Business Musings: Define Yourself
I didn’t exactly get rested after last week, but I did manage to finish the contracts book, which was kicking my ass, as you well know. I found so much material because of you folks! Thank you ever so much. I’ll delineate some of it in future blogs, but seriously, it was a privilege to work on this project with all of you. I’m amazed at you folks, and humbled at the way you offered your assistance.
The book will appear around the end of the month, debuting in the Nano Storybundle in November (see? Told you! Hard deadline). I was actually worried for a while that I wouldn’t be able to finish it.
That, plus two added radio interviews for Women of Futures Past (both a pleasure), took time away from fiction writing, and kept me behind. And cut short my sleep, since one of the interviews was in the middle of my night. (They invited me back, so I must have done okay. Thank heavens.)
We’re also preparing for what we call The Master Class, but really, we should call it the Writer Summit. Dean and M.L. Buchman have taken the lead on this—our annual meeting of writers, trying to figure out this new world of publishing. But whenever we do a workshop, my workload the week before doubles, primarily because I have to hit all my deadlines for both weeks in advance. (And the blog I have half written has so many links in it, I simply can’t use it.)
I might sound stressed, but I’m much less stressed than I was last week. Now, I’m just pushing pieces around until I figure out which ones I can best handle.
All of this is a prelude to my day, which began on the phone with the great folks at a Montreal radio station at oh-dark-100 this morning (boy, were the cats confused. Why was I up and talking and not feeding them?). I had planned to write my blog afterwards, but I admit: I gave up and went back to bed.
Then meetings and a flu shot (have you got yours yet?) and groceries and lots of driving. All the time that I was running errands, I was casting in my mind for a topic for the blog that would require as few links as possible and still interest me.
(There are some posts I could write in my sleep, which is kinda where I’m at, but I didn’t want to do that to either of us. <VBG>)
I kept dipping in and out of the news on the radio, as I got in and out of the car and I swear, every single story seemed to be about the same thing. It was as if the universe got out a cudgel and was hitting me over the head with it.
First, All Things Considered had a story about Sesame Street’s new(ish) CEO. At the end of the story, the CEO, Jeffrey Dunn, said this:
The big debate that has been had here for many years is, are we a media company, or are we an educational company? And the truth is we’re both.
That made a little bell ring in my head. Hmmm, I thought. There’s something in what he was talking about. But then the broadcast moved to Amazon’s new streaming music platform, and I got distracted. Plus, I had to buy rain gear because winter has arrived on the Oregon coast, and if I want to continue my running, I needed rain gear that fit.
By the time I got my really cool gear (thanks to this great woman at Columbia Sportswear), All Things Considered had ended, and Marketplace was about half over.
I drove home listening to a piece about Ford Motor Company’s CEO Mark Fields (yes, there was a damn theme to my radio listening, unintentionally, of course). He said:
The transportation systems that have served us so well around the world for the last 100 years—they’re not going to work for the next hundred years when you look at population densities in cities. You know, today 50% of the population around the world lives in cities. That’s probably going to grow to 60%-65% in the next 15 years. That means there’s more congestion, more traffic. So we’re stepping back and saying, you know, people are really going from a mindset of owning vehicles to owning them and sharing them, when you look at things like Uber etcetera. And we’re stepping back and we’re saying to ourselves, how do we thrive in that environment? And that’s why we’re going from an auto to auto and mobility company.
Both CEOs were talking about the changing economy for their legacy businesses, about the way technology has hit their bottom line, and what they’re doing to reinvent these businesses (one a massive corporation, and the other an influential entertainment company). There’s more in both stories about those changes, but they’re not relevant here.
However, what is relevant is this: I had just finished the contracts book, in which I repeatedly discussed the way that traditional publishing has gone from being a manufacturing and distribution business to being business that manages intellectual property.
It’s a major shift, causing a lot of shifts down the line, in contracts, treatment of employees, and the focus of the business.
And I had my aha! moment for the blog. Because as we’ve been setting up the Master Class/Writer’s Summit, we’ve been talking about being overwhelmed. I think I blogged about it for the entire month of September.
Writers have expressed that overwhelmed feeling to me over and over again for the past seven years.
And Matt (M.L. Buchman) talked today about the theme of the workshop will be to help writers figure out their future in this brave new world. He was talking about defining the career and finding a focus.
Matt and I often kid that we don’t speak the same language. He’s a spreadsheet kinda guy who once worked as a project manager. I’m intuitive and dyslexic, and spreadsheets literally make my brain hurt. (And I’m so biased against them that as I’m tiredly typing spreadsheet tonight, I consistently type the word as “spreadshit.” I kid you not.)
I think, though, that his discussion of defining a career and finding a focus, in language I didn’t entirely understand, primed me for these two news stories. And I got it.
I finally figured out the source of confusion for so many writers—and for me, at times, when I forget what I’m about.
We writers have to define our business.
It wasn’t coincidence that both CEOs talked about the technological changes, and the fact that those changes have led to a redefinition of their company’s description. Words are powerful things, as we all know, and defining yourself one way or another is the first step in figuring out who and what we are.
Ford is moving from an auto company to an auto and mobility company. That’s corporate speak, so you know that phrase was tested and retested and tested some more. I’m not entirely sure what “auto and mobility company” means, but the corporation knows, (or thinks it knows) and that’s good enough.
