9 Questions to Test your Author Entrepreneurship

9 QuestionsFollowing the interest sparked by Lifetime Value of an Author and Authors Need to Plan, I thought I would add to the business discussion of what it takes to be an author with the premise that writers must act like entrepreneurs who are business, market and technology savvy.

Typically entrepreneurs are willing to take risks, seek independence and are both decisive and adaptable. They are driven by an idea – a service or product that will capture the market – and are disciplined self-starters who juggle multiple tasks. A daunting list of attributes.

To provoke your Monday thinking, I offer nine questions an author-entrepreneur should consider.

1. Do you think of yourself as an owner-operator? An owner-operator is a small business owned by the same person who is running day-to-day operations. In addition to the day-to-day business of writing, as an entrepreneur-writer you should be planning the business, managing its financial aspects, and determining your marketing strategy.

2. Do you think of your work as a collection of products and services? Entrepreneurs may begin with one product but most evolve to sell a complementary set of products and services in order to more fully satisfy their customers. The cost of acquiring customers is high; it is much easier to sell additional products (books are a product as are freelance writing, short stories, speaking engagements and blog posts) to existing customers than acquire another set of customers. Have you thought of your writing this way?

3. Do you understand your product development cycle? Every entrepreneur seeks to offer excellent products and services in a cost-effective manner. As market conditions change they adapt with new products, improved services and innovative marketing and promotion. How long do you take to write a new book? New freelance article or blog post? What is your process and why? Do you know your product development costs in terms of time and money? How can you do things differently?

4. Do you know your readers (customers) and the value you offer them? Before launching a business or a new product, entrepreneurs determine the size of the market, test market their products, and find creative ways to interact with customers. Entrepreneurs remain alert to changing market conditions and adapt by creating new products and services. Who are your readers? Why do they purchase your works? How will you reach them?

5. Do you know your competitors? Entrepreneurs know their competitors and how they operate. They know when changes have occurred in their slice of the industry. Both fiction and non-fiction writers should be equally savvy.

6. Do you understand your selling role? Entrepreneurs are passionate about selling their products and if they aren’t born salesmen/women they hire that skill. Publishers have limited advertising and promotion budgets. As the owner-operator of your writing business, building an audience and selling to them is one of your critical responsibilities. Are you comfortable selling?

7. Do you know how your business will make money? At a very simplistic level, revenue minus cost equals profit. Successful entrepreneurs develop good financial controls, know the cost of doing business, seek ways to be more efficient. They also look for ways to enhance revenue generation; for example, some authors enhance revenue through novellas, freelance articles, workshops and speaking engagements.

8. Do you have the traits that foster success? In addition to the traits listed in the first paragraph, I would add the ability to anticipate and handle change, the willingness to hustle for clients (see point 6), and good organization and planning skills.

9. Do you have the financial resources to start your business? Entrepreneurs put personal funds into their business and also seek investment dollars. They must satisfy themselves, their families and their investors that the risk-reward equation is worthwhile. Writers put personal time into their business, time that often reduces their income from other sources. Writers too have to ensure that the rewards outweigh the risks.

The premise is authors should think like small business owners in the context of a changing industry. The questions posed above may sound intimidating, but I believe they are vital to understanding the environment facing today’s writers and helping you plan your way forward.

Questions and comments are welcome, as always.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Lifetime Value of an Author

On my first (and now defunct) blog, One Writer’s Voice, I wrote about the dynamics of making money as a traditional author. With the rise of self-publishing as an increasingly viable way for authors to bring their content to readers, I thought it might be helpful to reexamine that notion.

Let’s consider the writing industry, a term I prefer to “the publishing industry” because it puts the emphasis on those creating content and implies a shift in the balance of control amongst writers, influencers, publishers and agents. One statistic from a 2008 case study on the industry is: 20% of a publisher’s titles generate 80% of its sales and profits. In other words, publishers lose money on a significant percentage of their books. Without doubt, authors whose books continue to lose money are either swiftly, or not-so-swiftly, dropped by the publishers who took them on. Of course, many authors go on to earn money for their publishers over time as illustrated below.

Author profitability

Costs represented in red include editing, new author support, advances and royalties, advertising and promotion, production and distribution. Revenues (in green) include book sales, foreign rights, subsidiary rights and so on. One could argue with the exact size of each bar on the chart, however, the point is subsequent books create synergies, sparking sales of earlier books and reaching wider audiences. In theory, publishers along with authors and agents gradually earn a return on their investments.

Costs are changing with adjusted publishing, distribution and marketing channels. Authors are taking on different tasks – some might argue to the detriment of their primary purpose of content creation. Revenues might increase if authors can reach readers more easily and create demand through other than the traditional mechanisms. I’m sure all this has been said before.

What does the equation look like in the self-publishing world or in a blended world of traditional and self-published authors?

Life time Value Self-Pub


A number of self-published authors are subsequently taken on by traditional publishing houses. Is this a different way to share risks between authors and publishers? Will it result in better choices on the part of publishers?

Lifetime value blendedAgain, the diagrams are conceptual, don’t pay too much attention to the size of each bar on the charts.

Questions to consider: Which costs should authors bear? How can authors participate more effectively in advertising and promotion? How will the ever-changing dynamic of technology affect the costs of publishing? Who should benefit from a different cost to revenue equation? What responsibility do readers have?

And … what can authors do to manage costs? Reach more readers? Work effectively with publishers? Write productively?

The charts make the process look simple and we know that it is anything but. Self-published authors struggle to break even despite writing more books. Self-published authors may be taken on by a traditional publisher and still not break through to better sales.

What seems clear is authors must write many books in order to have a hope of earning an income from their writing. Unless, of course, they are very lucky 🙂