Job description: Self-employed Writer
Aims of job: Producing a saleable product
Let's put those under the 'real world' department called Research and Development. Some books take years of R & D, especially if there is history or a specialised subject involved. R & D is an investment of time and energy which may not pay off every time, but which still has to be done in the interests of accuracy and veracity. A writer will hope for a contract before they commit to this, but it doesn't always happen nowadays. Not everything I have written in the past has sold to a publisher - for many reasons, some of them out of my control, but mostly because that particular book just wasn't good enough. Writer's products may sometimes fail at the first hurdle, just like any other company's. But most of what I write nowadays has a good chance of selling, since I work very closely first with my agent (who I employ for good reasons such as contacts, market experience etc, as well as being a professional 'eye') and then with my publisher to make my product - the book - as saleable as it can be. Every 'real world' company does the same in their own sphere, as well as product testing. An author must do that too - perhaps working with a class of children to see whether a new piece of work 'hits the spot', and adapting and changing as necessary. But books are only really product tested when they hit the shelves, so every one is a risk.
Proper product planning and scheduling are also important parts of the writer's job. Deadlines must be met. If several books are contracted for, a reasonably accurate and achievable schedule must be in place. Clashes must be avoided if at all possible, and this means working closely with agent and publisher. Two books coming out with two different publishers at one time of year is not a good plan, just as a 'real world' company would avoid bringing out a new and exciting brand of chocolate at exactly the same time as a competitor. In corporate terms, it's not good to compete against yourself, as it dilutes the sales message.
Marketing/publicising the product
Most 'real world' companies have a marketing/publicity department. I am the same. Except that with my 'company', all the departments are bundled up into one person. Me. So, in this case, the book product and the author product become one entity. One cannot be marketed/publicised without the other. This means that I work hard at the 'author platform', which consists of website, author Facebook page, author Twitter page and blog (see links to all these below). Learning how to wrangle all these things correctly takes a lot of time and energy away from the creation of the main product (the book), and a balance must be struck so that the primary focus is not lost. I must also look at my budget for implementing these things. Other marketing/publicity tools are: school visits, library visits, bookshop visits, festival visits, radio/tv/blog interviews, vlogs, videos - and I also do some journalism and reviewing which keeps my name current. For some of these I will work with my publisher (the distributor of the product), and their publicist will be key in getting me into places I would otherwise not be able to access. For this I must find a new skillset - I must speak in public (hard for someone who works solo for most of the time), and I must find the ability to promote myself and my books without in any way appearing to do so in a 'hard sell' manner, (because that will put buyers off). Because I write for children, I also have to get past the 'gatekeepers' ie booksellers, librarians, parents, reviewers. Any 'real world' company will involve some or all of these elements when launching a new product - the difference is that they will be able to employ the 'hard sell' tactic, they probably won't worry about gatekeepers, and they are likely to have a large, dedicated budget and team. Every book a writer publishes must be seen as a 'new product'. The author can be seen as 'the brand', and a brand can be built up to have a loyal core of buyers, with new buyers being tempted in on a case by case basis.
Contributing to the National Economy
If I earn enough annually, I pay taxes. That's a big if. Children's authors generally, as has been said here and elsewhere, do not earn a lot from books, despite the JK Rowling misconception that some people have of us, and have to 'top up' their income with school visits etc. (Strangely enough, the JK Rowling idea goes hand in hand with the 'real world' perception that all children's book authors do is write about fluffy bunnies in a dilettante sort of way. Which is partly why I'm writing this piece. But I digress.) I pay my website designer and Computer Guy (when I can afford to). I buy office supplies, books to keep up with my industry, for research, for reviewing on the blog (that's a lot of books, thus contributing to other authors' incomes - and yes, I visit the library too). There are other things, too boring to enumerate here. It may not be much, but even a little is better than nothing.
Does that sound like a proper job to you? It certainly feels like it to me. But I've absolutely hated breaking it down into the sort of corporate terms the 'real world' will understand. I will always be businesslike, efficient and professional when I have to (which is often) - but the major part of the time I spend working is mine to dream, create and write books which will give children and young people pleasure and speak to them in many intangible ways. I shouldn't have to describe what I do in commercialspeak to make it 'real' to the outside world. Writing is a proper job. Full stop.
Lucy's latest series Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books
Lucy's Scribble City Central Blog (Shortlisted for the Author Blog Awards 2010)
Join Lucy's Facebook Fanpage
Follow Lucy on Twitter
Lucy is agented by Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor Ltd