The Business of Writing

The Business of Being Off-Off… Way-Off Broadway

By Kate D. Mahoney

“Oh, no! It’s the Wicked Witch!”

Somewhat blinded by the stage lights — and my desire to give the people what they wanted — I stood in my lavender footie pajamas in my elementary school auditorium, and a powerful bug bit me: I was going to be an actor. Little did I know, if I really wanted to succeed, I would have to pay close attention to the man, the woman, behind the curtain.

In fact, for most of my life, I opted for verbal transactions at all costs — both literally and figuratively.

In fifth grade, I received a D on my report card in math class. My teacher’s comment was, “A pleasure to have in class.” I was an excellent speller, debater and book report giver. Yet even when mathematical word problems about arrival times of trains leaving different stations came up, I instantly wanted to take a bus, a plane or just call off the trip all together.

In high school — after my miracle — I continued to struggle. I joked that 25 minutes of cardiac arrest was the reason I couldn’t do math. I took all the SAT prep classes. Every sample test began with the verbal questions. When I got to the real exam and opened my booklet, it was mathematics. I panicked. I cried. I got a total score of 890 — 748 of which was in verbal — further solidifying in my mind the possibility that I was perhaps truly unable to process numbers.

As the years went on, the sales of Girl Scout cookies, lemonade and various fundraiser chocolate bars expanded my waist line far more than my profit margins. Add to that an upbringing in faith, and a family that equated placing financial value on work with sinning, or at the very least being egotistical and arrogant.

Sales ran in my family and my church. There was an understanding that girls could do whatever we put our minds to — so long as it wasn’t an overt position of power. To concern or engage in such things might take me down a path leading to unladylike behavior, like a raised voice, or make the traditionally male providers in my life appear inept. I’m confident this was what shifted my desire to be a voice for both characters and real people.

I’m not saying I wasn’t told to dream big. On the contrary, I was taught to always dream big and believe I would be supported. It was a powerful and positive message, but one that included not one iota of business savvy.

When I met my publisher a couple years ago, I was intent on getting a book out so I could provide for my family. My initial drive was not to share my life’s adventures or help others in crisis. I wanted to publish because caring for sick parents had emptied my bank account and left gaps in my resume that could only be filled with story.

In the beginning, I didn’t take the long view. I was impulsive and nervous and raced toward a finish line that seemed to keep inching out of my reach. I asked for money out of survival, not sustainability. Regardless of my belief in abundance or gratitude, I didn’t believe I would be supported, because I didn’t feel I possessed the tools to succeed. If I didn’t publish a book, I would have no tangible product. Since I needed to write words in the hopes of crunching numbers—the scariest path of all — if the book didn’t succeed, I would have no identity.

Being a woman and an artist is a privilege, and my flare for drama continues to serve me. My roots in storytelling are colorful. My business plan is much more black and white.

Here are some helpful hints should you desire to take your business over the rainbow:

1. Embrace failure. Making mistakes in business will not lead you directly to a fitting for an orange jumpsuit. Figuring out what doesn’t work helps you get to what does.

2. Make your dreams into goals. Write them down. I borrowed this from retired Dallas Cowboy, Emmitt Smith, who got the idea from his boyhood football coach. It really works.

3. Ask for help! Hire people who know what you don’t know. Investing in a lawyer, a CPA and even a web designer required me to recalibrate expenses and vision; but in the spirit of not creating while critiquing, I did what I was capable of and leaned on others for the rest. It doesn’t mean I’ll never know. It means I trust myself and utilize the skills of others with taxation, transactions and technology; I don’t let fears hold me back.

4. Own your value —financially and legally. This can take many forms: a DBA or LLC, or learning how to write down what you want on contracts — or PostIts — and stick to them, literally and figuratively. 5. There is only one you. That matters. You matter. SWM

Kate D. Mahoney is the author of “The Misfit Miracle Girl: Candid Reflections.” Connect at KateDMahoney.com.

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