January 29th, 2008 | The Business of Writing | 5 Comments
Danny wrote to say, "You’ve offered some basic ideas for those of us trying to make the move from part-time to full-time. What else do we need to know?"
I can think of several things that might be important…
First, invest in a separate business phone line. You can write it off as a business expense, and it’ll help you separate your private life from your professional life.
Second, invest in the technology you need. Let’s face it, if you plan to do any serious internet research, you need a fast computer and high-speed internet. (This may sound obvious to most of you, but I was speaking at a conference recently where nearly every writer in the class claimed to have dial-up. Yikes! I wondered if they were also listening to 8-track players and watching black-and-white TV.) The fact is, you’re paying for what you need and don’t have. So if you’re trying to get by with a cheap-o computer, you’re making a mistake. (And here I’ll offer an unsolicited commercial: I finally went to an Apple MacBook a year-and-a-half ago. In that time, it hasn’t crashed once. Just so you know.) The same goes for software, a printer, and whatever bells and whistles your particular type of writing requires. Organizational theory teaches us that things don’t get less complicated over time; they get more complicated. So educate yourself on the complications, then spend the money to bring your office up to date.
Third, invest in a great web site. People used to think of web sites more or less as freeway road signs — something you passed by on the way to your destination. Now we understand web sites are interactive places where we can get information, ask questions, and make comments. If you want to build a readership, think about spending some serious cash to create a dynamite site.
Fourth, invest in great business cards, stationery, and brochures. If you’re going to be a pro, don’t use something that makes you look like an amateur. Your card is often the one thing that gets left with an editor or agent — make it unique. With the advent of desktop publishing, there’s no reason to have cheap cards any more.
Fifth, invest in bookkeeping software. It’s time to pick up a copy of Quickbooks, spend the weekend filling out all the information, and start forcing yourself to use it. You’ll see the value come tax time. Your spouse will thank you. And your financial life will never be the same again.
Sixth, create a business budget. Figure out how much you need to make from your writing business. Give yourself a quarterly goal, then determine what projects you’re going to write in order to meet your goal. (This meshes well with the advice I gave last time to create a writing calendar. These two tools are some of the best steps you’ll ever make in terms of moving toward full time writing.)
Seventh, learn about taxes, expenses, and investments. Yeah, this one probably doesn’t excite you. But if you really want to go full-time, you’re going to start without an administrative assistant or an accountant to shepherd you through everything. So take the time to learn the financials. Besides, if you learn it, then you’ll be much more comfortable when you have some success and decide to turn the job over to someone else.
Eighth, learn to keep good records. This is really important, but it’s the one thing most creative types struggle with. Save your receipts. Write down your expenses. Keep track of your mileage. Record what lunch with the editor cost. All of that will help you come tax time, and once you establish a system, you’ll find it easy to keep going.
Ninth, work to keep your contacts fresh. Publishing is all about relationships… just like every other business in this country. Who cuts your hair prior to a big meeting — somebody you trust, or somebody you’ve never met? When your car breaks down, do you want to take it to a mechanic you’ve come to know, or to whoever happens to be open? All of us prefer to do business with people we trust. Editors are the same way. If they like you and trust you, they’re more apt to do business with you. So keep the relationships strong.
Tenth, keep writing regularly. All the organizational advice in the world won’t help you as a writer if you don’t sit your butt down in a chair every day and write. Write every day. That’s still the best advice for moving forward in your writing career.