Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sample Business Plan for a Writer--Part 1

In the last couple of days, I've had several email requests to talk more about the long- and short-term plans I blogged about on Sunday. I responded to a couple of those emails individually. Each time I sent an email on the subject, I added more detail. I've now decided to simply blog on developing a business plan. It will probably take a couple of days to cover the whole subject.

As a writer, you are a small business. Think about a small business; what are its needs? We could probably make a list of twenty tasks, but I'm going to focus on the following: selecting your market, producing a product, providing for pre-production quality control, selling the product, providing post-production quality assurance, providing customer service, developing a brand, maintaining the physical plant, and staying in touch with industry trends.

For a writer these tasks would translate to: 1) decide on a genre and likely publishers, 2) write the book, 3) critique the book, 4) find an agent or publisher for the book, 4) do pre-publish edits, 5) target your advertising and develop a reader base, 6) develop a peer network, 7) maintain your office, and 8) keep on top of trends in the publishing industry. As a one-person business, you'll have to wear all the departmental hats. Try to be clear about which hat you are wearing at any one time; it will help define your behavior and prevent careless mistakes and messy situations.

From this point forward, I will be talking about the varying roles and sample goals you might have for them.

Let's assume you've already reviewed your market and thought about your personal preferences. You've decided you want to write romances. You've now established your industry niche. You need to develop mechanisms for networking in your niche and learning about your industry because you will gradually refine your niche to a more specific one, like inspirational romance or erotic romance.

To start, you might decide to join the local chapter of RWA, enroll on a Yahoo writers' group and subscribe to Romantic Times magazine. Specific job tasks would include attending the meetings and reading the articles on a regular basis. Don't skip meetings and don't let the magazines pile up.

You need to develop expectations for your role as product-producing writer. Decide what you can reasonably write in a day/week/month. I prefer to have a weekly goal; then I can decide how much or how little to write on any individual day. I started with a very small goal a couple of years ago, and now expect to do 12K words a week. That's 1,700 words every day or 2,400 words on weekdays with the weekends off. Sometimes, I will play hooky for several days and then stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning to catch up on the week's goal. At the point at which my manuscript sells, I will lower my word goal to 10K words a week to accommodate other tasks (copyedits and galleys and more aggressive marketing).

Once I had enough material that I was ready to switch to my quality control hat, I joined several critique groups--both in-person and online. An urgent task is to find quality critique partners that you can trust. It took me about a year and multiple groups to find those persons. A CP must have good writing skills, good interpersonal skills (be able to communicate well) and personal integrity. A CP who repeatedly asks for help, but who does not return the favor is no good. A CP who is only interested in her own success, and not equally interested in yours should be avoided. A CP who becomes competitive with you is defeating the purpose. A quality CP will work for your success and be as concerned about your manuscript as she is about her own. She will tell you the hard messages ("this manuscript needs work") because she wants you to succeed. She will celebrate your successes as she does her own. Treasure your CPs.

Remembering your other hats, you need to be thinking ahead even before you have a finished manuscript. To this end, about six months ago, I began to develop a website and began to practice blogging. I also established a discipline of writing in this blog every day. Right now, I've combined my "learning about the industry" goal with my "develop reader base goal" and mostly blog about the publishing industry, trends and related matters. When I'm published, I will move away from industry trends to issues of interest to readers. What I'm doing now is establishing the routine and the discipline.

More tomorrow . . .

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