Pub Rants

Do You Run Your Writing As A Business?

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STATUS: I tackled exactly one thing on my To Do list today and there are something like 20 items that need immediate attention. I’m still wondering how that happens.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD by the Beatles

Today I had a morning meeting with my tax accountant to review my company’s P&L (Profit and Loss Statement) and the Balance Sheet. We wanted to review how we were doing in comparison to last year. We analyzed our current cash flow, upcoming expenditures, quarterly taxes, and generally made certain that we were financially sound and would continue being so.

Just three weeks prior to this meeting, I had connected with my bookkeeper to evaluate the P&L and Balance Sheet to see if anything was out of whack—which, interestingly enough, always happens. Just the nature of accounting.

Years ago, I read in a book (and I wish I could remember the title) that Americans who spent at least 1 to 2 hours a month reviewing their finances, discussing budget (or for heaven’s sake creating a budget), learning about investing, reviewing one’s 401k or Roth IRA, and just generally doing money management ended up 10 times wealthier than their fellow Americans who didn’t. (And it didn’t matter where these money planners started in terms of their income.) This book also highlighted that 90% of Americans spent more time watching TV did they spent on managing their money. I believe it.

So where am I going with all this? If you are a writer, even if you are unpublished, you need to treat this like a business. You need to sit down at the beginning of the year (or the beginning of the quarter) and create a business plan for yourself and your writing. This is how much I’m going to budget for my writing, for paper, for ink cartridges, for getting an agent, for attending a conference to learn the craft, or for joining a site like Backspace, and so on. You need to an excel spreadsheet or quicken or whatever money program you use to track expenses and hopefully, monies earned.

Why? Because even if you are unpublished, it makes good money sense to know exactly how much it costs you a year to pursue your dream. It allows you to plan. It shows you the cost benefit (or not) of pursuing this as a career. It gets you primed and ready for when you are published author and you definitely need to be doing this, budgeting appropriately, paying your taxes, and deciding on when you can write full-time versus when you need to keep that day job.

You might as well start making a good habit of it now. Besides, don’t you want to be one of those people who are 10 times wealthier than their counterparts who never discuss money on a regular basis? I know I do—which is why my tax accountant and I spent 2 hours discussing it this morning and this is just one of many sessions we’ll have throughout the year.

38 Responses

  1. nkrell said:

    This is an excellent post! Not that your others aren’t, but this one simply resonates with me. I totally treat my writing as a business. As of now, I’m working about 45 hours a week and loving every minute of it! Of course, this doesn’t include my other full-time job.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I dunno if I buy this. A business plan is a program of achievable steps within one’s control. A beginning or midlist writer with an agent has almost zero control over any part of the process except the quality of the writing.

    I’m all for setting goals and listening to advice, but my plan is basically: write more and better. Editors will offer what they offer. Bookstores will order what they order. Readers will love what they love. All I can do is write.

    Hm. Okay. Maybe the first step of my business plan is to admit that I’m powerless over the publishing industry.

  3. Marion Gropen said:

    I’m thrilled to see you writing this post. Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus and his rock, given that my consulting practice is in helping small presses improve their profitability. I’m even enough of a glutton for punishment that I put such things as sales estimation techniques (for authors, agents and young acquisitions editors) on my blog. (Yeah, I know, biiiiiig readership for that, eh?)

    But somehow, you mention numbers and most American’s eyes glaze. (sigh)

  4. Marion Gropen said:


    It is emphatically NOT true that authors are powerless. Authors have more control over the success of their book than you think.

    I suggest that you go buy one of the books on book publicity, or better yet two! Yes, you need to work in co-operation with your publisher’s marketing staff, but you absolutely CAN make a difference. There are literally hundreds of things you can do.

    If you’re really stuck, hang out in a list or forum for serious self-publishers (not the ones who’ve been snagged by a vanity/POD press, but the ones who are selling thousands of copies, and making money at it). They’re buzzing with things that you, too, could do even though you have a publisher.

    In fact, you can do them better than a self-publisher can, because you don’t have to devote time, money or thought to design, editing, printing, etc.

    Never feel that you’re a victim here. You have so much opportunity.

  5. Amber said:

    I think that The Average Human Being should budget out – at least roughly – their finances at the beginning of every month. No matter the profession. If everybody did, think of how many debts could be absolved – or even better – not have happened in the first place.

