Yay! I have another installment. I’m writing out of order so I’ll return to another session on critical voice later.

Learning at the day job gets a bad rap. We’re all inundated with “mandatory” training. Who wants to do more?

Yet, it’s an opportunity to build your skills in both your job and your writing. Business is a woefully neglected skill for many fictions. They feel they don’t need to know anything about that “boring business stuff.”

These writers are most vulnerable to scams.

One of the things I don’t like about developmental editors is how they guilt-trip writers into purchasing their services. I attended an editing panel at a science fiction convention. I was struggling to find a copy editor for the first book I published. Everyone I’d researched did developmental editing and maybe basic proofreading as an afterthought.

I was early, so the panelists asked me why I was there. “Copy editing,” I said. I thought I would find one from the panel.

Nope. Once the session started, the panelists openly lectured, “Everyone needs developmental editing.” They clearly directed it at me, the lone wolf in the crowd.

The audience was rapt, absorbing every word. None of them understand that the people recommending developmental editing were the ones making money from it. No matter the emotional appeal, businesses do not recommend services from the kindness of their hearts.

They want to make money.

After the panel, I attended another panel with one of the developmental editors. He showed PowerPoint slides. Most notably, he’d used an image from one of the photo sites. It had the watermark on it.

He’d clearly didn’t understand intellectual property. But he was handling the intellectual property (stories) of other people.

This is basic business.

If your work offers online training, look for courses on the following topics.

Financial Management. It’s a dry topic, but people in the United States woefully lack basic knowledge. Every business finances daily. If you spend money on your writing, you must have a basic understanding or you’re likely to waste it.

When I was eighteen, I subscribed to one of the writing magazines. They sold my name to an agent who was pandering to beginners. He sent me a nice-looking four-page brochure with author pictures I didn’t recognize. Over four pages, he alluded he discovered writers with their editing services. Only $500! If I’d had the money, I’d have spent it, not knowing any better.

Contracts. Businesses run off contracts. Writers sign contracts without reading them carefully, lured by the excitement of “I’m being published.” During the Gold Rush days of print-on-demand, writers signed away their novel rights for seven years. When they tried to get them back, they discovered it wasn’t possible.

With this skill, another one to study is negotiation. That “I’m being published! Whee!” leads writers to accept whatever the publisher is offering. Maybe they can negotiate better. And it’s hard. I’ve had trouble with that one for salary going from employer to employer. Critical voice gets involved and tries to devalue what I’m worth.

Risk. A big business topic with a lot of ramifications. Risk is planning for a future event that could threaten your business. The COVID-19 shutdown was an obvious example of that. My local Thai restaurant immediately laid-off employees and converted to takeout. They stayed in business, but a massage parlor three doors down didn’t survive.

Risk for fiction? If you’re traditionally published, changing editors and the new editor doesn’t like your book. At Superstars, Kevin J. Anderson talked about how the publishing industry abruptly dropped TV tie-ins.

Indie published? We’ve already seen one. A major retailer changed its algorithms and book sales for writers tanked. This alone is a reason to understand how business works. When I got out of the Army, I worked for a beltway bandit. The company had contracts in multiple industries. But they won many contracts at one government agency, so they had forty-two people there. Then the agency cut the contracts, and overnight, forty-two people lost jobs. If you go exclusively with one publishing vendor, you’re at the mercy of their changes.

In conjunction with this, look for problem-solving courses. Risk is a problem to solve, so there are opportunities for additional skills.

Project Management. This is a huge topic with many aspects, including risk. If you’re indie publishing, project management will apply to you. Every book is a project. Not just the act of writing, but scheduling release dates, deciding who to ask for reviews, determining marketing methods, finding a cover artist (or making your own), and maintaining an inventory list.

You’ll find plenty available on this in your day job because it’s such a vital business skill.

Intellectual Property. Not understanding what IP is has gotten a lot of writers in trouble. A writer grabbed an image from the internet and posted them on her blog. She thought that since it was available online, she could use it. The photographer contacted her. It was very expensive and involved lawyers.

Writers talk all the time about getting free images for covers. There are some recommended public domain sites. I won’t touch them. I don’t know if the person who uploaded that image owned the rights to it. But if I purchase an image from Deposit Photos, Dreamstime, or IStock, I have the license for the image. Psst. It’s not that expensive. And you save the watermarked image to try it out as your cover before you buy it.

You’ll also learn to ask for the licenses for all the images from a cover artist. If they refuse, don’t do business with them because they might get you into trouble.

This isn’t a complete list. But these are topics you’ll find uses for in your writing.

On the fiction side, learning is as important. I used to read this one writer. Her stories were amazing. Whenever I went to the bookstore, I would check for a new book. Then she hit best seller status and decided she knew everything she needed. It showed in the quality of the books, and I stopped reading her.

Seek courses that push your skills upwards. These are actually pretty hard to find. Most courses are for beginners. Many are taught by fake experts.

Research the instructor. If he has only a few books published, he’s not skilled enough to teach (especially pantsers!). If he has many books published, read the samples or a few of the books first.

Stay away from general courses. There are a lot of courses called “How to Write a Novel.” Those are beginner-focused and too broad. You won’t get much on how to improve your skills. Find specific subjects.

If you have a strong skill, find a course that will push on that skill. For years, I ignored taking classes on characterization. This was one of my strongest skills, but I always passed on courses on it. I felt I had so many others I had to work on. I took a class on Emotions in Fiction and suddenly realized I had a skills gap in my characterization that I’d been ignoring.

Options for courses include WMG Publishing, Cat Rambo, Apex, Story Grid, and Superstars Writing Conference.

Scheduling will be tricky. Learning becomes one more task to squeeze in our limited time. Like having a day dedicated to admin, you might do the same for learning. Since most of my courses are learning at my own pace, I cherry-pick topics I want to know. Though I have to ignore the whining from critical voice, who thinks I need to power through the whole course.

Finally, have fun! This is about fueling your creative side with the knowledge it can use. It’s truly amazing to see how your skills grow as you write.