers the same way they would manage their own store or factory. Too few self-starter writers have learned such business acumen. Yet.

Unfortunately for contemporary aspiring authors, going it alone means the dues you must pay have become more intense. In Hemingway’s day, he had to be the best writer he could be. Today’s guerilla authors need to be business-savvy, technologically forward-thinking, and engaged in all aspects of publication. That’s where Beevas steps in, providing us the questions we need to ask our inevitable partners, and the facts we need to evaluate their answers.

Though Beevas includes a chapter on writing for publication (as opposed to writing for enjoyment or a class), this is not a book on writing. This book empowers writers to manage their careers without the sometimes myopic interference of multinational conglomerates. This book guides entrepreneurs who have the potential, but not the know-how, to get in the ring with publishing’s major contenders, and play to win.

Going indie is not for everyone. Some writers are better off following the old rules, which do survive for a reason. But for writers ready to plow a new path, Beevas is the mentor you’ve waited for. Follow her guidance, and go get ‘em.

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