Authors: Don’t Forget that Writing is a Business

My father had a small business which I thought imprisoned him, and as a kid, I swore I would never “do retail.” .

Boy, was I wrong!  As an author, I wound up owning my own small business and it’s as vulnerable to competition and the vagaries of the market place as any physical store.  Sometimes it’s just as exhausting.

From the beginning of my book publishing career in 1990, I was deeply involved in pushing my work, contacting venues for readings, investing in posters and postcards, writing my own press releases when I thought my publisher hadn’t done a good job, and constantly faxing or mailing strangers around the country about my latest book.  I spent thousands sending myself on tour when my publisher wouldn’t do it or going to conferences to push my work and build my presence, and so did many of my friends.

Then came the Internet and everything shifted to email.  Add a web site that needs constant updating, newsletters, going on Twitter and Facebook, maintaining visibility on various listservs, blogging, blog tours, producing book trailers, updating ebooks in various ways, and the constant reaching out to strangers in the hope of enlarging your platform and increasing sales.  It never ends.

And neither does the advice offered by consultants.  I’m constantly deluged by offers to help me increase my sales, drive more people to my web site, help me discover the secrets of SEO.  They come on an hourly basis and when they tout success stories, I sometimes feel as if I’m trapped on a low-performing TV show while everyone else on the schedule is getting great ratings.

Going independent for a few books after I published with big and small houses momentarily made me feel more in control, but that control morphed into an albatross.  When my 25th book was published recently by a superb university press I was relieved to be intimately involved in things like the cover art and promotion, but not be the one ultimately in charge of every aspect of production.

The burden of business has often made writing itself harder to do, and sometimes it can even feel pointless because it initiates a whole new business push.  But that’s the author’s life, like it or not.

If you’re going to be an author, prepare to work your butt off at things that might not come naturally to you and might not ever feel comfortable, whether you’re indie published or traditionally published.  Way before the book even sees publication.  Do your research.  Know your genre. Be smart.  Be patient.  Play the long game.  Hope for success, but don’t expect miracles.

One author friend who’s been a  New York Times seller for years confided to me that despite all the success, “I feel like a pickle salesman, down on the Lower East Side in 1900, hawking my goods.” Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Why I Quit Newspaper Reviewing and Became a Happier Writer

Ten years ago I stopped reviewing for the handful of newspapers and magazines I’d spent a decade freelancing for.  But I kept reviewing on several radio stations because I felt freer there and had more fun; eventually I also moved on line to and The Huffington Post.

I didn’t quit print reviewing because the deadlines wore me down.  I loved the discipline of writing well under pressure, seeing my work in print so quickly, and knowing people read it.

And I didn’t quit because I had a vision of the decline of print journalism.

My main reason for quitting was bad policy.

On radio, nobody hassled me about whether a book had come out that week, that month, or the month before–but print reviewing was very different.  One newspaper editor in particular was obsessed with “timeliness.”  Here’s what she meant:  I couldn’t, for example, review a book in December if its official publication date was in November. Why? Because by then it was old.

This struck me as ridiculous. Reviewing books isn’t like covering fast-breaking news stories. Why would readers think the way my editor(s) did? Especially when I was reviewing fiction? Why would readers care about publication dates?

Let’s be clear. Not every newspaper or magazine operates in this way, but those that do are extremely rigid in their boundaries, and that’s sad.   Books get lost; staffers at publishing houses fall ill and fall behind; sometimes they forget to send all the review copies out.  Books can reach the reviewers late for any number for reasons, but if that happens at one of these outlets, the author and the publisher are completely out of luck.

Reviews are a crucial part of a book’s success, even bad reviews, because they alert people to the book’s existence, and not everyone believes bad reviews anyway.  I’ve bought books precisely because a certain reviewer didn’t like them and I knew our tastes were very different.

I don’t miss living with that kind of rigidity at all.  And I feel sorry for all those authors whose books don’t get in under the wire to at least be considered for review.  The strict policy about publication dates is old-fashioned, idiotically restrictive, and doesn’t serve the interests of the reading public well at all.

I’m glad I don’t have to work with editors who are so inflexible and that I can share my excitement about a book whenever I discover it, because that’s the best part of being a writer-reviewer. The second best part is finding a book to review that also makes me a better writer and when that happens, it’s magical.

Lev Raphael’s books have been translated into fifteen languages, most recently Czech and Romanian.  His 25th book is a novel of suspense about stalking, gun violence, and militarized police: Assault with a Deadly Lie.