Category Archives: Nathan Barra

My Journey to Professionalism, Step 2: Creating My Business

In order to make a living at my writing, I must act like a professional writer. At first, I thought that meant that I needed to establish an identity and brand myself as a writer. Though that is true, I recently realized that that is only part of the story. I invest money into Nathan, but do not track that expenditure as well as I should. I’m an engineer by training, not an accountant. This means that I must learn a new set of skills.

Unfortunately, I can give much less concrete advice on this topic that I could on yesterday’s discussion on branding. I am still exploring my options, and seeking advice for my own use. So instead of giving advice on the end game, I’ll try to explain my process so far, what I have learned, and maybe save my readers a few steps. If, on the other hand, one of our readers were to have knowledge and expertise beyond my ken, I will be monitoring the comments very closely. 🙂

First, I need to set the direction of my business. What are my business goals, and what timeline do I wish to establish these goals upon? I am doing research online about writing formal business plans, and will sit down to do so in the next few months. I am looking at my next creative projects, and judging them based on their business value rather than my personal entertainment. Being a businessman is as much a mindset as anything else.

Second, I am looking at what sort of business I need to establish. I have learned that if you do not set up a formal business framework, you, by default, form what is called a sole proprietorship.  This is at least how it works in the United States. In this sort of business structure, individuals can sue me directly for my business debts. Though the sole proprietorship gives me a framework to operate within, I am not too fond of this drawback. General partnerships seem to spread this risk between multiple individuals, but my writing business would not involve another at this time. So, that business structure does not fit either. Instead, I am looking at establishing either an LLC or Corporation.

As per my understanding, both of these structures create a separate legal and fiscal entity, sheltering me as the owner from some liabilities. The legalities behind these types of business entities are a bit more complex, ranging from their formation to how they’re taxed, to how they are viewed in a legal setting. I am taking my time with the research, seeking to understand as many details as possible before I move forward. It seems like I can transform one type of business entity to another, but it also seems simpler to adopt the best fit from the beginning.

LLC or Corporation

To learn all this, I am googling my local state’s tax laws, Corporation codes, and reading a book called LLC or Corporation? By Anthony Mancuso. The book is part of a series called “NOLO” that describes the law in simple terms and includes web support for free legal updates. It was highly recommended based on reviews, so I gave it a try, and have not been disappointed.

While I am working on forming my business entity, I am also cleaning up my books. Though I have limited financial training, I have an understanding of the basics of business accounting. Though most of my cash flow to date has been expenditure, I found that much of this can be deducted from my personal taxes at the end of the year. Eventually, I intend this to be a thriving business, so it is for the best to get into good accounting practices now.

Accounting Made Simple

To help me with this end, I have purchased a copy of QuickBooks, which I’m using to help track business expenses such as writers resources, conventions, and even my new laptop. At the end of the year, I’ll use QuickBooks exports with my tax preparation software and hopefully get a good return from the investments. I am also working to improve my knowledge of basic accounting, with online articles and books such as Accounting Made Simple by Mike Piper. Though this book will not make me an expert, it is a quick guide to help me avoid an expensive faux pas down the road.

I recognize that I have a great deal more studying to do, on both business structures and accounting. I am however just lifting my foot to take the next step in my journey as a professional. I spent a long time learning to be a writer, and now I am learning to be a business person. I can’t expect to be perfect overnight, but I believe that hard work and diligent research will translate into future benefit. After all, it’s one more step in the right direction.

My Journey to Professionalism, Step 1: Establishing My Identity

As hobbyists, writers create stories for our own enjoyment and for the satisfaction of sharing our vision. To be a professional, however, we must take a step beyond that and become small business owners. Though we still love writing and storytelling, the professional writer wears many hats, interacts with many different people, and works hard to produce the highest quality product he or she can. Professional writers are editors, accountants, marketers, designers, and their own most devoted agent. Though we interact with professionals who do all these job functions for us, the modern writer must take responsibility for his or her own career, learning and growing into other functions in order to be successful.

It took me a while to see this, and even longer to believe it, to understand what it means. By talking to a number of experienced friends, people who had traveled this road before me, I was able to see further down my own path, and start taking the first steps in my own journey.

The first step in creating your business is imagining it, creating your brand and beginning to build your name. Though writers sell individual works of fiction, I would argue a writer sells themselves, their abilities as a storyteller and their name as their primary product. There are an ocean of voices out there, all clamoring to be heard, so why then would a reader become a fan? How does a writer assure return business? It starts with the writer’s brand. The first step I took to becoming a professional was designing my identity and creating Nathan Barra.

