Authorpreneur huh? Microsoft Word is hitting me with that little red line letting me know it does not approve of my attempt at creating new words.
Fortunately, I didn’t come up with the term. It’s been floating around the publishing world for some time in fact. What I am going to do make a case for using it with a straight face. Seriously.
In 2015, I took a job working for Lulu’s customer service team. I walked into that job with a very specific mental image of what being an author meant.
That image included a cluttered, dusty room with a fireplace and a battered desk featuring stacks of handwritten and printed notes, a desktop computer, and central to it all a wizened author magnificently gracing us with their brilliance. I knew even then that my mental picture held to a range of horrible and outdated clichés. Yet I couldn’t break free from the idea that authors were ornery geniuses working in frustrated seclusion.
Then I started talking to some real authors. People who haggled for the best price on their books. Who edited themselves against all advice and established wisdom. Authors who believed firmly and completely in their work, so much so that they sacrifice their time and savings to pursue their books.
Time went by and I grew more acquainted with the struggles of the modern author. Technology–print-on-demand and online retail distribution namely–completely changed the game for most. Changes to the nature of publishing necessitated a change to nature of authorship too.
Enter the Authorpreneur
Authors have always taken part in their own promotion and advocacy. Even with a well-funded publishing house behind your book, you’d be expected to attend a signing, promote yourself on social media, and engage with your audience directly. No amount of work from a publisher or marketing team completely removes the author from the equation.
In no small part, this is due to the very nature of all creative endeavors. The author isn’t just selling a product, they’re selling themselves as a very specific brand. An author is more than any one book, they’re the catalog of titles produced over a period of time. And the short stories in journals, the articles on websites, the posts in forums, and the quotes on Goodreads.
If you’re an author in 2018, you’re also an entrepreneur. Period. If you don’t think of yourself as an entrepreneur, you’re not finding the levels of success you could be. Or you’re incredibly lucky. If you’re lucky, keep doing what you’re doing.
But if you’re every single other author in the world, you need to start applying the principles entrepreneurs live by.
The spirit of entrepreneurship has seamlessly merged with the role of the author.
Your own biggest fan
Self-promotion is a key aspect of successfully selling your book. The Internet is a big, big place. Full of things—from videos to music to games to social media—all of which crowds out the space your book inhabits. If you want to be seen, you’ve got to stand up and proclaim loudly that you want people to look!
Historically, getting attention for their work is the biggest hurdle facing self-published authors. Sitting up late nights in front of a screen, agonizing over word choice, page layout, and cover design: no problem. Interacting with other people to build an audience: no thanks.
That might be an oversimplification. But the point is that the marketing side of being a self-published author is the toughest part. That’s where the entrepreneurial side of the equation kicks in.
Act like an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs possess unique skills that help them pursue their goals. From developing new products and software to revolutionizing industries, entrepreneurs are the people who take chances and get things done.
Often times the most successful entrepreneurs are also authors, though these individuals (I’m thinking of the Seth Godin‘s of the world) began their careers on the business side. Writing books becomes an alternative revenue source for successful business people. And for good reason; these individuals have found success in their endeavors, now they can find even more success detailing how they found success.
Author(preneurs) start from a different place. Your product and goal is the book you’re writing. The traditional course is reversed.
How, then, does an author go about acting like an entrepreneur? Well, first let’s define a few of the characteristics of an entrepreneur that sets them apart.
- Strategy – Entrepreneurs are notoriously strategic. It might seem obvious, since a successful business has to start with a strategy, but it’s worth pointing out because authors, too, must possess some strategic thinking. It’s no easy task to plan a manuscript, develop it, write it, edit it, design the book files, create a cover, marketing, publish, and so on. There’s a lot that goes into making a book. A strategy is crucial to succeeding.
That kind of mindset is definitively entrepreneurial and absolutely necessary for succeeding at business and at selling your book. If you haven’t figured this out yet, being a successful author is a business.
- Flexibility – I can’t say enough how important flexibility is for entrepreneurs. No matter how good your idea might be, if it doesn’t appeal or apply to the needs of your customers, you won’t be selling that idea. The best entrepreneurs don’t just have great ideas; they know how to adapt those ideas to fit the needs of their customers.
For authors, your customers are your audience, and you have to approach them in the same way. Trying to force your product (your book) into the market will be time-consuming and unlikely to realize the kinds of returns you’re looking for. But a small (or large) shift in the marketing angle, the cover design, or even just the categorization of the book can drastically change your audience’s view of your work. Be flexible and adapt to audience’s desires.
- Data-Driven – We live in the age of data. As a writer, you might not really need to worry so much about data gathering and acting decisively on that data, but when you shift gears to be an entrepreneur, data is vital. The most successful entrepreneurs, as I mentioned in point #2 above, are flexible and willing to adapt.
Adaptation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Savvy entrepreneurs adapt based on the trends their data shows them. As an author, you’ll need to track the trends in readers and the book market to allow your strategy to adapt (see what I did there?).
- Risk Tolerance – I left this for last because it’s the hardest aspect of entrepreneurial thinking to acclimate too. Successful entrepreneurs take risks. There’s no way around it. You can gather all the data in the world, you’ll still only have an idea of what you should do to be successful.
Strategy, flexibility, and data only get you to a place where you are ready to try something—a marketing plan that is fresh, a book design that appeals to your audience, a new way to approach an old idea—before you can hope to be successful, you must take the risk that you’ll fail.
Entrepreneurs are willing to take those risks and are prepared to fail. They know that failure doesn’t mean the end. It means they need a new strategy, to gather more data, and to adapt their plans to better suit their audience. Failure is data, something the best entrepreneurs understand intimately.
Adding it up
You’re an author first and foremost. Whether you write fiction of any sort, nonfiction, or even manuals; you are a writer. You start from a place of creating and sharing content you think an audience is interested in reading. Connecting those readers with your content is where the entrepreneurial mindset becomes important and where it behooves you to think about your marketing strategy more as an entrepreneur than as an author.
This shift in thinking is a result of the shift in publishing trends toward independent self-publishing and away from traditional publishing. If you pitch your book to an agent, the agent accepts it and gets you a contract with a traditional publisher, you’ll still be acting as a salesperson for your book, but the strategy will be driven by others. You’ll be a face selling your product; a spokesperson.
As an independent author, you’re in complete control—the place entrepreneurs want to be. I’m not the first to say this and I certainly won’t be the last: successful independent authors must closely resemble entrepreneurs in their approach to promoting and selling their book.