There are lots of books about writing – so many, in fact, that you could comfortably avoid doing any writing at all simply by setting out to read them all. There does come a point where you need to actually sit down and write. But if there is one book that is worth taking time out to read, and use as a reference, it's Business for Authors.
The thrust of the book is really twofold: how can you make money from writing; and how you can you make money from other income streams related to your writing.
What I like about the book is that it's very practical. It looks at issues like contracts, how to get things done, managing your team, ebook distributors and other important minutiae.
That word "minutiae" is important I think. I read a lot of books about writing, and many of them leave me thinking "That sounds like a great idea. Where do I actually start?". Penn's book helps to fill in that rather crucial gap.
I mentioned that part of the book deals with managing your team. Most self-published authors don't have a team as we normally understand the term. But if you think about it, if you employ the services of an editor, a proofreader, a book cover designer and perhaps a Virtual Assistant, you have a team.
There are quite a few checklists, and headings in the form of questions. These make the book both readable and useful.
What I also like is the author's honesty. She says things like "I tried this and it didn't work out well", and "I don't have experience of this so I can't say if it works." I'm paraphrasing, but that sort of approach engenders confidence. By the same token, you know that the stuff she talks about and the recommendations she makes are based on her experience.
The approach is definitely what I would call "gung ho", ie a "you can do it" attitude.
I have a few quibbles. First, I think the author understates the complexity of publishing contracts. Although she includes a useful section on the subject, and recommends a couple of books on the subject, I for one would never rely on my own devices when it comes to signing on the dotted line. I've had books published since 1990, so I'm not exactly green when it comes to contracts and what pitfalls to look out for. Nevertheless, I always have contracts checked out by the Society of Authors, and they invariably spot something I either hadn't noticed or hadn't realised the complexity of.
There are a couple of important omissions I think too, in the section on ebook distribution. Unless I missed it, Penn does not state that if you go with Amazon then you do not have direct contact with the reader. Using e-Junkie or similar service for selling your books from your own website means that you have the email addresses of the people who buy your books. That means that, in principle at least, you could email them when you publish a new book, or offer them a discount on the second edition. I say "in principle" because unless you've made it clear that that is what you wish to do with the data that people provide, you are not allowed to do it as far as I know. And I believe that you need to be registered under the Data Protection Act anyway (which I am). If you sell through Amazon, you are denied that opportunity anyway, and you have to encourage people to stay in touch by placing your contact details in your book.
But if you sell via your own website, you're faced with two main problems. First, the potential audience is much smaller. Second, you have to deal with the new EU laws on VAT (which I wrote about in The hidden dangers of doing digital business: what schools, teachers and students need to know). I'm surprised that the author doesn't mention it, since it has been known about for some years, and it affects anyone who wishes to sell ebooks to customers in the EU.
Despite such disappointments, I have found the book extremely valuable. The number of links to resources alone makes it a good buy. Also, there are some useful downloads, including a 23 page workbook to help you gather your thoughts and plan your business.
And that, I think, is the crux of the matter. The whole point of this book is to encourage you to see yourself as a business person, not "just" an author. That means going about your writing and earning in a businesslike, methodical manner, and being aware of other potential income streams from your work, such as audio downloads.
Definitely worth buying, and excellent value for money.