The writer’s brand starts with the name, something that will appear on books. In November, I wrote my Fictorians post on the choosing of a good pseudonym, so I am not going to repeat what I said there. Instead, I want to emphasize how important it is to approach the branding process intelligently. Any other business, be a Coca-Cola, Calvin Klein, or Google, hires marketing firms to establish an identity that is immediately an easily recognizable and distinct. As writers, we must also do this, be it often with a smaller budget.

When you work with a designer on a branding package, one of your early conversations will be what you want your brand to convey. For me, I wanted Nathan to have two faces. First was the face I showed to consumers. I wanted Nathan to be dependable, intelligent, articulate and someone that readers would trust to produce high quality work regularly, stories they would enjoy reading even if it was outside their normal genre comfort zone. The second visage of Nathan was the professional face. I wanted industry professionals to see me and believe that I would be a reliable coworker, someone who would produce high-quality work on time, with regularity, and would be someone that they would enjoy working with.

My designer and I took these ideas and built my website, my logo, and my color palette. I created a look, a series of outfits that I wear whenever I make professional appearances as Nathan. I started pulling together a media package to give out when I guessed posted. I established Nathan, and my blog, In Brief. I worked hard to create posts and gather content of the highest quality that I could manage. Most importantly, I was never, ever late. All these actions fed into the brand I was trying to establish.

At first, Nathan was a mask that I wore, and identity that I adopted when I wrote. However, in the year since I established myself as Nathan, that identity has become a second skin. Nathan is who I am when I write and when I interact with industry professionals. Nathan, and the brand I built around him, is the basis of my business.

That step taken, I began looking to some of the writers that I admired, both the professionals and the semi-professionals, to chart my next step. Though I haven’t spent a great deal of money on Nathan Barra, the cost of design work, hosting fees, and conferences isn’t insignificant. I haven’t been tracking my finances like it’s a business, but rather spending like the hobbyist. Therefore, my next step seems obvious. I need to change my spending habits and whip myself into financial shape. More on that tomorrow, however, when I speak about my second step in my professional journey.

Having the Self Awareness to Horrify Others

I write short stories to experiment with new genres and techniques. Last August, I caught wind of an anthology that was opening for submissions. However, the genre, horror, was largely beyond my experience.  I had read a few books, watched a number of movies, and even written a piece or two, but I was still stepping outside my comfort zone. Perfect! I brainstormed, scanning my consciousness for an idea that was shiny enough to start with that I could polish it into a true gem.

My inner eye first turned to the bestiary, drudging up images inspired by the abominations of Lovecraft, the near satirical creatures of B-rated movies and creeping things that I had imagined living in the shadows as a child. I paired monsters with characters, with milieus and with plots, searching for tension and conflict. I worked my way through what felt like dozens of combinations, fleshing out a few, but discarding most. Everything still felt flat, unexciting and unoriginal.

Frustrated, I stood up from my computer and wandered, trying to figure out where I was going wrong. The monsters I was creating were as good as any I had ever read, seen or made up myself. There was nothing inherently wrong with any of the elements I had assembled, and yet, I was not having a strong emotional reaction. How could I expect anyone else to feel when I did not?

As I prefer my horror in the form of movies, I turned to my collection, flipping through the pages of disks, looking for the echo of emotion that the remembrance of a truly good horror inspires. Das Experiment. Mr. Brooks. Untracable. Pathology. Of all my movies, these four psychological thrillers inspired the strongest reactions of anticipation and fear, the same emotions I sought to evoke in my readers.

For me, it was the difference of conscious intent. The creatures I had imagined were beasts, acting on instinct or hunger. The villains I had admired and feared were rational and extremely intelligent, acting for a variety of motives but all with horrifying cruelty and viciousness. It was the actions of humans and the human mind that I feared more than the brutality of beasts.

I spent hours over the following weeks considering what horrified me, coming up with a number of story ideas that I feel are gems in need of polishing.  The difference for me was self-awareness. I found that I could not write something truly horrifying to others until I could first horrify myself.

Planning for Success

My generation was raised to believe in the power of goals. I was taught that goals set at the beginning of an endeavor would allow me to achieve success. In promising myself that I would do a thing, it would happen. Even though I always had the best of intentions, I would often fail to meet my goals anyways.

Eventually, I realized that the problem was that I was only setting goals, not making plans. Goals are objectives, indicators of intent. Plans are action, a path for execution. Without having both, nothing will ever be accomplished. Over the years, I realized that my goals need to be SMART to be effective.

Goals are Specific. Any goal you set has to be specific enough that you can intelligently plan for success. A popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight and get in shape. But how much weight do you want to lose? How do you define “in shape?” Establish exactly how many pounds you want to lose, or by how many inches you want your waist to shrink. Give yourself a specific BMI number you want to drop below. Establish some task you cannot accomplish now that will be your landmark for “being in shape.”

