Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Turning Pro” had me shaking my head in agreement last week. A few from the publishing side:
It’s Show Business, Not Show Art.
A freelance producer offered me this advice while I was a summer college intern at Mattel’s headquarters in El Segundo, CA.
I thought he was another bitter USC film grad who couldn’t hack it in Hollywood . . . so he sold out to “the man” and made toy commercials for a living.
Looking back, he was right and I was judgmental and naïve.
A junior editor/publicist position met me out of college, for a small indy publishing house. Within three months, the senior editor was fired and I was promoted . I edited, answered the phones, managed the design and printing outsourcing and production, prepared contracts, launched publicity campaigns, tracked sales and distribution, and pretty much everything else outside of signing the checks.
I learned a lot in a short period of time, but thought the art missing within the work was an abnormality—related to that boss and that publishing house. I was in the first stage of grieving for art. Behind the curtain of post-college job #2 were the remaining four stages: Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
Publishing is a business. If you want to make a living as a writer, first step is accept that the industry built up around it is about making money. Yes, there are those publishers and editors and indy bookstores that are all about the craft, but end of day, the bills have to be paid and if there’s no money, there’s no publishing house or bookstore. Same rule if you are doing it on your own, via self publishing. Your writing might be your craft, your art, but when you turn it into a book, treat it as a business.
Business Law and Accounting Are As Important As Shakespeare
First piece of advice for young writers headed to college: Take a few business law and accounting classes.
Expecting someone else to read every contract and go through every royalty statements is like asking someone to be available to tie your shoes for you the rest of your life. Get a lawyer and an accountant to run by questions when you move up to big boy shoes, but at least know the basics—know enough to know what questions should be asked.
Learn what’s in a standard contract, how you can negotiate, what you can negotiate, what belongs to you, what you are giving away, how you are being paid, the difference between “net” and “gross.”
Educate yourself on the laws and accounting just as you would on Shakespeare. They’re all valuable and will be of great help in different ways.
If You Can’t Do Every Job—Understand the Talk of Every Job
For every premature grey hair that first post-college job gave me, I learned a valuable skill.
Each skill has a language attached to it. There are the “pixels” and “gutters” in design, “smyth” and “saddle” in production, the hieroglyphic-like editor’s marks, “end-caps” and “co-op” in bookstores . . . The list goes on . . .
The language of publishing is valuable. If you don’t have the experience, start with the language. Understanding the talk is more than half the battle.