If Writing’s A Business Then Product Strategy Is The Key

Selling-out-is-the-new-keeping-it-realI guess you’ve had a chance now to digest the figures from Hugh Howey’s analysis of Amazon data. If you haven’t then you need to. (This post of mine will lead you to it) It changes, confirms and validates so many aspects of self-publishing that it’s hard to focus on it all, so in today’s post I want to discuss the importance of ‘product development and strategy’.

These two terms are obviously ripped directly from a business textbook, but I make no apologies for this. Writing is a business. If you don’t treat it as a business then that’s fine, but the chances are that you’ll possibly always need another job to pay the bills. Again, that’s fine if that’s what you want, if it’s a love thing that you just can’t live without then so be it. But, if you want to earn enough money writing to give up your day job and write full-time, then you need to treat it as a business.

Whatever people say about statistics and the industry, the polarised opinions which are vented from either side, the fact is that there has never been more of an opportunity to make something of your writing than there is right now, but it’s still going to take a lot of effort to succeed.

Apart from the hours and hours of writing that you’ll need to commit to, and the understanding that it’s definitely a long game that you’re signing up for, you’re also going to have to choose the right type of product to produce.

If you own another business then you’d need to make and sell products that people want to buy, otherwise you’ll never be a going concern. It’s the same with books. Although that conflicts with our opinion of the tortured author who sits outside cafes and writes the burning story within. Times are changing in the publishing world and the writer’s world. If we’re going to make enough money to live then we have to make something that people want.

Hugh Howey’s statistics show that genre fiction makes up 70% of what is sold on Amazon, a further 22% is non-fiction and the remaining 8% is made up of the rest, including literary fiction. Genre fiction gets a bad press and some of it is truly terrible, but it appeals to the masses just like The Sun newspaper in the UK outsells The Times 10 to 1.

If we’re creating a business then it would make sense to aim your product at 70% of the market, rather than 8%. A small share of 70% is hell of a lot compared to a small share of 8%.

Hugh Howey’s figures also explain that his ‘Genre’ category is made up of; Crime/Thrillers, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. I doubt you’re going to win the Booker with any of this stuff but you’re more likely to shift units.

We all have a choice though about who we want to be. If you want to create books that will change the world, influence opinion, and be highly regarded then you may be best off persevering with the traditional route. Or, continue to produce these books and accept that you’ll need to supplement your income in another way.

As an author, I want my stories to be read by as many people as possible. I want to entertain people for a while. I want to produce more stories to entertain people for longer. In order to fulfil this objective, I will ideally spend as much time as I can writing. To be able to spend this time writing, it must be financially viable. It’s a model which needs to be followed through with conviction.

I can’t afford to ignore these demographics. As self-publishing creates opportunities it also affects the way we write. We’re all individual publishing houses now, and we must look at the world from their perspective. Self-publishing has given me a wonderful opportunity to make a living as a writer and I must now provide what the people want, not necessarily what I think they want.

This sounds so ruthless and non-author-y that I’m quite scared writing it down, but I believe this is the point. The challenge is to maintain your artistic integrity within the commercial parameters of the market. Only by doing this will we all be able to sustain careers.

Until next time…


6 responses to “If Writing’s A Business Then Product Strategy Is The Key

  1. Hi Michael,

    Hugh Howey’s article was truly an eye opener, and as you suggested it confirmed much of what I had already suspected about self-publishing.

    I like to separate my craft into two distinct phases:
    1. Writing
    2. Publishing

    For me, writing is all passion. The time investment requires that I absolutely love what I’m writing about and can’t wait to move my story further along each day. Writing, for me, is primarily craft with a dose of creativity and inspiration (with the weighted values shifting depending on whether I’m writing a first draft or revising a draft for the 10th time).

    Publishing, on the other hand, is the phase I treat purely as a business. But this is after the “art” has taken place. Once I’ve created my work, and it’s ready to be released into the wild, then I put my business hat on and get to work.

    I, personally, wouldn’t last long (much less succeed) if I wrote according to market conditions. I think the reason for this is that my heart wouldn’t be in it, and that would come across in my work. I like to caution writers not to chase trends, because by the time the trend is recognized it’s typically too late to exploit.

    The interesting bit in this is that I’m a genre writer, so I naturally fell into that 70% of the market. But, I don’t know how long that will last. What I can say with certainty is that if the market shifted on end tomorrow, and 70% of sales were literary, I’d still be writing Fantasy.

    I think that all stories eventually find their audience if given enough time. I think market conditions will play into initial sales, but not so much the long game that we’re all shooting for. Just my opinion of course!

    As always, great article, Michael! I enjoy visiting your blog 🙂


  2. Not sure I have enough industry knowledge to comment on authorearnings…that said, I’m of the ilk that any transparency of data can only be a good thing. Just need more time to absorb and more experience to comment with a smattering of authority.

    Regarding writing for the market…risky is my gut reaction. I can only go on how I write, but I’m like Nat. I need to write something that I’m passionate about, in a setting that would engage me, with details that appeal to me. When I write I only have one reader in mind: me. I tend to think that a reader would know if you weren’t into what you’re writing. Now, I have no evidence to back that up, and who knows if the crap I’ve read in the past is because the author was ‘out of their genre’ or just a crap writer, but logic says those that are the best at something are usually very passionate about what they do. Its a good question though, and I think there is value in stretching yourself as a writer, but I think your point about artistic integrity is spot on. If anyone does it I think they need to do it for the right reasons -they love mixing up the genres, they want to see if they can do it, they’ve always had a deep desire to write an adult Mr Man book…surely that’s not just me??!? Ahem – if that’s how it’s done, then what could go wrong?

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