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September 2, 2014

When Do Writers Need a Business Plan?

Fortune cookie message with text: Do Writers Need a Business Plan?

Last week, I shared a Business Plan for Writers Worksheet. Yet when we’re first starting out as writers, creating a business plan might be the last thing we feel like doing. We probably first want to immerse ourselves in the art and craft of writing and prove that we can do this writing thing before coming up with difficult business-related answers about production schedules and budgets.

There’s nothing wrong with that attitude. We do need to focus on the writing first. However, a business plan can be anything we want it to be. It does not have to be about number-crunching business elements.

I mentioned last week that we could set goals for craft and writer-development tasks too, such as reading craft books or attending workshops to work on our writing weaknesses. In truth, there are far more non-business things we could include in a “business” plan than we might assume.

When Is a Business Plan Not about the Business Plan?

As I mentioned in the last post, I came up with the worksheet as a way to capture everything I wanted to include in a business plan for myself. Appropriately, after finishing that post I spent the next two days working on my business plan, and I can now testify that the template works. *smile*

I used the descriptions on the worksheet itself, along with the questions and bullet points in my last post to come up what to include. Then I copied some of the verbiage from Denise Grover Swank’s fantastic example here, here, and here for the blah-blah-blah business-y stuff.

Ta-da! Twenty pages later, I was done.

But during that process, I realized the real value of completing a business plan. I found so much value from forcing myself to think through my goals and priorities that I’d now say it’s a good idea for writers at any stage to go through this process earlier rather than later.

Think Flexibility—In Every Aspect of Planning

I’ve spoken a lot here on my blog about how we need to know our goals. So I thought I was well-versed in my priorities and how those combined with my values to create goals for myself. Eh, as I discovered when trying to come up with my business plan, not so much.

If we don’t write things down, it’s easy to think about an issue on a superficial level. The process of putting our goals or priorities to paper is different, especially if we then translate those ideas into strategies. Writing down our goals can force us to think through an issue, to think deeper and see the “end game.”

In other words, the real benefit to writing up a business plan can be in translating those “what” goals into “how” strategies. And that benefit isn’t limited to only those authors with “X” experience or on the “Y” publishing path.

I fully expect my plan to be blown to smithereens at first contact with the “enemy”—reality. But the fact that I did all that thinking as part of my planning means I’ll be better prepared for whatever chaos I encounter.

Whether the plan actually works or not is somewhat irrelevant, as Robert Doucette commented on my last post:

“The benefits of a well thought out business plan are psychological as well as strategic. It helps to focus efforts.”

Circumstances and situations will always change, but knowing our priorities, goals, and values means that we might just need to tweak our strategies to adapt to the new details:

  • Low sales? Let’s figure out what promotion strategies are in line with our values.
  • Hot new genre? Let’s decide if our goals support a strategy of chasing genre trends.
  • Kindle Unlimited? Let’s analyze whether this affects our strategy for our distribution goals.

Questions like those—and thousands more we could never anticipate—can be answered when we know our beliefs, values, priorities, etc. We don’t need to think of every question, every possibility, every industry upheaval we might encounter. Instead, if we know what drives us, we’ll be able to apply that knowledge to any situation.

So… Should New Writers Create a Business Plan Too?

Because of the value in actually thinking things through, I’d say writers at any stage could benefit from completing a business plan. Of course, a newbie writer’s business plan would look very different from a plan of a multi-published author. That’s okay and to be expected.

I tried keeping the worksheet I created flexible enough to apply to traditionally published and self-published authors. That flexibility means parts of it still apply to those authors climbing the new-writer learning curve as well.

If we’re first starting out, we could still use the worksheet to think about our goals and priorities:

  • Description of Author Business: This section can be a summary of our author and career development goals, anything from learning the craft to entering contests or querying agents. The point is figuring out why we’re doing what we’re doing and identifying—in the big picture—what actions we have to take to get there. A newbie author’s goals might be to finish their first story by x date and find beta readers. That’s their purpose at that point in time.
  • Operation of Author Business: This section can simply state our preferred publication path. Will we pursue traditional publishing, and if so, are we looking for an agent or submitting directly to smaller publishers? Or do we plan to self-publish? Again this point is about defining what we want and how we currently plan on getting there.
  • Product Plan: The section can be a statement of the types of stories we plan on writing, length, genre, etc. What do we want our author career to look like?
  • Marketing Plan: This section can delve into our thoughts of social media, blogging, and promotion. How do we want to connect with others? Do we want to blog? What do we want our brand—the impression others have of us—to be? What topics might we chat about on our blog or social media?
  • Competitive Analysis: This section can identify authors in our genre we look up to. Those authors can become our “virtual mentors.” Even if we’re not able to form relationships with them to create a real mentorship, we can still watch and learn from them. How do they reach out to their readers, how do they relate to others, and what contacts have they formed within the industry? What do readers love about their stories? Do the authors talk about how they reached their level of success?
  • Development Plan: This section can lay out how we plan to reach our goals. Will we save up for a craft workshop or a writing conference? Will we send out x number of queries a month? Will we aim for y number of words in our draft each day?

