How to Build Your Writing Business

build a writing businessA few days ago, I passed on some advice to an excellent writer who is just starting to build her writing business. She’s starting from a good place – she already has a great deal of expertise in several different subject areas, and people who know what she does come to her for advice. However, she has, at the moment, most of her eggs in one basket. Her main employer has a firm grip on that basket. At any time, she could wrest it away, and hand it to someone else.

Sally really needs to build up her business, tapping into her areas of expertise. She has just (within the last few weeks) started up a website and blog, and is thinking about a series of books.

Here is the advice I gave her (with ‘ancestry’ substituted for her real area of expertise).

1. Take a good long look at your overall business plan. You don’t have to sit down and do a mission statement blah blah blah (personally I hate that, it takes too long and I know what I want – financial security earned doing what I love!) Just try to get a sense of where you want to put your time. This will change over time: right now, you’ll need to spend quite a lot of time on writing for the ancestry magazine and as a guest blogger, because it’s bread and butter. However, this is work that could stop at any moment – the magazine could fold, you could get sick, they could get a new editor who directs most of the work to other freelancers and friends.

You need to build a business that will bring you passive income, so you get paid over and over again for work you did once. (e.g. eBooks, online training courses in researching family history, how to make books on family history come to life, etc).  Bottom line: Give your growing business at least 25% of your time now and build it up as time goes on. You can do this by allotting mornings and maybe two hours after lunch to the ancestry magazine, and the rest of the afternoon (or the evening – depends when you like to take your break) to your business. Even better if you can do it by using mornings for the ancestry mag and the rest of the time for your business.

2. Create to-do lists in order of importance for both aspects of your income. You probably already do this for the ancestry articles anyway, so do it for your own biz. I would divide your business time into segments so that you’re building your website (which is your ‘authority’ site) at the same time you are working on your first eBook.

3. Make it easy for yourself by re-purposing content. (Writers do this all the time. They recycle content for articles to create blog posts, or a series of email tips.) You’ve written a heap of advice on researching, family history and ancestry generally for the magazine, not to mention your guest blog posts. So here’s what you do: first create a rough outline for your first book (which is going to be ‘AncestryTips for Beginners’ or something like that, because you already have a following with your ancestry magazine readers and you can bet your boots they’ll buy your books. )

Just start with chapter names, according to the order in which people would approach learning the ropes with exploring ancestry (and some advanced techniques for research and making notes on family history). Now copy and paste the ‘ancestry’ content you’ve already written into the relevant sections. You WILL have to rewrite this and add little anecdotes etc to flesh it out and make it unrecognisable from the original article, because the magazine has bought the rights to that – and ditto for the blog posts: although they’re not paid gigs, you don’t want to duplicate them exactly. But you will probably find that you ALREADY have most of the content for your first book! Add nice little anecdotes to illustrate your points from the days when you worked for the public library, or from your own experience when you were starting out and found that certain techniques and short cuts made a big difference to your strategy, and you’ll have a book before you know it.

4. Every time you do an ancestry article for a magazine or website (or anyone) from now on, paste it into your book (whichever one of the series it may be), change it, and you have another chapter. (I wouldn’t waste too much time getting that first book out though. You’ll have others. Books sell better in a related series.) Ditto with your own blog posts. Repurpose and expand them for your books.

5. Every time you do an article for the ancestry magazine (or the other magazines, blogs or supplements that you write for occasionally) also add further content to your website to add value. Train your readers to know that when they read an article by Sally Smith, they will get all kinds of extra information that they really need to know. This will drive a continual stream of people to your website, who will also tell their friends, and you’ll build your loyal fan base – who will keep buying your books.

6. Think SERIES. If you take a look at my books on Kindle, you’ll see that they are the BUSY WRITER SERIES. I chose this name because I wanted to telegraph that these books are full of succinct advice that is just what readers need, no fluff. It also taps into the fact that lots of writers want quick solutions, not long books. (This is why one of your books will be ‘100 Quick Tips on Ancestry Research’ or something like that.) I also made sure that ‘Writer’ was in the series title because of keyword searches. I suggest that you have “Ancestry” in your series title. Make it easy for people to find your books. Keep the series title short: it has to fit across the top of a series of books, on the cover. More about this later; this is just a quick primer for you. PLAN YOUR SERIES. You can do more than one series, of course, but start with just one.

Just as an aside, a new Kindle writer started publishing books in December, and called hers the Busy Writer Guides. I’m not overly happy about that, as you can imagine. I’m assuming she simply failed to do a search first to see if there was already a series by that name.  So if you DO choose a series title, make sure you do a search first to make sure that somebody else hasn’t already got a series with a similar name.

7. Get your book covers professionally done, with a series in mind. You could even commission covers for the first three books in the series at the same time.

If you are thinking about creating a series of books, then this advice might help you, too. And you may have noticed that I practice what I preach: I have re-purposed the advice I dished out by making it a blog post!


How to Build Your Writing Business — 3 Comments

  1. I think this is a very helpful article Marg. I can’t get much writing time except by getting up early which I do every day, but maybe next year my circumstances will change and I’ll have more daylight hours to organize. I got an idea for a book while reading your blog so I’ll try to think up some headings at least while I’m driving this term.

    • Great to hear that the ideas are flowing, Helen! It can be frustrating when you don’t have all the time you’d like to write, can’t it?

  2. Invaluable advice, Marg! Practical, realistic, motivational and clear. Sally is so fortunate to have you as her mentor! It’s certainly going to help me, too, so thank you for another inspiring post.

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