I think Sesame Street’s dilemma and solution is much easier to understand. Media company? Or an education company?
Well, they’ve always been both, whether or not they acknowledged that in the corporate structure.
Now, however, they’re defining themselves as both. A tension between education and media clearly existed internally. And by adopting both words as part of their definition, that tension immediately eases.
It was easy for writers thirty years ago. Writers were people who wrote. (Dean actually said that to me this morning, in a completely different context.)
Now, however, writers are indie writers (no traditional publishing), traditionally published writers (no self-publishing), or hybrid writers (both).
And no matter how we define ourselves, we’re expected to promote our books and market them in one way or another and maintain our fan base and do many of the things that we used to think publishers did. (They often didn’t do those things, but that’s another blog altogether.)
If we’re indie or hybrid, we’re also publishers. We put out some or all of our material, and supervise it.
In my blogs, I’ve covered this by reminding writers that we run small businesses, but I realized today that definition is too general.
I run several small businesses—my writing business, a separate publishing company, my editing business, and two retail stores. They are all small businesses, but they’re distinctly different entities with distinctly different missions.
It seems obvious to me that each business needs its own mission statement, but I’ve never said that in a blog.
And it’s not as easy as I make it sound.
No longer can any writer say that she is “just” a writer. Now, if we want our books to be read by someone other than our families, we need to publish those books one way or another, and then market those books.
There is no more “just” any more.
I think it becomes imperative for all of us to figure out exactly what we do.
For example, I am a writer first. I am so clear on this that I will push back loudly at anything that interferes with my writing. Without my writing, none of my other businesses will stand. (Even the retail businesses, which were started with writing money.)
I know that I am a writer first.
So I am a writer hyphenate, to use a 1990s term.
I am a writer-editor or a writer-publisher or a writer-retailer. Note that writing is there first.
But not all of us who write are writer hyphenates. I know some people who publish books who enjoy the publishing process (the actual physical design of books) much more than I do. Some of these people publish their own stuff and other writers’ work as well.
I don’t know if these people would define themselves as publisher-hyphenates. They might. Publisher-writer, publisher-artist, publisher-marketer.
Or they might balk at that description.
I think the first step toward figuring out how to run your writing business in 2016 is the first step most non-writing businesses take in the so-called real world.
Define your business.
Label your job in that business.
My business is publishing. My job is writer. Everything else pales in comparison to my job.
But I have had to learn, over the years, to balance that publishing impulse with the writing impulse.
Sometimes the publishing takes over, and that stresses me.
Because I’ve been dealing with that stress since the mid-1980s, I can usually restore balance quickly if I veer into the publishing too deeply. I manage to get back to the writing relatively fast.
But my problem this fall was that I had lost track of what I was doing, and I ended up being a marketer-writer, a place I had never been before. I didn’t know how to extricate myself from all the promised promotion, and it caused me a great deal of stress.
The stress is easing now, once I realized just how out of balance I was.
Because finding balance is the goal.
How do you do that? You keep track, hourly, of what you do throughout your week. I know many of you have day jobs and children and other obligations. It’s up to you if you want to include those in your hourly tally.
I personally would focus only on my writing business (or what you have defined as your small business).
Look at two average weeks of your business work time, and see how it’s weighted. What are you spending most of your time on?
For instance, if you call yourself a writer-publisher, and you have not written anything in those two average weeks, but you have done publishing work, then you are not a writer-publisher.
You are a publisher.
You need to find a way to bring your writing back, and make it the most important thing.
In my case, in September, I was spending way too much time talking about writing and not doing much of it. I had to make changes, and it’s taken me weeks to reorganize my life to do so. I probably won’t hit my optimum balance until the end of October—but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
As you can tell from those radio pieces with the CEOs of two corporations that have existed for decades (more than a century in one instance), this kind of balance and definition discussion never ends.
Good businesses constantly evaluate how they’re spending their employee hours, their money, and their resources, and seeing if they’re actually spending all of that on the core mission of the business. Good businesses are refining all the time.
I don’t think we writers need to refine all the time.
But we do need periodic evaluations.
Here how I suggest we do that.
First, at the first of every year, evaluate how you’ve been spending your time versus how you define your company. See if you’re in balance.
Second, any time you feel stressed or out of control, re-examine that balance in your company, using the formula I mentioned above. Examine how you spend your time versus how you define your company.
Tweak if necessary—or do a major revamp, as I am having to do this fall.
Matt was spot-on in his discussion of focusing on career. Arrogant me, I figured I had a focus—and I do. I always have.
I just wasn’t executing it properly. I had allowed my business, and therefore my life, to fall out of balance.
I suspect next week’s conference is going to help even more. And sleep probably will too.
Which is what’s going to happen next. 🙂
I’ve been doing a business blog every Thursday since April of 2009 (except for six months off in 2014). In the first few months, the blog became interactive—the readers suggested topics or expanded on my thoughts in the comments section. Sometimes the readers changed my opinions on things. And many, many times, readers have led me to links and stories I wouldn’t have found on my own. Thank you for all of that.
Even though all of that is really valuable, this blog has to remain financially self-sustaining. That’s why I include a donate button at the end of every business post, but I don’t do so on the fiction posts.
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“Business Musings: Define Yourself,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/Image191.