Jane Friedman: The Business Of Books


Gone are the days of pitching your manuscript to publishing houses so your work can see the light of day, only to receive rejection letters time and time again. The age of self-publishing has well and truly arrived.

Since the 1990s advent of print-on-demand, to a now thriving e-book industry, getting your book published is an exciting reality. Low cost, low risk and no managing print runs or inventories – it seems like the perfect solution to the writer desperate to release their talent.

However, as fun and fulfilling as writing your book is, just like any commercial pursuit, there is the ‘business’ to take care of.

Jane Friedman is a writer and expert in the business of publishing. She began her career as an intern with F + W Media, where she then spent the next 12 years working full time. Jane has now amassed over 20 years’ experience in the publishing industry and is the author of industry newsletter The Hot Sheet, a regular columnist with Publishers Weekly and a professor with The Great Courses. She has also presented at numerous writing events as a keynote speaker and workshop guest, specialising on the topic of digital authorship.

At the core of Jane’s teaching is that education on how the industry works is vital for a successful writing career. The right knowledge and expectations can significantly reduce the anxiety, frustration and feelings of failure that many writers experience as they push to become published.

“When writers take time to learn about the publishing industry, I believe it leads to a more positive and productive writing career,” Jane commented in her recent book, The Business of Being a Writer.

“Despite ongoing transformations in the publishing industry, there are fundamental business principles that underlie writing and publishing success. Writers who learn to recognise the models behind successful authorship and publication will feel more empowered and confident to navigate a changing field, to build their plans for long-term career development.”

With evolving technology comes the opportunity to get published, but with this comes many additional hurdles only effectively navigated by the business-savvy.

“There are more ways to get published than ever: this is the pros and the cons. It means more confusion for the writer who’s trying to decide the next steps for their writing project or manuscript. And it also means more responsibility to understand one’s goals and the business you’re entering into,” Jane explained.

Jane has written extensively on the topic of books and business, and one of the major pieces of advice (and reasons for understanding the commercial and marketing side of book sales) is that you don’t need to splash large amounts of cash to get people to buy your work. More than half of all book sales are made online – meaning that as a self-published author, you have just as much access to the crowds as those working through a publisher. This gives you tremendous scope to release your work and forge a following without those rejection letters, however, taking this route means you need to know what you are doing, and you need to put in the work.

“You, the author, manage the publishing process and hire the right people or services to edit, design, publish, and distribute your book. Every step of the way, you decide which distributors or retailers you prefer to deal with. You retain complete and total control of all artistic and business decisions; you keep all profits and rights.” Jane said in her article, Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book.

Hiring the right people to bring your vision together is key to a successful, sellable product. These people include freelance graphic designers, editors and proofreaders. Know who you are working with and ask for samples before proceeding with them for the first time. You will also need to have your book converted into the correct file type for uploading to the e-book retailer or distributor. The required format varies between companies, so check with your chosen platform before you have your book finalised.

Once you have your book online, you will also need to manage the marketing. One of the easiest and often most fruitful marketing methods so often overlooked by writers is starting local. Visit groups that may be interested in your book, get friends and family talking, network amongst your tribe, and you will soon see the benefits:

“It may feel boring, or like you’re not setting your sights high enough if you start local or with the community of people who are likely to be most interested. But why not win over the “easy” people first? They can help you generate word of mouth and build up publicity that leads to greater and more national attention,” Jane said in her article Go Local: Marketing Books to Targeted Communities.

In summary, getting to know the business of books as you write, edit and look to sell your work will significantly help you in your mission – both practically and emotionally speaking.

“While business savvy may not make up for mediocre writing, or allow any author to skip important stages of creative development, it can reduce anxiety and frustration. And it can help writers avoid bad career decisions—by setting appropriate expectations of the industry, and by providing tools and information on how to pursue meaningful, sustainable careers in writing and publishing on a full-time or part-time basis,” Jane said.