Friday, 23 September 2011

Developing a Thicker Skin

Excuse me for wandering briefly into the realms of management theory, but I wanted to talk this week about business development, because this is something that writers do all the time (whether we realise it or not). Put simply, business development is the creation of new products, services and revenue streams to ensure that a company has long-term viability. Rather than relying on existing work and contacts, a forward-thinking business is always seeking out niches in the market and making new opportunities.

Writers, by their very nature, are constantly creating new stuff. But I think that's often where the comparison to structured business development falls off. We either wilfully ignore the market, or dive headlong into the most crowded area. Nowhere is this more evident than in fiction, where discussion turns daily towards the latest hot trend and how to capitalise on it. We are told by other writers to follow our hearts and write the book that only we can write. But what if that produces work that no-one wants to read or commission? Can man live by creative nourishment alone?

I've done quite a bit of business development in my day job and it usually follows a set pattern, also known as the "Capture Management Lifecycle":
  • Pre-bid Phase - This is the process of collecting business intelligence on companies and the market, or identifying existing tenders that the company might like to bid for. In writing terms, I would equate this with time spent researching agents/publishers, looking at the market (Bookseller etc.) or reading books within the sphere you want to write for.

  • Bid Phase - This is the process of creating a bid document, outlining how your company would satisfy the tender and crucially, how much you would charge. The bid document is usually very involved and can run to hundreds of pages for a large tender. A bidding company will often make a presentation of their bid and have significant discussions with the customer about it. This translates very closely to the process of writing a book, sending to editors and then meeting them to discuss it. Editors will often be looking for changes to improve a book or target a particular segment of the market. Depending on whether a book has been through acquisitions, money may be mentioned, but it's interesting how that seems to be the last subject of discussion, rather than the first. The gatekeepers of publishing often seem more concerned with the creative merits of a project, rather than the financial cost of acquiring it - unless an auction situation develops.

  • Post-bid Phase - The customer analyses the bids and enters into contract negotiations with the winning partner. Once contracted, the winner will supply the agreed product or service. The post-bid phase is a fraught period in business - one company I worked for went under because they were unable to close a particularly important deal. In writing, it is no less frustrating, with verbal agreements lost in the detail of contracts and books suddenly dropped because of financial constraints or the entry of new management.

Anyone who has worked for a book packager will see how closely their process follows the Capture Management Lifecycle. Authors register with the packager's database and indicate the genres and age ranges they wish to write for (Pre-bid Phase). The packager then sends out a detailed synopsis and character breakdown to prospective authors, asking them to submit three chapters (Bid Phase). The packager chooses the sample whose voice best matches the project and engages that author to write the rest of the book (Post-bid Phase).

Ok, so that's the theory of business development. The practice, I feel, is somewhat different. When you make a bid in a business situation, nine times out of ten it comes to nothing. You shrug, feel a little miffed and muse on what you could have done better. Then you move onto the next tender, because most of the time, it isn't personal. But with writing, it's always personal. You have to delve so deep into yourself to produce a book that a rejection can feel like a knife to the heart (even if it's just a business decision for the other party).

I'm interested to hear about how you cope with these issues and your approach (or lack of it) to business development. I know that I could certainly be a lot more dispassionate about the process of writing and submitting my work. But then, would I ever produce anything of worth?


1 comment:

  1. My other half is in venture capital and it strikes me that your piece misses out on the other half of the equation - the point of view of the so-called gatekeepers who are investors in search of entrepreneurs to back. It always amazes me how an investment decision is not straightforward - for every brilliant idea, there are many reasons to reject it. The secret to success I suppose is that one shining something in the idea that makes it a good bet. But what that is is never obvious - to both sides. yours in solidarity.