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October 20, 2015

What’s Your Long-Term Plan?

Plant growing in cement with text: How Can We Avoid a Dead-End Career?

Back when we first started on our writing journey, we might have been writing for ourselves. Maybe we had a cool idea we wanted to capture. Maybe we wanted to see if we could actually write a story. Or maybe we wanted to give the voices in our head a place to live and grow. (That last one applies to me. *smile*)

But for many of us, we expanded our goals somewhere along the line. Instead of writing only for us, we now have additional purposes in mind.

As soon as we look beyond ourselves and think of sharing our writing with others, our focus changes—at least a bit. We might…:

  • work with a beta reader or critique partner
  • write a query letter to pursue traditional publication
  • submit directly to publishers
  • publish on our site or a site like WattPad
  • find an editor or cover artist to make our story more appealing
  • list our book for sale on Amazon or another retailer, etc.

Each of those choices is a commitment to a purpose outside of ourselves. We’re now at least partially focused on what others think of our work and might even be trying to sell our work.

That means we’re one step closer to thinking of our writing beyond just being a lark that we’re doing because we feel like it. The question is, are we ready with a plan that will support that next step and the steps after that?

The First Step: Thinking Like a Business-Person

Ugh, really? Do we have to? What if we don’t have a business mindset? (I can hear it all now… *grin*)

The truth is that whether we want to think of ourselves as business people or not, as soon as we take one of those actions above, we’re turning our writing into a product. We might still give our work away for free or decide not to publish it at all, but at those points above, we’re thinking of our writing as something to be consumed by others—i.e., a product.

Did you shudder in horror at that thought? *smile* Many of us would rather think of our stories as our babies or as artistic endeavors, not as products. That can sound so cold and calculating.

But the business mindset doesn’t have to be that way. Some people paint all businesses and business people with a broad brush that makes them out to be greedy, selfish, single-minded, etc. Understandably, we might recoil from the idea that our creativity would get anywhere near that concept.

Yet we can be a business person and still be an artist. Really. *smile*

The Difference Our Goals Make

I’ve written before about the differences between artist-authors and professional-authors, but as I mentioned in that post, the choice isn’t exclusive. For all my posts about business plans and branding, I also have posts about all aspects of writing craft. In other words, I’m a mix of the two extremes.

I’d guess most long-term writers are a combination of artist and business-person. Those who start off as pure artist-authors can’t spend unlimited time on a non-paying activity. At some point, they’d have to either limit their writing time to focus on their livelihood, or they’d think about how to make the time investment worth it.

Those who care only about the money would be equally rare. Maybe they started as a speculator, tempted by a “get rich quick” scheme touting the “new gold rush” of self-publishing. When they discover the truth isn’t quick or rich, they’ll lose interest and move on to something else. Or if they do get lucky with a lot of income, they’ll get bored if there’s no artist’s passion driving their work.

In short, neither extreme is sustainable. That’s an important concept because it gives us a way of thinking of ourselves as business-people without even a hint of the mercenary stereotypes.

How Do We Sustain Our Dream of Writing?

I really liked this quote by Danny Iny, a marketer who emphasizes people, connections, and relationships more than money:

"Business is about building a sustainable way of making the impact that you care about making." - Danny Iny

Truth… If we want to continue writing, we need to have a sustainable way to continue.

Short-term goals won’t cut it. A plan to work ourselves to the bone will lead to burnout over the long run. We can’t count on income from this book bringing in enough money to afford a second book. Etc., etc.

Thinking about how to have the ability to continue to write is thinking like a business-person while acknowledging our artistic desire:

  • At the avoid-all-business-stuff extreme, we could give every story away for free, but we need a plan somewhere else in our life to make that approach sustainable. Do we make money in different ways? Do we live on our parents’ couch? Do we ask for “pay what you want” donations?
  • At the all-business-all-the-time extreme, we could focus only on making money, but if we’re over-charging compared to the market, that’s not sustainable either. People won’t support businesses that charge too much, and competitors will come in and undercut those high prices.

Again, neither extreme is sustainable long term. If we want a long-term career, we need a long-term plan.

I also like the above quote because it embraces the artist’s side of why we’re doing this at all. We want to make an impact with our words. We’re passionate and care about sharing our words.

So the best long-term plan for us probably has a mixed focus:

  • We need to find the place between the artist-author and professional-author extremes where we can share our work with others by using a sustainable plan—one that allows us to continue writing and continue sharing and continue making an impact.

Each of us might be more comfortable somewhere different along that spectrum, but long-term, we need to find the balance of artist and business-person that works for us.

How Do We Come Up with that Long-Term Plan?

Are we panicking yet? “Wait! I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up yet. How can I come up with a long-term plan for writing?”

