Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Writing as a business: How do you rate?

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog post is to be construed as tax or financial advice. Consult a qualified CPA!

April 15 is just two days away, which puts me in the mind to blog about writing as a business. It stands to reason that if you think and act like a professional, you greatly increase your chances of success, so today we’re going to take a look at what’s involved in a businesslike approach to writing.

Ever since I began my writing career 26 years ago, I’ve worked to maintain a professional attitude--and attitude is everything. Even for those of us who go to work in our jammies, we can exhibit professionalism in our written communication, presentation materials, telephone manners, and responsiveness to editorial requests.

But while all those things are important in developing a businesslike attitude toward writing, it’s our day-to-day routine that really tells the tale. Here’s a quiz to help you evaluate your writing business sense:

1. Do you set “office hours,” certain days of the week and/or specific times of the day that you devote to writing?
  • score 5 points for yes
  • 0 points for no
2. Do you log the number of writing hours you put in as well as how you spend your writing time (writing, revision, marketing, etc.)?
  • 5 points for all of the above
  • 3 points for just logging your hours
  • 0 points for none of the above
3. Do you have a writing office or study, or at least one corner of a room sectioned off as your workspace?
  • 5 points for a designated writing office
  • 3 points for a corner of a room
  • 1 point if your only available writing spot is the local Starbucks or library
  • 0 points if you don’t have a clue where you’ll be writing next
4. Are your computer, reference books, and supplies readily accessible?
  • 5 points if everything is easily reachable in your writing workspace
  • 3 points if you have a designated shelf or crate somewhere nearby
  • 0 points if you have to go searching

5. Do you have a system for tracking manuscript submissions and results, including those to editors, agents, and contests?
  • 5 points if you use a spreadsheet or other electronic system
  • 3 points if you keep a handwritten log
  • 1 point for notes stuffed into file folders
  • 0 points if you don’t remember what you sent where
6. Do you belong to one or more professional writers organizations, such as ACFW or RWA?
  • 3 points for every national writers organization you belong to
  • 2 points for every local organization
  • 0 points for none
7. Do you subscribe to writers publications and study them for writing instruction, marketing news, etc.?
  • 3 points for every major publication you subscribe to
  • 1 point for every writers group or chapter newsletter you read
  • 0 points for none

8. Do you belong to a critique group or partnership?
  • 5 points if you exchange manuscripts at least once a month
  • 3 points if you exchange randomly
  • 0 points for no critique group
9. Do you attend writers group meetings and conferences regularly? Take classes to improve your craft?
  • 5 points for every major conference you attend annually
  • 3 points for regular writers group attendance
  • 1 point for every online or local class you have taken in the past year
10. Do you keep track of your writing income and expenses?
  • 5 points for yes
  • 0 points for no
Expenses (keep all receipts) may include):
  • Postage
  • Writers group membership dues
  • Mileage to and from writing-related events
  • Lunch with your critique partner
  • Writers magazine subscriptions
  • Office supplies and equipment
  • Reference books
  • Education expense

Well, how did you do?

55 points or higher--you’re a regular writing CEO!
41-54 points--Vice President
31-40 points--Middle Management
21-30 points--Administrative Assistant
11-20 points--Receptionist
10 points or less--Prospective Employee

If you scored 35 points or less, what are two things you could change right now to improve? Can you commit to making those changes within the next month or two? Why or why not?

A few Web sites where you can find more information on the business side of writing (inclusion does NOT indicate Seekerville endorsement of the information provided):










Camy Tang said...

Fantastic post, Myra! Thanks for the reminder to log in my writing hours...I've been bad about that lately. I'm going to remember to do that again!

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

I've never thought about logging in writing hours. I love that.

We need to find a punchsheet to clock in with..there must be some sort of program you can use.

Great idea.

Christy LaShea said...

