Your Artist Self and Your Business Self

One of the biggest challenges for many writers is being able to separate the artist self from the business self, and figuring out ways to nurture both.

I find this to be an issue for unpublished authors more than those who are published. Once a writer is published, they seem highly motivated to stay published, and therefore more open to considering ways to increase the commercial appeal of their work.

But for some new or unpublished authors, there seems to be a resistance to “commercializing” their art. That’s fine, if you want to write for yourself, your family and your friends. But if the goal is to ask strangers to pay money to read your work, then it deserves a different approach.

Art & business

It recently occurred to me that writers might benefit by taking a break from reading books on writing, and occasionally read some business-related books.

All the specifics in a business book might not apply to the writing life, but the overall message can be helpful in learning how to approach writing as a business or even a career. It can help you adopt the mindset of running a successful business and teach you to ask the right questions as you consider what kinds of books to write, and how to write them. These books can open your eyes to everything from how consumers make buying decisions, to how to create a successful brand, to how to organize your time for maximum effectiveness.

As I’ve spoken with several of my clients who have multiple books published, it’s been interesting to see how they approach the constant necessity to keep drawing in readers: rather than feeling like they’re “selling out,” they savor the challenge of getting better and better at crafting words into books that people want to read. They are able to see the art in running a successful business. They look for the stories or topics that interest them, and then ask themselves where their own interests meet the demands of the marketplace.

Are you comfortable with approaching writing as a business? What helps you nurture this mindset? How do you balance your artistic self with your business self?

Below are some good business-related books to consider. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée A. Mauborgne
Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg
The Everything Store by Brad Stone
Getting Things Done by David Allen
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Making Work Work by Julie Morgenstern


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Elizabeth Seckman on July 18, 2018 at 10:46 PM

    If we’re not pleasing readers what’s the point of even being a writer? Writing is a service, much like waitressing. You can suggest a dinner option, but in the end, your job is deliver what they want.

    I will check out the books on business because my business sense is as horrible as my waitressing skills (talk about hard jobs!).

  2. Richard Rabil, Jr. on July 18, 2018 at 11:43 AM

    Excellent points. I’ve not read it (yet), but I’ve heard that Jane Friedman’s ‘The Business of Being a Writer’ is also a great resource on this subject.

  3. Pat Iacuzzi on July 18, 2018 at 11:18 AM

    I’m what is called a “concrete” thinker/learner ( don’t know if that is being hard-headed too 🙂 but I need specifics in order to learn. And why I’ve been hesitant to enter the fray of writing and publishing as I wander around the internet on my own trying to glean this information.
    I’m grateful Rachelle, for the professional standards, guidance, and information you offer. Thank you for this list, and another chance to take a step forward in my writing–and doing it right.

  4. Andy Mort on January 10, 2014 at 12:48 AM

    This is a very important article and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head re: what we read. One of the major issues for those who have not yet turned their writing (it’s the same in music – a world of which I am also a part) into a sustainable business, is empowerment.

    The attitude of ‘selling out’ can often just be a cloak for fear of the unknown that lies beneath. ‘Business’ can be a scary word – it instantly conjures a thousand mental images, and that can be off putting for many people who have simply never considered the inter-related nature of their art/creativity and business (ie building a sustainable way of continuing to do and build on, what they do).

    Business in this context is quite simply giving yourself and your work the opportunities, and resources to grow/flourish. Little by little, step by step. It therefore becomes as important as light and water is for a plant. Unless you can find an effective, sustainable alternative fuel for helping your craft/your art/your heart and soul to flourish, then you will need to think through the business lens – but this can be done with all personal integrity left fully in tact.

  5. Julie Morgenstern on December 4, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    Thanks for the shoutout Rachelle. Someone on Twitter sent me a link to this blog. Great list and love your advice to writers (and all artists) to identify those 2 selves–The artist and the business person. Good to organize your time into different buckets as well–a time to create and a time to market.
    —Julie Morgenstern

  6. Living a Creative Double Life | The Artist's Road on December 3, 2013 at 5:40 AM

    […] this double life a bit more since reading a post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner titled “Your Artist Self and Your Business Self.” Rachelle notes that many creative writers have a difficult time separating their artist […]

  7. Jeanette Sharp on November 29, 2013 at 6:55 AM

    You read my mind with this post! You offer many great choices… which to choose? Finally decided, it’s now on my kindle!

  8. […] van Heugten has 5 myths and 4 realities about publishing a book; Rachelle Gardner talks about balancing the artist-self and the business-self; and Patrick Schwerdtfeger dares us to think bigger about our non-fiction book and writing business […]

  9. RPF on November 28, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    It is only smart to think of writing as a business if you write to sell and not to say anything. Marketing thoughts is worse than Orwell’s 1984 scenario. How did all the great minds get published. O, of course, who wants great minds nowadays when there’s money to be made! The Americanization of morality. Business! Who will publish a book that tries to get at the heart of evolution, if the author is unknown? A Book that dances over the tops of academia right into the realms of truth, life, understanding; where politics, philosophy, religion are once more brought into the arena of active responses. Oh, there are hardly words for what I’m saying ……. and that is before I get down to the main task: how to shake people from their unconscious hypocrisy and little set formulas of existence. It’s like teaching music to the deaf.

