Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sample Business Plan for a Writer--Part III

This is the third in a series of blogs about the "business" of being a writer.

One of the things that you, the professional writer, need to do very early is set up a system for keeping track of your expenses. Which expenses, you ask? For starters: computer ink cartridges; paper; magazine subscriptions; online professional subscriptions (i.e. Publishers Marketplace); dues; conference fees; travel expenses (hotel, airfare, car, food); and mileage (to and from chapter meetings, critique meetings and the post office). Also, office supplies, postage, research expenses (books or magazines purchased), and photocopies. You can see where I'm going with this.

I keep a little book in my car. Whenever I drive to and from the post office to mail a manuscript or drive to and from my critique meetings, I note down the date and the mileage and the title of the work involved. All of these expenses are tax deductible while you are pursuing your career as a writer so long as you ALSO keep track of your query letters and the responses (either a rejection or an acceptance). You must be able to document that you were actively trying to earn money at your craft.

I've been talking about things to be done in addition to writing your manuscript. You'll also need to develop a calendar that will work for you. One on which you can note not only deadlines but other dates: conferences you want to attend or did attend, things you are expecting to receive from publishers or agents (galleys, returned contracts, royalty statements). I have two calendars (my PDA and a large wall calendar on which I can see things at a glance). Your calendar will be invaluable to you, both as a reminder of things to come and as a record of the year for tax purposes.

Merline Lovelace, best-selling Harlequin author, keeps a bar calendar to keep track of all her books in progress. Because she works for more than one publishing line, keeping track of her deadlines is vital. Each line on the graph represents one manuscript. She shows the date the contract was signed and then each future deadline for that manuscript. That way, she can see at one glance what she needs to be working on.

As you approach the last chapters of your manuscript, you should already have a list of places that you think might be interested in it. Are you planning to submit to e-publishers or print publishers? If you are targeting e-publishers, you can submit without an agent. If you are targeting print publishers, you probably want to consider an agent. While many print publishers accept unagented submissions, the wait for an unsolicited manuscript can be very long.

Many writers have chosen to start out with e-publishers because the submission process is much faster and easier. Also, e-publishers are much more open to accepting work by newer writers as well as shorter-length works. Many e-publishers will welcome manuscripts from 20K to 60k words. Print publishers are generally looking for longer-length manuscripts.

In recent months, the lines of demarcation between e-publishers and print publishers have begun to blur. E-pubs are beginning to produce hard copy books for their better selling authors. Print pubs are beginning to show an interest in online publishing. I fully expect that, in the future, you can expect your works to appear in both venues at one time.

A viable plan might be to submit your earlier, shorter works to e-publishers. As you become more comfortable in your new career, you can then consider writing longer length works (70K to 100K words). That might be the time to begin looking for an agent.

Another consideration is to know when you have a good manuscript on your hands. If you've got what you truly believe will be an easy manuscript to sell, don't sell it short. Hold out for the publisher you want rather than settling for the first one that offers. I've had two stories that had excerpts printed online as the result of contests. In both cases, I received numerous offers from small e-publishers wanting to contract the stories. I took a deep breath, thanked the publisher and held out. It was really, really hard to do. A bird in the hand, you know. But I was right. Those manuscripts were what snagged my agent's interest. By sticking to my business plan instead of going for short-term gratification, I'm a little closer to my goal.

More tomorrow . . .

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