Thanks for the info, Myra. I have a bunch of stuff, stuffed into file folders wondering what I need to keep and what to toss. Never thought about keeping up with mileage to those writers meetings or many of the things you questioned us on. I rated at middle management ;0)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I'm doomed.

Nicola said...

Awesome post Myra. Very inspiring and helpful. Thank you!

Nicola x

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Okay this time I brought coffee. Strong and black as this topic deserving a very sober cuppa.

Audra Harders said...

I didn't see points for piles, Myra. I know if I could add 5 points for all the stacks and piles in my office, I'd be able to claim 2 CEO positions : )

I'm with the others on logging hours. I've got calendars and daytimes all over, but all I log are upcoming events.

I'm almost scared do watch the hours pile up : )

Great tips, Myra! And great links!

Thanks for the coffee, Tina. Strong brew needed today.

Missy Tippens said...

I'm rolling on the floor laughing at Ruthy!! But Ruthy, honey, you now have income to back up your claims. That should help. :)

Great post, Myra! A great reminder about logging my hours. I haven't done that so much since selling. Although I do log my new words written. But gosh, I spend hours and hours planning and revising so should include that!

I like Tina's idea of finding a site where I can clock in. Let us know, Tina!

Missy Tippens said...

Oh, Audra, surely piles count! If not, I'm doomed too!!


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

I never thought of logging in hours or pages but I do have an office, I do keep receipts and expense records (been a bookkeeper for many years) so guess I'm not doing too bad as a 'business' but always room for improvement.

Great post.

Melanie Dickerson said...

This is a good post, Myra.

I only scored a 34. The business gene was lacking in my family.

So what is the purpose of logging our hours?

I am very committed to spending every free moment when my kids are at school doing something writing related, unless I have an appointment. But I also take time out to go to the gym three (okay, two) mornings a week, to buy food when we run out, and to go a Beth Moore Bible class once morning a week. But other than that, I'm sitting in front of my computer from 7:40 until 3:00. And if I go too long without actually writing new words on a story, I get grouchy. So that's my "system." Not very systematic, is it?

Mary Connealy said...

I scored 46. I could have upped it by finding more writer's organizations, I think.

Because I belong to several smaller organizations like, The Nebraska Writer's Guild, the Nebraska Press Woman, Women Writing the West, Sisters in Crime, The Author's Guild. But I don't do a whole lot with those and a a few others so I quit.

I don't log in hours, though.

I just go by word count. I write when I can, but make sure to have a set goal. Now I feel like a slacker, Myra darlin'.


Mary Connealy said...

And, I gave myself all 5 points for having a 'system' for keeping track of submissions. But that 'system' is mainly saving emails.
AND I gave myself 5 points for having my computer and writing tools and supplies easily accessible. You never mentioned NEAT and there might be those organized souls who would see the disaster of my writing area and disagree violently that is counted as being in any way orderly.

Still, it works for me.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

We can make up our own point system????

Like Connealy just did????


Oh, man, if I can devise my own SYSTEM then I could probably not only be CEO of my very own company but stage a coup and take over an emerging nation in my spare time.

I'm totally down with that.

Good coffee, Teeeeeeena. And thank you. I was (understandably) a little taken aback this morning. I stand in awe (total, unmitigated, can't even imagine going there type awe) of organized authors.

If I were Obama, I'd bow. ;)

But I'm just Ruthy so I'll donate cookies to the morning cause. Busy morning here. Didn't even have time to call Panera and have them do breakfast.

I'm slacking. Which makes Myra's post even more amazing to me if I can't even remember to order FOOD FOR THE MASSES.

I've got lunch covered, though. It's the Yankee home opener, so we're doing Zweigle's Hots (best hot dog ever, I promise) white and red (whites are porkers, an upstate NY hot dog, try it and stop curling your lip... Seriously. So unbecoming...)


Cracker Jacks.

Photos of Derek Jeter, the quintessential gentleman shortstop of the NY Yankees are available at the back table.