Don’t worry—we don’t have to come up with a detailed plan. *smile*

Coming up with a long-term plan might just mean that we’ve thought through:

  • our priorities (writing vs. school/day job vs. family vs. other hobbies, etc.)
  • our goals (income vs. number of readers vs. reviews, etc.)
  • what our ideal life balance looks like
  • what aspects of writing make us happy
  • what we could change to be even happier
  • what we’re willing to sacrifice
  • what writing goals and commitments won’t lead to burnout
  • what schedule we could maintain indefinitely, etc.

Why Is a Long-Term Plan Important?

What we’re willing to sacrifice (watching TV, etc.) or commit to (2K words a day, etc.) short term can be very different from what we’re willing to sacrifice or commit to long term. We can certainly make short-term sacrifices and commitments too, but somewhere in the back of our head, we need to think about the expiration date for those.

If we’re looking for buy-in from our families, the difference between short- and long-term sacrifices can be critical. Support from our family to dedicate every hour of every weekend to writing during NaNoWriMo is different from asking for writing-weekends indefinitely.

I’ll tell you right now that my publication schedule of 4 books this year will not be continued. I managed to pull it off this time because I already had those books written. This year has been full of short-term sacrifices to make that schedule work, but I wouldn’t want to continue those sacrifices forever. In future years, I’m aiming for 2 new novels a year.

We don’t want to be one of those who makes commitments to our publishers or readers and then flake. The consequences of making—and then missing—deadlines can be major.

When we’re making long-term decisions, it’s better to think about what schedule and commitments we could keep up with long term. That kind of thinking can keep us from making decisions that will leave us broke, burned out, frustrated, or feeling stuck, lost, or like a failure.

Focusing too much on our artist side or too much on our business side can cause problems and lead to an early end of our writing career. If it’s important for us to be able to write for many years to come, then we should think about how we can sustain our writing over the long term. *smile*

Do you know writers who dropped out or failed because they didn’t think long term? Do you agree that the best long-term plan would have a mix of artistic passion and business logic to be sustainable? Do you have a long-term plan? What aspects are easiest for you to think about? Which aspects are the hardest?

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What do you think?

48 Comments on "What’s Your Long-Term Plan?"

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Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

I totally agree that a long-term plan must have characteristics of both business and art. I just hope i end up doing it to maximize my own potential. It is scary and a little off putting…am i doing it right? Am I writing enough? Marketing enough?
This job isn’t for the faint of heart. But i love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Thanks for your wisdom, Jami!!
Have a great day,
Tamara

Rona Courtney
Rona Courtney

I’m actually trying to hold off on making a long-term plan. I just finished my first full-length novel, and it’s currently in its “rest phase.” I need to figure out how long it takes me to do a self-edit (I’ve already contacted an editor), and see how long that process takes before I know what I’m capable of realistically doing. I actually love my dayjob, but those two need to be integrated. What I want to do and what I can do make be totally off the mark, but I won’t know until I get further into this process, if that makes sense.

As a reader, one of my favorite authors was well over a year late with a book release. As in, I pre-ordered it 3-4 months in advance, took it off pre-order after a year, and then purchased it when it came out last week. The book was great, but I don’t know if it was a year late great. Another reason long-term goals and realistic expectations are so important. I do not want to be that author, even if it means slowing down my production schedule.

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)
This is certainly my problem right now. I used to HATE the term “Day job” because to me (when I was younger) that meant I had to “live a lie” to make a living, I don’t feel that way anymore, but I don’t want to it to be too much a “Jeckyl and Hyde” 180 situation. I don’t think that’s either professionally or emotionally healthy, at least for me. But the biggest challenge is finding something outside the “college bubble” most careers are trapped in. At this point, I feel like the only thing I qualify for is to be somebody’s janitor, and again, not something I could live with. Nor would that pay well. Yet apparently that’s what most people think someone who’s not an academic marvel is able to do. Since I don’t fit in most established fields, I thought the only way I’d make any money was to be in business for myself, but since that involves skills I don’t have and “investments” I can’t make, I’m at square one again. It always seems the careers that attracted me were the ones that are the hardest to succeed in. I’ve always been enamored with the arts. At 4, ballet (don’t laugh!), at 10 concert pianist/singer-songwriter, from 12-16 a chef, and 16-28+ I still want to be an author (even launch my own REAL publishing house WAY in the future) So, I’m kind of mad with God (or whatever high power there is) that I wasn’t blessed with… Read more »
Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Hmm I also don’t want to give up on my ideal day job. (I’m applying to grad schools for counselling now. ^^) This ideal day job would be something that’s meaningful and enjoyable to me, and though I wouldn’t prioritize it as no. 1 (writing will always be my no. 1), I will definitely want to keep it. So no, I don’t want to be a full-time writer, haha, which would be physically too tiring for me anyway. Oh yes, writing started off as just fun when I was a kid. But when I grew older, I began to be more interested in letting others read, and being less shy about doing so. And of course, now I’m self-publishing and looking for beta readers (which is very hard). Making money is not absolutely necessary, as my goal is still to reach out to readers rather than earning money (I already have my day job for that.) Oh yes, I would probably want to put up at least some of my stories, both English and Chinese, on Wattpad and maybe Fictionpress or other online story sites to maximize exposure, since again, I care more about getting more readers than to earn money. So yes, definitely with you that we can be both an artist and professional/entrepreneurial writer! What I enjoy most is definitely the writing process itself and getting to see and hear my beloved story characters. I’m still so in love with my main villain, hahaha (does that make me… Read more »
Marcy Kennedy

