“Too few [writers] are open to the possibility that the business side calls for as much imagination as the artistic process itself . . . An open attitude toward business can provide focus, discipline, and, sometimes most importantly, self-awareness about what you want and expect from your writing career.”–Jane Friedman, The Business of Being a Writer (pp. 8)
About the Book:
Jane Friedman in The Business of Being a Writer equips her readers to shift their thinking and consider their long-term writing goals. Her clear, practical advice fosters an open attitude toward business with a honest presentation of the publishing world. As you might expect from the title, Friedman focuses on the nitty-gritty of making a living writing. She discusses everything from gaining exposure for your work to understanding royalty rates.
Her book is divided into five easy-to follow sections. She starts with beginning-of-career concerns, such as whether it’s worth pursuing graduate school. Then, she moves on to discuss how publishing works. Friedman gives her readers insight into the practical concerns of publishers and magazines, helping writers understand the challenges faced by the industry. In her third section, which is also the longest, Friedman delves into how to get published. Here she explains how to write query letters, and she offers tips on researching your market.
The last two sections of the book focus on long-term issues of creating a sustainable career. In the fourth section, readers learn more about building a platform that will continue to grow throughout their writing days. Then the final section explains different options writers have for creating an income, such as freelance writing, advertising opportunities, and corporate media jobs.
This book is packed with actionable advice that left me excited to get started.
My Three Biggest Take-Aways from The Business of Being a Writer:
1: Practicing Literary Citizenship–
“Much of your public activity (online or off) should be other-focused, not centered on your own stuff” (pp.19).
One of the best ways to start building relationships in the writing community is by practicing good literary citizenship. Rather than immediately trying to promote our own work, it’s better to begin by supporting others. Talking about books we enjoy helps us to connect with those who share our interests. Furthermore, sharing posts from authors we admire or writing book reviews helps those authors gain more visibility. As we engage with other people’s work, we build a reputation for ourselves that’s based on encouragement. What better way to kick off a career than focusing on acts of kindness?
2: Building Platform–
“Get started on the process of building. It takes time, and you won’t get far if you wait for some magical moment. The magic happens as you make a writing life–piece by piece,” (pp. 179).
Throughout chapter 19, Friedman encourages her readers to build their platforms organically. Rather than trying to force yourself to engage with media or content you hate, focus on the areas you most enjoy. Let your work and passions drive the mediums where you engage with your audience.
Building platform requires us to be authentic in order to represent our work well. And the best way to be authentic is focus on what matters to us. Sometimes this means writing short pieces and gaining name recognition through more frequent publication. Sometimes it means creating different types of content, such as podcasts or videos. Our platform can extend beyond just social media, and so we have the freedom to think outside the box.
But it’s important to remember that platform “can’t be built separate from your creative work” (pp. 173). Instead, our work should guide our platform, and our platforms should in turn strengthen our creative output. Remembering that our platform is part of our ongoing writing journey, rather than a goal that must immediately be realized, makes the task feel less daunting.
3: Planning Our Business Model–
“Successful artists of all types usually have multiple revenue streams, with the more profitable areas supporting the less profitable” (225).
While many writers dream of supporting themselves as full-time authors, few ever do. Friedman shatters the idealistic image of a writer tucked in a cabin typing all day and presents a more realistic version of this dream. Although she acknowledges that most writers will need several different income sources, she doesn’t discourage writers from trying. Instead, she encourages the reader to be flexible and to experiment with as many options as possible. Consider what “money-making methods are best suited to your personality and long-term writing goals” (225) and pursue those.
Throughout the book, Friedman is honest about the difficulties of a writing career. But she also advocates that such a career is attainable if we’re willing to look at our goals practically. Sometimes the first step, she suggests, is to stop believing that artists don’t make money and to start thinking creatively. Making money doesn’t usually happen by accident; if we truly want to make a living with our writing, we have to do the leg work. We have to be willing to come up with a strategy and make a plan based on realistic expectations. If our primary goal is to make money publishing books, how can we supplement that income until we start making enough through that channel? What work are we doing or can we do that will support our less-profitable endeavors?
Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer encourages the reader to take their writing career seriously. I’d recommend this book to any author hoping to make an income writing. Every two pages, I found myself stopping to consider how to apply the advice I just received. This is the sort of book you’ll want to read with pen and paper handy, or at least a highlighter, for taking notes.
If you’re interested in hearing more of Friedman’s advice, I also recommend checking out her website. She has blog articles, online classes, and a helpful list of best books for writers.
Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both. (You can connect with her on Instagram @karleyconklin )