  6. Anonymous said:


    Thanks for the response (and I followed the link to your blog and website; v. interesting stuff, especially here:

    I suppose I’ve got a few issues with the ‘Writer, Market Thyself’ stuff.

    1) Nonfiction vs. fiction. Clearly, one can and should market nonfiction–that’s probably a whole sections in the proposal, after all! Marketing the latest Regency romance or erotic thriller is quite a different thing entirely. How would one market a book like The Plot Against America or Devices and Desires (to pick two that my eyes fall upon when I look at my shelves)? Not in any very efficient way.

    2) The usual suspects, such as book signings, stock signings, blogs, twittering, social media up the yin-yang, are largely useless. Mass media opportunities for most novels are non-existent. There is a reason why most people don’t have ‘platforms’–getting one is a full-time job. Yes, there -are- hundreds of things one can do, and tens of thousands of authors are doing them, and almost always to no effect. That’s not to say that nobody ever (deservedly!) hits the jackpot on account of marketing, but that’s what it is, a jackpot, the equivalent of buying the winning lottery ticket. And while it’s true that ‘you can’t win if you don’t play’ …

    3) … there are only so many hours in the day. Every hour a writer spends marketing, promoting, etc., is one less hour working on the craft. Maybe that’s worth it in the long run, but I suspect not.

    Also, there is very little overlap between marketing for writers published by others and for self-publishers, too: the financial incentives are completely different.

    I don’t feel like a victim; I feel like it’s wise to focus almost obsessively on those things I -do- control. That’s the words on the page. If I write enough, and well enough, everything else will fall into place … eventually. My job is the writing. Everything else is distraction. (Though some is necessary.)

    Anon at 6:13

  7. Stephanie Faris said:

    Definitely true. Great advice, too! It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t have deadlines with an agent/editor…so you end up having to set your own deadlines. It’s good practice for the future.

  8. Stephanie said:

    Writing has two sides…the creative side and the business side. Once I finish a project and edit it….then I take off my creator hat and plop on my business hat. You need to research, draft business letters, etc…..and when you finally get your big break, as I did just a few months ago, then you absolutely MUST network and market your self!!! No one will hand you success…you need to work at it.

    I just read recently, and forgive me for not remembering the exact figures, but an unpublished writer should spent like 90% of their time writing and learning their craft, 10% networking, while a published author needs to spend a higher amount networking, and a little less in writing.

    Getting a publisher to print your book will only get you so far…if you want it to be a success……you need to build a fan base…you need to interact with poeple.

  9. Keith Schroeder said:

    You should be the tax accountant. They bang their head against the wall when clients run their business by the seat of the pants. When asked about a business plan, some clients point to their left temple.

    Good Gawd. Writing is a business. Use your accountants skills to save tax dollars, build your business, and reduce stress.

    I think the money and time spent at the accountant pays back many times over. Of course, I may be just a little biased. I’m the tax accountant begging you to act like you have a real business.

    And if you are writing with the intent to make a profit, you are a business.

  10. David Allred said:

    My wife is so much more skilled in these matters than I am… but we have sat down a made a plan.

    Right now, I am having to lay out an 18-month budget for getting artwork on some comic book scripts… but then it is always about more than the budget. I’ve found I have to put page deadlines on myself and quotas. If I don’t I slack.

  11. Keith Schroeder said:


    Anon’s posts are classic in the arena of business failure. With that attitude, failure is guaranteed in any field.

    A writer’s job is to write the best damn book this side sanity; present professionally to agents; edit for agent and publisher to a smooth, glossy shine; then get out to the Kind Reader and sell the book again.

    An author in Wisconsin (no, it’s not me) gives talks in small town libraries and sells scores of books on each visit. Make that hundreds. People walk out of the place with four, five copies. Whining and complaining never leads to sucess. Luck favors the prepared and energetic.

    That’s my opinion, so sue me. Yes, I posted twice. What can I say? I’m an excitable accountant. I get high on client success and dispair when clients refuse common sense.

  12. Courtney Milan said:

    “A business plan is a program of achievable steps within one’s control. A beginning or midlist writer with an agent has almost zero control over any part of the process except the quality of the writing.”

    First, that’s not a business plan. Nobody could ever write a business plan if that were the case. Nobody ever can say whether there will be demand for the product they sell. Nobody can say whether people will buy their book or whether they’ll be able to get their doohicky in stores or any of that stuff.

