Monday, July 1, 2019

The Business End. by Brenda Chapman

Question: What’s the most valuable business skill that you’ve used in your writing career. Can be anything from contract negotiation to typing to computer programming, like HTML and making your own website, or anything else?

Looking over all the suggestions, I realize I’m sadly lacking in business skills! Luckily, you can hire people to help with most of the nitty gritty, such as computer programming and setting up a website and taxes.

However, I have found that my background is in Communications has come in handy. For instance, I was sent on media training, which helped me to prepare and gave me confidence when speaking in front of groups or appearing on the radio or television. I learned to plan the key points I wanted to make ahead of time, to practice, and to stick to my messaging. I gained experience speaking in front of colleagues and talking to the public.

While in the government, I worked on the firearms initiative for four years and my job was to inform visitors from other countries about Canada 's laws when they wanted to bring guns across the border, mainly for hunting. Those were the early days of websites and I helped with the layout of ours and wrote fact sheets and material to be posted. Everything had to be in English and French with lawyers and subject experts involved so nothing was ever simple, but this proved a good training ground for my own site. An important lesson learned was to keep information current and the front page active. I also learned a great deal about guns, even taking the firearms safety course and firing off a few rounds at a gun range.

Of course, as with all writers, I still have needed to wrap my head around the business side of writing, particularly contracts. I had a lawyer look at my first book contract before signing, but since then, I've been on my own with the exception of an agent negotiating one early on. I won't lie and say that I've always understood  the rights and the implications of each line in the contract, but I've asked questions and had adjustments made before signing, and I'm learning by reading up and speaking with others in the industry. Still, the publishers have bottom lines and contract negotiation is by its nature adversarial with each party protecting its own interests.

The sad truth is that writers, with the exception of the top strata, are not adequately recompensed for all the hours of work and the creative energy it takes to produce a book. Everybody in the industry, from the publisher to the bookseller, needs to take a cut. The author is also expected to take on the lion's share of the publicity and marketing and to pay out of pocket for most initiatives, or this is the way of things with a medium-sized publisher in Canada. An author has to become their own advocate and this can be frustrating and often lonely. I've known many writers who've dropped out of the industry once they realize how difficult it is to write a book, and then how tough it is to make any money or to get any recognition. 

Yet, it is only in my darkest moments that I dwell on the business end, when I think about stopping too. All it takes is for me to sit at my computer and start working on a piece for me to rediscover my joy. But I will say that I'm spending more of my energies being strategic and am spending less time spinning my wheels and expecting this career to follow a straight line. If I could pass on any bit of advice, it is to treat the business side separately from the creative and to take an active interest in all aspects of both, even when the learning curve seems steep. Join with a group of writers and seek their guidance and support. My experience has always been that writers toil alone but form the most generous of  communities when it comes to helping each other out and lifting each other up.

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor
Twitter: BrendaAChapman


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda. I share your views on the business side, and thank goodness for the creative side — just writing a book makes it worth the effort that goes into it.

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Dietrich and Happy Canada Day!

Cathy Ace said...

Happy Canada Day - and keep enjoying the writing :-)