Talking Dirty: Why Writers Should Focus on Being a Business

Over the weekend I headed out to a Professional Writing Seminar held by Marianne de Pierres which covered all sorts of ground that’s common at such things, but also hit a few key points that I hadn’t come across before. Part of what she talked about during the seminar was taking responsible for your own professional development (and, well, your career in general), and as someone whose done a lot of development (as a student) and developing (as a tutor, and a lecturer) it got me thinking about the gaps in my own skill set.

I’ve done a lot of stuff to develop my skills as a writer – undergraduate and post-graduate writing programs, workshops, six-week courses like Clarion South – but more and more I’m starting to feel like I’ve got the writing part down (kinda) but still need to work on the day-to-day business side of things: dealing with page-proofs, handling contracts, and taking care of what little money I make via writing.

We Treat Money Like a Dirty Topic in the Arts

Writers, as a general rule, don’t really talk about handling money in any meaningful way. There have been some good instances of it recent years – it seemed like John Scalzi’s words of advice for writers about money went around the internet in a matter of moments – but as a general rule it’s still a taboo topic once you get past “writers don’t make money; don’t quit your day job.” This is probably why Sean Williams’ post about the taxation, accounting and effective record keeping seminar he held at the South Australian Writer’s Centre fascinates me. He doesn’t really hit the details of the seminar in any meaningful way, but there are some very colourful graphs that give a rough outline of where his deductions come from and where the money he doesn’t get to keep is going.

I’ll be honest; I would have killed to be at that workshop. What advice there is out there is often vague, or slanted to a different tax system, and I think there’s a need for that kind of stuff to be out there and accessible. People spend so much time getting together the writing skills they need to become professional authors that the other stuff tends to get overshadowed.

It’s a lesson that all writers should embrace: think about the business side of things – especially the money management – real early in your career. You’ll be surprised how quickly you find yourself wishing you had those skills down.

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