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Think Tank: Are You a Writer or an Entrepreneur?

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by Tom Chalmers, Managing Director, Legend Times

Tom Chalmers

The growth of self-publishing over the last decade has been one of the most positive developments in the book industry. Enabled by the digital revolution, it has created more options for writers than ever before.

Self-publishing has also given traditional publishers a needed kick to better serve their customers and authors; it has given many authors the opportunity to be published and make a living; and, vitally, it has given readers many new products to keep them buying books and reading.

However, as with any huge surge, it is as important to understand the undercurrent as it is to watch the waves. Even if self-published writers manage to avoid the money-hungry sharks and use the services on offer that will provide them with a healthy return, they should still have a very clear picture of how success as a self-published author works.

The primary driver of success in self-publishing is not quality of writing but entrepreneurialism. I don’t write this as a negative—I am an entrepreneur and, owning several publishing businesses, I am always embarrassed by the snobbery, naivety, and ineptitude of those from traditional publishing who look down their pretentious noses at self-published books. The writers who dominate the charts and make millions can clearly write, but, most importantly, they are invariably brilliant businesspeople.

To further explain, self-published authors who tell writers to flood the market with as many books as possible are giving very poor writing advice but credible business guidance based on market visibility. Those who encourage retailer exclusivity limit audience reach and wide customer feedback, which is essential for writer development, but they do so with business sense based on the promotion and visibility secured in return for exclusivity.

This is true not only in sales but in publicity, as well. Those who encourage endorsement swaps with other writers will ensure excellent reviews that will, in turn, boost sales, but, at the same time, it will lessen the creative impact for an author of objective review.

This is not to say that a brilliantly written book alone will never find a window in the market to achieve huge success or that being an excellent entrepreneur is a guarantee of global sales. However, self-published writers must ask themselves two vital questions: Who are they, and what do they want? Are they an aspiring writer who wants to develop and hone their precious creative craft, or are they a pavement-stomping, deal-shaking, savvy publicity and sales machine who wants to get their books into the hands and onto the screen of millions of readers?

Whether the answer is a writer or entrepreneur, they must then ask, research, and create a clear picture of what they need to be and do. If they want to do both, fine, but they must understand the time that will be needed for each and prepare.

Tom Chalmers is the managing director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, and UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year.

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