Goals are Measurable. Though specificity defines the endpoint, measurability ensures that you can accurately and regularly track your progress and take corrective action. The entire thought behind behavioral-based management is that by measuring and changing people’s actions, we can reach objectives. It is important to avoid goals that are succeed/fail in nature. If such objectives must be set, it is important that we can accurately measure progress in time to make a difference in the success of the goal.

Goals are Actionable. As a part of behavioral-based management, SMART goals must be under the influence of the person trying to achieve the goal. For instance, I have absolutely no control over my company’s stock price, so trying to set that goal would be unreasonable for me. However, the CEO of my company might very well have that goal. The difference is that his actions could have a direct effect on the stock price for the company, where mine do not. When considering actionable goals, I ask myself, “Are there steps that I can take that will directly influence the results?”

Goals are Realistic. The whole point of the goal is to make some improvement in your life, so a goal that cannot be attained is functionally useless. This is often the most difficult aspect of a SMART goal, as it requires not only introspection and self-awareness, but knowledge of one’s environment and competition. Honesty is truly important in setting realistic goals. Goals should always be challenging, but they should be attainable or else you have failed before you even started.

Goals are Time bound. Like everything else, goals have an end. Even if you accomplish your goal, if that accomplishment is not well timed, it’ll be either less effective or entirely ineffective. When setting your goal, it is essential to look at what timing you will need to be effective, and build that timing into your goal.

Because I believe in SMART goals, I will go ahead and take a risk. I am going to broadcast my writer’s goals for 2014. I am also going to ask y’all to help me keep accountable. My email address is Nathan[at]NathanBarra[dot]com. Feel free to email me at any time, ask about how my goals are going, tell me about your own goals, or even just chat.

OBJECTIVE: Make progress towards becoming a professional writer.

Though this goal is not SMART, it isn’t really a goal either. It is the overarching objective each of my goals will be designed to support.

GOAL #1 (blogging): Write and publish 52 Monday posts for In Brief, at least 10 Fictorians posts, and have a Thursday’s Thoughts online every Thursday in 2014.

I have found that though blogging takes a lot of my time, it also has many benefits. Writing and editing so frequently has had a positive effect on my prose. I have met many wonderful people through my blogging. I spend more time now thinking about my craft and seeking out resources to improve my skills than I have ever had before. Most importantly, it keeps me writing even when I am so busy that I barely sleep.

My plan for this goal is to try to establish a queue at least one month out, but still treat every week as if my queue is empty.

GOAL #2 (novels): Polish my manuscript to be ready to be shopped to editors and agents by 30-Aug-14.

This goal suffers most and specificity. What is a polished manuscript? Unfortunately, after much thought, I have not found a way to quantify this goal. The most important thing, however, is its timeliness. There are two major industry focused conventions in the fall at which I want to start shopping the book. To do this, the book needs to be finished and ready to be sent out into the world by the above-mentioned date.

The plan is to let the books settle until the end of the month, giving time for my last beta readers to get back to me. Then, I will finish my structural edits by 26-Mar-14, and my line edits by 25-May-14. With that timeframe, I can find a proofreader or line editor, and finish the manuscript reasonably by 09-Aug-14. This might seem like a long stretch of time, but I work on-call. That means, I might work more than 120 hours a calendar week, for 10 days, and then have 5 days off to rest and recuperate. For me, with the blogging, this schedule will be challenging. But, where’s the fun in easy?

GOAL #3 (submitting): Submit at least 4 independent works to publication markets by 31-Dec-14.

The only way for me to become a professional author is to get over my fear of rejection and learn to let go of a completed work. Blogging has helped a great deal with that. Now, I need to start asking for people to pay me for my efforts. Note, that because of how this goal is worded, submitting my novel to any number of sources only counts once.

My plan is to submit twice (Q3 2014 & Q1 2015) to Writers of the Future, shop my book and submit a piece of flash fiction or a short story to a magazine or anthology.

GOAL #4 (professional networking): Attend at least 3 conferences with some sort of writing/writing business aspect by 31-Dec-14.

This goal wasn’t one that I would’ve considered in 2013. Back then, I didn’t realize how important it was both professionally, and personally, for me to get out and meet people in the industry. Not only are they business contacts, but they are my friends and support structure.

The plan is to attend Superstars Writing Seminar in February, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s conference in September, and World Fantasy Con in November.

My goals have been stated and written down, and so I am accountable for their success. But, I also have a plan, a SMART plan. The only thing to do now is follow my plan and succeed.