Writers Write. Successful Authors Write a Business Plan.

ss_gold_pensSeriously. I know no one likes to hear this, even my clients who are not of the “Author persuasion”, but without a business plan you are going NOWHERE. 

It is vital to have a business plan because your books and you are the products to be sold. It makes most writers queasy to even imagine selling themselves but without a plan, you can’t truly figure out a way for your book to sell itself. Think of it as a map guiding you from staving writer to successful author. 

Since I’m talking to writers, I’ve decided to take this nice and easy, no sudden movements or anything like that. Let’s start with a simple comparison … if you want to write a book, what do you need? Don’t say “nothing but your imagination” because we both know that’s not so. You need a slamming idea and you need some talent. Some writers begin the process with paper and pen, so you need paper and a pen, preferably one that works. If you’re not a pencil kinda writer, you’ve got a computer. Now, we’re not covering writer’s block or terminal confusion here, so let’s assume you now have your tools of preference and are ready to scratch out the next great American novel. We all know what comes next. 

Some writers work organically and let the story tell itself, some like outlines and some prefer pretty, colorful mind maps, charts or graphs. Short of the “organic” method, you’re on the road to understanding the business plan process. 

After the story is written, you edit, you get other people to read your work, you edit again and you begin the process of finding publication. Again, we’re not exploring agents or publishing methods today, so let’s move on. Any writer can write a book, good bad or mediocre, but only an author knows s/he also needs to write a business plan because only a successful author knows s/he is now in business. 

At what point do you start a business plan? 

I’m going to toss this out so duck if you’re too afraid to catch but … the business plan starts when you start writing the book. A business plan covers all aspects of the product. At the moment you begin a novel or non-fiction book, you must already have a clear vision of the message, the audience and even the venues where it can be sold. This isn’t wishful thinking, guys and gals, THIS is the beginning of your business plan. 

My strongest suggestion has always been to ask the business plan developer (that’s you) to start at the end. Start with your goal. Don’t be ridiculous and say you intend to be the next Dan Brown or Charlaine Harris, but trust that with the right strategy, you CAN be the next Dan Brown or Charlaine Harris eventually. They too had to go through this process, and as we all know, ya gotta pay your dues. 

Non-fiction writers will have a far better grasp on this concept than fiction writers for one simple reason … non-fiction writers are required to develop a proposal before they even start writing. If fiction writers adopt that process and take the same challenge, they are sure to have a better chance at sales success. A friend once told me, “I’d rather stick to the fantasy than write the facts of selling it.” Yeah, we argued. A lot. You can’t have success without both. 

So, realize that when you start writing your book, you also should start writing your business plan. If your book is finished, it’s not too late so no excuses there. 

How to write an Author’s Business Plan  

Ready? Take a deep breath. Now, imagine you’re sitting at the bank, talking across the desk to the loan manager and asking for money. What’s he going to ask you? Those are the questions you need to answer when putting together your business plan. 

  1. How much money to you want? This should be an easy answer. How successful do you want to be? Think of the imaginary loan amount as the financial success you want to gain from your book sales. Be realistic, you most likely won’t make millions with your first novel, but if you set the right strategy, you could make millions down the road with your fourth, fifth or sixth book. Honestly, few authors are millionaires, but there’s no reason why you can’t be one.
  2. How do you plan to organize and manage your product? Yes, they do ask that and you should have an answer when your imaginary load officer spits out those words. Exactly what is your plan for dealing with the organization and management of your new book? Should you have a publicist? Do you need an advertising agency? A book video? Imprinted bookmarks or tee shirts? Remember to research everything and be sure of the success rate for each element you want to employ. It’s a lot to think about. Can you do it alone (after all, who knows your book better than you do)? Managing the product means clearly understanding it. So now is a good time to face the fact that YOU are the product. Your creativity, your talent as a writer, your expertise, your personality, your skills … your book.
  3. Who will want to buy your product? Now is the time to jot down all those people who will want your book, why they’ll want it and how effective they’ll be at getting more people to want it. Know – really know – who your readership target is. Are they men? Women? Nothing is stranger than discovering more men read your book than women when you thought the complete opposite. Knowing your target reader is as important as knowing good spelling and grammar. It will determine the venues you choose when the book is ready to be sold. After clarifying your target, you can develop the perfect hook for your target. This is the bee line to reaching your market.
  4. What makes your product so special? You better know this or put down your pen right now. No point in writing a book if you don’t know why or if it’s special. Many writers write books they’d love to read, many write books marketing studies show readers are buying, some write books because the subject is risky or has never been explored before. KNOW why you and your book are special. It’s the backbone of a successful Author’s Business Plan.
  5. How do you plan to promote your product? Ugh, here’s where most writers cower into a corner. Relax. You know people, lots of people. And those people know people. You gotta put yourself out there. Of course there are the “big” things you must do; social networking, book events, gaining interviews, speaking engagements, seeking book reviews and attending book shows, but don’t forget your friends. Most writers have or have had another life, another career or another circle of activity that has made their lives full. When you, your publicist or publisher is sending out press releases, DO NOT FORGET YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Let old buddies from college or work know that you have a book out there. You may be surprised the buzz that can be generated when you post your book one-sheet at the dentist or vet’s office cork board. People like to support people they know. This is a powerful, easy tool to enhance the “big” stuff mentioned earlier.
  6. What are your marketing strategies? Think about it. Yes, it’s cool to have your book available on Amazon or in your local book store, but where else might it fit in perfectly? Stretch your mind and think this through. If your novel is about travel, maybe you should seek distribution at a travel agency or on travel agency websites. If the story revolves around people drinking coffee, cafes often sell gift items and books. Is the story about wine? Wineries have wonderful gift shops. If your novel is historic in nature, perhaps museum gift stores can be a venue. Be creative, after all, that’s what writers do … think creatively.
  7. What if you fail? Forget it. I have a very strong theory that failure is just a lack of seeking success. When someone tells you you can’t do something or market a book that way … try it anyway. Chances are it just hasn’t been tried or it hasn’t proven effective for someone less aggressive or creative. There’s a slogan I use with my clients. “We are the can-do team.” Go on, tell me I can’t and guess what … I do. So can you. 

