Monday, 3 November 2014

Beware of the snakes

I used to be forward in letting people know I was a writer. Somehow the conversation would turn to the question of what is it that I do and I would ever so easily spill the words 'I'm a writer' without giving it a second thought. And if it didn't, I'd more often than not find a way to work the topic into the conversation. I've been around the block long enough now to know that people sometimes mistake your name on the cover of a book for a target on your back. Being a writer is as much a business as it is an interesting topic for conversation. Wading into the business world is akin to stepping into a field of long grass, you can't always see the hidden things that you can stub your toe on and you sometimes have to watch out for the snakes.

There is a period of a few good years after seeing your first book in print where you think everything is going to work out just dandy, the world is your friend and the people you meet are just waiting to hear all about your book. That line of thinking it turns out is wrong. I learnt long ago that although most people love to be able to say that they met a writer, they won't necessarily run out and join your fan club just because you handed them a business card. A quick visit to check out your website and maybe, just maybe an online purchase of your book usually suffices their interest. But mention it in the process of doing a business deal and the result is completely different. Suddenly you have a new best friend. Congratulations are usually followed by a short period of fawning over the fact that they can't believe they have a writer standing in their presence, and the next minute they are promising to buy your book, tell all their friends about you and offer a special deal on whatever it is you're looking for. Now don't get me wrong, I have dealt with many genuinely nice business people in my time. But my point is that in life you have to use due diligence in your business matters, and as a writer we sometimes forget this point among the praise and accolades that are coming from the salesperson.

It was Irvin S. Cobb who once said, "if writers were good businessmen, they'd have too much sense to be writers." The key is to be wise in your business dealings when it comes to who is offering what, and what they are asking for in return. Is it really a good offer that is being presented? Or is it just a dressed up sales pitch they are trying to corner you into?

It is something I discovered recently, the hard way. Organizing a book launch involves selling yourself to potential sponsors. Much like convincing a company that they need to employ you for a position they don't have. Pooling this support and ensuring that each and every business is happy with the promotion you offer them in return becomes a delicate matter. In making these arrangements I needed to pay to have something created for the event. Choosing one local business, I explained what was needed to be done, was ensured they could do it and was promised that I would be looked after with a special price. Sound familiar? When it became apparent that the end result wouldn't be to the standard I expected, and there wasn't anything special about the price at all, I advised them that I wouldn't proceed and went elsewhere. Now if I had been the average customer off the street there would have been no further ramifications for what amounted to a quote. The problem came down to what I said before, that sometimes people mistake your name on a book for a target on your back. Not only did I get a spiteful email for not proceeding with their services, but the invoice for a design cancellation fee came with a threat of contacting my sponsors and my publisher if I didn't pay. To top it off, I was physically threatened when I arrived at the business to pay the bill and reminded that it was a small town. What did I do? I remembered that although it was a small town, it was also a wide world. You don't drag your own name down into the dirt. As a writer, your name is your brand and the world is your marketplace. So I paid the fee, and kept a copy of the receipt and email to ensure it didn't go any further.

I always try to take something positive away from any experience. As always, lessons learnt in this manner often stay with you, and leave you better prepared to spot trouble the next time it comes around. I'm fortunate to have the foresight now to keep my writing and the business side of my writing separate. Its important to find out the facts rather than falling for the false accolades and sales pitch. Sometimes business matters aren't clear when it comes to who is right or wrong. What is important is to handle yourself in the right manner. Before you wade through the long grass, be sure you are wearing the proper shoes and a pair of thick socks. Ask questions first and read your contracts thoroughly. Then if you do have a bad business experience, sure, take your business elsewhere, but keep your business dealings on the highest level. The last thing a writer wants when they step out for the launch of their latest hit novel is for a scandal to erupt over something trivial. Above all else, in everything that comes the way of a writer, whether it be good or bad, nothing stands in the way of him being able to use the experience in a future book. After all, that is what we writers do.

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