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August 28, 2014

Introducing the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet!

Arrow zooming up on a graph with text: Introducing the Business Plan Worksheet!

No one will ever care about our success as much as we do. That’s why—even though we’re writers—we should think of ourselves, at least on some level, as business people.

Not all of us have a business mindset, however. We might wish to be author-artists rather than author-business-professionals. There’s nothing wrong with that attitude.

But even as artists, we still need to be clear about our goals so we know whether to choose option A or option B. For example, some artist-authors might price their books for increased readership instead of income. Guess what? Choices like that are business decisions.

Ditto for traditionally published authors who want their publisher or agent to handle business-related issues. If those authors have clear goals, they’ll be better able to judge whether to use the same publisher for their new series, or if they want to diversify with a new genre, or whether their agent is steering them in a different direction from what they want.

No matter what kind of writer we are, we will need to make business decisions, and that’s where having a business plan can help. A business plan, even just a basic one, can help us recognize what’s important to us, brainstorm our goals, and design a plan to get from Point A to Point B while avoiding distractions.

What Can a Business Plan Do for Us?

Business plans don’t have to be about numbers or sales projections. (I don’t do math. *smile*) They can also be about defining who we are as an author and what we want for our dreams.

  • What kind of author do we want to be? What kind of stories do we want to write? What’s our message?
  • Who do we think is the target audience for our stories?
  • What makes our stories unique? Why would our target audience want to read them?
  • How do we define success? How will we know when we get there?
  • Are we ready to reach for success? What skills or knowledge do we still need to acquire to be successful?
  • What path will take us toward our success goal? Are we on that path already? If not, what do we need to do to get on that path?
  • Are we spending time on activities that impede our goals? Are adjustments needed to refocus on activities that match our goals?

Once we’re comfortable with knowing what we want, where we stand, and where we want to go, we’ll be better able to adjust to the fluid publishing environment.

We’ve all seen how the rules of “the game” change from month to month, and sometimes from week to week. Knowing what our goals are can help us keep an eye on the big picture and not be randomized with every change.

When we know what we want and where we want to go, it’s easier to look at changes and say, “How can I best take advantage of these new circumstances to reach my goals?” Quickly adapting is a far more productive response than flailing over the never-ending shifting sands under our feet.

In addition, simply having a business plan might help us present ourselves more professionally. Our family and friends might see that we’re serious about our writing and better understand or respect our choices. Or at the very least, we’d know how serious we are.

What Should We Include in Our Business Plan?

There are as many different ways to approach business plans as there are authors. Some of us might want something very specific and formal (like Denise Grover Swank’s fantastic example here, here, and here), and others of us might want more of a casual overview.

Whatever format we take, we need to allow for flexibility in our plan and the ability to revise as we go. The publishing landscape is changing constantly and life happens unexpectedly. But we’ll never get to where we want to go unless we have a basic direction in mind.

After looking at several author-focused business plans, I found these topics the most insightful. Some of these sections focus on the big picture, others force us to dig into difficult topics, and still others help us keep our eye on the prize.

Read through these bullet points to get an overview, or just scroll down to see the real thing:

Description of Author Business:

Operation of Author Business:

  • This section summarizes the business aspect—traditionally published vs. self-published—and touches on how the business would be structured and run.
  • This is the place for decisions like sole proprietorship vs. LLC or starting our own imprint vs. publishing under our author name.

Product Plan:

  • This section defines all products, current and planned, and specifies the target audience for each (including how we might reach them).
  • We should be specific here about ebook, print, or audiobooks, etc. so we know to include those production costs in our Development Plan.
  • If we include information about the actual or expected income from each product, we can track whether we’re prioritizing the best projects for our income goals.

Marketing Plan:

  • This section lists our strategies for everything from release schedules to writing series vs. standalone books.
  • This is where we get to brag about all the time we waste, er, spend on social media as we’re building our platform.
  • Do we have a newsletter or a blog? Are we active on Wattpad or Goodreads? Will we offer a freebie or use Kindle Select? Mention it here.