Now you have an Author’s Business Plan  

It maps out who you want to sell your book to, how you want them to find or hear about the book, and how successful you want to be with it. See, that didn’t hurt one bit, did it? All you need to do now is follow the plan. Let it grow and fluctuate but always keep your eye on the prize. Ebb and flow in a good plan is positive, as long as the end goal is always at the top of your mind. Who knows, you may even exceed your expectations, but how will you ever know if you haven’t set them? 

Just like working on your book, show your business plan to people, let them make suggestions and offer ideas. Share what you’ve learned with other authors and again you will find your sphere of influence expanding. Everything about the process is good and positive. 

Now go back to writing the best book possible and I look forward to hearing all about it in the future!

Magnus - FINDING AUTHOR SUCCESS 750 x 1200Finding Author Success 2nd edition available in print & ebook Amazon, B&N, Sony, & Kobo

About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

38 responses to “Writers Write. Successful Authors Write a Business Plan.

  • On a limb with Claudia

    Great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Thanks and welcome Claudia. I know writing a “business plan” is a scary prospect, but made simple it can only drive success!

  • Kat

    This is painfully realistic. I’m a business person and a die-hard capitalist, but something in me squirms at writers *having* to do this for themselves. I know it’s the reality right now, but I think the publishers dropped the ball a long time ago in helping writers sell their work.

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    I agree, Kat. But publishers dropping the ball just may have been a good thing. We’ve all heard horror stories of how little control an author used to have over their product and how it was marketed. Perhaps now is the time for authors to take an active part in which way the train goes.

    Welcome to the blog, Kat. Pop by often!


  • Kat

    Hi Debbie! I think that control over the marketing is good, but isn’t trust in your publisher better? I’m acquainted with a lot of authors, and most of them don’t want to worry about anything regarding the marketing. Most of them wish they could just do what they do best — write — and be able to trust in their publishers to handle the rest, just as a good company trusts in its top sales people to do the thing they’re able to do best — sell.

    The lack of company values is a big culprit, and I think the whole industry needs a big overhaul. It’s soaked with distrust.

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Of course, trust in your publisher is important. BUT … the industry is changing before our very eyes. Publishers have cut back what they do for authors and how they do it. Many, many authors have opted for publication in non-traditional ways. Self publishing has always been a marketing grind for the author. Across the board, traditional agents and big publishing houses are requiring more efforts on an author’s part. Trusting a publisher and knowing what they’ll do for an author is two different things these days and it will be in flux for quite a while. I believe it’s far less a lack of “company” values and more a necessity of the economy we’re all facing here.

    It’s just the way the world is right now, so my suggestions are simply a way to flow through the new author responsibilities.

  • medleymisty

    Heh. I am very much not a capitalist and as long as I have shelter and food money doesn’t really matter to me, but I don’t mind marketing my work. I don’t care about cash, but I do want readers and comments.

    This is very interesting and I’ll bookmark it and keep it in mind.

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Welcome medleymisty! Thanks for the comment and do keep marketing in mind!


  • Ann Raina

    Hi Debbie,
    very interesting information! Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I tended to be an author who just liked to write and leave the rest to the world. The sales were okay, but not outstanding. Since English is not my first language, I have some peoblems with using all the possibilities the ebook publication offers, but I make progress. By now, I stretch out my virtual fingers to reach more readers and be present on the internet more than before. However, if I could I would just sit at my desk and write… 🙂

    Ann Raina

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Hey Ann! Thanks and welcome to the blog. Writers like you always amaze me – those to whom English is a second language. But as far as selling books, it’s all the same, we all need to work at it, be prepared and have a plan.

      Thanks for stopping by and come again!


