QueryTracker Blog

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Publishing Lessons From The Investment Industry

What do the investment and publishing industries have in common (other than the desire to make money)? My husband works in the investment industry, and it recently dawned on me, while listening to him, how many lessons we can learn about publishing based on insights from the investment industry.


In investing, this means not owning shares in only one company (see Get Rich Quick to learn the dangers of that). You want to consider your financial goals (which are partly based on how close to retirement you are, as well as numerous other factors beyond the scope of this post), and plan your investments accordingly.

In writing, diversify can refer to many things: 

You’ve written a book and have started querying it. But instead of working on a new project, you tweak the manuscript while waiting to hear back from agents. You get feedback and tweak it some more. You take an online course. Another person beta reads it. And it each time you get the feedback, you keep tweaking your manuscript. There’s nothing wrong with this, except all your hopes are clinging to this one story. If you continue to get rejections, tweaking it isn’t going to save it. There may be deeper structural problems or issues with characterizations that you’re ignoring. Often we don’t realize these things until we put the book aside and work on something else. Most authors’ first books are never published, and there’s a good reason for that. But they realized it was time to move on and work on a second or third or fourth book. If they hadn’t done that, they probably never would have been published.

This term also applies to querying only your dream agent. I’ve seen this mentioned a number of times on the writer forums. The writer only queries his dream agent. Great, except the writer’s book might not be the agent’s dream book and she rejects it. The smart writer hasn’t put all his hopes on the one individual. He’s queried other agents who he thinks might love his book. This increases his chances of landing an agent who turns out to be a better match than the so-called dream agent. 

Diversify can also mean writing short stories, novellas, and novels, instead of focusing solely on writing novels. It can mean writing young adult and middle grade stories, or it can mean writing several different subgenres under the umbrella of romance. It’s okay, while you’re trying to become published, to experiment with different genres. You might have your heart set at becoming the next Margaret Atwood, but it might be that you’re the next Dean Koontz. However, be careful with spreading yourself too thin once you’re published, unless you’re a prolific writer. If it’s takes you two years to write a book, you might want to keep to one genre so that you can build your author brand (and thus your fan base). 

Long Term Investing

The wise investor chooses stocks that will continue to earn income over the long term. You don’t want to invest in today’s hot stock, which you bought at an outrageous price, only for it to tank tomorrow and leave you with nothing. The same deal with your writing career. For most authors, it takes time for their fan base to grow. And for most authors, it takes several books before they are finally published. Overnight successes are rare.

Think of everything you do as part of investing in your writing career. This might be buying that writing-craft book everyone’s talking about, joining a writing association, taking an online writing course, attending a conference. Everything you do is an investment in your career. Your long term writing career.


You’ve heard company XYZ is issuing shares and it is being touted as the next big thing. Naturally, you have to buy shares. You’d be an idiot not to. 

Wrong. By the time you buy them, the price is ridiculously high and you’re already too late. Sound familiar? It’s the same thing with publishing. When Twilight became the next big thing, writers rushed to write vampire stories, and by then it was too late. Agents and editors already had all the vampire stories they could handle (unless something really stood out from the crowd). The same thing happened with YA dystopian, angel stories . . . .

The best thing to do is write what you love to read and be the creator of the next trend, not the follower. 

Get Rich Quick

Does anyone remember Bre-X? It was a Canadian mining company that claimed to be sitting on a massive gold deposit in Asia. It was a hoax that cost many investors their life savings. They ignored the wise saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” Unfortunately, they jumped in without taking the time to do the research and without taking the time to make sure they were doing what was right for their financial security.

With the growing popularity of self-publishing, it’s easy to be lured into it. You don’t have to wait for the publishing industry to realize you’re a writing genius. You don’t have to put up with nothing by rejections from agents and editors. You love your story. Your mother loved your story. Why not self publish it and become the next J.K Rowling?

If you’re not looking for a long term writing career, go ahead and jump in. But if you are hoping to develop a fan base that will grow with each book you publish, take the time to do things right. Take the time to understand the pros and cons of self publishing. Take the time to understand what you’ll need to do to self-publish your book (e.g. obtaining the ISBN). Take the time to get a great cover and have the book professionally edited. And take the time to research how you’re going to promote the book and come up with a plan of action (this is also true if you are traditionally publishing your book). While you don’t have to wait as longer as traditionally published authors to see you book in print (so to speak), don’t rush the process and end up like so many Bre-X investors—regretting your decision. 

Have you learned anything as an investor that makes you a smarter writer? Or, have you learned anything from other investors’ mistakes that you can apply to publishing?

Stina Lindenblatt writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.  


Linda Jackson said...

This is such a good post, Stina, that I don't know where to start.

Okay, I'll start here:
diversify: don't get stuck in a rut with one manuscript or that dream agent--so true--so I finally moved on and wrote something new.

trends: never bought into them

get rich quick: as a previously self-published author, I can tell you--you'll never work harder in your life

Thanks for laying it out there, Stina. :)

Eric W. Trant said...

Be serious: Either treat writing like a business, or like a hobby. It is not both, and making it a hobby will not earn you money.

You are the stock: For publishers, your book is an investment, and you are the company stock.

Deadlines: If you sign with a publisher, you are an employee. Act like one. Respect your deadlines.

Know the market: While you might want to diversify, do so with intent. Research, study, and then make your investment in that niche.

Do not over-invest: Set realistic goals for your writing projects, that align with your writing skills, and your ability to maintain the writing workload. Move on to the next project, genre, agent, etc. This is redundant with the article, but worth repeating.

Outstanding mindset, and great article. Right on!

- Eric

Traci Kenworth said...

Great post, Stina!! I can see the comparison between investment banking and publishing. I'm interested in what's going on in the self-pub business, but not ready to step in yet myself. I think I'll try e-publishers first. The only thing that scares me is poor sell-through numbers...