Going Pro: Authorpreneurship for Writers 

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Against today’s exciting and fast-developing backdrop of self-publishing and self-publicity, it’s increasingly important to know what you need to do to keep up with the crowd. It’s not just about being a writer these days: having a sound business knowledge and great networking skills are also part of the package.  This is a bite-sized guide to becoming an authorpreneur.


What does it mean to be an authorpreneur?

We live in an exciting time for fiction writers who want to turn professional. Yes, the proliferation of awareness-building tools and the low barriers to entry have all contributed to making it a terrible market to enter when you consider the supply of books is increasing while demand is arguably shrinking. But I think most writers know that already. It doesn’t alter the fact they are full of tales needing to be told somehow.

It’s that kind of passion and belief that gets book written and why people put the hours into refining their craft to the point where they can say with confidence that they are “good enough now”. For me, it took about five years to reach that point. Others take less, some more. It was a happy feeling, but also a complex one, since I had reached the end of my apprenticeship before the advent of the Kindle and iPad, and I was of course still thinking “which publisher” instead of “which way”.

I guess the authorpreneur takes the “which way” line of thinking. Their goal is to use all the tools available to them to get their book in front of a readership so they can live from their craft. They are less concerned with any esteem that might come from having a house approve their content before it reaches the market. Their goal is simply to produce excellent content, package it well and sell it at a self-sustaining level, and create the partnerships that can make that happen.


What’s needed to become one?

I myself am in the process of becoming one so I can only share what I feel has worked so far for me.

Perhaps you never really finish becoming one because you are always learning and seeking to learn how to improve not just your craft—your bread-and-butter writing and dramaturgy skills—but all your skills around packaging, preparing the product for sale, and then trialling ideas that help sell and improve it.

So a willingness to experiment is essential, as is a willingness to fail and fail again until things gradually start clicking into place.

I look at this process like someone who might want to create a fine garden: you plant your seeds, you tend to your plants, and you hope that one day the garden will take the shape you envision. And then, who knows, perhaps you can charge people to visit it, or sell the fruit from the trees. So the second necessity is the enjoyment factor: a desire to create and learn new tricks. This is something that will propel you along when you want to chuck in the towel, and you will, probably many times in fact.

And because there are so many excellent reasons to chuck in the towel, there needs to be that single line in your head that reminds you “this is my job”. That line has helped me many times, and surprisingly, it also helps others understand why I continue doing something that doesn’t bring immediate financial reward. So I think a third point is consciously changing the idea that writing for a living is your dream to it being your job. Everything you do for funds supports your real work of telling stories.

The fourth point is:

This means you never really stop “working”, because you are always thinking of the follow-up step. Here I like to think of the triangulation concept whereby you use yourself as a linchpin between two previously unlinked platforms (more about that in my Indie Toolkit :)).

And finally—planning and knowing your audience and where they gather before you begin. This can help you acquire a potential readership before you begin writing. Maybe it is a vlog on Vimeo, maybe it is a regular blog; it can be anything really. It can even just mean having a clear idea of who you are going to sell your stories to once they are finished, and it can be one person (a well-known influencer), an industry, a group of like-minded hobbyists. The more you know who your target market is before you begin, and what they will likely use to read stories, the more you can prepare your content and paracontent.


What is paracontent?

Over the past five years, I’ve learnt how to create audiovisual “extras” that deepen the readers’ connection to the Addison’s Tales storyworld I am creating. My paracontent is based on the Hobbit where the characters sing. Here I embed QR codes inside a “musical portal” on the page of a paperback that people can scan with their smartphone. This way, they can listen to the songs the character is singing at that point of the story. The reader can even learn the notes if they want, as I provide the sheet music at MuseScore. I have also converted some of those songs into Enlivened Rhymes, which are short musical animated scenes where the characters sing. Here I allow the reader a glimpse into the character’s imagination in ways never done before.