  • Treneice

    Aloha Deborah

    Great information here-thanks for the kick-in-the boot- I needed that (lol). But seriously, I really appreciate the material that you have provided, this is information that I can take and apply in my business (as an Author). Please let me know if you’ve got any more info that would help. Thanks again and I’ll be sure to follow your work.

    Author of, “My Mother’s Heart: The Story of Brown Sugar”

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus


      So glad to meet you. Just a few things that might answer your question. I often teach workshops at SavvyAuthors.com (the next workshop is November15 – 19,”Roman Empire Promotions for Authors”, register here http://www.savvyauthors.com/vb/showevent.php?eventid=547) at WOW (women on writing), where I have several workshops scheduled in 2011 including the entire “Writing an Effective Book Business Plan” workshop. I do live workshops for writing groups in Southern California and I’m currently writing a book entitled “The Author Success Coach”.

      I’m always so thrilled to hear an author is finding success and using my tips!


  • John Shableski

    This is brilliant and desperately needed. I’ve forwarded it onto many of the comics creators and authors I know. I work in the book distribution world and it’s not surprising to see books selling well because the author is ‘user-friendly’. This means they are comfortable speaking in public about their work. The more charisma and presence an author has, the greater the effort and return from the publishing house. The hard fact of the business is that publishers pay better attention to things that are sexy, incredible and amazing…it’s how we, the consumers, make our buying decisions. We are all a part of the entertainment industry and whether the book is about political intrigue, moth collections or a memoir, the marketing effort is what will make or break the sales. As the author, you need to take a vested interest in making sure people know about the book. For every genre in publishing, there are superstars. The reason you have Grisham, Patterson, Evanovich, Brown, and the other big names is because they work their tails off to make it work. The publishers are always attracted to books that will be an easy sell and that will move a lot of inventory. As an author/business person, you are competing with more than just other authors, you are competing with NetFlix, McDonald Combo Meals, Nike and everything else you see advertised in the media. Be smart, be a business person as well as an author. You create a valuable product, don’t wait to be discovered. You have to make your sales happen.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus


      Thanks so much! I believe so much in this fact, that I’m currently writing a non-fic book entitled “The Author Success Coach”. The proposals are going out as we speak and it covers everything from Building a Book Business Plan to Publicity, Marketing and Promotion. More than that, it specifically addresses the needs of authors who are now publishing in e-publishing, small or medium independent publishing, self publishing or those getting those coveted big publishing deals and desperate to assure success!

      Thanks so much for your comments!

  • Robert

    Heh. It’s almost humourous how much I worry — rather, think about things a lot of people tell me NOT to think about during certain early stages of my products producTION — but indeed, I’m pretty sure having a business plan is SOMEwhat important, heheh…

    Yeah. Especially in the NON-superhero comics field.

    Thanks for reinstating the notion! (some things can never be reinstated enough! It’s so easy to forget to think when you’re caught up in the love of process)

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus


      It’s the absolute truth. Love of the process is what gets you started, but only a smart business approach keeps you going, and if you’re not thinking about, honing and polishing that plan while polishing your product, you just may be way behind the game.

      Best of luck! Come back again!

  • Business Reasons for Publishing | Words That Fit

    […] into the “how to get noticed by a publisher/write an attention-grabbing proposal” variety.   Deborah Riley-Magnus does the best job of anyone I’ve found so far in lucidly outlining what the author’s path-ahead […]

  • Robert Stebe

    I need to prepare a break-even analyis for my business plan, I am clueless as how to do this. I have no idea on how to estimate my cost or how many books I will sell.

  • Di Hill

    Just found this. Thanks for some great info. Di

  • Christine Hardy-Nolan

    Hi Deb, I am a first time author.. stay home single Mom with 4 little munchkins .. excited to take on this new career path! Your suggestions help me tremendously and I am hopeful that any success around my writings will be a gifts of real Charity for others. Gratefully, Chrisitne

  • Christine Hardy-Nolan

    Deb, You bet! Thank you for your kindness, Christine

  • Kevin Dorival@ Courage To Believe

    Awesome information for all authors. I like you you made me focus more on my target market. The Courage To Believe, my book (coming really soon) will benefit greatly by creating a business plan. As a matter of fact, I just finished it.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Congratulations on “The Courage to Fight” and feel confident, that with a strong Book Business Plan, you WILL succeed! It’s just a matter of making the plan and being diligent about following it!

  • 15 Links to help develop a Business Plan for Writers (and one that doesn’t) « Hunter's Writing

    […] Writers Write. Successful authors write a business plan by Deborah Riley-Magnus (2009). […]

  • sarahgracelogan

    This is so helpful. I’ve just started the second draft of a novel I wrote three years ago, and I’m determined to self-publish it after Christmas. Reading this has made me realise that I really can make this happen, and has shown me a way through the madness!

  • Michel

    My sister likes business plans and when I told her I had a copy of my newly published book in my hands her first question was how would people (or was it who would) buy it. I said I was talking to the first customer (her) on the phone.

  • [The Freelance Life] Writing Your Business Plan, Part 1

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