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The Seven Functions of the Self-Published Author: Getting Off the Hamster Wheel

‘Now it’s all very well talking about marketing,’ some of you might be saying (or thinking), ‘but I’m a writer and I have a busy life. When am I supposed to engage with these abstract notions?’

We’ve been looking at the seven functions common to all human enterprises, as seen in the accompanying diagram, and reflecting how they apply to writers, drawing from my experiences as a Management Consultant back in the 1990s. We’ve seen that most small business owners tend to get stuck on the ‘factory floor’ of their businesses, embroiled in the day-to-day production to the neglect of the other things they need to do to be successful; we’ve seen how this applies very much to writers, and how, in writing, there is a further tendency to believe that the solution to all woes lies in Distribution — getting one’s book ‘out there’, after which, the dream goes, the sales will start rolling in. And we’ve seen how, when the subject of marketing comes up, the usual response is blank stares, embarrassment, and a set of incorrect responses based on marketing myths which largely arose in the late 20th century.

Writers therefore tend to end up on a kind of hamster wheel: they write and write and write — and where they can afford to, they edit and edit, so that their work is in the best possible shape when it gets to the market — and then they distribute like crazy, using the modern tool of the internet, hoping that enough money will be generated for the whole circle to begin again. ‘Marketing’ to most writers is equated with Distribution: surely, they think, getting one’s book into the marketplace is all that is required?

As a result of this erroneous thinking, they are usually disappointed. Even free samples from their work spammed all over the place fail to attract much attention. In a frenzy, many writers remain on the hamster wheel and spin around the circle again and again, hoping to strike lucky. Some do. Which unfortunately just encourages hundreds of thousands more to keep pedalling, all to no avail.

Why do writers — and just about all small business owners too — neglect the earlier points on the diagram? Why don’t they ‘play the piano keys’ which apply to Planning, Management and Marketing?

Well, it’s partly because Planning, Management and Marketing are less tangible. In the case of the other four functions, there tends to be something touchable and ‘real’ about them, something which can be moved around and controlled. Finances involve real money (when you have it) which can be spent; Production involves real doing, making, handling, as does the quality function which in the case of writers is Editing; and in Distribution, one is dealing with external entities, websites, companies, social media which is demonstrably real and not just ‘in one’s head.’

Whereas Planning and Management and Marketing are all somewhat subjective. They exist largely as ideas. There’s nothing there, it’s all on the level of thought. And so it’s easy to dismiss or forget about it. But one does so at one’s peril.

It’s as simple as this: writers (and small business owners) fail to consider marketing because it’s ‘just ideas’; and they fail to value the importance of ideas because they aren’t managing their operation as a whole; and they fail to manage their operation because they haven’t planned it out enough.

Everything begins with Planning. In the absence of Planning, a writer (or anyone else trying to do anything) tends to get caught in the hamster wheel of events and exhausts themselves going round and round and getting nowhere. That’s mainly because they haven’t established anywhere to go.

What is Planning? It means looking to the future; it means making decisions; it means taking control and plotting out a direction. It’s very creative, highly liberating and super-charged. It’s also changeable: if you decide to alter your plans, you can do so.

Many writers look at this completely blankly. They never set out to be a writer with any particular advanced goals in mind — they just wanted to write a book and have it be successful. But this ends up with them on the hamster wheel. Stepping off the wheel for a while empowers the writer to shape his or her future, to put the wheel (to extend the analogy somewhat) on a vehicle that is actually going somewhere. It means that all of the effort currently wasted on the short-circuiting cycle of ‘Write-write-write/edit-edit-edit/distribute-distribute-distribute/panic-panic-panic’ can instead produce forward motion to a better outcome.

The fun thing about Planning is that it doesn’t necessarily depend very much on anything or anyone else: one can sit down and paint a picture of where one wants to be and no one else needs to be involved particularly, unless one wants them to be.

When Planning becomes involved in practicalities, it becomes Management: how does one proceed to make that planning become actuality? Where is one starting from? What current factors need to be considered?

For example, a writer might sit down and plan to be retired in five years’ time based on the passive income from a best-selling book — a common dream amongst writers, if not often spoken aloud (many don’t want to voice this dream for fear of ‘jinxing’ some kind of Fate that might bring it about by magic). In terms of Planning, this could include where one wants to live, and with whom, and what one wants to be doing exactly and so forth.

Then the writer turns his or her attention to the current state of affairs. Perhaps he or she is trapped in a horrible job, with a mountain of bills to pay; perhaps a book has already been written and has been distributed. Whatever the case may be, Management is the stage at which a writer rolls up his or her sleeves and works out how to get from A to B: does notice have to be handed in at work? Do assets have to be sold to provide covering finance? Do more books have to be written?

That last one is key. More books probably will have to be written. The dream that one will make enough to retire on from one bestseller is probably going to need some revision, unless your name is Harper Lee. Experience suggests that it takes at least ten books on the market for potential readers to even notice that you are there. And so the writer learns to ‘play the piano’: having made some plans, and looked at the current scene, he or she might have to go back and revise the plans, back and forth, until some plans emerge that can be managed into existence.

The idea of sitting down and tackling these ideas is foreign to many — but immediately one can see that, in stepping off the hamster wheel and putting things in some kind of perspective, one of the first things one realises is that there are these seven functions and that a few of them have been neglected, usually badly.

One of the most badly neglected is marketing, as mentioned earlier. Planning and management, if done correctly, reveal a need for marketing. But what steps can be taken on this on an immediate basis? Stay tuned.

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