Anna Castle and I connected not too long ago when I found an article she had written about building a plan for her writing efforts. She is the author of the Francis Bacon series. Book 3, The Widows Guild, has just been released. Today, Anna is discussing two aspects of business planning for authors. Over to you, Anna.
I’m seeing a lot of articles this year about business plans and strategic planning for authors; part of the increasing professionalization of the indie publishing revolution. A good example of this kind can be found right here on Mary’s blog. Many of these articles focus on branding, identifying audiences, and marketing plans, all very useful advice. I’d like to focus on two other components of the author’s plan: the mission statement and the publication schedule.
The mission statement
This is where you state your goals. What do you want to achieve with your writing? Most self-publishing advice seems to assume everyone’s goal is to make as much money as possible. If that really is your goal, great; go for it! If it isn’t, also great. There are many possible goals, all of them worthy. Recognizing yours will help you determine your strategies and also to know when you’ve succeeded.
Example 1: Your goal is to get in the game. Everyone’s publishing these days, why shouldn’t you? You haven’t written much so far, but love fiction and want to give writing a whirl.
In this case, your best strategy might be to join Wattpad and some fan fiction forums. You’ll maximize interaction, get instant feedback on your writing, and hone your skills while having a whale of a good time. You might discover that you love writing and move toward a more professional program, or decide you’ve had enough and would rather be doing photography.
Example 2: Your goal is to tell the story of your grandparents, who had a founding role in the history of your community (whatever scale that might be.) You want everyone for whom that story might be important to be able to read it: your extended family, local historical societies, genealogists, etc. Naturally, you want to write the best book you can, but you may never write another one and you don’t care a fig for the bestseller lists or building a fan base.
In this case, your strategic plan might include reading a specified list of biographies, taking writing courses, and visiting every local history museum you can reach. (Good strategic plans always include fun outings.)
Example 3: You’re a retired person who has always wanted to write novels and now find yourself in the happy position of being able to do so full-time. (This would be me.) You wouldn’t mind making money, but it’s not your primary goal. The muse is driving your bookmobile; you write what you want. Once written, however, you want your work to find the audience who will love it. You would also like to be recognized in the writing community as a qualified professional.
In this case, you’ll spend time working out a publication schedule, as a way of sorting out your writing projects. You’ll learn how to market your work, but you won’t try to fit your work to the most popular market. You’ll seek opportunities to give talks at local libraries and writers’ organizations and you’ll go to conferences (the fun outing portion of the program.) Your financial goal may as simple as getting to the point where the writing pays for itself.
The publication schedule
This is where you decide what to write next – and then the book after that and the book after that. Examples 1 and 2 above don’t have to do this. Career authors, even retirement-career authors, will benefit from this level of planning.
To devise a production schedule, you have to know how long it takes you to finish a book. There are two ways to determine this number, like buying a dress online. You can chose an aspirational size and force yourself into it, or you can get out the tape measure and adjust to reality. The first method is easier at the front end (no planning), but can be painful in the execution.
I recommend the second method. Keep a worklog while you write your next book, noting when you start and finish each stage. For me, the stages are plotting, first draft, second draft, feeding the book through the critique group process, third draft, copyediting and proofing, formatting, and publishing. That sounds like a lot, but if I skip the mid-book angst and don’t do distracting things like remodel my house, I can finish a book in a little under six months. (There’s overlap: I’m writing a new book during the four months it takes the last book to get through my group.)
This will be different for everyone and there’s no right or wrong answer.
The mission is what matters
If your goal is to make a good living writing novels, you should pay attention to what sells. You’ll also want to tighten up your production schedule, because you need a regular flow of new products. But if trying to write faster or trying to write whatever’s most popular this year makes you miserable, you might consider rethinking your goals.
One of the hardest things for me is deciding what to write next. (I have 4 series rumbling around in my head.) Trying to be sensible about the business side helps me make that decision. For example, I’ve just published book 3 of my Francis Bacon series. My plan tells me to start doing some serious marketing, which is having the result of gaining more positive interest in my books, which I am enjoying.
My neatly balanced plan now tells me I should be working on my Texas series, sending book 2 through my critique group while writing book 3. But the group says book 2 needs more work than I anticipated, which means I won’t finish book 3 until spring and thus won’t be able to get back to the historical series for many months. That makes my heart sink; a sure sign that I need to revisit my mission statement. (When you’re obeying your muse, the heart rises.)
My business plan expresses my unique, personal balance of time, desire, imagination, and marketing. By pondering it, I found the answer. I’ll finish this Texas book, because leaving books unfinished drives me crazy. (One of the best reasons to publish is to get the thing out of the house once and for all.) But book 3 can wait until I’ve gone back to the past for another book, serving both a sensible business strategy and the historical characters clamoring for attention in the back of my mind. I’m re-balancing my series so that rather than being equal, one is now primary and the other secondary. The new plan still reserves December and January for short stories, which are practical marketing tools that allow me to touch base with neglected characters without taking months out of my schedule.
The beauty of self-publishing is that all of this is entirely in my own hands. The mission statement supplies the balls and the publication schedule shows me how to juggle them.
Gold, Jami. 2015. “Indie publishing paths: Do you know your goals?” Janice Hardy’s Fiction University
Swank, Denise Grover. 2012. “A business plan for self-published authors (Part one of a three part series),” The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing.
Tod, M. K. 2015. “Authors need to plan,” A Writer of History, August, 2015.
Worth, Maggie. 2015. “Strategic planning for writers: Adding in the details,” Romance Writers Report, October, 2015.
Many thanks, Anna. I’m delighted to see your focus on mission as well as the publication schedule. You and I clearly have lots in common!
The Widows Guild by Anna Castle
London, 1588: Someone is turning Catholics into widows, taking advantage of armada fever to mask the crimes. Francis Bacon is charged with identifying the murderer by the Andromache Society, a widows’ guild led by his formidable aunt. He must free his friends from the Tower, track an exotic poison, and untangle multiple crimes to determine if the motive is patriotism, greed, lunacy — or all three.