  10. […] Comment below, or by clicking: HERE. […]

  11. Julie Musil on November 25, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    I think it’s smart to think of it as a business. I read the Indie Survival Guide, written by Susan Kaye Quinn. She’s an ex-engineer and approaches publishing in a businesslike manner.

    Speaking of multi-published authors who strive to get better…I recently read Jody Hedlund’s Rebellious Heart. In my opinion, Jody’s writing gets better with each book.

  12. barbaramcdowellwhitt on November 25, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    Rachelle, yes, I am comfortable with approaching writing as a business. To nurture that mindset I think about my blog and how I can promote it when I’m online and when I’m away from my computer. My artistic self and my business self are thus balanced.

    You nailed it with your concluding paragraph.

    Susan Gunelius writes about having a brand as a business promotion tool in her book, Harry Potter: The Story of a Global Business Phenomenon. A link for it is:

  13. Ron Estrada on November 25, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    Since I do the marketing for a trailer hitch company as my part-time gig, I can easily translate that to my writing career. I love my art. But I’d prefer to avoid the starving artist lifestyle. People like Seth Godin and Zig Ziglar are not only entertaining to read, they offer great motivation for those of who rely on direct sales to make our living. I spend an hour a day marketing trailer hitches, and I assume I’ll need that much when my first book is in print. Right now, I have the luxury of spending most of my evening hours writing. But that will change once I start producing publishable work!

  14. Lindsay Harrel on November 25, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    I definitely see the need to balance art with business, and I appreciate the list of book suggestions. I’ll look into reading a few to build up my business knowledge. 🙂 Thanks!

  15. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on November 25, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    For me, writing is neither art nor business – it’s communication, and that paradigm seems to bring things together in a way that doesn’t clash.

    • JosephPote on November 25, 2013 at 8:30 AM

      That’s a good description of my approach, Andrew.

  16. JeanneTakenaka on November 25, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    It’s interesting how you compared the unpublished writer and the published writer in your thoughts about the artistic aspect and business aspect of writing. The published writer wants to STAY published, so they do what they need to to “increase the commercial appeal of their work.”

    As a currently unpublished writer, I see the value in understanding and determining how to work well on the business end of writing. The artistic side is what creates the story, but the business side is what gets it in front of others. Both are necessary.

    I’m still figuring out how to work both aspects of writing into my day, my routine. I spend some time on the social media end and reading blogs like yours to learn, but I also spend time on my stories.

  17. Lori Schafer on November 25, 2013 at 7:45 AM

    I definitely do view writing as a business, and I generally approach it in a systematic and methodical manner. Coming from the accounting profession actually really helps. I’ve spent years analyzing small business marketing data, and it’s amazing what a difference that makes in how I look at my work and how it’s received. For the self-publishing community in particular, there’s a lot of statistical and financial information out there that’s both interesting and useful. If I ever decide to go that route, I expect that the research I’ve done on it will make a substantial difference in the results.

  18. Denise Willson on November 25, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    Great post, Rachelle.

    A trick I use is to keep two offices. One is for business only, answering emails, tweeting, accounting, etc. The other is my writing domain. Never do the two mix, and when I’m in one, I ignore the other.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

    • Joe Snoe on November 25, 2013 at 6:45 PM

      I do the same more or less. My ‘novel’ desk is in the basement. My ‘everything else’ desk is here by the TV, computer, kitchen and bathroom.

  19. sue on November 25, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    Another excellent post, Rachelle! I love reading your blog.

    Yes, I’m very comfortable with the business side of writing, for many reasons, but 3 stand out among the rest.

    1. Wonderful marriage. (I’m not boasting. Well maybe a little bit.) My husband’s family owned a small meat packing business. I soon understood the dedication, hard work, and long hours (18 per day regularly) they put in to keep their business vital and healthy. A super learning experience!

    2. Great audiences. I love to speak, teach, perform, which helps immensely when you’re pursuing the business of promoting your books. That connection with “audience” engenders such joy!

    3. Precious readers. So many of my readers have reached out and enriched my life beyond words. And that brings it all back to family. I would have never known these precious people if I hadn’t done the work of promoting my books.

    I am so grateful for the Business of Writing!

  20. 1hollyrobinson1 on November 25, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    Rachel, I have just started following your blog, and I just wanted to compliment you on giving such practical, no-nonsense advice to writers. I’m so happy to have discovered you. If I didn’t already have an agent, I’d be knocking at your door! Thank you for offering so much support out there to writers trying to navigate the tricky business of not only publishing books, but getting their books into the hands of readers.

