Introducing The Writer-Entrepreneur Column!
Contributor
Written by
Miriam Peskowitz
March 2010
Contributor
Written by
Miriam Peskowitz
March 2010
Have you heard? Creative types don’t mess with business plans and finance. Women writers are supported by their husbands. Real writers don’t waste time on numbers. Oh, and real artists are poor. I don’t buy any of it. And that’s why penning the Writer-Entrepreneur column is going to be so much fun. Throughout history, women have been excluded from money matters. It’s only been a few generations that more than a few of us have been doing it differently. And writers, well, aren’t we part of the romantic artist myth, you know, the one where we die penniless in the garret? You know, because we right-brainy dreamers can’t deal with left-brain numbers and planning. None of that works, though, if you’re a solid woman writer trying to make a decent living at her craft; a woman on her own; a woman who didn’t marry just to have someone support her; a woman without inherited wealth. It doesn’t work because any writer who can merge words into meaning does the same thing with sentences that an accountant does with a spreadsheet full of numbers. This column is where right brain and left brain meet. We write in a world where women still earn less than men, where success is still stacked against us. I don’t like that one bit. The contribution of The Writer-Entrepreneur column is to gather real-life information that helps. I'll listen to stories of women writers who have learned to sustain their creative work, and share what they know. We'll meet the people in the virtual neighborhood who can help us figure out the elements of sustaining our craft and careers and creative lives. A little but about me. I’ve been several kinds of writer. I published a pair of academic books, back when I was a professor and had a steady salary. I published a mid-list book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars. It was supported by a small advance—and lots of hours devoted to adjunct teaching, blogging, and making deadline on some freelance gigs. Trying to figure out how to keep a writing life going between books, I started a small business called MotherTalk.com, with two partners. We worked with authors, bloggers, publishers and publicists. I got to know something about why some books sell and others don’t. In 2007, my book The Daring Book for Girls hit the best-seller lists. Nothing could have predicted that turn of events, but when it happened, my learning curve about writing and business shot through the roof. I’ve learned a ton, I’m learning more, and I believe in sharing. That’s where you, the SheWrites community, comes in. Leave comments here and tell me what you’ve learned about the business side of writing. It could be how to deal with taxes, accounting, and incorporation. It might be sorting out the possibility of different income streams. Perhaps it's insight on imagining publishing plans and partnerships that take writing to the next level. Together, we'll figure out what we need to know. So, leave comments here at SheWrites. Send me your stories at [email protected] Bring your friends. Share what you know. Let's get the conversation started about how we women writers deal with real-world issues, about how we’re going about the business of being creative and independent both, and even, how we might have fun doing it. Miriam Peskowitz miriampeskowitz.com

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Comments
  • Stacey Donovan

    Anyone catch Tina Brown on Charlie Rose the other night? Meaning journalists, she said that writers can barely make a living right now because they can't get paid (due to changing marketplaces such as online media) and that the same is true of songwriters and so many artists today. "The fact is, we're relegating so many great people to not being able to make a living. We're in a volatile moment of absolute realignment. There's a kind of volcanic shift that's happening in the landscape, it's all been shaken up. It's a painful transition for writers and artists, at the moment they feel absolutely beached and orphaned. I think we're going to emerge from that, and in fact there's a golden future, and we'll figure out these business models, and actually there's an efflorescence of content and a need for content and really good material to fill these multi-channels. We're talking about great TV shows, excellent writing, wonderful books - it can't be produced unless people are paid..." I held my breath as I listened to this. As writers, we've always been multi-channelers in part, haven't we? It seems that now we are being faced with new opportunities, new challenges, in how those channels find form, especially if we want to publish and make a living with our words. It's increasingly clear that the face of the earth itself is not the only thing changing these days, and I am grateful for this column, as well as all the wonders of She Writes.

  • Miriam Peskowitz

    Thanks everyone, for your enthusiasm, and insights. Kamy, I'd love to meet Adam, and maybe interview him for this column.

    And Barbara--I'll email you, and perhaps you'd consent to an interview, too. I think the biggest question writers have when reaching out into more lucrative kinds of writing is this: How do I find my first client? How do I break in? I'm looking for all sorts of tips that we can share around, especially ones that go beyond luck and random connection.

    The funny thing about the right brain/left brain metaphor: writing and numbers and logic are all on the same side!

    I'll be back with more on Friday!

