The Stephen King Guide to Writing as a Business

Stephen King. He is the Charles Dickens of this century. People either love him or hate him. My churchgoing friends are often shocked to learn that I read his work, and admire it.

stephen-king

Stephen King is a writing and marketing machine, having accomplished the unusual feat of being successful as a craftsman, and as an entrepreneur.  He has sold well over 350 million books, and spawned countless movies and television shows. His latest novel-to-screen adaptation is Under The Dome. How?

I have written extensively elsewhere about writing for the purpose of strategic influence. I can point to no better model of how to do this right than King.

There are seven key lessons you can learn from Stephen King, and the way he conducts his business (the business of writing). And for those of you who are offended by my saying “the business of writing”… perhaps if you thought about your writing as a business, you wouldn’t be so easily offended. Food for thought.

Seven Lessons From Stephen King

  1. Learn your craft. Whether his subject matter is always to your taste or not, you would have to be willfully ignorant to declare Stephen King anything other than a master of the art of writing stories. He has honed his craft to a fine edge, and without this particular weapon in his arsenal, the rest of what you’re about to read would not be possible. You must master the craft.
  2. Be prolific. King has stated that he writes every day, including his birthday and Christmas day. He has since admitted that this might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. His ethic of working every day is plainly demonstrated by his amazing output. You don’t publish 50 novels,  five nonfiction works, and over 200 short stories by goofing off.  you do it by applying liberal amounts of fingers to keyboard.
  3. Be real. One reason people are often uncomfortable with King’s writing is that he tends to bring heavy doses of reality into his stories. I’m not talking about the vampires, giant spiders, and ghosts, of course. I’m talking about the sometimes embarrassing, sometimes offensive, sometimes infuriatingly irrational ways that people talk and behave. King unabashedly presents people as they really are. And this makes his detractors uncomfortable… And his fans love him.
  4. Have a personality. When King began his career, he decided to be exactly who he is. I have no way of knowing this, but I’m pretty certain this was a conscious decision made in the full knowledge that it might backfire financially. He could have been more “respectable” by writing that vaguely named thing called “literary fiction”, but instead he chose to write what fascinated him.
  5. Be fearless. Stephen King has never shied away from the potential criticism he might get from atheists, believers, Democrats, Republicans, or  the League of Decency. He’s written some ugly scenes, and seems that many writers would have shied away from because they didn’t want to be associated with that material. For better or worse, that fearlessness has catapulted him from the mass of mediocrity to the pinnacle of literary success.
  6. Try new things. King was one of the first to take advantage of the digital publishing medium. He was one of the first to publish a novel in serial form online. He has branched out into music, comic books, and of course films and television. Some of his experiments have fallen flat. Others have been a meteoric success, both critically and financially (remember Stand by Me and The Green Mile?)
  7. Do many things simultaneously. One of the ways King manages to stay so prolific is that he is doing many things simultaneously. He’s always working on a new book or story, and usually has more than one project cooking in the background (a movie, a TV series, and audiobook, or the radio stations that he owns in Maine).

While you may or may not ever be his equal on the bestseller lists (he has a pretty strong head start on most of us), you definitely can learn from the career and methodologies of Stephen King.

Question: what have you learned about writing, or the business of writing, from Stephen King… Or any other modern writers? Share below…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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23 thoughts on “The Stephen King Guide to Writing as a Business

  1. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a classic. In my humble, but accurate opinion, the best book ever written on what it takes to be a professional writer. Non-fiction or Fiction, Steven King is the pro. Stephen ranks right up there with Ray Edwards on the professional scale and you can’t get better than that.

  2. Thanks you for an excellent post. This is great advice for writers – and anyone in any kind of business. These success principles are universal.

  3. I don’t read a lot of horror simply because I already have too many nightmares. 🙂 But his book On Writing is the best book on the craft of writing that I’ve ever read.

  4. Although I unfortunately don’t get to write every day (writing is not the only part of my business, alas), I usually have more than one project going at any given time. Right now, the third book of my YA fantasy/mystery series A Rogue’s Tale is with my proofreaders, I just started writing part four (plus a bonus short story for a collection of parts I – III), I sent out the illustration contract for my next children’s book to my illustrator just yesterday, and the first Miro the Dragon book will be translated into Chinese this year. Oh yeah, and I still need to finish up one and a half story for Miro the Dragon 2 😉

    I’m also the editor for a small group of authors, the DIVAs, and we’re aiming at publishing four short story collections every year.

    Good article, and definitely food for thought for all those who still don’t view their writing as a business (especially in the self-publishing scene). 🙂

  5. I don’t know about the “Writing every day” part, but what’s worked for me is to have the discipline to sit down and write on a specific schedule that doesn’t vary unless except in emergencies.

    King’s book also gave advice that I already followed but think is some of the best to pass along to anyone getting into the writing game: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write”.

  6. King has always been the writer I most admire, most emulate and most respect. (Also, most enjoy reading.) The writing I do while reading a Stephen King novel is always better than the writing I do at any other time. Weird, right? Great piece. Loved it.

  7. Great post and synopsis of a very influential writer! Yes, many write because they have to, but many write because we wish to have some influence, to be able to make a difference. I’m pretty new to writing (nearly) every day, and I’m finding that it is definitely getting easier. “On Writing” is near the top of my pile of books to read next, because so many recommend it, and I want to get better.

    The “try new things” lesson is a little scary since most of the time we are told to “write what you know”, but I guess that goes with the “be fearless” lesson too, doesn’t it? 😉

  8. Stephen King is a legen in my book and has been one of the biggest inspriations to my own writing. You capute the essence of being a writer perfectly in the post and I too can think of no better example to use than Mr. King.

  9. Most people don’t realize Stephen King’s books are about a lot more than horror. Stephen King’s characters are people the reader knows, like mothers, fathers, sisters, friends, cousins, neighbors, just authentic portrayals of people.
    Back in the 70’s while working the graveyard shift, his novels were the best for passing the time away and I wrote him a ten page letter to that effect . Do you know what else makes an author a business genius? He wrote me back! How many authors take the time to write their fans back in reply to their letters?
    Thank you for the reminders listed!

  10. Thank you Ray for this post. We writers need reminders that our craft is a business as well as a creative boulevard.