Columns > Published on August 22nd, 2022

How Creatives Can Get Along With Business Types

When you write for you, you can write whatever the fuck you want, however the fuck you want, and whenever the fuck you want.

When you publish, or when you apply to an MFA program, you apply for a residency, or you take on a writing gig for hire, or you work to adapt a book for the screen—with all that stuff, you have to do your thing, and you have to get along with business types while you do it.

It doesn’t have to be a horrible, painful experience, though. It can be rewarding, and it can work out to everyone’s benefit.

Why You Need To Get Along 

They’ve got the money. They’ve got the distribution channels. They can turn your manuscript into an ebook that’s polished and doesn’t have those weird spaces between words and paragraphs, those ghosts in the code that haunt every self-pub author.

That stuff’s obvious, right? If you get along with the business types, they’ll help you out today, and they’ll be more inclined to help you out again in the future.

What’s less obvious is that if you can get along with these folks, it opens opportunities for other creatives later on.

If a business type has a terrible experience with, say, a muralist, how likely is it they’ll hire another muralist in the future? If that same business person walks away from a mural project happy, maybe they give someone else a shot.

Keep that in mind: Getting along with business types isn’t just about your future as a writer, it’s about the future of other writers as well.

Business Standards

You might need to explain that working on a shared document that all the board members can view and edit is not conducive to writing something good.

Business types may have expectations of timeliness, the way you’re dressed when you come into the office or connect over Zoom. You might swear casually, and that might not go over so great with a board of directors. You might check email twice a week, and that might not meet expectations.

They might feel that part of what they're paying you to do is to conform to their standards at certain times.

If you don’t know the behavior norms and standards, ask what they expect of you.

By the way, I’m not talking about a stupid standard of professionalism that wouldn’t allow for natural hair or for women to wear pants.

What's "reasonable" is up to you, just ask what the standards are, negotiate where needed, and factor all of that in when you decide to take the job (or not).

Procrastination Makes Them Nervous

If your business types never hear from you, they get itchy, and that itchiness manifests in annoying ways. You get weird emails, micromanage-y messages, and other bullshit that wastes everyone’s time.

Show them something along the way, a portion of a draft, a set of edits, a sketch, hell, a stock photo of a bunch of Post-Its on a whiteboard that MIGHT be a plot. Anything, really.

It’s good if you can show them something. Even a word count update will help them feel like it’s all okay.

Find Your Ally

If you're lucky, someone involved really wanted this project to work, and they selected you to do it because they believe in you.

If you're slightly less lucky, you were selected to do this job, and it fell to someone to monitor you, check in, manage you, basically.

Either way, someone has a stake in your success, and that's the person you need to talk to. Ask what you can do to make their life easier. Ask how they see all of this going. Find that person who stands to gain or lose the most, and you'll find your best ally. 

They Might Make Terrible Suggestions

Your business types might not know about drafts and how those work, and you might need to suggest that reading your first draft will make them unnecessarily nervous about the final product.

You might need to explain that working on a shared document that all the board members can view and edit is not conducive to writing something good. 

Part of your job is to guide them through a creative process, which might be somewhat new to them.

And treat the people asking dumb questions as though they are smart, just inexperienced in this realm. 

So You Think Your Benefactor Is An Asshole...

I know, I get it, wealth is inherently evil. Etc.

Look, we can debate this forever and convince absolutely no one. Let’s cut the shit.

I'm not here to debate the ethics of wealth. I'm here to tell you that if you feel insurmountable disdain for your benefactor, get out. It’s not worth it. You’ll be miserable, they’ll be miserable. No good will come of it. 

If you can’t talk to your business contact without grinding your teeth, just get out.

Even if you produce an awesome book, you'll seethe whenever you see it on the shelf. No partnership is worth that.

When It Goes Wrong

When shit goes wrong, and it will, here's what I want you to remember:

You’re a creative person, and being a creative person means you can always create something else. That’s your gift, that’s your talent you’ve cultivated, that’s why you’ve worked so hard up to now. It wasn’t all for the sake of making one thing, it’s because you want to make a lot of things.


Get Clients From Hell: A collection of anonymously-contributed client horror stories from designers at Bookshop or Amazon 

Get Deadlines Don't Care If Janet Doesn't Like Her Photo by David Thorne at Amazon 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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