I think about this type of thing every time I see a post talking about how writers need to say no to their friends or give up on (insert beloved hobby here) or stay up late or get up early to write. I read those posts and think “that’s not sustainable.” At least, it’s not sustainable if you want to be a healthy person with healthy relationships.

I’m struggling through long-term planning right now because, even though I have long-term business plans, I’ve been working and sacrificing with a short-term mentality, and that will lead me to a breakdown soon if I’m not careful 🙂

Thanks for another great post!

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

I know what you mean, Marcy, I think part of why people put such hard lines in the sand about what to “give up” is because they’re just trying to point out that it does take great effort to achieve your goals in this business.

But I agree, some people can get too “Drill Sargent Cavalier” about everything.

I got so frustrated with people like that I got myself banned from a forum over talking about this issue.

Truthfully I did get mean and trollish, but it didn’t help when some of the writers on that forum used their parent/writer status as a reason to make me feel like I’m flaky baby because I’m not this
level-headed, no-nonsense tyrant, and yeah I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was how it felt at the time.

I’m certainly sorry for the jerky way I acted, but I can’t apologize for what I struggled with, it wasn’t “All in my head.”

It was REAL.

It. HURT.

I didn’t know how to make it better.

I just regret that I didn’t say it in a better way. I try really hard to do that now, but I know I still get emotional, it’s just a part of me I can’t erase, I just try not be mean about it.

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

An aside, I don’t want to work in culinary anymore.

I’m fine with that. Jami. I was just giving an example of one of the many things I thought about doing as a career before the notion of being an author came along. It’s not like I came into this world with the burning passion to write as some authors did.

I didn’t learn to love reading (as entertainment) until I was 16! That’s why working through this art and commerce stuff is so hard for me.

Yes, I know you don’t have to have your own restaurant to work in culinary. But I can’t work in that high-power environment.

That said, working in a cafeteria doesn’t work for me. I’d much rather cook for myself (and someday someone else) where I don’t have to wear hairnets or compromise on quality ingredients. Plus, it just reminds of my painful times in school I’d rather not relive however tangentially, and yes, I know not all cafeterias are in schools…(Sigh)

Glynis Jolly

As much as I’d love to trash the business side of writing, I know I shouldn’t. Because I have yet to publish a novel, the business idea is so vague it’s transparent. Yet, I do think about that day when my book is finally ready to be shared with the world occasionally and how I can help it be a succress. I do need to get going on some strategies to help the income right now. I’m leaning heavily toward writing for magazines and the such. Of course, this means selling the establishments on my skills with articles and short stories. More business stuff, yuck.

Carradee

I think that, for the majority of people, artistry and business need combining, but there are some rare folks who succeed with only one or the other. For instance, some folks can write something they don’t care for in such a way that hides their own dislike, so if they pursue writing for the business rather than artistry, they’ll do better than most others, whose feelings would bleed through.

Artistry and business aren’t hard for me to think about to plan. The hard part is remembering my health and other factors that interfere with my plans.

What’s working best are the long-goal plans, like the posting on Wattpad, that have plenty of room to recover when my self-sabotaging streak acts up.

Deborah Makarios

I’m glad I don’t think of my writing projects as my babies. It would make it much harder to leave them in a drawer for six months while I work on something else 🙂

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[…] writing career is stuck and 3 ways to fire up your writing career today. Jami Gold suggests writers have a long-term plan to avoid a dead-end […]

Julie Glover

Fabulous insight here. One of the issues I see is one writer suggesting that another writer have the same or similar long-term plan. I hate those “you’re not a real writer unless…” statements some people make. We have to determine our own priorities, and one writer may want to put out 6 books a year while another is happy to put out 6 books in a lifetime. Both should be perfectly fine. What’s important is to understand our own goals and abilities.

Thanks for another great article, Jami!

Carradee

Agreed! The only “You’re not a real writer unless…”s true is “You’re not a real writer unless you write”—but there’s nothing that says a writer can’t take a hiatus.

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[…] Elgamal has 26 reasons to get up and do it. If you want to keep writing, Jami Gold explains why a long-term plan is necessary, and Janice Hardy shows how to stay motivated with writing […]

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