And the side table.

And the front table.

Ya' gettin' this???? ;)

The boys of summer are back in New York.



Edwina said...

Myra, Excellent post! Thanks for all of the questions as it really made me think. I actually scored 35 - I was expecting a 3 or a 5. :)

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, all!!! Am I the only one who logs my writing time??? I got started doing this years ago when I read somewhere that if you can show you put in at least 500 hours a year (don't quote me--I THINK it was something like that), it's a good indication to the IRS that you are seriously treating writing like a business with the INTENTION of making money.

So I created an Excel spreadsheet where I "clock in" and "clock out" and even have a break time for lunch or whatever. On each line there's a cell for the date, the activities pursued, title of work-in-progress I'm currently working on, mileage (if any), and of course the start and stop times.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, and neatness does NOT count, so no worries, ladies! I have to shovel through and sort the piles on my desk at least once a month. As long as you know which pile it's in, you're good to go!

Just polished off a pot of Earl Grey Green with morning devotions. Time to hit the Wii Fit. Back later, y'all!

Pam Hillman said...

Myra, you KNEW I couldn't resist taking this survey, didn't you?

Great post!!!

I'm off work today and had 1 1/2 hours to write before I leave for a drs. appointment, but just had to stop, read your blog and take the survey.

I'm a Vice President, but in my HEART, I'm a CEO!

Pam Hillman said...

PS... I HAVE to get off here and log in those hours, but...

For logging hours/words, I use a spreadsheet (of course) and I have ONE spreadsheet for each manuscript that has everything but the kitchen sink in it.

My PLOT spreadsheet is always open with my Word doc so that I can look at it if I'm trying to remember where a scene is, or something.

My worksheets might change and grow, but they always include:

* Overview: desc. of scene, whose POV, timeline, time of day, etc.

* Characters: Name, age, hair, eyes, any scars.

* Word Count (with a running total by day). I log word count, not hours, but I might start doing that. Would be a wake-up call, I'm sure!

* Ideas to work on

* Rejected ideas (I never throw them away)

Pam Hillman said...

Ooooh, I live the punchsheet idea, Tina.


Helen Gray said...

Sorry I wasn't here to start the coffee. Got in so tired I was sick last night. Went to bed at 9 p.m., which is unheard of for me.

Like Tina, I've never even thought about logging my hours. Don't think I could if I tried. Writing is sandwiched between other tasks.
I have a daily page quota.

I have an office, and everything is organized for convenience.
I also keep records and belong to ACFW and RWA. I haven't yet found a regular critique partner, so that's random.

Looks like I'm only Middle Management.


Lisa Jordan said...

I'm not a CEO of my own writing company yet, but your awesome post is a great nudge to get started.

Beginning today I will start logging my writing hours. And I need to have a set writing time. That's something I'm discussing with my family over dinner tonight.

For those of you who write before your day jobs, how do you drag your behinds out of bed so early?? I have such great intentions, but man oh man, it's all I can do to get up and shower before my first kiddo rings the doorbell. I <3 sleep.

Pam Hillman said...


I meant to say, "I love the punchsheet idea."

Leaving now...

Kav said...

LOL. I'm somewhere between the prospective employee and the receptionist -- I'm guessing that makes me the night cleaner!

Lorna said...

Myra, I'm just so glad you did not make me subtract point for piles or a messy desk!

As for logging in hours, I haven't, but I do know there are some free punch clocks online that your can download. I considered them, but I also go by word count.

Thanks for the reminders of what to keep track of. I always forget mileage.

Stephanie Newton said...

Haha, Ruthy, I was thinking what you said.


Myra Johnson said...

LOL--I knew Pam couldn't resist a post that mentioned SPREADSHEETS!!! She's the only writer I know who uses more spreadsheets that I do!!!

Kav, most all of us have to start at entry level and work our way up the corporate ladder. You do what you can, when you can, and you don't sweat the small stuff. Whatever else you're doing, WRITING is the most important.

