Columns > Published on July 8th, 2019

5 Business Savvy Books Every Author Should Read

Does it irk you that almost every article boasting “must-read” books for writers lists the same five titles—On Writing, Bird by Bird, The Elements of Style, Daily Rituals, and Ernest Hemingway on Writing? Don’t get me wrong. Those are outstanding books, and the best way to master any skill is to model experts in your field. However, none of these works cover the business side of being a writer, which is an essential part of the job, especially if you’re self-publishing. But even if you’re working toward a traditional publishing contract, business savvy is paramount since writers ultimately become responsible for capitalizing upon any marketing the publisher provides. And now, with major bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble succumbing to debt and corporate buyouts, the best way for an author to protect her financial interests is to build a brand that cultivates a loyal and voracious audience willing to buy books regardless of the mode or medium.

To help authors with this changing dynamic, we’ve identified five books that walk the line between craft and commercialism, and offer writers the truth behind how their art becomes an entity when the marketing process begins. These books outline how the publishing world works from query letter to book launch. Most of them also cover goal setting so you can distinguish an area of expertise that may lend itself to other money-making opportunities, such as magazine writing and speaking engagements. In addition, we’ve only included books published within the last four years to ensure the advice on publicity trends and publisher expectations align with the contemporary marketplace. So if you’re interested in growing your business savvy, add these five books to your collection.

1. "How To Make A Living With Your Writing" by Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Arkane thriller series, but she’s best known in the writing community for the Creative Penn Podcast, where she explores issues of craft as they pertain to marketing and self-publishing. Similar to her online work, this book focuses on turning creativity into cash by identifying the milestones along the road from author to entrepreneur. Although Penn stresses the importance of pinpointing one’s personal definition of “success,” she shares an overview of her income stream as a guideline to goal setting, and outlines what percentage comes from traditional versus self-publishing, as well as the pros and cons of each model. Penn also offers tips on writer productivity and the author mindset. However, the bulk of the book covers the growing number of ways authors make money on the web, such as sharing their expertise in a one-on-one consulting capacity or building evergreen courses and e-guides that sell over time. Penn’s honest reflections on what it takes to become a full-time writer make this book a must read for aspiring artists, but be sure to browse her other resource guides such as How to Market a Book and Business for Authors.

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2. "The Business of Being a Writer" by Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is a former publishing executive and editor who has written several how-to books for writers including Publishing 101, What Editors Do, Literary Publishing in the 21st Century, and the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book. Her latest work encapsulates her experiences into one comprehensive guide aimed at helping fiction and nonfiction writers discover how to set realistic goals for achievement and how to market themselves once they’ve targeted their niche. To achieve this feat, she divides the book into five sections—establishing a writing career, understanding the publishing industry, getting your book published, laying the foundation for entrepreneurship, and making money as a writer. Friedman writes with the belief that while business savvy may not compensate for mediocre work, an understanding of the publishing industry from the inside out will reduce author frustration and lead to a more productive career over the long haul.

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3. "Behind the Book: Eleven Authors on Their Path to Publication" by Chris Mackenzie Jones

Behind the Book profiles the journey of eleven contemporary first-time authors (agented and unagented) as they navigate the road to publication. Presented as a narrative rather than a clinical set of interviews, the book touches upon some of the concerns writers face when preparing their book for sale, such as finding a marketable story idea, developing a writing process, building a support network, pursuing an agent, dealing with rejection, promoting the work, and transitioning to the next project. What makes this book interesting is that Jones selects a range of novels—a travel memoir, a paranormal romance, a children’s picture book—so the reader can see how market forces and reader expectations shape each book in different ways. While the path to publication for each author is unique, Jones believes writers of all levels and disciplines can benefit from examining the challenges, triumphs, and mistakes of others.

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4. "Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye" by Katharine Sands

This is one of those guidebooks writers love to hate because it’s a compilation of advice from forty top-tier literary agents in the areas of fiction and nonfiction. Often, books of this nature do nothing to assuage the reader’s frustration over the varying opinions that inevitably emerge. However, Katharine Sands makes a point of highlighting each agent’s common preferences while downplaying the differences she considers a mere side effect of the human condition. Regardless, Making the Pitch Perfect provides a competitive edge to those facing the gauntlet of professional publishing. With chapter titles such as “Curb Appeal: Staging Your Literary Work for a Sale” and “15 Minutes to Fame: Pitching at a Conference,” this book helps authors develop a strong hook, draft a clever query letter, pitch with confidence, and create an author platform that not only highlights the writer’s personality, but also her professional credentials and business acumen.

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5. "The Author’s Guide to Email Marketing" by Rob Eagar

Rob Eagar is a marketing consultant who has coached over 600 authors and worked with some of the most prestigious publishers in the business such as Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins. While his clientele heavily favors the nonfiction side of the literary divide, this book includes a myriad of manageable strategies for fiction authors interested in low-cost web promotions. As with the authors on this list, Eagar encourages his readers to identify their key message, establish an area of expertise, and target a specific demographic before they start to build their brand. He even provides several exercises to help explore those initial steps and offers free supplemental materials on his website. Yet, the main focus of Email Marketing—the first in his three-book “author’s guide” set—is to help authors monetize their personal websites and to share online strategies for audience growth. These are important tools to cultivate now that social media platforms like Facebook favor algorithmic structures that keep authors from reaching their full fan base, that is, until they purchase a paid advertising campaign—something not every author can afford to do. Eagar tackles this conundrum by offering fresh insights on well-worn topics like book launches, newsletters that produce sales, and word-of-mouth marketing. This book is a wake-up call to any author who still believes that the key to success lies simply in writing a good novel.

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While all of these books offer solid advice, it’s up to you as a writer with her own distinct voice to interpret the data and take action in a manner that suits your career goals. Remember, success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can be more talented than Shakespeare and more prolific than Stephen King, but if you don’t understand where your work fits into the marketplace or how to approach publicizing the work, you’re doomed before you even start.

About the author

Andrea is a writer and editor who specializes in mystery and romance. She holds a creative writing M.F.A. from Seton Hill University and a copyediting certification from UC San Diego. Her craft essays can be found on several websites such as Funds for Writers, DIY MFA, and Submittable. She also writes book reviews and entertainment news for the women's lifestyle website Popsugar and is the author of the Victoria Justice Mysteries by Polis Books. These killer courthouse cozies follow a young stenographer who realizes her transcripts hold the key to solving a string of murders (think Law & Order meets Murder, She Wrote). To learn more about Andrea’s work, visit or follow @ajthenovelist on Twitter.

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