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Business Plans for Writers
Most writers long to spend their time writing, not thinking about the business side of, well, the business. But in this day and age, spending all of our time dreaming up worlds and characters isn’t an option. There are a plethora of other things to wrangle, manage, and deal with, from marketing to social media to creating an indie book to finding agents or editors to shop in a traditional market. And everything in between.
At the RWA conference last month, the first workshop I attended was one I had hoped would get my head back in the business of writing. It was entitled “Plan for Success: Create a Motivational Business Plan for Your Writing Career” and was presented by author Stephanie Bond. Sitting in that workshop brought back memories of a chapter workshop I attended a couple years ago with a similar topic: "Dream, Dare, Do!" presented by Shelley Coriell. And it reminded me that I never sat down to finish that business plan that was begun that day. And I certainly hadn't updated my scrawled notes in the intervening years.
Since I've been looking for focus lately, I made creating a business plan my priority when I returned home from conference a couple weeks ago. I started by exploring more about business plans online, and integrated a lot of that fabulous information here.
First, Jami Gold says, “no one will ever care about our success as much as we do.” And therefore, we must have a business mindset. If we have clear goals and a personal definition of success, we can make better business decisions.Amy Atwell says it’s important to think of writing as a “career,” which is why a business plan is helpful. On her "Author E.M.S." website, she refers to other sources, where one can use worksheets to come up with her business plan. She also reminds us the plan isn’t set in stone, and should be revised or updated regularly.
Second, before creating your document, Angela Ackerman recommends brainstorming what you want to accomplish, identifying themes, and then grouping together areas of focus. Then, try to step back and see the big picture, assigning importance to what you need to accomplish.
When you've done some big picture and small picture thinking, put them together into one handy document that summarizes your career plans and goals for the coming year:
THE BASICS of a BUSINESS PLAN
OBJECTIVES (a.k.a., Dreams!)
What do you want out of this business? Do you simply want to see your name on a book? Do you want to hit a bestseller list? Win a RITA award? An Edgar? Do you want to make enough money to quit your day job or put your kids through college?
This is where you put anything you want out of your writing career. Dream big!
A mission statement is often brief, and for writers it can be as lofty as “to encourage people to grow through my writing,” or as generic as “to entertain.”
PRODUCTS (or Product Plan) & BRAND
Here’s where you think about what you are creating, which of course, includes your books. Also think about what makes them different/unique, and what formats they’ll be available in, and whether you plan to publish via traditional publishers, indie, or both. Don't forget about audio, film, and even nonfiction items such as series-related coloring books.
Kimberley Grabas also suggests delineating your “ideal reader” as you create your business plan, as well as your “brand personality and culture.” This includes the vibe you want to give off when people land on your website or other social media pages, or when you speak at events. How do you want to be perceived by the public/readers?
Think about what makes you different, and what makes you the same. Everything from business cards to website design to the font and your name placement on your covers should reflect what/how you write.
GOALS (a.k.a., the things I can control!)
This is where we get down to the nitty gritty.
Keeping your dreams and objectives in mind, what can you actively and reasonably DO to make those dreams come true in the short term? This can include such things as attending a signing or conference, submitting to agents, finding a critique partner, researching your next series, etc.
For instance, one of my dreams is to win a RITA. I obviously need to enter the contest to even have a chance of making that goal happen, so entering the contest is listed under my goals and has been added to my calendar. Similarly, to hit a bestseller list, I’ll need to write books and increase my audience, which led to my current annual goals of building my newsletter list and increasing advertising and amount of time spent on social media.
MARKET ANALYSIS (or Competitive Analysis) & SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
What do you need to do/change to achieve your dreams? Do you have the necessary equipment, time, and energy? What is the state of the market in your genre/subgenre? How crowded is it?
This includes looking at your “competitors’” or fellow authors’ bodies of work and how they’re advertising them. What are their price points? What things are they doing well, in your opinion? Is it something that should be added to your goal list?
For me, one of the items in this category is to read several top-selling romantic suspense novellas, as I have not written one before but hope to this year. I want to study how the character arcs and plots differ from full-length books, so that I know what novella readers expect.
STRATEGY & IMPLEMENTATION SUMMARY (or Development Plan)
This includes setting up your calendar. Will the amount of writing you do this year be increasing/decreasing from the previous year? What publishers or agents do you want to target and how are you most likely to get your work in front of them? Do you need to register for some conferences or enter contests?
The first item on this list, for me, was writing a business plan. J The second item was transferring my task list to my planner/calendar.
How do you plan to support yourself while you implement these other plans? When would it be a good time to incorporate? To meet with an estate planner or tax consultant?
For me, I plan to create a “Body of Work” document that contains all of my books and information my husband would need to access them, should something happen to me. I also have a note to consider drawing on savings to create audio versions of my new series, but have yet to make a decision on whether that’s a wise investment. But it’s something I can revisit next July, when I update my business plan.
Have you written a business plan? Do you update it regularly? What things do you make sure to include on your plan?
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!