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?


  1. I guess I don't really have a business plan. My goal was one book. I guess my path has gone beyond my original plans.

  2. Alex, if you had a clear goal in mind, and if that was the end rather than just a means to an end, then I'd say you had the germ of a business plan. And plans are meant to grow as your path develops. Question is, what are you driving for now?

  3. I treat my writing more as a hobby than as a business. I enjoy the adventures, but I know it will never pay my day-to-day bills, so I don't give it much more thought than the effort one puts into any free time activity.

    I've avoided publishers that request a "business plan" along with a query letter. Those that want to know what your long term writing goals are, and how dedicated the author is in self promoting, and what expenses the writer is willing to absorb to get their author name and product out there. I'm still the sole supporter of my family, so putting a lot of time, energy and money into my writing obsession just isn't in my planner. Maybe in 10-15 years when I retire . .

    Now days, being a writer just isn't enough - unless you're lucky enough to land a big six contract. Indy authors have to put their whole life on the line for the prospect of one book sale. I'm not committed enough to the career, and while some authors are able to garner enough sales in these blogs to make the writing lucrative, it is still a crap shoot.

    I applaud the dedication of those authors who are willing to go all out in the commitment though. They are the source of many success stories, and keep the dream alive for many hopeful authors.


  4. A business plan for a writer is a good idea. I'm a fan of plans as I know I need deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise) to get me writing. So I do an annual plan, then break it into monthly tasks and weekly ones. I also track submissions (successful ones and otherwise) and can see my progress. It's really helped me in the longterm as I can see improvements and see past any "dips".

  5. My only business plan is quite simple, really: to publish short stories. In magazines. Online or in print. Since I'm not interested in publishing a novel at this point, things are a lot simpler on my end. Write story. Submit story to pub. Wait to hear back from editor (or slush reader). Rejoice if sold, move on to other pub if rejected.

    Nice and easy.

    The only business tool I employ in this pursuit is the spreadsheet which keeps track of my submissions: where they go to, when they went out, when they come back, how much I got paid for which. It helps when I have multiple submissions out at one time.

  6. You're right. I grimaced at the words business plan! :) And I also should probably sit down and come up with solid goals. Right now I think my goal has to been to move my writing career to the next level, which to me, means selling my latest book to a major publisher. It's out on sub right now so I've got every finger crossed (which makes typing a little tricky). ;)

  7. Donna, that's a perfectly good choice. Not everyone wants to treat this like a business.

    Wordfoolery, I need plans too, to keep me on the straight & narrow. I also need to be able to see progress in some visual form.

    David, sounds like you know what you want to achieve. Nobody says a business plan has to be complicated :)

    Johanna, I think you've hit the point where I decided I needed to dig a bit deeper. My novel was out on submission for ages because I hadn't thought further than sell to a major publisher. Then I delved behind the scenes to look at what was actually important to me, and that perspective can open your eyes to other ways to achieve your real goals.

  8. These are some great questions to ask. I definitely write for the love of immersing myself into my own imagination and want to publish to share my imagination with the world. But, I also would love to make enough $$ to quit my day job, which I hate--mostly because it eats up all my writing time. If I could be paid enough to write all day, I would reach my ultimate goal.


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