Competitive Analysis:

  • This section asks us to research and analyze other authors in our genre, specifically those who are successful.
  • What makes them successful? What strategies work for them?
  • How can we adapt their strategies to our strengths and stories? What can we learn about how to overcome or minimize our weaknesses?
  • Think about why readers might want our book in addition to (or instead of) the books released by these authors. What makes ours unique? Why might readers choose not to read ours over the other comparable books?

Development Plan:

  • This section defines a schedule for our goals and outlines the steps we need to take to reach each one.
  • This is the nitty-gritty for how we’re going to reach our definition of success. Everything from daily word counts to financial income vs. expense plans would go here.
  • We might want to use subsections for different schedules, such as one for our professional development goals, one for drafting and revising, another for publishing (however that looks for our chosen path, whether querying and submission or editing and cover art), and yet another for marketing.
  • Be as specific as possible with these steps (“I’m going to read two craft books to fix my x weakness by y date.”) so we can better track our progress.
  • Depending on how much we want to push and stretch ourselves, the schedule might be a bit uncomfortable, but it should always be achievable.

Introducing the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet!

I tried to make this worksheet flexible enough to help both those who want a formal plan and those who want just a casual overview. Use this worksheet however it works for you.

We might not want to specify details on every item listed, so think of the points under each section more as “thought triggers.” Or we could focus only on the areas we know we have weaknesses. Whatever works, works. *smile*

Screen shot of both pages of the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet

(click on the image to zoom in)

Click to download the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet — MS Word ’07 version (.docx)

Click to download the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet — MS Word earlier version (.doc)

As with many things on my blog, I’m sharing what I’ve learned. I’ve never had a business plan before. It seemed too intimidating or overwhelming (or maybe that was just the math), and quite frankly, I didn’t have the time (or was unwilling to make the time).

But now I’ve reached the point that I need a business plan if I don’t want to make mistakes with my choices. So I put this worksheet together for myself and decided to share in case others might find it helpful as well. Wish me luck in getting this completed. *grin*

Okay, I Have a Business Plan, Now What?

Once we have a business plan, we should probably revisit it once a quarter or so. Checking in on a regular basis gives us the opportunity to see what’s working and what isn’t, recognize where the publishing landscape has changed, and maybe even remind us of a strategy we meant to implement but haven’t yet.

Again, the point isn’t to make more work for ourselves. Rather, a business plan is all about putting to paper what we want and figuring out where we have holes so we can be smarter about our time and energy.

Whether we’re a newbie writer pursuing traditional publishing or a deep-in-the-trenches self-published author, we are small business entrepreneurs. We need to balance our creative, artistic side with our product-sales side. Hopefully, a plan that matches our business choices to our creative goals will keep both sides happy. *smile*

Do you have a business plan, and if not, why not? Do you find business plans intimidating? Do you agree that they can be useful no matter our publishing path? Do you have any questions about this worksheet? Will it help you tackle writing a business plan?

P.S. Don’t forget to check out all my beat sheets and worksheets for writers!

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What do you think?

34 Comments on "Introducing the Business Plan for Writers Worksheet!"

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Carradee

Something important to keep in mind while making a business plan: Include room for slippage. Include room for accidents. Include room for emergencies and illness.

Personally, my plans tend to go awry promptly after making them, because I tend to plan as if I’m healthier than I am. I’ll feel great, be thinking “I’m better! Whee!”…and then overload myself and collapse.

Despite the dozens of times I’ve done it, I still haven’t stopped. I’m gradually reducing how far the pendulum swings, on average, but it’s taking a long time.

I do have a universal theme as the backbone for my writing, though (so far, only on my Patreon page): “Everyone crazy somehow—some people just hide it better than others.” 🙂

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

“Everyone’s crazy somehow—some people just hide it better than others.””

😀 I love this universal theme of yours, because I so agree!

Carradee

I only realized it after I’d written a several stories, but now that I know it, I’ve found that it helps when I’m stuck with a character. I just go, “Okay, so how are you screwed up?”

😀

Leslie Bird Nuccio
Leslie Bird Nuccio

Holy cow, Jami, your post is seriously timely! I’m working on my plan right now including my production schedule. Love that!

Thank you for a great blog,

Leslie

Sara L.