A business plan for a newbie writer might be only a page or two long. Again, that’s okay. No one has to match my twenty-page, very intimidating (to me!) plan. If we’ve thought through the questions and issues, that’s good enough.

Once we have a business plan, we should review it occasionally to see where our goals or plans might have changed. Personally, I plan on revisiting my business plan every quarter. That will be a good opportunity for me to gauge my progress and make sure I’m still on the right path for me.

I have a Fortune Cookie “fortune” tacked above my desk:

A dream is just a dream.
A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.

That’s why business plans are important to our success, no matter our experience level. A business plan is the literal embodiment of “a plan and a deadline.” Without those elements, it’s harder for us to reach our definition of success.

However, we also don’t need to stress about our plan and “failing” ourselves. Whether we’re a newbie writer or an experienced author, our plan is just that—a plan.

It’s okay if nothing goes to plan. The real value is in the thinking we did to come up with the plan. That thinking about our goals, values, and priorities can be applied to whatever reality looks like, no matter how different that is from our plan. *smile*

If you’ve written a business plan, did your experience of the value of thinking through your goals match mine? Do you disagree about when writers should write a business plan? Can you think of other reasons newer writers should work on a business plan? What reasons should a newer writer not worry about creating one? How else could a newer writer approach a business plan?

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What do you think?

18 Comments on "When Do Writers Need a Business Plan?"

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Jordan McCollum

I made a business plan six months before I published my first novel. The production schedule aspect is really useful (and probably the most useful part of the business plan for someone who isn’t turning to the business in the near future).Though I’d been writing for years at that point, I vastly overestimated what I could do in a year. The next year (this year), I put everything on my production schedule and then took about 1/3 to 1/2 off. I imagine I’ll have to do that twice over again next year.

Donna Hole

Twenty pages later? Wow, that’s a novella!

I love the quote.

Carradee

A problem I keep running into is I tend to plan as if I’m healthy and well. I’m not. No matter what plans I make, something tosses a wrench in them. If I intentionally lowball plans to account for my poor health, something else tends to pop up and keep me from hitting even those.

I have a high pain threshold. If I didn’t, I’d likely be non-functional, because I’m always in pain. The threshold means I don’t notice the pain unless it’s different from usual, sharp, or unusually severe.

I spent an hour today sprawled on the floor because my right adrenal gland abruptly started yelling at me. (There’s a specific back pain that I’ve learned to recognize as my adrenal glands. The thyroid has a particular neck pain.) All I could do was lay on my stomach and rub my back, hoping that would work, and kick myself for having all the ingredients I need to treat the underlying problem but for not having the ability to actually put the treatment together to be able to take it.

It’s frustrating. I’m slowly getting better overall, but I’m tired of it all…and wondering how much worse the next decades are going to be, if I’m this unwell while in my “prime”.

Sharla Rae

Hi Jami. Another great blog. I’m glad you see the need the flexibility. I have a few health issues myself. I do have some plans but they are what I call loosie-goosie. 🙂 Right now my goal is get the books out, back list first and then the new one, while write yet another book. For me that’s huge. And in the background I’m developing a new website and tweeting fellow authors. Perhaps one day they will do the same for me. 🙂

Kirsten

I think the idea of a business plan might be quite intimidating for a new writer, although the concepts within it (things like word count goals, authors we admire, ways to improve craft) are definitely something a beginner should wrap his head around. Maybe the trick is not to plan too far ahead because one could easily get overwhelmed. Or, if you want to dream big, be realistic about all the smaller steps it takes to get there.
In any case a list of goals will make it so much easier to keep track of progress!

Emma Burcart

This is great! I know, and have written down, my big long term goals and from those I make short term goals which I keep posted above my desk. Knowing the long term goals helps me determine whether or not the small term goals are something worth my time. But, I have never put it all together into one cohesive plan. I am definitely going to try it out. Thank you!

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