Monday, June 14, 2010

Putting the BUSINESS in Writing

by Wilfred Bereswill

On Wednesday of last week, Annette Dashofey wrote a really good piece on critique groups. I made a remark in the post pointing out that I am a “BRUTAL” critquer. Okay, Critiquer is not a word, but that isn’t relevant. One of our readers took a bit of offense to my term and called me on it. I deserved it.

This proves a point. As a writer, we need to realize that every word we write has to be chosen with care, whether it’s an adjective in an epic novel or a coy little term in a blog post. We have to be responsible for what we write. In my case, I took the term “brutally honest” and changed it to “brutal” and the meaning was lost. In other words, I was critiqued.

With all that said, I’d like to delve into the business of writing. Let me be clear. It is my opinion that once a writer decides that he/she wants to seek publication, that writer has crossed a very serious line. That line divides hobby from business. Like Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” let’s take a look at that monumental leap into the business world.

I’ve been a businessman all my life. I just entered into the business of writing recently. For my day job I manage the global environmental program for a large corporation. Every decision I make has to be made with the business in mind. I don’t spend a dime or commit any resources unless there is a very tangible return. Yes, simply put, it’s all about money. While money may be the farthest thing from your mind while you’re pouring out your emotions on paper, if you eventually wish that paper be published, it becomes, all about money.

Let’s face it, agents and publishers aren’t there to merely fulfill our dreams, they are in it for money. When an agent signs you, that agent invests significant time and a small amount of money (paper, ink, postage and maybe a lunch or two) in you. They expect a return. It IS their livelihood after all. If you’re not serious about making money with your writing, why on earth would they want to partner with you?

The publisher, on the other hand, invests a serious amount of both time and money in you. If they don’t see a return on their investment, not only will you be dropped by them, you may have a difficult time in the future.

I recently signed a contract with Echelon Press Publishing for a short story called SINFULLY DELICIOUS. I met the owner, Karen Syed at Bouchercon last year in Indianapolis. Karen is the consummate businesswoman. We sat in a quiet corner and chatted for about an hour. What I took away from that conversation is that she was serious about the business. She wanted her business to succeed and in order to do that, her authors had to succeed. She warned me up front that she could be tenacious about pushing her authors to promote their work. I like that.

By the way, SINFULLY DELICIOUS is in production and will be available in electronic format in the near future.

Let me digress for a moment. Many years ago when I was in negotiations over the sale of my first home, I was told by my Real Estate Agent that they were working for me… they were on MY side. BULLSHIT! That Real Estate Agent was working for himself. If the sale had fallen apart, he made no money. (Sorry Jennie) Now there’s nothing wrong with that agent wanting that sale to go through. It’s business. I get it. I just hate being lied to.

So, why the hell am I rambling about this? Well it all goes back to Annette’s blog about critique groups and my “BRUTAL(ly honest)” statement. I made a leap of faith that if you were serious enough about your writing to join a critique group, then you had already crossed that proverbial line into the business of writing or had at least wandered over the line inadvertently. If you were launching yourself into a music career, who would you seek advice from?


Simon may lack tact, whether by personality or by design, but he is normally spot-on in his critiques on American Idol. On the other hand, Paula never wants to hurt anybody’s feelings, but she rarely offered useful advice.

If you’re in a critique group, let your members know that it’s okay to say what’s on their mind. Let them know you really want to make your writing better, more compelling. Take it upon yourself to open the door to better writing.


PatRemick said...

I DO understand and agree, how do you prepare to hear the negative that's sure to come? Or should you? Do we secretly want the critique group to be at least a little bit nicer than the agents and publishers might be about our writing? I guess you're right, though. We've already crossed the line... so bring it on!

Jennie Bentley said...

You're pissing me off here, Freddy!

Seriously, though, this is a great post. I agree with every word, except for the one about your real estate agent not being on your side. Sure, we don't make money unless your house sells, but as a (former now) Realtor, I know that the Realtor code of ethics - and there is one - required me to put your interests above my own. Luckily, we both wanted the same thing: to sell your house for as much money as possible with as little hassle as possible.

Same thing goes for your literary agent: he/she wants to make money from your writing, so wants to sell your stuff for as much as possible with as little work as possible. It's natural, isn't it? I want to write my books as fast as possible, and make as much money as possible, too. And yeah, it all comes down to the almighty dollar. And yes, where Simon might tear your heart out and stomp on it, his advice is spot on. You're better off with a Simon than with someone who won't tell you what you need to know. That said, I try to be honest, as well, when I critique, although I do do my best to leave the brutality out of it and aim for just being direct. ;-)

Joyce said...

As much as I'd like everyone to love what I write, I know that's totally unrealistic. I'd much rather hear the truth than have someone tell me they like something when they don't.

BUT--people who critique need to be constructive about it. Don't just tell the writer it's the worst thing you've ever read, be specific in your comments. Tell the writer WHY something doesn't work. You don't want the him to go and jump off a bridge. Well, most of the time, anyway.