Gosh, I haven’t even begun thinking about a business plan yet. *lol* It’s probably because I tend to focus on one thing at a time so I don’t overwhelm myself. And when you’re still waist-deep in the first draft, it’s hard to think that far ahead. That said, this article is extremely helpful. I’m going to print this as well as the worksheet as soon as I have a chance. 😉

One other thing I want to do when the time is right is apply for Grub Street’s Launch Lab. (Grub Street is a non-profit creative writing organization in Boston; I live about 30 minutes away from Boston.) It’s a workshop that focuses on marketing, PR, networking, and community-building for authors who have a novel due out within a year by either traditional publishing houses or self-publishing. It will be an investment of time and money, but I’ve learned so much from the one-day workshops I’ve taken at Grub Street that I know it will be worth it. The more useful tools you have in your knowledge tool box, the more informed you’ll be about the business side of writing.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
My attitude towards business plans is like my attitude towards beat sheets: Yikes! :O So I would definitely be the type who would just want to have vague ideas and very vague timelines in my head, and not write any of these down, lol. I’m one of those who feel intimidated by such business plans, haha. But here are some plans in my head for writing: —-will continue to do at least 2000 Chinese characters a day till the book is done, and I THINK this would be doable even after getting a full-time job (one day XD) Because the writing now usually only takes 1.5 hrs to crank out 2000 characters, the factfiling takes only about 30 mins, and I only need about 30 mins to transfer my phone memo pad writing and factfile onto my computer files. So a total of 2.5 hrs a day should definitely be doable. —–While I write, I will of course want myself to do some reading at the same time. How much I read depends on how much time I get, but probably I’d still get a FEW pages of reading done per day even during the busiest times. My reading right now has shifted to Chinese books, haha, both published and online stories. This is because I’m such a greedy guts that I want to be a great writer in BOTH English and Chinese! I’ll read English books sometimes too, but for now the focus will be on Chinese books. (I’m… Read more »
Julie Musil

Business plans give me hives! BUT…when I decided to indie publish, I read Susan Quinn’s Indie Survival Guide and she suggests making a business plan with short term and long term goals. So I did! I now think of myself as a little business owner, which is fun and intimidating at the same time.

Robert Doucette
Robert Doucette

I love this stuff. Having come to writing after a career in corporate planning, the spreadsheets and planning processes just seem natural. Some important things to remember.

First, planning is more important than plans. Clausewitz said that the best war plans are worthless after the first smoke on the battlefield. BUT, the work that goes into making the plan, the research and the serious thinking, is critical to making the next plan.

Second, the benefits of a well thought out business plan are psychological as well as strategic. It helps to focus efforts.

Finally, an organization that loves business plans is the IRS. A thoughtful business plan goes a long way to convincing them that the thousands of hours of writing is NOT a hobby.

Thanks for these posts, Jami

Meg Justus

And that “target audience” thing rears its ugly head again . If there’s one thing I’d like to learn to tackle, that’s it. If I had a nickel for every target audience questionnaire I’ve thrown my hands up at and cried, “If I knew the answers to these questions, I wouldn’t need the questionnaire!” I could take us out for a very nice meal.

Downloading the plan worksheet, though, because I really do need to think about some of this.

Emerald
Emerald

Thanks so much Jami! You just pretty much laid everything on the table, and gave me all the tools I could want to create a plan. You included some important questions I think every writer should ask themselves if they are selling their work. I know the answers to some of these, and others, I haven’t thought about. But I need to.

This is great motivation to actually fill out a plan that will help me become more organized, and focused on my goals. I’m excited to get started.

Callene Rapp
Callene Rapp

Just skimmed this post for right now, but it looks like you knocked it out of the park again, Jami! Thanks for sharing all your efforts with us.

Kirsten

Nicely done, Jami!
I honestly haven’t thought too much about what comes next after writing the book, and it’s high time I do. I really like how the worksheet is adaptable to writers pursuing different outlets for publication, as I’m sometimes put off by the emphasis on self publication. After all, every writer is trying accomplish the same thing: Connect with readers, lots of readers! 🙂
Thanks for another useful addition to my collection!

Flossie Benton Rogers

Jami, you are so generous and make the best dang worksheets ever. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate all you do. I have shared this all around. http://flossiebentonrogers.com

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