Lessons for Writers from Business Giants

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

What do Amazon, Apple, Walt Disney, Google, Harley Davidson, Hewlett Packard, and Yankee Candle Company have in common? Each entrepreneur launched his multibillion-dollar company from someone’s garage with nothing but knowledge and a willingness to work hard and persevere. What was it about each of these companies that set them apart from the crowd? What vital ingredients combined to grow each company’s success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams when others didn’t? Quick research into their beginnings reveals two factors that writers can apply to your own writing businesses.Author Business Cards

Yes, your writing career is your business. If you haven’t viewed it this way until now, this is your next step in career growth. Why? Because it grounds you in a balance between your writing, i.e. your product, and growing your reader following and marketability, i.e. your business.

Do you recall the day you first sat down to write? You probably began with only a dream and a little knowledge, just as these business giants did. Next, they intuited two tipping-point factors they had to master if their products were going to rise above the fray to corner the market. No one can argue with their success, so you would do well to apply what they knew to your own author business.

  1. The Quality of Your Product

These smart entrepreneurs began by getting an education in their chosen field through a college degree and/or on-the-job training plus job experience to give themselves the best chance of success in future ventures of their own. At some point they were confident they had the know-how and big-picture perspective they needed to launch their business with a cutting-edge product. This is true for authors too.

It’s why you who are committed to a career in publishing attend writers conferences to learn about the industry, attend in-person or online workshops, and/or invest in a professional critique of your manuscript to identify areas of craft you need to improve. You soak up knowledge of craft from every book on writing you can get your hands on and then practice those techniques draft after draft, manuscript after manuscript. You join a critique group in which authors, hopefully some more advanced than you are, challenge and support each other.

It’s hard work but you do it with passion because you can’t not write. Be encouraged. The time, maybe even years, you’re putting into the knowledge-gaining preparation is forward progress, just as it was for these entrepreneurs. Let their success be motivation for you whenever you begin to get impatient or feel discouraged. Keep improving your product and enjoy the journey.

The second intuition common to these business giants was, and continues to be, to produce products that customers desire and will soon need. They were forward thinking. Here is the application for writers.

  1. Your Target Readers’ Needs and Current Desires

People have evergreen needs: spiritual, material, love, health, sustenance, freedom and adventure, and security. Virtually all books written address one or more of these basic needs. But people’s desires change. If you’re dubious as to how this happens, look at the fashion industry. Our boredom with sameness is their bread and butter. World events and cultural changes affect our desires.

For example, churches are learning that millennials are slow to marry. But for years churches have structured their program offerings around families. Now, they are confronting the need to provide alternatives in order to make church attractive to this generation and the post-millennials to follow.

Something similar could be true for your readers. If you haven’t polled your audience in a few years, canvas your followers before you get too far into your next book. Times are changing fast. The assumptions you make might be out of touch with their current desires.

Here’s a suggestion. Create a survey to send to your followers. It’s very important to ask specific questions in order to get meaningful feedback. What you learn from their responses will be valuable for shaping your new book and then again when you state the hook and talking points in your proposal. To ensure a good number of responses, announce that you will enter the names of every respondent in a drawing for a nice prize.

How do you view your writing career from a business perspective? How do the lessons from these business giants encourage you in your own writing business? After reading about what they did, what do you think your next step should be?

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8 Responses

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  1. Great post, Mary! A lot to consider here.
    * I do remember the day I started BPH; I had seen a roadside memorial cross and, not knowing the story behind it, decided to make one up.
    * This has led into a ministry; I know where my heart is, and I know what I can write,and the voice that best expresses the message. It’s imperfect, sometimes painfully so, but it’s a very familiar tool in the hand of someone who went through the Vale Of Self-Loathing to realize that I do have something to say, and can make a difference. God help me, literally; God help me to do the job with which He’s entrusted me.
    * My next step necessarily has to begin from where I stand now. It may be Catholic and hard-edged and uncanny, but by God it’s the ball thrown me in Jesus’ Hail Mary pass, and I’m not going to drop it.

  2. Well said, Mary. For me, writing non-fiction about living in conversation with God, my education included my own relationship with God. Yes, I could look back and see moments and trends to share. But I had to live though–and then analyze–my spiritual ups and downs. If I’m not painfully honest with myself, I can’t be honest with my readers.

