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The Seven Functions of the Self-Published Author: Playing the Piano

If you look over the accompanying diagram, you’ll see the seven functions which need to be accomplished to build a successful career as a writer.

‘But I just want to write!’ you may protest. ‘I don’t want to have to worry about marketing or distribution etc!’ Fair enough. The reason that traditional publishers developed in the first place was to answer this protest by providing services related to the marketing of books, in particular, as well as their sales and distribution. If you think about it, that’s what most businesses do: they provide services that we either don’t want to do or are incapable of doing ourselves.

But with the rise of the internet, much of what traditional publishers do comes within the reach of anyone with a laptop: planning, design, marketing, sales, even distribution, are all do-able from one’s own bedroom, if one has the needed skills. Any author who wants to self-publish can acquire these skills and get books out into the marketplace without having to depend on the usual traditional publishers.

There are some key fundamentals at work here, though: so key and so fundamental that they might seem like magic to some. We looked at some of them recently. One of them is the ability to spot which of the above functions isn’t being done to the required level, which results in the whole operation becoming distorted and eventually can lead to failure. There are some other core things to note too.

Firstly, from my background as a management consultant (who used to have an office just off Berkeley Square and who used to dine with clients at the Ritz Hotel in London) I know the one trap which most small businesspeople fall into within months of starting up a business. The same trap grabs writers, perhaps even moreso.

What is it?

It’s the inability of the business owner and founder to extract himself or herself from the production lines.

Almost every small businessperson I dealt with over a period of about five years had the same downfall: they couldn’t get out of the day-to-day grind for long enough to see where the operation was going or spend enough time doing the other functions above. One for one, this resulted in slowdowns and collapses, no matter what the businesses were: from chiropractors to dentists, from furniture designers to musicians, from telesales outfits to restaurant owners, they were all falling into the same hole, the hole right at the heart of their businesses: the main production line. Chiropractors and dentists were spending too long with patients; furniture designers were spending too long on the manufacturing floor; telesales people were spending too long on the phone themselves. You get the idea.

What do I mean by ‘too long’?

Of course, most business owners probably created their business because they had some expertise in whatever it was, some pleasure in doing it, some experience of the ‘front line’. What I mean by ‘too long’ is not that they shouldn’t have been doing these things at all, of course not: I mean too long in relation to the other functions above. So, for example, a furniture designer might be spending most of his day on the factory floor trying to get the furniture built on time, to the neglect of other duties. (He was — that’s an actual example.)

For writers — and this is where you might hear a howl of protest from within yourself, but hear me out — the parallel was spending too long writing in relation to the above other functions. I’ll wait a moment for your heart rate to go down. You’re probably thinking ‘How can he say that? I barely get enough time to write as it is!’ But don’t misunderstand me — I mean exactly what I just said: ‘too long in relation to the above other functions.’ If the above other functions had an appropriate amount of time spent on them, the writer would begin to feel the effects on his or her actual writing.

For example, time spent on planning — not necessarily on plot planning, but on planning out one’s time and use of resources — can result in vastly increased production when it comes to actual writing; time spent on market research can save valuable hours and loads of frustration when it comes to getting readers; a few hours spent on finances can remove bucketloads of stress; time invested into editing can create a higher quality product, which yields further benefits, and so on.

The trick is to see the above diagram as a piano keyboard and to learn to play tunes on it. You probably wouldn’t consider it very musical for someone to bang on and on using only the same middle portion of a keyboard, would you? Not many harmonies are created that way. By stretching to include other parts of the operation, one finds that the whole becomes more productive and melodic.

There’s a lot more to this, coming soon. But for now, take a look at your own 'keyboard' -- are you spending too long on just one section of it? Would it help to take one hour -- just one hour -- and use it to plan ahead in some way?

Stay tuned.


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