    A “business plan” is not the same thing as a ten-year budget.

    For writers, a big part of a business plan–at least for me–is not just about promotion (and yes, there are things you can do to promote yourself), but about allocating many other scarce resources, like time.

    So for writers, who are juggling family and second jobs, a big part of the business plan is: What must I do to get where I want to be? And how can I make that possible?

    If you’re a new genre fiction author, you might set yourself a goal of writing two books a year–that is something that you decide you MUST do to make sure your name is out there regularly. If you want the quality to be good, and if you’re working a second job as many writers are, that means you’re going to need time. In that case your business plan might be less about spending money on swag to advertise your name, and more about spending money on child care or hiring someone to come in twice a month to vacuum your floors. Your business plan might include asking your husband or wife to take the kids one day on the weekends, or making sure the household budget will encompass pizza three nights out of the week. It’s about being honest about all the costs of being a writer, not just the ink that you use to print your book.

    A good business plan asks: Where do I want to be? What must I do to get myself there? How can I make sure that I do that? A good business plan is flexible enough to take advantage of good things that come your way (if sales are excellent, for instance, and your publisher asks you to do a back-to-back trilogy next, your business plan includes ways for you to have the time to do that), but not so fixated on the best-case scenario that you can’t rebound from a lack of success.

    For me, I’ve discovered that I’m really helped by a week or a few weekends uninterrupted by dog or husband or internet access or the mundane details of who’s making dinner, so I can get the meat of the story down without distractions–and that necessitates travel to somewhere where I don’t know anyone and nobody can reach me. That’s now part of my budget for every book.

    For writers, a business plan is 90% about how to write and 10% about how to promote.

  13. arbyn said:

    This is a really exciting way to look at writing–as a means of income!

    I know what you’re saying is painfully realistic and discipline to this side of the business will no doubt be as beneficial as actually writing.


  14. Christine Fletcher said:

    Great post, Kristen! I’ll add one more reason to keep track of expenses: they’re tax-deductible, even if you’re not published. Under the guidance of my accountant, I filed a Schedule C and deducted writing expenses for 4years before I sold my first book. This turned out to be way more important than just dollars and cents…it really taught me to take myself seriously as a writer.

    Anyone starting a new business has to be willing to roll up their sleeves, learn a whole bunch of new skills unrelated to their main talents, and invest back into the business. The writing business is no exception.

  15. Melinda Szymanik said:

    Wow, excellent advice and not just for this crazy book business but for life in general. I understand first anon’s skepticism and yes there is plenty about the publishing industry that is unpredictable but the bottom line is getting agrip on expenses and potential income. Just knowing that gives you power. I made a deliberate choice last year to supplement my writing income with author talks and workshops and I have greatly increased my income although yes it does take away from my writing time. But I knew that going in. At least I know all the facts before I make the decisions. You have to be in charge. Financial literacy is essential and is part of making your own luck for financial success in the long term.

  16. Zoe said:

    How’s about 2 hours a week… I’m pretty sure that’s what I do… Then again I might as well sleep with a dollar sign teddy, I’m that obsessive over finances.

    What would a writers budget look like? I have a day to day one, would one for writing be seperate? I’m trying to imagine it, perhaps I just need to make one myself.

  17. Debra L Martin said:

    I totally agree with this post and with Christine. I also keep track of my expenses and file a Schedule C with my tax forms. It certainly helps especially if this is the year you need a new laptop and printer.

  18. Elisa said:

    This couldn’t come at a better time! I’m just starting to get organized and make plans. And I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the validation.

    Furthermore, I think writers (myself included) have to get out of this mentality of putting their writing last because it doesn’t pay the bills. Start acting as if it does, and it will!

  19. SM Blooding said:

    Whew! What a great discussion!

    I happen to be one of the people who think that budgets are great. I do them all the time at work. However, I can’t get one to actually work at home…so I cop out, become lazy and do nothing.

    So my financial failure is my own fault.

    However, when it comes to writing, I DO have a budget AND a plan and I’ve kept to it.

    I don’t know what the difference is. Maybe I’m just mental.

