Wednesday Writers: Peter M. Ball

Peter is one of those guys I find it really hard to write an intro for. After all, everyone knows who he is already! He has produced some of the stand out stories of the last few years (including Australia’s most notorious unicorn story) in the local scene, but is also making a name for himself in international markets. He was also one of the main movers behind the mouth wateringly tempting GenreCon, a convention that I almost put myself into seriously debt to try and get to!

His achievements in writing aside, Peter is also someone you need to follow on Twitter – his movie tweeting in particular is worth the price of admission. And, like most of the people on the Aussie scene, Peter is a genuinely nice guy who is always happy to help other writers, and make new faces welcome.

As one of our best writers, and someone who understands the nuts and bolts of writing as career, I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Peter to write on the business of writing.

Going into Business

This is my third attempt to write this guest-post. It’s one of the curses of working in a writers centre – you get so used to answering specific questions, or delivering writing 101 advice, that the freedom to write about a topic of your own choosing frequently induces crippling uncertainty and a tendency to long-windedness.

And really, my advice boils down to the same advice I give every writer: treat your business like a business.

Forget the mystery of writing, or waiting for the muse. Forget all the people who start telling you how great it must be to make your living off something creative. These are cultural myths, right up there with the folks who tell you writers don’t earn money.

Forget the notion that art is made because you love it, and it’s therefore tainted by anything so crass as payment.

Embrace the fact that you want to earn money from your work and start treating writing like any other smart person does when they launch a new business enterprise. Do research into the ways people have traditionally made money in the industry. Learn how to handle your finances and run your business the right way. Learn about copyright and make sure you read every damn contract that comes your way.

Be willing to negotiate your contracts if your not happy with the terms. I’ve done it a few times over the years, mainly in regards to electronic rights for short-fiction, and I’ve never had a publisher tell me the contract was non-negotiable.

If you want to get really hardcore, do up a business plan for the next couple of years. An actual business plan, backed up by research and reasonable expectations of what you’re capable of, with a long-term view of where you’re going as a writer. I promise you, it’s easier than you think to get the information you need, especially once you start talking to other writers (or spending some quality time on the internet looking for the right resources).

At the very least, grab a few books on running a small business and familiarize yourself with the sort of thing that might be coming.

Pay attention to smart writers who are willing to talk about the business of writing as often as they talk about craft. I’m not talking about myself here – I bought into the idea that writers didn’t make money early and wasted a whole bunch of time as a result. If you want a good starting point, go check out Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife, which distils a lot of the things I wish I’d known at the start of my writing career into three-hundred odd pages.

Don’t have the cash to drop on a book? There’s other options out there. Go spend some quality time hanging out on the blogs of guys like Chuck Wendig, who pumps more great writing advice out into the ether every week than I deliver in a year. Be really sure you go check out John Scalzi’s blog post about writing and money, which similarly goes on the list of recommended reading I hand to every new writer I can.

And if you don’t want to do all that, you don’t have too. It’s perfectly okay to write because you love writing, to chase down publication from time to time because you like to see people reading your work. Doing all this can’t hurt, of course, but I’m speaking specifically to the writers who have day-dreamed about quitting their day-job in order to write full-time. If you’re dreaming big and ignoring the business side of the writing gig, you’re in for an awful lot of surprises.

You can make a living out of writing. If you can’t do it solely on the income generated by your work, you can certainly make a living out of being a writer – I did it, and I wasn’t even a terribly successful writer when I started (there are some who would argue – quite rightly – that I’m not even a terribly successful writer now). Not all of it came from writing – there was plenty of years I taught writing, took contracts to produce documents or web-contact, but I was thirty before I took a full-time job (it lasted less than a year) and thirty-four before I took a gig that meant I had to go to an office.

And given that my office is the Queensland Writers Centre, where I get to run an annual events like GenreCon, I’m not entirely sure that counts. I mean, my non-writing days are largely spent talking about writing, or bringing together writers to discuss the business and craft of making a living out of words.

Some days it scares me to think of what I could have done if I’d taken it all just a bit more seriously.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for writing well. I’m all for treating writing like an art and experimenting with each project. I even understand turning down jobs that make more money ’cause I’d rather focus on the projects I love. Go create with the same freedom you’ve always created with. Do exactly what you’ve always done.

But when you’re done with the creative side of the job, it’s time to put on your business hat and manage your career. It won’t always be easy, and it’ll be hardest at the start ’cause writing is generally a long-term investment, but it can be done.

PS: So, like, thirty seconds before I sent this post, I came across (yet another) writer who says this way better than I do. Kristen Rusch’s thoughts about the Book as Event is probably going to feed its way into the list of recommended reading I suggest.

Peter M. Ball is an SF writer and the manager of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, where he convenes the annual genre-writing conference, GenreCon. His publications include the novellas Horn and Bleed from Twelfth Planet Press, and his short stories have appeared in publications such as Apex MagazineEclipse Four, and Daily Science Fiction. He can be found online at and on twitter @petermball.


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