Seriously. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!