  21. Cherry Odelberg on November 25, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    I must constantly remind myself that something good is to be shared. If I write something good, I need to be about the BUSINESS of sharing it as often and in as many ways as possible – provided I don’t get so wrapped up in the pursuit that I forget to replenish the well – the artistic part.

  22. Leah Good on November 25, 2013 at 6:53 AM

    I’m looking forward to checking out some of the books on the list here. Having just finished a bachelors degree in marketing, that side of the writing business sounds exciting to me. Just finished reading “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Noah Berger. It was very good. All about generating word of mouth.

  23. janell2rardon on November 25, 2013 at 6:42 AM

    Great, solid advice, Rachelle! I definitely agree. The biggest challenge with my first book was SELLING….taking off the writing, helping, hat and putting on the marketing hat…thankfully, I had a great team of PR help and learned so much. I remember an editor telling me, “You have to believe in your book so much that you will be committed to the material for at least three years. At the least. That is how long you will have to sell it to readers….” He was so right. In that light, I don’t see it as much as “selling” but as “believing.” Great list of books….I love “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and everything Daniel Pink writes! Thanks for another great piece!

  24. Heather Sunseri on November 25, 2013 at 5:42 AM

    I guess I am lucky in this regard. My background is business. I watch people succeed, fail, and tweak their businesses for a living. Though I love the art or creating story, I adore the business of self-publishing. It’s fun and exciting, and it helps balance the life of pounding out the words and the at-times excruciating editing process. There’s a certain high I get from tracking my numbers and analyzing what’s working and what’s not. It’s a certain thrill-seeking risk, I guess.

    Love the list of books, Rachelle. I also enjoy seeking out creative entrepreneurs to listen to. I was fortunate enough to hear a panel of successful entrepreneurs at a conference last week. It didn’t matter that they weren’t successful in publishing but other areas. The take aways are very similar.

  25. Nedelina Georgieva on November 25, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    Well, I live in Bulgaria, I have two published novels in Bulgarian. Here everything is very different. We don`t have literary agents. We directly contact publishing houses. When I got adviced by some friends who read my novel to do it, I did, one of the biggest and trustworthy publishing houses in the country. I was asked to send the book, I did. There was no answer for months. I wrote to ask about it, they told me they are not answering because they don`t know what to tell me since the book is very good, but nobody knows my name and because of the economical circumstances in the country (people being poor and not having money to buy books) they can`t take the risk to publish it right now, but may be later, when the economy is better. They also said it is very common for young authors to pay for their first book since no one nowadays likes to take risks with unknown names. So, since I was talking a lot about a foreign country in the book, I asked their embassy. They approved the book and gave the money. The publishing house tried to make the price bigger, when they saw who the sponsor was, but after a few tries, they gave up on that. We signed the contract and we started preparing the book. My editor was amazed since it is very strange for a first novel to almost not need editing. They fixed only some sentences. And than, first, I can bet that the person who made the cover never read it, it`s a beautiful cover, but has absolutely no connection to the story in the book. Second, they wanted to change the title of the book. I wrote a really long e-mail explaining that from the marketing point of view, their title would make the book completely unsellable. So they gave up on that too. But they did make the back cover without asking me and guess what, it has nothing about the book that could get the reader hooked, only my biography (I never wanted that, I was shocked when I saw it, but it was too late at the time). During the PR campaign my eidtor said a few times, it is a great book, but it won`t sell (who does that promoting a book!? really!?), once even the journalist asked him “How can you say that? You stll don`know? It could be very successful.” He kept telling me, we have to get noticed by whom and whom, but we won`t. It has been more than a year already, I still don`t know how many pcs thay have sold, I asked a few times, but they seemed too busy and I decided to not be pushy, just wait and see how far they will go. And here we are, more than a year later, I still have no idea how it sells. To be honest, I almost lost hope a few times, but I kept reading about publishing, created a blog, tried a few different things to get more people interested. I was offered by my editor to help me get my second novel published, hopefully without a sponsor this time, but I just didn`t want to work with those people again or whoever who is similar to them, so I found a small publishing house for e-books, designed my own cover (it is not perfect, but it is connected to the story), paid and got my second novel published. I didn`t have to argue about anything, they didn`t change the price, didn`t try to change the title to something ridiculous, I only did not agree with one change they wanted to make, because they used a word people under 40 years old usually don`t use. They agreed with me immediately, did the back cover without me, but put on it a small text promoting the book, without me even asking about it. I don`t feel like sceaming every time I think about publishing now. It feels like something normal.

    For someone like me, living in that environment and being published here knowing a lot about the business is a must. Even knowing the law is something I need. I read a few blogs, have been following yours for a few years now, everything I find on the Internet about publishing too, I also try my best to study the stories of people who have had huge success in getting a lot of people interested in their work, even if they don`t have anything to do with publishing, like Justin Bieber or Japanese music producer Johnny Kitagawa.