Myra Johnson said...

For Helen and others who have to sandwich writing between day jobs, kids, and other commitments, even if you don't keep a time sheet, just estimating how much time you give to writing each day and tracking how you spend that time can be a huge motivator.

Myra Johnson said...

Mary, you get 55 points just for being YOU, you amazing thing, you!!!!

Erica Vetsch said...

Hmmm, I'm in middle management...kinda describes my whole life!

Pepper Basham said...

Can I still plead ignorance after reading this?

I know...
My dog ate my logbook.

Janet Dean said...

Myra, I'm pathetic. I don't do spread sheets if there is any way around it. What's with all those boxes? I feel claustrophobic. I don't log writing hours. I'm a mess.

Well, not entirely. Like Audra, I have lots of organized piles. That has to count for something.

Off to do better.


Myra Johnson said...

I think a lot of our organizational tendencies (or lack thereof) must come from whether we're more right brained or left brained. And I can never remember which is the creative side and which is the logical side.

I did take several versions of right brain/left brain tests awhile back, though, and always came out pretty much in the middle. Which means I'm an organized creative type???

So if you're not into spreadsheets and filing systems and such, certainly don't worry about it! If you have any kind of "system" that has been working for you and keeping you on track, that's really all that matters.

That, and the actual writing, of course.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra said, "That and the actual writing, of course..."

Oh, honey-lamb, now THAT I can do!!!


And I really, really do admire people who can box things in. It's a gift.

I use the word count maneuver, like Mary and Helen alluded to. If I get my word count in each day, then I'm free to bother you guys, edit, answer e-mail, etc.

But only if...

And if I double it????


Melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. I'm a reward oriented person. Boxes don't do it for me. I can be bribed or bought. Either works.

Michael K. Reynolds said...

I'm impressed with the consistency of quality in your posts. Well done! This is one of my favorite writer's resource BLOGS.

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, Michael!

Mary Connealy said...

We all oughta get 55 points for hanging around SEEKERVILLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That is victory and professionalism defined.

Myra Johnson said...

Okay, okay, Mary. Hanging out in Seekerville is definitely a HUGE factor in determining a writer's potential for success--LOL!!!--but you have to admit, it is NOT the same as being disciplined and organized.

But for scoring purposes, I will grant 10 points for visiting Seekerville every day, 5 points for 1-2 times a week, and 2 points for 1-3 times a month. How's that?

Pam Hillman said...

lol - Yay, we get points for visiting Seekerville.

I'm hanging at the local (itty-bitty) library, which has free Wi-Fi!!!

Can you believe it????

Not that I'll need it much, but today, I'm hanging around town for a couple hours before an appt.

Nice to have wi-fi. For research, you know...

Okay, back to the wip...

Myra Johnson said...

Just caught up with the latest issue of Romance Writers Report. Lo and behold, there's an article on keeping good business records as a writer! Worth a look if you can get hold of a copy.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Great advice! Timely too.

Thanks, Myra.


Walt M said...

This was a great post, even if I did get to it late today.

Pepper Basham said...

Woohoo, I just upped my score by 10 points. Thanks, Myra. I'm feeling much better now ;-)

Debby Giusti said...

I hit 48 and beat Mary by 2 points. Something's wrong...she should be CEO level.

No spreadsheets, but great CPs, lots of prof organizations and conferences, which add the points.

So maybe I should start tracking writing hours.

And, yes, like Audra, I have piles! And piles! And piles!

Diane Marie Shaw said...

This is a great list and it reminds me I need to do better.
Thanks for prodding us to become CEO's.

Tracy Krauss said...

I guess I don't rate at all! I am still at the stage where my 'real job' takes most of my time, even though I do have my first novel "And The Beat Goes On" published. However, this was quite inspirational. It's what I hope to look forward to some day!