Thousands of people dream of writing and publishing full-time, yet few have been told how to make that dream a reality. Some working writers may have no more than a rudimentary understanding of how the publishing and media industry works, and longtime writing professors may be out of the loop as to what it takes to build a career in an era of digital authorship, amid more competition—and confusing advice—than ever.
Releasing today, my newest book, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), takes it on principle that learning about the publishing industry will lead to a more positive and productive writing career. While business savvy may not make up for mediocre writing, or allow any author to skip important stages of creative development, it can reduce anxiety and frustration. And it can help writers avoid bad career decisions by setting appropriate expectations of the industry, and by providing tools and information on how to pursue meaningful, sustainable careers in writing and publishing on a full-time or part-time basis.
Despite ongoing transformations in the publishing industry, there are fundamental business principles that underlie writing and publishing success, and those principles are this book’s primary focus. Writers who learn to recognize the models behind successful authorship and publication will feel more empowered and confident to navigate a changing field, to build their own plans for long-term career development.
One underlying assumption in this guide is that many creative writers—particularly those pursuing formal writing degrees—want to build careers based on publishing books. It seems like common sense: literary agents sell and profit from book-length work, not single stories or essays; and getting anyone (whether a reader or a publisher) to pay for a book is easier than getting them to pay for an online article or poem.
But book publishing is often just one component of a full-time writing career. Perhaps you’ve read personal essays by debut authors “exposing” the fact that the average book advance does not equate to a full-time living for even a single year. Such essays reveal unrealistic expectations about the industry—or magical thinking: I will be the exception and earn my living from writing great books.
My guide does offer guidance on how to get a book published, a milestone that remains foundational to most creative writing careers. But because very few people can make a living solely by writing and publishing books, it goes further, showing why this one pursuit should not constitute one’s entire business model. Earnings can come as well from other sectors of publishing, other activities that involve writing and the types of skills one picks up as a writer. Online media and journalism, for example, now play a significant role in even fiction writers’ careers, so The Business of Being a Writer spends considerable time on skills and business models important to the digital media realm. When combining these skills with the entrepreneurial attitude and knowledge this guide teaches, a writer will be better prepared to piece together a writing life that is satisfying and sustainable. In the end, some writers may discover they prefer other types of writing and publishing—and not just because it’s tough to make a living wholly from books.
If you are a writer looking for the business education you feel you never received, I hope this book provides the missing piece. While I try to be encouraging, and want you to feel capable and well informed, I don’t sugar-coat the hard realities of the business. When you decide to pursue a writing career, you’ll experience frustration, again and again, and not just in the form of rejection letters. But it helps to know what’s coming and that your experience is normal. Writers who are properly educated about the industry typically feel less bitterness and resentment toward editors, agents, and other professionals. They are less likely to see themselves as victimized and less likely to be taken advantage of. It’s the writers who lack education on how the business works who are more vulnerable to finding themselves in bad situations.
To learn more about this book
- Read the review in Publishers Weekly, which says the book “is destined to become a staple reference book for writers and those interested in publishing careers.”
- Read the early Goodreads reviews from writers.
- Review the table of contents for the book.
- Here’s my Q&A with the Chicago Manual of Style on the business of being a writer.
- Visit the companion website for the book.
- Buy the book at Amazon.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.