As for real estate agents-- I took the licensing course many, many years ago, but never did anything with it. Childbirth intervened. When an agent says she works for you, what she means is that she works for the seller, not the buyer. When you list your house, the agent must keep the seller's interests above the buyer's. After all, the seller is the one paying the commission. You weren't lied to. It's not much different than a literary agent working for an author. They don't work for the editor. They want to sell the author's book for the best deal they can get.

Joyce said...

Looks like Jennie straightened you out before I did!

Gina said...

This is not an either-or issue, Wil. It is possible to critique honestly without being brutal! I don't mean minimize or sugar-coat flaws, but there are ways to point out the problems in the work without trashing its creator. For example, "There seems to be a logical inconsistency . . . " vs. "Are you stupid or what?"

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Now, now ladies. Consider the Real Estate Agent that winds up representing both the seller and the buyer. Talk about yur conflict of interest! LOL And as with all professions, you have your ethical and not so ethical.

I guess my feelings about critiques come from my background as an Environmental Auditor. For the better part of 17 years I told people all the things they were doing wrong in their jobs. Of course I try to be nice, but there are times...

Joyce said...

A real estate agent CAN'T represent both the seller and the buyer. It's one or the other.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Gina, not once did I say I was into being mean. Just honest.

The point of my post was if you're in this business as a writer to make money, you should take it upon yourself to make it clear to your critique group that it's okay to be honest.

See, I figured this post was going to stir people up, but some of you remember that I'm not a fan of critique groups, and its for this very reason. You may get the impression that I'm cold-hearted. Well, I'm far from that. Which is why I shy away from giving other people critiques. If I treated others as I want to be treated, I'd cut to the chase, and in a businesslike manner point out what I feel works and what I feel doesn't work. But I try to perscribe to the rule "Treat others the way THEY want to be treated."

Joyce said...

Those of us who've met you know you're as far from cold-hearted as you can get. You're one of the nicest guys around!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Joyce, I was represented by a Husband/Wife team in a real estate deal. We had the wife, the buyer had the husband. It was basically a conflict of interest.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Why thank you Joyce. Afterall, I've survived in a house full of ladies (wife & 3 daughters)all these years.

On second thought, maybe that's where this mean streak comes from.

Jennie Bentley said...

Hell yeah, Will, that was a clear conflict of interest. And Joyce got to this real estate question before I did, but dual agency - representing both sides of the transaction - is illegal in most states because it's impossible to put two people's interests first. When my husband, who's still a realtor, ends up with both a buyer and seller on the same transaction, he has to default to what's called facilitator status, where he doesn't represent either, he just negotiates between them without advising anyone on what to do. Both of them have to agree in writing, of course.

And I second Joyce (again); you're a nice guy, Will. No worries there!

Patg said...

Hey! I should have been in this scrapping way earlier! WILL, you are dead on! The business of writing is no different than any other business, and if you want to be a sweetheart or cloud drifter, you are in for some hard knocks. If you don't get any, then you will just be ignored.
As I said, I belonged to one of the bloodiest groups in existance and I learned a lot. When I tried to go into nice groups later, they all turned out to be on 1/2 serious. Yes, wanting to write, but all seemed to hope someone would magically appear and think their words need to be sent into the world with no effort on their part. When I got into one where writing exercises were the submissions of choice, and I gave one of my usual critiques, tears appeared. I didn't apologize, I just quit.
With all the houses I've been involved in buying and selling, we considered the agent as a third and forth party. All were required to negotiate, and they'd better be thinking of cutting their commissions if they were going to hand us low-ball offers. ALWAYS DEAL WITH AN INDEPENDENT.
Oh I heard all those comments about the nerve of asking someone to cut commissions. Bullshit is the right word, Will. As a travel agent I've spent decades working on commission and I know exactly how it goes, and for real estate to come off as prima donnas thinking that this could possibly apply to them, is a century worth of laughs. The ones that refused us had management that ran ruffshod over their agents--I understand that, and we never used those people. We always sat down at a table, and everyone put their cards on the table and everyone took a cut. Asking the seller to take all the cuts is what Fictionwise is now doing with eBooks, having sales and the discount comes out of the author's royalty.
NO way!
I don't watch Idol, and I suppose I did feel Simon could be a bit harsh, but you are right Will, he was always spot on.

MaryQ said...

I guess the word ‘brutal’ brings to mind mostly negative connotations. Perhaps that’s why people were offended by your statement. I prefer someone be brutally honest when they critique my work, but I don’t see a need for anyone to be brutally nasty. People’s jobs may require them to be a firm, no-nonsense authority, but nasty doesn’t have to be part of the equation.

I agree that if someone wants to get published, they need to take their writing seriously & treat it like a business. If you were selling pretty much any other product, it would have to be market worthy if it’s going to be a success. If you aren’t willing to listen to criticism & makes changes to your product to achieve this, then what’s the point? You’ll end up spending a lot of time & money trying to sell a below-par product that no one will want.