The Remix: Eight Tips to Evolve a Successful Writing Career

I recently read an article by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, about growing a successful start-up company. In it, he outlined eight tips to take your startup from fledgling to fabulous. While the tips were general and were basically geared toward true business models (e.g., noncreative fields), I found that the tips were especially relevant to writers, given today’s publishing landscape. Without further ado, here are those eight tips, modified by me to directly address my fellow scribes:

RICHARD SAYS: Believe in your product: Believe in your product: Buy into your own vision and don’t waiver it just for a pay check. You know your vision better than anyone else, and if you lose sight of it, the world will too. “It is your vision that will give you success, not your venture capitalist’s vision.”

Tiff says: Believe that what you write will sell. Don’t let what’s currently on the shelves,  bestseller lists, or Goodreads buzz shake your confidence, or the “numbers” quoted by a publishing executive make you doubt  yourself.
RICHARD SAYS: Produce something of use: Build the best product you can, and make sure it has long-term value. This is something we’ve always focused on at Virgin – if you get into business solely to make money, you won’t. If you try to make a real difference, you’ll find true success.

Tiff says: Write what you want to write. It is very easy to look at what’s hot, sales-wise, and think that’s what you should be writing (especially since most writers want to ideally be paid by their craft). If that’s not your flow, though, trying to write what’s popular (e.g., writing what seems to be making authors money) is only going to end up making yourself miserable. 

RICHARD SAYS: Invest in what’s going to scale your business: Identify exactly what you need to grow your company. Is it technology, engineering, infrastructure? “Don’t put people on the ground for that sake of putting people on the ground.”

Tiff says: We are in a very different publishing age, with the increasing evolution of technology and social media. What used to work in order to get a book out to the public doesn’t really apply. You can’t do the same things and expect different results. Adaptabilty is key to longevity, so figure out how to plug yourself into today’s literary landscape. Do you need a social media manager? A manuscript editor? A website designer? A personal assistant? There is nothing wrong with figuring out what is needed to make you the best author you can be. You are a brand (and this publishing age is even bigger on branding), whether you like it or not. Protect your brand like you’d protect your reputation (which are pretty much one and the same, for business purposes).

 

RICHARD SAYS: Hire the right people: “If you get the input right, the output is far easier to manage.” At Virgin, our people are at the heart of everything we do, and are crucial to our success.

Tiff says: Choose your team wisely. We, as authors, are more prone to cut corners in an effort to get our books out there; this includes attaching people to our projects who end up doing more harm than good.  Professionals are more expensive, but they are worth it. Besides, our job is to create, and we can’t create when we’re trying to do everything else. We are only as good as our last book and if we want longevity, we have to come out of the gate strong. The public is fickle and unforgiving, especially with the rise of social media, and it’s a lot harder to get a second chance to prove ourselves.

 

RICHARD SAYS: Give everybody equity: Shared stewardship leads to collective responsibly and increased passion. If you empower your employees to believe in the company like it’s their own, it’s hard to fail.

Tiff says: Engage your readers. People are more likely to purchase from people with whom they are comfortable, and this means that they feel as if they “know” you.  Solicit comments not only from trusted people who read drafts of your pre-published work (and that means finding people who will give you the unvarnished truth, and won’t tell you that every word you write is a masterpiece), but also your reading audience. They are the ones who will be spending hard-earned money on your work, so make them feel invested in that work. A good way is to do polls on your website about different things: which book should come next in a series; which cover design do you like best; or even contests, where the winner gets a character named after them in an upcoming book or can pick a title. Remember, it takes a village. 

 

RICHARD SAYS: Think globally: Ensure your product is world-class and can compete with any competition, anywhere. But don’t just go global for the sake of it.

Tiff says: For writers, this speaks to distribution. Yes, it’s great to list your books on Ingram for worldwide distribution, and that’s the de facto assumption in mainstream publishing (and even in some indie publishers). But is that really necessary? Perhaps it will be in later stages of your writing career but when you’re just starting out with your first or second book, it may be better to keep it local (within your country of residence). Don’t bite off more than you can chew in the early stages of your writing and publishing career. Hopefully, you plan on being at this for a long time, so be a marathon runner, not a sprinter.

 

RICHARD SAYS: Decentralise: While it’s necessary to centralise your business structure in the beginning so that you can run a tight ship, it’s not scalable if you want to be global. To be successful in different markets your company needs to work on local time, understand local geography and culture, and attract the best local talent.

Tiff says: This piggybacks on my above comments regarding worldwide distribution and marketing. Marketing to different demographics requires skill and knowledge of the demographic you are targeting. Even within a country (or even a state), you may find that certain marketing tactics are different for different parts of the country. If you are unfamiliar with a certain area of that country, you may want to reach out and find someone who is, and who can give you some pointers on how to best reach your audience in that particular area. Likewise if you live in one country and are seeking to expand your writing presence to another country. For example, if you write erotica and are seeking to expand your writing wares to an area known for a strong religious presence, you may want to work with someone who can help you navigate any minefields that may pop up and identify potential channels through which to sell your work.

Folks, remember: you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, as long as you have the smartest person in the room working for you. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

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