This approach broadens my reach further onto less traditional platforms. For example, I have adapted the “portrait format” cartoons into a landscape format and submitted them as stand-alone mini films to animation competitions. At the time of writing, two international film festivals will give an official screening in the weeks ahead, meaning I will reach new audiences that I never would have reached otherwise. People are also downloading the songs on the MuseScore platform, presumably to learn them, meaning I am reaching people there too. So I feel I am onto a good thing just with the musical portals, and also because the Goodreads reviewers are commenting on it very positively.

I create these forms of paracontent because I think such enhancements are what my smartphone-using target audience will enjoy, and what will give my storyworld its USP so that it stands out from the crowd. I am now learning how to market to a receptive audience I’m gradually acquiring through various marketing techniques with my paracontent and partners. I expect that with the increasing readership on smartphones, other creators will find even cooler ways to incorporate their extra skills and hobbies into their stories, like photography, drawing, singing, song-writing or coding.

I don’t say that using paracontent is a must, particularly if you don’t enjoy creating it. My point is that it can give you a nice niche in which you can develop a name for yourself.


Resources that will help the authorpreneur get started

Here I owe a big thanks to Robyn Bradley who shared these same links with me. The first two focus on the importance of setting up your mailing list and acquiring direct readers rather than indirect ones over Facebook or Goodreads etc:

Jane Friedman
The Book Designer

Authorship is a lonely profession, and in my short time since emerging from my creator’s den, I have been really impressed at the extensive and supportive community of fellow authors. The following will help for several reasons:

The Creative Penn: Joanna Penn is based in the UK and has created quite a business for herself (I know she’s written blog posts in the past on how to use Goodreads/get the most out of Goodreads).
Joe Konrath: is considered one of the pioneers in the US publishing circuit. He’s a formerly traditionally published author who came to self-publishing some years ago and now believes self-publishing is pretty much the only way to go. He’s also really interested in being able to deliver enhanced e-book content to his readers.
Kindleboards Writers’ Café: This is an online forum where indie writers congregate. A good place to connect with other writers.


Final thoughts

Partnering with the right people is important. Publishers can offer a good head start into the industry, but I look at them more as skilled friends who believe in your content and will hopefully use their skills (and more importantly contacts) to give your content the best chance it can have. But with time and sufficient hard work and attention to detail, you can create these contacts yourself. Publishers also provide a lot of book-keeping and admin support so that authors don’t have to worry about it, so I am personally open to welcoming international publishers as key partners, but I am also reaching out to animation studios or audio book distributors; in fact anyone who distributes content, as I see myself more as a story architect with “blueprint tales” that can be adapted into any medium. Regardless of the medium, however, what will not change is the importance of audience development.

Here I agree with Mark Dawson that currently you should aim to get emails first and foremost. This is still the most effective marketing medium. If you are using a marketing device that doesn’t deliver these addresses to your mailing list (like Book Bub or Raffle Copter or Goodreads Giveaways), although extremely useful in the initial phase, recognise that they are not long-term strategies. Think of other ways to get sign-ups and therefore emails through whatever means, and these can include Facebook ads just for sign-ups, book-signing events, talks, or giveaways that you run on your site. I am acquiring sign-ups this way now via a starter library and Netgalley (which provides emails) and have been generally satisfied with the results. It is also nice to have people thank you directly. For the first time in five years of testing and development, I am finally reaching those people who I had hoped to connect with so long ago. In short—keep at it!

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Jerome Goerke (@wiverndigital) BA, MBA, is a journalist and consultant specializing in transmedia storytelling. Formerly with Deutsche Welle TV, he is today director of Wivern Digital—a digital storytelling and animated production agency based in London and Berlin. His animated musical storyworld Addison’s Tales was nominated for the first Berlin Crowdfunding Prize in 2014. He has written articles for Transmedia Storytelling Berlin and Pro Video Coalition on aspects of crafting a story for the digital age. For companies and authors, he crafts story arcs and produces innovative new content using the latest digital storytelling techniques, including 3D and 360 filming, interactive and linear video, animated clips and more.

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