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:
- This is the big picture summary of goals and plans.
- This section should focus on goals for at least a year out, but can also include 5-year or more long-term or “dream” goals.
- If we’re not sure what your priorities should be, Angela Ackerman (of Emotion Thesaurus fame) shared this 7-step plan for brainstorming and figuring out what matters to us.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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*
(click on the image to zoom in)
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!Pin It