Friday, November 19, 2010

Starting a Business

(I've been thinking about this subject for ages, so this is going to be really long--you've been warned.)

Yesterday my husband and I met with an accountant to begin the process of incorporating. (Yes, yes, I know there are a lot of people saying, "I told you so," right now. I have bucked against this for years!) So in another month or so, I am going to be a company.


Technically I have been a sole proprietor of my own company since I got my first contract with Harper three years ago. (My how time flies!) Even though I'm taking some official licensing steps now, when you become an author, you become a business. When I think about it that way, I smile and think how apt that is. But I wonder how many aspiring authors think about it in those terms. Do you consider writing as working on starting up a new business?

I don't know a lot about business, but I do know some basic rules of thumb and they are that starting a new business generally requires a hefty investment, and you can expect to run in the red for about five years. You have to be willing to make that kind of commitment if you really want your small business to work. I have seen a few small businesses start up and fail lately, and one in particular (I'm not going to mention which one, so don't ask) started up on a shoestring with only a vague business plan, had no back-up funds to get through the first non-profitable period, and closed just as the holiday shopping season was beginning. It didn't even get a fair shot!

And whose fault was that? The person who opened the store. They did not find a way to invest heavily enough to give the store a real shot. (Really, a store needs the holiday shopping season to survive!!! Ask any boutique store owner!) In the end, this store owner was so disappointed because this was her dream! She was really emotionally attached to the idea of running this store!

But she didn't actually commit to it.

I guarantee this store owner would vehemently disagree with me. But the fact of the matter is, she would be wrong. She did NOT commit. She only thinks she did.

Committing to it would have meant putting her own money where her mouth was (in the form of getting a small business loan, committing to a full one year lease and paying upfront, maybe taking a business class or two at her local community college to prepare herself, etc.) and basically putting her financial life on the line. That is what it takes and any successful small business owner will tell you the same thing.

So why do we as aspiring authors (and I say we because I did it too!) think that starting our writing business should be so much easier than that?

Here is what I *koffkoff* did *koffkoff* and see all the time. An author writes a book. Spends a month polishing it. Spends a week writing a query. Sends it off. Lather, rinse, repeat for 100 agents. New book. Write, revise for a month, query, send off. Two, three, four years down the road, they have five or six books, and still no agent or publisher. They clearly love writing, they clearly have committed years of their lives to this endeavor, why are things not working?

Because they're not committed.

No seriously.

The author I've outlined up there is almost certainly not committed to being an author. They are committed to writing books, but in the end are waiting for the numbers game to see them through.

And maybe it will. Some people write and write and then find that sparkly idea that catches the right agent/editor's eye, and published they become! But not usually.

I have heard many a published author say that writers write, authors revise. So here is my challenge to you. Commit. Really commit. Starting with your time.

"But I write ten hours a week!" you may protest. "I write after kids are asleep/early in the morning before work/on my only free night all week!" (The length some aspiring authors go to to get those few precious hours a week is truly inspiring! Please do not think I am knocking this!) But I'm not talking about writing time.

Take your very favorite novel that you have written. The one that made rejections hurt the worst because it's the best thing you've ever written. Yes, that one. Now, commit to editing it for no less than six months. Don't write anything new during this time. Edit that book for six months.

The fast writers out there are looking at me like I'm crazy. Isn't writing fast a good thing? Well, let's see, I write my first drafts in about six to eight weeks. Yes, yes, I do think it's a good thing. That's not the point. I honestly believe that 90% of all authors cannot get published until they have had the experience of editing a book for at least six months. Why? Because you learn how to kill yourself over a book. You learn how to look for criticism because you've run out of things to change. You need someone to help you find the flaws because you can't see them anymore. You learn to stop being in love with your own words. You learn to delete. You really learn what it's like to sweat blood and tears over a book. You cannot learn this by editing for one month. A lot of you think you can.

A lot of you are wrong.

I was one them.

A couple of rules. Your six months starts AFTER you would normally consider your book ready to query. You MUST do more than tweak sentences. Gut. Your. Book. You must get feedback from at least one reader who was very critical. You will not see all the flaws in your own book--you will need help. And you must stop querying this book while you are doing it. You will unconsciously hold yourself back from really tearing your book apart if you are still trying to be ready to send it out. That doesn't mean you can't query other books. If you feel you must. But pull this one, and rip it to pieces. For six. Months.

Then, take your new, shiny manuscript (that you will now feel more unsure about than any other book you've ever queried) and send it out to your top 10-30 agents.

Then put it away. For good. And write a new book.

Wait!!! But you just had me do SIX MONTHS of work on this novel!!! You want me to shelve it now???

Well, after that much work, chances are much higher that you won't have to shelve it. That one of those agents is going to pick it up. But if not, yes. Shelve it. Because now you know how to really make a novel good, and you can do it again, but better. Not only that, you've seen your work go from what you thought was your best, to what you really can do. And you won't allow yourself to do anything less from here on out. It may not take you as long to edit a book ever again. But by spending that time setting your bar really high, you've gone somewhere there is no returning from. THAT is the important part of this challenge. Not getting published with that particular book, but resetting your bar.

Commit six months. Seriously. In the scheme of things, it's not that long.

I did it. On a book you're never going to see. It was the book that got me an agent, but it wasn't the book that got me a publisher. But I would not trade those six months of tears and frustration and impatience and desperation for anything. They made me an author, even though that wasn't the book that made me an author.

Revising is hard. And it takes time to learn. And most authors give up on their books way before they should, because they aren't willing to really dig in and rip it to pieces. Six months. Try it. I guarantee you won't regret it. You know how many authors express how sick and tired they are of their books by the time they come out? It's not because they spent a month editing it.