  20. Dara said:

    Blech. Numbers and I don’t get along. 😛 Creating a budget and sticking to it isn’t too difficult but learning about all that financial lingo that comes with investing gives me a headache. That’s why hubby is the one who keeps track of that, although I do attempt to follow along, even though it takes me three times as long to figure out what’s going on. Apparently the part of my brain that’s supposed to compute numbers isn’t wired correctly! 😛

  21. Mariana said:

    This is excellent advice, and I hope everyone can find some time to follow it.
    Thanks a lot Kristin for sharing your wisdom with us. Did I ever mention that you rock? =)

  22. A. Grey said:

    Great post! Totally get it and love it. I’m not published (yet) and some folks ask me why I take my writing so seriously since it’s not what I do for a living. Thing is, I WANT it to b what I do for a living. So I run it like a business, because one day (God willing and the creek don’t rise) it WILL be my business!

  23. Genella deGrey said:

    My Tax man is probably ready to wring my neck. LOL

    He’s used to working with people in the movie industry who make a gazillion dollars each year.

    Then there’s little old me – after four years filing as a ‘writer,’ I understand my first itty-bitty royalty check is in the mail.

    My tax man knows I’ve sold, but he’s probably expecting a Nora-sized check.

    Not yet, dear.

  24. terripatrick said:

    Great, my grandson is sleeping and I was looking for inspiration to start my final edits for my proof reader. Instead Business plan?! I had one for my fiction career, then got side tracked with writing memoir…

    OK, I’m going to take a deep breath and ask the Oracle, what’s my objective today? Edits or new business plan?

    LOL! Great post Kristen and everyone who commented!

  25. Being in Dreaming said:

    If anyone has ever run a business, especially one that bids based on projects, you know the importance of planning and accounting for details. Writing is no different. You spend countless hours researching, writing your first draft, months of editing, professional and peer review, then the steps towards publication.

    Most of us have day jobs and families. Our time is valuable, so the time and money we invest in writing should be quantified and kept track of–like a project run by a business. It is a 2+ year investment, that if done right, has long-term payoff… either in publication or investment/growth/education of you, the writer.

    Fantastic post, and truly the right way to approach the craft of writing…

  26. T. Anne said:

    Setting deadlines and creating goals every season or so is how I like to approach my writing. It’s more than a hobby to me. Great post, great advice.

  27. Shannan said:

    I’ve just spent a week working on the 2010 budget for my work (I’m a library director) and for part of that I am powerless because I can budget all I want, but I won’t know what the municipality will give us until October/November of this year – and I won’t know what the province will give us until almost this time *next* year (yes, it’s a brilliant system when you rely on government for funding!).

    I’m ashamed to say that I don’t spend enough time on my personal budget. I did actually spend a little time on it last night amazingly – but really only working on how much I can put into savings vs. my expected monthly expenses for the next year. It got so depressing to look at my retirement statements last year (I only moved to Canada last fall) that I stopped paying too much attention – it was so depressing to look at the $1000’s I’d put in in the previous year while watching my “balance” actually go down! I could have burned that cash for heat and actually done better financially! *sigh*

    But I’m amazed at my own thick headedness that I never thought to budget my writing expenses!

    *THIS* is why I read blogs like this. Duh! Thank you!!

    And about the “powerles” discussion in the comments… The great quote “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” applies here too. I am only as powerless as I allow myself to be. It’s something I remind myself of every day.

  28. Marion Gropen said:

    Part of your business plan is surveying all of your resources, and that includes time, especially when you’re a writer.

    It’s absolutely amazing how the act of building a good business plan or budget can lead you to improve your process.

    Anon — thanks for the compliments on my blog. It’s not easy trying to drag publishing folks, let alone authors, into engaging the business side of their brains, but it’s a labor of love.

    Fiction CAN be promoted by the authors as well as by publishers. In fact, authors can do it far more effectively than publishers.

    Start with the Internet. Build a community who are invested in your work. That could be by sharing drafts of some scenes, or by running a contest for the naming of a character or . . . .

    It could be that you’re simply able to interest people in your life and writing process. Or it could be that you can write a blog from the POV of the character(s).

    Do readings that aren’t just readings. Add something that turns them into a show.

    Write op-eds on some topic connected to your books.

    Build in publicity hooks in ways that don’t damage the story when you’re writing it. Say you have a dog in the book. Set scenes in AKC events. Then help the publisher sell second serial rights (or better yet, first) to the “dog-zines.” Go to a few shows, and offer the book in a vendor area, or contact them, and offer to do a keynote or something.

    Can’t is a terrible word, because it guarantees that result.

    I’m a bean-counter, and I just popped out how many ideas in 3 minutes? I KNOW you can do it even better.

