Sunday, September 15, 2013

Writing - what business are you in?

A few more random thoughts on the business of writing.

Last time, I mentioned a load of different roles a businesslike writer should be aware of. I reckon that if you think about what you're doing, you'll find all of them are there to some degree, whether front and center and employing a high degree of discipline and maturity, or just enough to get by, or simply glossed over in passing. And you'll have made your own decisions those things you choose to do for yourself, and those you farm out to others.

If you intend to be in any way businesslike about things, one role that I suggest you should pay attention to - but which I bet most people wouldn't even think of - is that of business planner.

Do you have a business plan?

Was that a roll of the eyes there? Or a grimace of distaste? If the very idea sounds way too serious, then maybe that's because you don't truly understand...

What is a business plan?

There's all sorts of information out there, with guidelines and templates, and intimidating business jargon. It can all get a bit daunting, and it sounds way over the top for a humble indie writer.

To me, the one real purpose of a business plan is to get down on paper what is it that I'm trying to achieve - my goals. In other words, why am I doing this?

Put it like that, it's a lot closer to home. Have you ever asked yourself why you write? More tricky maybe, why do you want to be published?

Why is a business plan important?

To put it simply, if you don't understand why you're doing this, how do you know what success looks like? You've set off on a journey that will consume many hours of your time over many years, but how will you know when you've arrived somewhere worthwhile? And how can you tell whether or not your efforts are taking you in a worthwhile direction?

Well, if you make a few millions and can retire comfortably on your writing income then that would count as success in most people's books. But what if you put years of effort into earning those millions, only to realize that you're still not happy and you can't quite put your finger on why? More importantly, what about the other 99.99% of writers out there who will never earn enough to live on? Are they all failures?

Thing is, success comes in many different guises, not all of them measured in dollars. Defining success is an intensely personal process, which is why each of you should have your own business plan.

My own (very early and embryonic) plan is very brief and mentions a few goals, mostly to do with recognition: to be recognized by friends and industry colleagues as a successful writer; to hold a published copy of my work, and see it on bookstore shelves; to see my own artwork on a book cover. It only mentions one, extremely modest, financial goal: to break even in the second year of trading. In other words I just want my hobby to pay for itself.

This is very rough, and it could do with some tightening up to make the goals more "SMART" (= Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound), but it encapsulates the elements that are most important to me in my journey.

You'll notice it is not in any way ambitious financially. I wouldn't turn my nose up at a comfortable income, but that is not my goal at this point. This means that if I achieve these goals and it remains nothing more than a self-sustaining hobby I will be happy.

Of course, at some point in future I may wish to revise my plan and set myself new goals. That's OK. A plan is meant to guide me and free me from distractions. It is not a prison. If I want to change it, I will. But I will do so in my own time and on my own terms.

This is not something you can leave to an agent or publisher. They will define success in their own financial terms. Your business plan captures what is important to you.

So, what are your goals in writing? I don't just mean "publish novel X by date Y", I mean what are you trying to get out of your writing endeavor?  
What is important to you?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How many hats can you wear?

Last week, I talked about the business of writing, meaning taking a businesslike approach to the process of getting your writing out there into the big wide world. Even if you don't intend to create an officially registered business, it's worth asking yourself how serious you are about the whole process and how businesslike you want to be.

Being businesslike simply means applying suitable disciplines and making informed and deliberate choices to stack the odds of success in your favor.

As I've researched the ins and outs of self-publishing, it's become clear that an independent writer hoping to make a serious go of self-publishing has to juggle an awful lot of hats along the way.

That doesn't mean you actually have to wear all these hats, but you should at least be aware of them and decide what (if anything) you need from each.

Skipping the rather obvious role of actual writer (which is probably what most of us would like to concentrate on and skip all the rest), there are other obvious roles directly related to writing a novel, such as researcher, editor (in various flavors) and critiquer. Many of these, you may well do largely yourself or with the help of critique buddies.

These get you the meat of your product - the words on the page. To turn this into a marketable product (assuming you don't have a traditional publisher to do this for you) you need to throw in things like cover artist, graphic designer, book designer and formatter. Most of us would do well to get some expert help in these areas.

That gets you the content, and from there it seems a deceptively easy step to publication - pop it up on Amazon in a few minutes and wait for the $$ to roll in.

Yes? certainly can do that, and therein lies the problem. It's so easy, and a lot of people are doing it. Trouble is, will it achieve your publication goals - and do you even know what those are?

To be businesslike in all this, there's a milliner's paradise of ancillary hats to consider. Just from a quick brain dump I came up with: business owner, business planner, project manager, accountant, resource manager, lawyer, contract manager, promoter and sales person, web site designer and administrator ... maybe you can suggest some more that I've missed!

Of course, as I said earlier, you may not actually need all (or even any) of these. But before you discard them out of hand it's worth understanding what they might bring to the table and whether or not they might help you reach your goals. Some might be useful disciplines even with a traditional publishing deal. After all, the publisher's first interest is their own bottom line. Who's really looking after the dreams and ambitions of you, Solitary Author Inc.?

The question to ask in each of these roles is: how much (if anything) do you need to support your publishing efforts, and how much can you/should you do for yourself?
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