Amber Lough said...

That is undeniably the best post on commitment to being an author I've read in a long time. Thank you.

Kathryn said...

Man, the truth hurts, but you're right. Great advice. As one of those "fast writers" you mentioned, that would be an eternity for me, but I can really see the benefits.

Graham Bradley said...

You know, this is something I actually need to do--as a guy who always has three WIPs and is constantly getting new ideas, I have to admit that I'm caught in the trap of just cranking out new stuff, and that's not cutting it.

Thanks for this--it's probably what a lot of us need to do, and I'm on that list.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I love this post. I had to learn that hard lesson a couple of years ago and you are right. You can't learn all you need to in that short a period of time. And the more I revise the more I become less attached and am able to spot the parts that really need to be cut. I'm glad for all my hard lessons, too. It's humbling, but well worth it! I love how my book has changed, and in a few months I will be able to start querying.

BUT seriously, the one thing I am going to have a hard time doing is shelving this thing if it doesn't work! =) But I will do it if I must and look forward to starting fresh with less mistakes than I started with. The next book will be much less painful.

Josin L. McQuein said...

For this post, you get virtual cookies.

Too many people dwell on the dream and dance around the work.

Jon said...

What a great post!

Wendy Delfosse said...

Very good advice!

Sarah M L said...

A much needed smack upside the head. Thank you. =)

Heather said...

Fabulous advice! It may be hard to hear for some but it is important to understand. This writing thing is hard work and that doesn't stop once the novel is 'finished'.

Cheryl said...

What does it mean that you are "incorporating"? If an author is already a business owner when she gets her first check, why does she need to incorporate?

Kalina Kay said...

Wow. I love that you are not afraid to voice your opinion. The truth is harsh but I think you are right, six months shows dedication and commitment. I just have a questions though, during the six months you spend to butcher your book, HOW do you guarentee that you are getting better and not making it worse? Isn't there ever a time where you are spinning your wheels? Do you read books on how to become better? Or just keep getting more feedback? Or what? Thanks for your awesome post!

Anita Saxena said...

Thank you for putting it so bluntly. And it makes me feel better about my choice to revise, ultimately rewrite, and then in the future tediously revise again. The decision to rewrite was a difficult one, but I think I've learned alot in the process. Great post.

Linda said...

I don't know if you read your comments, but this time I will write one I hope you'll see (just that you'll get to know what effect you have on people, not that you don't already know - but incase.. oh, and I apologise in advance for any spelling-mistakes - english is not my first language..)

I've always had huge respect for authors. For your creativity, imagination and the work you put into just writing a book. I've never been a aspiring author, just a booklover that cant get enough too read, so i've never really put much thought behind the publising process.
But reading your blog (all of your entres, not just this one) just makes it (my respect and admiration) grow more and more, when I learn how hard it really is (I mean I knew it was hard, but never understod how hard..).

So to get to the point:

Thank you! For putting your thoughts out here for everyone to read. For all the insight we get into the work that goes in to a good book, from an idea thet springs up in someones head to a finished book is standing on a shelf. For all the tips and advice you give to all the aspiring authors (and to the rest of us, as many of it can be applied to other professions and real life) they are worth gold!

Thank you!!

Kayma said...

that was a really inspiring post. I'm pretty sure you touched a lot of aspiring authors with that one.

Kari Pike said...

Phenomenal. As always.

Christy said...

Thanks April. It's definately not something that us first time novelists want to hear. I want to hold me lovely published book in my hands right now! But I know that good things come to those who wait and those who work. Please keep writing your starkly honest posts.

Kayma said...

could you maybe do another contest?

Tina Lynn said...

Ouch! Guess my NaNo won't be ready to query until July then. *dies a little inside* Awesome post!

TKAstle said...

Thank you. This makes me feel so much better about the two years I've spent on my novel since finishing my rough draft, getting tougher and tougher crits.

I thought I was ready to query it months ago. Man, am I glad I didn't.

Crystal said...

Your post couldn't have come at a better time! I had finished writing my first book two months ago, wrote the query letter, and started submitting to agents. After being away from it for a couple months and receiving a few rejections I decided to go back to it. When I did changes started happening, changes for the better. I have been ripping it apart and loving everything I have done. Just last night I was doubting myself a little, wondering if I should just move on to a new book or keep going with the story I am passionate about. I am thankful for your insight today and will continue editing.

Sajidah said...

Thanks for's exactly what I needed to read right now.

Fantasy said...

Ouch. That was pretty brutal, but so inspiring! This is a lesson that I really needed to learn. I can be a bit of a perfectionist when I create. Not just with my stories, though. Also with my paintings and sketches. I really need to be more comfortable with changing what I've made. This was such a great post! Thanks for the advice. You're so inspiring for younger people. (like me) Might as well learn these things early on, right?

Thanks for the post! Your hard work definitely pays off! :D

kbrebes said...

I'm a new follower. Loved your post. Thanks!

Rebekah said...

Aprilynne - Thank you for posting this. I'm sending my critique group here to read it. Such great advice. I'm not a fast writer in general,and I'm a I sometimes have the opposite problem of thinking it's never good enough to send out. But your advice about how long to spend on it - get fresh eyes - then put it away. That's hard, but so true. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Haven't been here for a while and haven't posted for even longer, but I loved this post. And I totally agree. I queried too early and got a really nice letter from an agent who gave me some much-needed adivce. I gave the ms to other readers (really critical ones) and let them have at it. It was so worth it. I finally have something worth having. Even if I did have to cut some of my favorite (but not really necessary) scenes.