  29. Bob said:

    This is all nice and well. I hear plenty of agent and editor rants about writers not treating it like a business. But not a single one talks about how they will help the author with that. “Go do it” is the mantra. And out of the air the writer will become an author. “Learn on your own– do this and that,” is the next suggestion. Which is wasteful and vague.

    I know agents and editors don’t have the time to train each author, but on the other hand it’s a flawed business model where the producer of the product receives absolutely no training at all. I’ve been doing this business a lot long than most editors and agents have and, finally accepting there is this gaping hole in the industry, have developed a program called Warrior Writer to teach writers how to become authors. A holistic approach to both the art and business and how to combine them.

    For example, many authors are spinning their wheels on social media. Yes, there are plenty of companies that will help you set up your twitter, blog, myspace, yada, yada, but who cares if your content sucks? 95% of people are wasting their time. BTW, the fail rate on first novel roughly equals that.

    A writer needs a strategic creative goal– what type of books, how many per year, is there continuity in character, setting, whatever. Then align all tactical goals with that strategic goal.

    A writer should do an author ‘disseection’. Find an author they want to become like and examine their career path, their writing, the things they did to promote themselves– adding in the caveat that the market is rapidly changing, so what worked for someone ten years ago, might not work today.

    Yes, it is a business, but then let’s treat writers like part of it. This is not a negative rant. I totally agree with the points Kristin makes, but also anon has some good points. We control the writing. We control our business. We do not control the agent, the editor or the publisher, but rather work with them– we must go to the agent with our strategic vision, our plan and ask for assistance in achieving it. An agent on a panel I was on last week at PNWA about choked when I said a writer needed a strategic plan. He said he’d LOVE it if a writer came to him with a plan, but not a single one has ever done so. One of the problems is a new author is trying to make a plan in a vacuum. It’s hard to make a plan for something you’ve never done and never been taught.

    I’m trying hard to get writers, agents and publishers to understand what I’m trying to do with Warrior Writer. It will help everyone, not just the writer. Let’s make success for everyone our mantra.

  30. Marilynn Byerly said:

    As someone said, you don’t have to be published or contracted to take off your writing expenses.

    All you have to do is prove that you are a working writer. This can be as simple as having copies of your rejection letters or proof you have taken courses to improve your writing skills.

    Here are links to several good articles written with the writer in mind.

    “Authors and the Internal Revenue Code” (written by author Linda Lewis who is also a tax attorney who used to work for the IRS)

    Article on self-employed writers, recently updated

    “Taxes for writers” by Cyn Mason (copyrighted 1996 so may be out of date)

  31. Anonymous said:

    This is great advice for some; it just doesn’t apply to me. Not having a day job to consider, the last thing I want to do is compile depressing calculations on what this is costing me.

    I’ve published two books so far, am receiving excellent critical feedback, and prefer to focus on the positive than be weighed down by depressing finances. That said, I keep records of everything, but I hardly need a P&L to tell me what column I’m in. What a deterrent to writing.

  32. in the deep end of the pool said:

    i am one of those folks who reviews the money situation about once a week for a few minutes — everything where it should be? money going to savings, paying down debts, covering expenses? ok, moving on. i don’t fret; i just make sure i’m good. and it’s working great, and i have plenty of money. and i rarely watch tv. all good advice.

    with writing, i often think i don’t do enough of it. i have a goal, but i know i need to be a little more focused and dedicate a little more time. i’m letting other things fill up the time i should be writing. i remind myself that i want this to be a full-time thing “one day”, but i need to look and see when “one day” is, and then i’ll know what i should be doing. it’s all good for now, but i do have a nagging sense that i could be writing more. the question is simple: what’s my priority? if it’s writing, then i need to make writing my no-shit priority and not just say it is.

  33. Jack Loscutoff said:

    Is writing fiction a business? In response to a favorable review of my self-published sci-fi novel The Cloud of Doom in the Omaha World Herald, I was invited to give a reading at a book fair about 50 miles away. The profit from the sale of four books was about 10% of my expenses. Later I spent over $100 to send 5 copies to Qatar for a book fair sponsored by a U.S.government agency. Sold 2 books for a total, after fees, of $16. These two examples are typical of my experiences as a self-published author. Based on them, I’d say that writing fiction as a business reminds me of what Hamlet said about the custom of firing a cannon when the king drank. It’s “more honored in the breach than in the observance.”