  • Barbara Field

    Kamy,
    I'd like to hear more about Adam Penenberg, author of the Viral Loop and the NYU professor who started their Entrepreneurial Journalism course. I met and did a mini interview with the head of Stanford's Journalism School about how journalists can thrive in this free-content era. Hope you & Miriam follow up with him. If not, I can in April probably. Okay?

  • Barbara Field

    Hi, Miriam. Sounds like once you started your small biz, you understood more about this writer/entrepreneur thing. Hey, I'm teaching a two workshop course for UC San Diego extension on how to make money as a writer as I've done it for 30 years. Publishing and journalism by and large pay on the low side, as we know. Focus on financial, technical, health topics for the money here. And biggest tip of all: add corporate writing, copywriting, speeches, annual reports, online marketing to your freelance mix, ladies!! Yes, work for corporations and small businesses, maybe nonprofits and associations. I'm launching my writing coach business in April. Let me know if I can help!

  • Geraldine Nesbitt

    And don't they say that mathematics, understanding Latin, and the creative process go extremely well together. I am a writer, but I have always had an aptitude for numbers too, and have spent the last eight years doing a good job in the business world too. Right now, I am learning to combine my language skills, and my business abilities into a company of my own.
    It took me a long time to realise that I could and should combine my skills instead of imagining i had to choose one against the other. Now, with a little bit more faith in myself I intend to rewrite my all too modest book query letters and proposals so that I can find an agent for my fiction. I think I, and a lot of women with me, need to realise our value, and not settle for less.

  • Hi Miriam,
    I love that you got that connection. Money is like the right to vote, it gives us freedom and a voice that matters.
    I too am trying to find and use my voice. I would love for you to check out my blog. I am starting to interviews and work on a platform. My great grandma took on one battle. I guess it is our turn.
    Cheers,
    Renee

  • Elizabeth Hilts

    One part of my MFA research project concerns this very topic. Thanks so much.

  • Miranda C. Spencer

    Oh, is this column needed! Especially by me...some of my best and what I consider my most important work received scant remuneration and I long lived the life of the starving writer in a garret.

    One of the most important lessons I've learned in making a better living as a writer is to thoroughly read and understand contract language. Many provisions, if left unchallenged, can cut into our ability to make the maximum fair earnings off our work.

    Most editors/clients are willing to tinker with the language if you point out what they're really asking for, why it's not fair, and how you would like to change it. That's because many editors/clients don't really know what the contract their company lawyers have drafted really mean.

    A couple good places to get help in reading your contracts are the National Writers Union and the ASJA, both membership organizations but worth the price of admission.

  • Miriam -- I am SO happy that you are on the team, and can't wait to read this column as it progresses. Debbie and I are having lunch next week with Adam Penenberg, author of the Viral Loop and the NYU professor who started their Entrepreneurial Journalism course. We should set up a time for you two to talk!!

  • Debby Carroll

    Stacey, you are so right about the clients who complain about the price. They don't understand "you get what you pay for." I know that newspaper syndicate authors who once commanded $600/article are now being offered $10. It's tough times. Don't lose faith, though. Times will turn, eventually. I've not turned any projects down for the low rates but, rather, if it's something I'm interested in, I'll do it, even for a low rate. If it's a topic I can't get into and it's low pay, I'll consider letting it go.

  • Christina Brandon

    This sounds fabulous! Looking forward to reading more!

  • Elatia Harris

    What a great mission for writing a column! Thanks for being here.

  • Lynette Benton

    This is truly an exciting development, particularly since I've been writing an essay about how to keep a creative writing mind, while having to do all the non-creative (in a traditional sense), extroverted activities required to be a writer these days: building a platform, teaching, writing writing guides, online and in person networking. Whew!

    But that's the reality now. No publisher's going to take me to an intimate, East Side, NY cocktail party with important people clamoring to publish my book. I've got to get known all by myself. But, actually, I'm not alone. Your blog is proof of that.

    So, I welcome anything and everything that you and others will share here. I know it's gonna be empowering.

  • Jan Vallone

    Hi Debby--What's your new book about? Writing with your daughters must be a wonderful experience.

