Some first steps to running a successful writing business:
- Create a webpage and print business cards. When you meet people at conferences, parties, or other social functions, if their interested in you, they'll ask for a business card. It's not professional to write your name and number down on a cocktail napkin. When they get home, the first thing they'll do is check you out by typing your name into Google. Having a webpage is having some control in what they find. Make sure your page clearly illustrates who you are and what you do. Novelists, print your latest book cover on your business cards and post it on the landing page of your website.
- Get out there and schmooze. Once your webpage is up and your business cards are in hand, it's time to network. For novelists, that means signings, conferences, and bookstore visits. For freelancers, that means e-mailing editors, attending social events, and forming relationships with possible interview subjects. Whatever the end goal, the more people you know, the more opportunities you'll have. Be social, friendly, and don't treat conversations like sales pitches. Form the relationship first, pitch later. Everyone is a potential reader, a potential client, a potential interview subject. Don't write someone off just because you don't think they can do anything for you.
- Learn from the best. When I first started doing publicity, I called and e-mailed a handful of book publicists around Chicago. All of them talked with me, one even met me for coffee to talk about the business. The more you know, the easier it is to avoid common pitfalls. If you're a debut author, talk to authors who have been at it for a while. If you're a freelancer, e-mail a writer from your favorite magazine or newspaper. Most people love to talk about themselves and share their knowledge.
- Get organized. If you're a freelancer, you're juggling numerous deadlines for a variety of publications, not to mention pitching new story ideas and following up with editors. Novelists are marketing their current book, completing edits on their second, and coming up with ideas for their third. There's a lot to keep track of. Utilize Excel, Outlook, and other programs to ensure you stay on task and meet deadlines. Forming daily to-do lists isn't a bad idea either. Keep a filing system to keep track of contracts, article payments, and clips.
- Plan ahead. If you want to make it as a freelancer, you should be pitching every day. Even if you're swamped with deadlines, you should still plan ahead and solicit future assignments. If you're an author, make sure you send out ARCs to reviewers and the media as soon as their available. Book reviews have a long turnaround time, especially with the diminished space in print publications. For short stories, it can be a up to a year from acceptance to publishing, and payment can be even longer. Complete the immediate tasks, but everyday, you should be planting seeds for the future.
Treat the act of writing as an art, but everything else should be treated as a business. Ultimately, you're selling a product (book, short story) or service (writing), and when it comes to sales, professionalism goes a long way.