The writer as an entrepreneur

[The post in which I explain my method-of-madness and talk about The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries]

Each month I’ll be blogging about one book, using it as a jump off point to discuss topics in business and how these topics relate to writers. This month’s book is The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries. I’ll link to the book on Amazon, though I encourage you to purchase it from whatever site or store is easiest for you. My blog posts for the month of March will be focused on different sections of the book.

The first part of The Lean Startup is called Vision. A lot of what’s talked about is understanding that entrepreneurs and startups are lurking around in more places that you’d think. This is fitting because I have this radical notion that writers should recognize that they are entrepreneurs themselves.

Most writers do not refer to themselves as entrepreneurs or business people. They refer to themselves as writers, leading with the creative side of what they do (or would like to do). If they were to say, I own a company selling original works of fiction or nonfiction to publishing houses, this would put what they do in a very different light. It wouldn’t sound as creative as saying, I’m a writer, or, I’m a novelist, or, I write books. But it would add authority to what they are seeking to do, which is become a published writer. By treating themselves as business people, they force others to treat them as business people.

Ries has a brilliantly simple definition of what an entrepreneur is. He defines an entrepreneur as anyone who is creating a new product or business under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This fits what writers do perfectly. They’re creating a product that they can’t be sure will get published and will reach its intended audience of readers.

Ries then goes on to define what a startup is. “A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty,” (p 27).Herein lies the crux of my argument. Should a writer define writing a book, whatever the subject, as building a business? Well consider this:

A writer must do the following to get published by a traditional publishing house: write publishable manuscripts (according to the standards set by the publishing industry), find an agent or lawyer to broker a deal between themselves and a publishing house, and promote themselves using social media and traditional media.

A writer must do the following when self-publishing: write a publishable book (according to the standards set by the reading public), sell books to customers in various formats and promote their brand using social media and traditional media.

A startup business must produce a product people want to buy or a service people want to use, identify and sell their product or service to customers, and promote their brand using social media and traditional media.

Everyone mentioned has a goal in mind: to sell their product to their customer base. So what is the benefit of writers identifying themselves as entrepreneurs? It means from the first time they set out to write their book, they would have a framework to structure their business by. It’s much easier to find an agent, a publisher, and readers when you’re producing a book they want to purchase (or, in the case of the agent, represent). My intent isn’t to suck all the fun out of being a writer by lecturing about needing to approach writing in a business manner. It’s to shift the thinking of writers to pursue their writing as any startup company would so that they can rely on some of the benefits that a startup has: gaining funding to build your business, setting actionable benchmarks for your career, creating and building a brand, and relying on the advice and wisdom of people you wouldn’t necessarily go to for inspiration.

Next week: Can a writer use the Lean Startup method for writing their book?