The Modern Writer’s Toolbox

IMG_0154There once was an age when all you needed as an author was an imagination and a load of time on your hands. A few talented authors would create masterpieces which would exist hundreds of years later. These people would exist on the outside of society, watching and observing the habits of common folk before retelling their stories in a leather-bound volume. But… guess what?

Those times have gone, my friend. We’re all living in a world now where the bottom line is read between every line. We can’t do anything for a living unless we first think about how much it’ll be worth.

Of course, not all people have to succumb to the realities of life. There are always the exceptions to the rule who succeed where most would fail and hold a light to a path which attracts innocent authors to the destiny of a moth.

Reality is the place where you need to concentrate your efforts and if you become an outlier then great. Writing as a living is a dream in itself, there’s no need to go over the top and worry about compromising some artistic ethic.

In Stephen King’s book called ‘On Writing’, he explains that an author needs a toolbox to help produce the craft of writing. I think there’s now another rack in the toolbox which is required to help the author exist in the current environment. Good writing is the manufacturing department of your business. It needs to be world class, but a company with just a manufacturing department is going to go out of business pretty quickly.

Product Development and Strategy

The modern writer needs to know exactly what type of product they’re going to make and this will be informed by the Marketing Department, and they’ll also need to think about their strategy. Are you going to release a series? One-offs? Novellas? Short Stories? How many a year? How many in five years? Where? How? What if something changes?


In order to market anything effectively, you must first understand who your market is. Market research, demographics etc. How do you know who you’re selling to? What do they like? Who’s your perfect reader? What type of cover do they like? Is there a proven formula? Are you a pioneer or a copycat? A book takes a long time to write, you have to make sure it’s sellable before you begin.

Sales and Distribution

Selling books is tricky. Online sales are great and they’ve made the whole business much simpler, but you also have to think about book fairs, shops, libraries, book clubs, school fetes, etc. Promotional items like posters, bookmarks, cards…


Financing an operation can be hard on cash-flow. What’s high priority and what can wait? How much are you taking on royalties and physical sales? Where do you make the most money, shouldn’t you be concentrating your efforts there? Management-style reports should be produced to run the business professionally.


IT is almost as important to the modern writer as the ability to write. If you can’t use a computer effectively then you have no chance of doing it on your own. If you need to bring someone in for every stage of the operation then you’re going to lose your profits before you’ve even begun. Self-publishing requires you to be computer literate.

This is just an overview of the tools you need to be aware of in order to become a self-published writer. Apart from this, there’s also the attributes you need to nurture in your personality.

  • Discipline
  • Perseverance
  • Self-Esteem
  • Confidence
  • Risk-taking
  • Decision-making
  • Intuition
  • Imagination

The future is full of opportunity in a career that is changing by the minute. A modern writer must be an entrepreneur in order to do-it-themselves but, if they’re willing then they’ll succeed eventually.

Until next time…


4 responses to “The Modern Writer’s Toolbox

  1. Michael, I cannot quite agree with you that marketing strategy has to drive our writing, but your referring to a writer’s writing as a “product” makes clear that you are addressing career and livelihood concerns. Fair enough. If one’s writing has to make his or her living, I understand, but other writers might not want to compromise their novels by chasing market trends. I would never say this to a literary agent, since they understandably want writers with a business sense, a controlled ego, and a long career ahead of them. One thing I learned from attending several agents-and-editors panels in New York City: agents are far less interested in your book than in you as a life-long client. Landing one writer with a dozen books in her or his future is far more efficient for an agent than finding a dozen publishable authors with one book each, especially since the consolidation of major publishing houses (at least in the US) to five means fewer opportunities for agents to pitch a lot of typescripts. My own inclination is to write without regard to market, and then to market like a business-person rather than as an artist. I wish that I had a lot of publishing success to back up my method, but I do not. At my age, alas, no agent will expect a dozen books.

    • Thanks for disagreeing, Stephen. The worst part is that I think I actually agree with you but, you called it, it’s about a livelihood. I hope there’s a balance between chasing market trends and writing a story with one eye on what sells. There are thousands of stories to pick out of thin air, after all, we’re writers and we can imagine a story. All I’m saying is maybe I need to pick a story which is more marketable than others. Who knows? There’s no right or wrong. I’m more shocked by your confession of age. I now picture you as Yoda.

  2. Interesting article. I watched an old episode of SKY’s The Book Show recently and they were discussing the differences of writing for a target audience, or writing your own work in the hopes that a target audience finds you..

    There were examples on both sides, where authors had had books rejected years ago only to find them now in-vogue simply because people were crying out for sparkly vampires / zombies recently. The books hadn’t changed, the markets had.

    It’s frustrating as a writer to know that your hard work may never see the light of day, not because its a bad book, but because it doesn’t quite fit what people are looking for at the moment.

    Fortunately, I suppose the route of self-publishing now enables the same author to take that frustration and use it as fuel to drive their self-promotion.

    • It’s all out of our control though. Chasing specific trends is never going to work. It’s completely reactive. But, picking wider genres which sell time and time again and being aware of these, is savvy business sense.

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