Last month I talked about the idea of a business plan for authors, and it seemed to really hit a chord with many people. The idea of actually plotting out a writing career, much like one might plot a book, may seem like a foreign concept, but at its root, it makes perfect sense. You, as an author, can choose how you want your career to play out and work toward achieving that dream career.
It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? but how does one go about making their dreams into reality?
As I’ve mentioned in both the first part of the business plan and in my blog about setting goals, the first step is to know where you’re going. When you see yourself as a successful writer, what does it look like? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. What I picture will be different from what anyone else reading this blog imagines, because we are all individuals and our wants and needs are catered to us alone. With that picture in mind, the next step is figuring out what it will take to achieve that ideal.
This isn’t the same as the five-year plans I discussed before, although the two do go hand-in-hand. The five-year plan helps map the trip, but the business plan is about the big picture and what it takes to not only reach your individual peak of success, but how to make the most of getting there.
Okay, so what does all that crazy talk mean? It means that you, as an individual author, will have choices to make, from basic to complex, and every one of them has the potential to take you somewhere.
Step 1: Who are you?
Let’s start with the basics. One of the first choices is simply what to write. For me, the quick answer was romance, but what kind? I knew the first step in my business plan would be branding myself as the writer of sexy romances of all lengths.
The next quick choice I had to make was publication name. For me, a pen name offers a degree of privacy and a buffer between my writing and my family. I chose not to incorporate the pen name, and to have my books copyrighted to the pen name. The pen name was chosen specifically to be unique and yet have an easily remembered last name.
The third choice I had to make was publication method. I knew I wanted to go through a publishing house rather than self-publishing, and I liked the flexibility of digital-first houses, so I picked e-publishing.
Step 2: Think Business
At the time I made these choices, I wasn’t thinking business plan. What moved me into planning was some offhand advice from Gemma Halliday. I’d had to quit my day job, and she suggested that writing shorter stories first would bring writing income faster. She made me think in terms of business and earning and these became part of my decision-making process.
Step 3: Plan Ahead
The idea of planning ahead can be scary, especially for those who tend to wait and see where life takes them, but making plans can give direction when it’s time to make decisions. As an example, if I have a goal to publish 5 things in one year, it helps to have some idea ahead of time what to write and what publishers to sub to. By researching publishers, agents and editors ahead of time and keeping a running list of where I want to see my books, I can be prepared to sub quickly after completing a story.
Can I write five full-length novels in a year? I’m not that fast. My manuscript choices are cut back to novellas and short stories. I have a folder of story ideas, so all I have to do from there is pick some likely suspects and move them to the top of the list.
My friend, Jeanette Murray, frequently holds herself up as an example of how not planning can make the best opportunities go wrong. Her career took off quickly, and she signed three multiple-book contracts under two pen names in a year. Every writer’s dream? Maybe… until the realization came in that the contracts had overlapping deadlines. In the end, she had to renegotiate one contract and establish a third pen name.
Step 4: Strategize
This advice came to me from DSRA’s own Delilah Devlin. During a meeting, she once shared how she worked to schedule and balance her releases. Most of us have heard that the best promo is to write the next book. New releases stimulate interest in backlist titles, so by providing books at a steady pace, an author can keep interest in all books elevated. Unless you are self-publishing, you won’t have much choice in release dates, but you can pace your writing and submissions.
You also have control of what goes where. Part of my planning creates my own niche markets with certain publishers. Paranormal goes one place while contemporary goes another. Fulls are heading somewhere completely different from short stories and novellas. It’s entirely possible that a given publisher won’t want the story I send them, so backup plans are also in place which will maintain my niches.
Step 5: Be Adaptable
The hardest part of all of this planning is that the market doesn’t sit still once a plan is in place. The publishing world is dynamic, and things can move at a very fast pace. It’s important to remember that plans aren’t set in stone. As new information and opportunities present themselves, it’s not only okay to reevaluate, it’s recommended. Keep informed and be willing to adjust your business plan.
There is a lot to consider in making a plan, but the good news is it doesn’t have to all be done at once. My business plan took about three years to develop, and since I put it in place, there have been numerous small adjustments. I expect it will be refined many more times as the publishing world changes.
So now it’s your turn. Have you made any new plans since last month’s installment? What are some important factors which influence your planning?