Recently I was on vacation in Arizona and on one of the last mornings there, my husband and I were having our morning tea outside enjoying the warm weather. He cleared his throat and without looking at me, oh so casually asked, ‘what I was going to do if this writing thing didn’t work out’.
He explained he just wanted to make sure I ended up being satisfied with my life and my career choices. Then came the real reason for the discussion. He had advice to give. “If you’re going to give writing a real chance then you need a business plan,” said Mr. VP Business Development.
Business Plan? Of course, I’d heard of them, but I’d never written one. We discussed it for the next hour and then I started researching on my own. According to Entrepreneur.com “A Business Plan is a written description of your business’s future. A document that tells what you plan to do and how you plan to do it.”
Okay, sounds simple enough. Maybe this is something could use. A living document that’s easy to read and adjust, detailed yet concise, and also a formal document, almost a contract with yourself. I did more research and the more I did the more I realized that all writers no matter the stage of their career should have a business plan. Something to list their goals, keep them on track and motivated.
I’m still in the midst of creating mine, but I’ll give you a rundown on the document I’ll be using, and the 10 Sections of it.
1. Executive Summary (The Dream): This is the part where you describe your ideal career. What type of author do you want to be? Who’s your market? How much do you make? How do you publish? How many books do you publish a year? Do you have speaking engagements? (Oprah, anyone?) What’s the goals for your books? #1 on the NYtimes list? Let yourself go here. What do you want? Keep it detailed and yet concise.
2. Five Year Goal: The Dream may take longer than five years. We’re going to plan the next five, knowing that the plan can change. Where do you want to be in five years time? Be honest. Include all aspects of your writing career. Secondary goals, income levels, publishing streams, secondary goals, etc… Again be detailed.
3. Product and Market (What I will write and for whom): In this section clearly define your writing over the next five years. What type of book(s) will you be writing? What length will they be? Describe as many of your books as possible or at least the genre. Try to make the book descriptions only a sentence or two long. (For example: Book one will be a YA Sci fi about a girl who’s a genetic experiment that failed. Book two will be the sequel. Book three will be a historical YA about a boy from England who follows his missionary father to Africa in the 1700s. etc…) This section also covers your target audience. Will it be YA, MG, Adult or picture books? Who are the type of people that read these books? Are they a saavy e-reader crowd? or do they rely on their parents to purchase for them? Try to figure out who your audience is. This will go a long ways to helping you write a story that will touch them.
4. Competitor Analysis: Research the other authors in your genre. Which ones are successful? And why? Is it their voice? Their prose? Their characters or their interesting plot? Is there anything similar between the successful authors of your genre? Also, research their platforms and promotions. Do they blog? FB? Tweet? Do they self-publish? Are they a hybrid author? How active are they in their own marketing? What are their strengths and weaknesses? You will be learning from them so do your research well!
5. Qualifications (Why You Will Be Successful): This section is where you get to tell what you bring to the writing business. Cover both the tangible skills and intangible qualities. Are you organized? Have an amazing imagination? Determined? Persistant? A social media guru? Belong to critique groups and organizations? Network? Go to Conferences? Know your story structure and the hero’s journey? Are willing to learn? Go crazy here and sell yourself to yourself. Show yourself why you can do this, why this is the right career for you.
6. Obstacles (And How You Will Overcome Them): Now that you’ve pumped yourself up, it’s time to use that energy to detail your personal obstacles to your writing dream and how you will deal with each of them. These could include things like your day job, your young children, a spouse who wants more of your time, friends who want more of your time, and, gasp… yourself. You will probably be your own worst obstacle. For myself it’s those times when I just want to sleep a bit longer, or I just want to watch my favourite tv show, or (a huge one for me) I let other tasks and people be put ahead of my writing (my career!). Now I know that getting paid, taking care of the family and all of that good stuff comes first. But be honest with where your time is going. Bob Mayer, who wrote Write It Forward – From Writer to Successful Author, recommends you profile yourself for a day. Keep track of everything you do and how long you do it for. You might be surprised by what you find and the amount of time you actually have in a day. (BTW I totally recommend either Bob’s book or his course.)
7. Promotion and Platform: This is where a lot of you might groan, but this is necessary work for any author who wants to publish no matter if it’s the traditional or indie route. Non-fiction writers need to spend a lot of time on this section especially. Most non-fiction writers need a platform (an already established audience) for their books. This section should cover online and real life strategies and marketing. Meaning blogging, FB, twitter, or other social media sites. How much time will you devote to building up your online community. Your strengths and weaknesses and how you will play to them or address them. How you will build a street team or garner interest in your writing using Wattpad or other such sites. Will you have mailouts? Newsletters? A series story on your blog? Will you mail cookies to everyone who buys your book? (Kidding) Seriously, this is a tough section for a lot of us. Look to your competitors. What are they doing? What are you willing to do? How will your sales income or lack of it affect your promotions?
8. Operations (Writing and Promotions Schedules): This section is the nitty-gritty of your daily, monthly and yearly goals. Wordcounts, writing schedules, platform building schedules (blogging time etc…), how many books, short stories, novellas per year all go into this section. Be specific and concrete, but also be realistic. Make sure it’s an uncomfortable goal, but an achievable one.
9. Secondary Goals and Professional Development: Here is where we detail anything not directly related to publishing. This could include speaking engagments, teaching, editing (for income), and how we’re going to achieve those goals. It should also include any professional development we plan to do in the next year to five years. Are you planning to go to writers conferences? Join associations? Take a writing course? An MFA? Or just planning on reading two craft books a year? Which ones and when? Make sure to be specific.
10. Conclusion (Promise to Yourself): Here is where you reiterate your five year goal and promise yourself that you will follow your business plan. You will list the priorities of the plan (writing, promotion, secondary goals) and of your life if you choose. If you do this, I have no doubt that you will be successful. Make sure you sign and date it.
Now you’re off and running. This is only the first step on the road to being an author. It’s a long road, but I believe with this plan as a map to guide us, we can all be successful. What do you think?