Chip MacGregor

October 27, 2014

Ask the Agent: How do I set up my writing business?


Someone asked, “How do you set up your writing business? What are the benefits to treating your writing business as a ‘real job’ by setting it up in a professional manner? And what did you do to make that happen?” 

Let me offer a handful of thoughts for you…

1. You’re doing the right thing by asking questions. Finding some folks who have done this before is a good way to start. Begin by talking to people who have been down the path before. Ask them what they’ve learned. 

2. Find a place to write. Make this your official writing spot and designate it as your official home office, then read up on what the IRS will allow you as a tax deduction.

3. Establish a writing time. For most authors, that’s simply “morning.” Protect a time each day when you can do some actual writing and not just check email, do phone calls, meet people for coffee, etc. When I started, I set aside 6 to 8 every morning. (I had young kids. Later that would not have worked. I hate mornings.) Tom Wolfe starts writing at 9 and stops at noon. Find a time that works, in which you’ll just WRITE, and not do phone calls and emails (and Facebook). 

4. Create a filing system. (“Alphabetical by title or author” works well. Don’t rely on the “Eureka!” system.)

5. Set up a bank account that is just for your writing business. Sign up for PayPal.

6. Set up your address list. Keep emails and phone numbers handy… and if you want to move into the bold new world of, say, 1996, invest in a phone that will keep those handy.

7. Create a calendar. Not just for your day, but for the big projects you’ve got. It’ll help you figure out what you’re writing when. It’ll also remind you that you’ve got to take Fiona to her orthodontist appointment, and what night the Snyders are having their party. 

8. Group similar activities. Do all your mail at one time. Group your phone calls back to back so you get through them more quickly. Ditto email, if that were possible. Things that are “occasional but regular” should be scheduled — for example, I try to look at submissions every Friday morning.

9. Create a budget. How much do you expect to make this year? How much do you expect to spend? (Having more of the former makes for a better business, by the way.)

10. Create a to-do list. Every day. Work through it. On Friday (or every other Friday) start at the bottom and work up – that’ll prevent you from never doing the one task you hate.

11. Create a contact list. Capture names and email addresses, so you can stay in touch with the people in the industry who matter. 

12. Invest in a separate business phone line or business cell phone.

13. Invest in a website and business cards. (I don’t know if you really need a blog, but you certainly need a site where people can find out about you and connect with you.) 

14. Invest in the help you need – training or people or space or tools.

15. Invest in a great computer and the software you’ll need. (If you work in publishing, you’ll need Word.) 

16. Invest is a good printer, preferably with a scanner.

17. Invest in yourself — take a class, attend a conference, join a support group, get therapy, whatever it is you need to grow.

18. Learn to keep good records. If you need a class on it, take one. (There are even personal organization trainers who will help you get organized.)

19. Learn about taxes – so that you track income and expenses, and learn to maximize information.

20. And the BEST advice? Write regularly. If you don’t do that, you won’t make a living at this.

That help? What advice would you give someone who is starting a writing business? 

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