  • Debby Carroll

    I'm just returning to the publishing world after a 10-year hiatus. Having two parenting books published in the 90s happening because my oldest friend was then a very successful literary agent. Her two biggest clients had the #1 and #2 bestselling books for years. So, publishing houses published my books, I'm sure, hoping that she would bring them her "big name" clients. She has since retired so I head into the fray without a net. What I learned last time was that the publishers weren't going to promote my book. I was on my own and without much of clue, my books tanked. (Unless you bought one and in that case, I'll consider myself successful.) It felt as if the publishers threw the spaghetti against the wall and whatever stuck, succeeded.
    Undaunted, I'm back. Not because I think I'll make money, but, rather, because I think I have something to say that may help people. Plus, I'm writing with my grown daughters and it's a remarkable opportunity for us to grow together. We're blogging in advance of sending the book to agents and we're feeling our way through this new world of publishing. We'll see how it goes but for now, we're having a lot of fun.

  • Looking forward to more from you, Miriam, and others. Thanks.

  • Jan Vallone

    Hi Miriam—In July, I received an MFA in creative writing. While earning the degree, I attended a seminar on publishing offered by one of the professors, a multi-published novelist. Sitting at a long conference table with all of us students, she dreamily coiled her long hair on top of her head as she spoke. She reminded us that we were artists and that our job was to attend to our craft, not to market books. If we kept writing and did it well, our agent and our publisher would take care of the rest.

    Oh, how lucky she was.

    I was lucky too, even though not one of the 53 agents and smallish publishers I wrote to wanted to take a risk on a previously-unpublished author who wasn’t the X-spouse of a celebrity, hadn’t survived a war or natural disaster and didn’t write kinky sex. I found a tiny publisher who believed in me. But our reality is very different from that of my MFA professor.

    My memoir, Pieces of Someday, was released in January. Since then I have spent virtually every moment I’m not at work (teaching college) trying to market the book. I’ve joined She Writes and Facebook, both of which have been helpful. I’ve been trying to keep up a blog. I have a website and pages on Amazon and bn.com. I’ve written and sent books to reviewers and keep my fingers crossed that some will read, like and write about the book. I’ve led seminars and workshops. I’ve tramped from bookstore to bookstore. I’ve sent emails to everyone I know.

    Yes, I’d like to make some money; I’m donating all I receive to several charities and would like to make a decent show. But the process is tough and seems slow. So, rather than focus on money, I remind myself daily that the reason I write is not money, but to touch other people’s lives. I try to focus on the feedback I’ve received, and the rewards there have great. Each week I receive several emails that make the process worthwhile. Here are a few recent ones:

    #1

    Just finished the book.

    It was a more than a wonderful read, Jan. It speaks on many levels, not the
    least being a contemporary story other grown women can reflect back with
    their own tale - a darned rare experience these days for some reason now
    that I think about it.

    # 2

    I read your book last week while I was in California.
    It was riveting, and I got crabby when I had to put it down to do something else.
    I am glad that I bought two copies because the copy that I read it so highlighted now, that I could never loan it to anyone.
    I think that you are very brave. I am not sure that I could ever be that transparent in print.
    I feel like I know you now so much better than before, and I love the way you presented your husband as a real person (flawed), but as the hero of your book/life.
    Lovely.

    #3

    What an amazing writer you are. I am a little past half-way in your book but couldn't wait to reach out to you in utter admiration for your work. I lack the words to express how powerful your writing is. If I was a kid, I would say you are really, really, really.....great. I didn't start the book until a few nights ago as I was finishing up another book. But when I began it, I was hooked from the beginning. Your style is engaging, informative, creative and moving. Pieces of Someday is special. You must do more of this writing thing. Much more.

    Two nights ago, I gave my first reading at a bookstore. I’d been warned not to expect much turnout, so I tried to keep my fantasies in check—just five people would be great! About 50 people showed. The bookstore ran out of chairs. And as I read, I looked out at the faces, people smiling and nodding at me—a banner moment of my life.

    So there you go—I'm quite new at this. And I don’t know where or if it will go. I’m looking forward to your column, hoping it will help me find out. And as I wade through the tough economics, I’ll remember each small success that gives me the stamina to see it through.

    Jan Vallone
    www.janvallone.com

  • Deborah Siegel Writing

    GO Miriam! We are so lucky to have you here blogging with us!!!

  • Stacey Donovan

    I'm in. Can I start by saying I have had it up to here with would-be clients wanting to work with me but saying "you charge too much?" Of late I have realized this has seriously affected my perspective - and my passion toward the what in life I love most: writing.