  3. There are a couple of lessons I’ve learned from following the businesses that support the home-construction of aeroplanes.
    1) Have a good product ready before launching it (this really applies to self publishing!). In the 1970s, Jim Bede introduced the BD-5, a sleek and tiny single-seat aeroplane, that captured the imagination of thousands (who sent deposits for kits).But alas, Bede never found a reliable engine that would fit into the thing (and the BD-5 was, in terms of flying skills needed, certainly NOT ‘”Everyman’s Aeroplane”). The company went bankrupt, the customers lost their deposits, and skepticism from the experience probably delayed the rise of the kit-aeroplane industry we see today.
    2) Stamp out wishful thinking and ‘common-sense’ assumptions in identifying your target audience; know them for what they really are. It’s long been a shibboleth that every aviator secretly wants to be a WW2 fighter pilot, and that a scaled-down fighter would be a wild success. There have been many offered; none were more than marginally profitable. While the heart of Walter Mitty may beat in every man and woman, real pilots are people with families and limited skills. They need comfortable seating and easy handling, not fire-breathing performance and more than a whiff of very real danger. For the writer, some of your readers may be edgy millennials, but most are kind of like you – they want to make a living, and enjoy their leisure with friends and family. The books you offer should take them to their possibilities, but not insult who they are.
    3) Don’t overcommit; set realistic goals and pacing. When the kit aeroplane industry started to surge, there was a lot of initial demand, and many manufacturers 9with solid products) built up production facilities to meet it. When the rush slacked of to sustainable growth, they found they had too much material on hand, too much space, too many employees, and overextended credit lines.
    * I’m no writing professional, but these seem to me to be fairly important takeaways from a business that has seen much turbulence, yet still captures the imagination.

  4. Mary, you offer so much to think about. I thought back to the first day I spoke with a friend about a story God had imprinted on my heart. I remember writing the first few chapters and going to a writing retreat . . . and tearing those first few chapters apart to rewrite them. And eventually finishing that book. A few years later, and I know I still have much to learn. But, I am learning. 🙂 My goal right now is to create a quality product, which I am working on with the input of a couple of writing friends who are ahead of me on this journey.
    *This may be a little off (feel free to tell me if it is), but viewing my writing career from a business perspective seems to come, at least in part, from the time invested in connecting with potential readers through my blog and other social media. It takes time, but I am finally seeing this as an investment in my one-day career. God is teaching me how to write more transparently on my blog, and more people are following it. This will translate to the writing in the books I will one day offer.
    *Thanks for this perspective. It’s making me think through what I’m doing and showing me ways I can be more intentional.

  5. Carol Ashby says:

    My first story: I’d been thinking about the parallels between the Christians dying for their faith today and the early Christians that Rome killed for their faith. Then the last Friday in September, 2013, a full plot for a story came to me, where a Christian woman stops to rescue a dying Roman officer in a province where Christians must recant or die. She risks everything to follow her Lord, just like the people today, and he is transformed because of it. Since then, several other plots have come to me about how the faith and love of a believer can lead a nonbeliever to faith and a new life. I’m shooting at late April to have that novel in market as the second one in my series. The first tells how God-inspired forgiveness can rescue the lost soul who receives it.
    *Writing as a business: I’ve watched lots of webinars and read many articles and blogs on platform and marketing. Every author, trad or indie, needs that knowledge. Then a former fiction editor at a large publisher told me I’d have to self-publish to keep rights for missions. I attended a workshop at a writer’s conference on indie publishing, picked a name, got my license, and now I am a business. Not what I’d planned, not what I’d recommend to everyone, but you go where God leads, and I’m on that path now.

  6. I’ve thought about this all day.
    What struck me the most was that they created something for the market that was either not present or in poor supply at the time their product emerged from the dark basement of invention.
    Each company persisted, and in the immortal words of Herb Copperbottom in Robots, “see a need, fill a need”.
    Some of these businesses created a need for their product by expert marketing teams convincing people that they needed, well, a Harley. I mean, WHO doesn’t need a Harley? (My husband and kids)
    I need to persist, persevere and not take no for an answer.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      See a need, fill a need. I like that, Jennifer. I also think it doesn’t just mean the needs of large numbers of people. The needs of a few are just as important, even if not as commercially profitable.