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Why Writing is a Business – and How to Win at it [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post by Nick Thacker.

I’ve been writing books for only a couple years – I’m releasing a thriller later this year, and I have a few nonfiction books on writing and self-publishing under my belt.

But I’ve been a “writer” for over seven years. It doesn’t seem like much, but that’s well over a quarter of my life (go ahead and do the math; I’ll wait).

What I’ve learned throughout my career blogging, writing articles, and maintaining content networks for clients and businesses is that writing, whether for personal desire or as a career path, is best handled as if it were a business.

I know, blasphemy, right?

But it’s true: if you approach writing as if it’s a business, you’ll have a much better chance at winning it.

“Winning” at writing can mean numerous things, of course, from making a full-time income writing and selling books, to being on the top of a particular genre, to simply writing things that you enjoy.

Regardless of your personal writing goals, having a business mindset when you write can spell the difference between “seven unfinished books in the top drawer” to “New York Times Bestselling Author.” Here’s why:

  • Treating your writing like a business forces you to be cognizant of time
  • Businesses are usually better at creating “products” than individuals
  • “Writing as a business” implies more accountability, expertise, and long-term focus than “writing for fun.”

Again, I’m not here to talk you out of writing manuscripts just for the sheer joy of it – but if you’re at all interested in selling one of those manuscripts one day, here are three great ways to kick your “writing business” into high gear:

1. Set a writing schedule

When I first started writing blog posts, I would wait for the proverbial “muse” to visit.

Most of the time, of course, it wouldn’t. I would be left with no post for that day, and nothing productive done.

When I started writing for small business owners, I got a little more serious. I created an editorial calendar (there’s a fantastic free plugin for WordPress that does this as well), and planned out the posts I would write that day, week, or month.

It helped immensely, and I swear by it now.

In fact, when I started writing my novel, I found that having a pseudo-editorial calendar was extremely beneficial. Rather than spend time fumbling around each night wondering what to write about, I outlined and planned the entire novel beforehand, and my “writing calendar” just told me what to write, and how much I needed to get done.

You certainly don’t need that much planning and structure – you can simply plan out when the beginning, middle, and end of your book will be done. As well, it helps to schedule the release date and work backwards from there – when will you send it to an editor, and when will you send it out to beta readers?

2. Build measurement and tracking systems

No business succeeds for long without measuring certain metrics, and neither should a business-minded writer.

As they say, “what gets measured gets managed,” and with the advent of online tools like KDP Select, ebooks, and a gazillion social media sites, there’s no reason you can’t set up a simple way to track sales, clicks, visits, etc.

Start with Google Analytics on your blog or website, and build a simple tracking spreadsheet for sales and guest posts. You can tweak these to your heart’s content, but you’re looking for trends and anomalies (analyze the trends, and throw out the anomalies). Once you’ve done that and have gotten some information, you can begin shaking things up and doing more of what works (and less of what doesn’t).

Be careful not to become a slave to the numbers – they’re helpful, but they’re far from everything.

3. Test, adjust, and launch

With a few months’ worth of data, you can start to see if there’s a particular blog or website sending you considerable amounts of traffic, and focus some effort on increasing it (writing a guest post for them, participating in their forum, etc.).

Check for things like Bounce Rate (a measure of how many people leave your site after arriving fewer than four seconds prior) and TOS (Time On Site). Combine these numbers with referral traffic, and you can start to figure out how people are finding your site, and whether or not they like it.

Again, these metrics are amazing to track, watch, and improve, but they’re also going to cut into your writing time. Remember when we talked about setting up a writing plan? Add time into that plan for tracking and measuring your business impact, and you’ll be operating as efficiently as a high-level CEO.

Choose your title

On that note, when you’re working on your new business (writing), be aware of what role you’re playing. As entrepreneurs and one-person businesses, we can easily get sucked into one or two roles that we know, love, and feel comfortable in – at the expense of the other roles that are just as important.

For example, I often find myself working on marketing, but I forget about accounting. Oops. I’m always amazed at how far my latest book has reached, then doubly-amazed when I realize I’m still broke at the end of the month. That can be prevented if I’d just spend the right amount of time working on the books!

CEOs are known to be the types of people who can wear many hats, but offer that wise “birds-eye view” analysis when everyone’s lost in the weeds. COOs (Chief Operating Officers) are like the micromanagers – they’re often working in a spreadsheet, figuring out how to squeeze out another penny of efficiency from the floor crew.

Neither of these roles are bad, but they’re incomplete in and of themselves. You need to be able to understand what your business needs, and when it needs it.

It’s not easy to run a writing business, but in today’s market and with the way things are changing (read: drastically, every day), it’s adamant that we understand our “business” and take pains to ensure we’re running it properly.

I’ve only scratched the surface, and I’ve surely made some people mad – that’s fine; I want to hear your thoughts! Just leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

Nick is a blogger, writer, and self-declared “life hacker” who enjoys writing novels. He runs www.LiveHacked.com, and has a totally free course that helps people write a novel that has helped many other writers succeed!

  • Sarah Negovetich

    This is great advice. One of the most common reasons people list for not writing the novel they always wanted to, is not enough time. If you are serious about getting it done, a little self-accountability can go a long way.

    • That’s true, but every writer is AT LEAST as busy every non-writer — often more so (because they’re busy writing a book!).

      Love your comment — thanks!

  • Bette A. Stevens

    Excellent article. THANKS! Bette

    • No problem — thanks for stopping by, Bette!

  • Darlene Elizabeth Williams

    You certainly haven’t made me mad! When I first decided I was going to write a historical fiction novel and, then a few months later, a non-fiction freelance writing guide, my main objective was to treat my writing as a business. Yes writing is a passion, but many people work in careers that are passions that provide paychecks. Writers should have the same mindset. My objective is write and earn money from it.

    • So true — thanks for commenting, and sharing Darlene!

  • Terrific post and confirms the talks I’ve given — in my head to an invisible audience about the need to structure for writing fiction and nonfiction.

  • Fantastic post. Informative and entertaining, thank you for sharing! I’m just starting out and I’m more and more coming to the realization that exposure and traffic seems to come in two forms: a slow trickle, or a snowball effect. The snowball effect seems to be something everyone strives for, and when they encounter the slow trickle many simply give up.