Friday, April 5, 2013

Business Plans for Authors

I think it's safe to say that many of you lovely readers are writers. We love words and creating and art. We spend hours, days, weeks, months, and (for some of us) years crafting our perfect book. Sweat and tears (but hopefully not blood) are poured into our work, and we let that creative side roll. It's fun and beautiful and wonderful. 

But, unfortunately, that's not all there is to being a writer - at least, that's not all there is to being a published author. Whether you publish with a major Big Six (Five? Four? I can't keep up with the mergers anymore) House, a small press, an eBook exclusive house, or chose to go it alone-ish and self-publish, you are now a businessperson. Yep, that analytical, chart- and list-loving side of your brain finally gets to come out and play. (And if you are one who thinks that side of your brain lay down and died many moons ago, prepare to resuscitate it, because you'll need it now. But don't worry, it won't be too hard.) I'm going to be focusing on indie authors, because - hello! - this is an indie author blog, but I think a lot of this will apply to authors with big houses behind them as well, just maybe with a little tweaking.

Why does an author need a business plan? 


Good question; I'm glad you asked. As nice as it would be to be able to just sit at home and churn out words, the reality of indie publishing is that you are no longer just a writer; you are now a writer and a publisher, so all the major business decisions fall on you. I wrote a business plan for my massage studio*; I wrote a business plan for my alpaca farm; it only makes sense that I should write one for my writing and publishing. 

After all, this is a business. (Have I drilled that in enough yet?)

So what goes into a business plan? 


That really depends on you and how thorough you want to be. My business plan for Metamorphosis Books is twenty-one pages long. Plus I do an additional plan for each individual title. But I'm neurotically organized. It's likely you won't have quite as much in yours as I do in mine. (But if you want an idea of how detailed mine is, check out this blog series by Denise Grover Swank. She laid it out so well, and all I'd be doing is basically regurgitating a lot of stuff she said, and what's the fun in that?) At the very least, I think you need to focus on: 

  1. A vision for your business. (below)
  2.  A production schedule. When will your titles be released? When do you have to reach writing and editing milestones in order to make that happen? When do you need your cover by, and when will you start with promotions and publicity? (I will cover this next week.)
  3. A financial plan. How much is this going to cost you? What will you charge for your books? Where do your profits go? (I will be covering this in two weeks.)
There are a ton of other things you could add, but at the very least I suggest these three core items.

Let's talk about vision.


What are you hoping to accomplish? Are you just putting out one book, or are you setting yourself up for the future?  This is the part of your business plan where it's most important to be totally honest with yourself. Where do you really see yourself going with this adventure? It's okay to shoot high here and to plan for big things to happen. We're all dreamers, and while the nitty-gritty of business planning will ground us a bit in later weeks, we can lay out all our grand ideas here.


Please take the time to reflect and be honest with yourself about what YOU really want. Don't base your plan on anyone but yourself. It's easy to see what everyone else has and to try to go for that as well, but is it what you truly want? Example:

A bit more than a year ago, I was writing up my business plan for our alpaca farm. During the research phase, a lot of really cool things popped, and before long I was incorporating those numbers and ideas into my plan. The alpaca business was so cool! And, man, these people were making BANK.

But they were also dumping a ton of money into their business, giving ultrasounds to their pregnant dams, paying multi-thousand dollar stud fees just so they could get the best names in their pedigrees, traveling around the country ALL THE TIME to go to shows. They were performing monthly weigh-ins on their animals and sending fiber samples off to labs to get histogram readings. (It's okay if you don't know what that means.)

It was easy to get caught up in the excitement and pull of those big numbers, but when I made myself be completely honest about what I wanted, that lifestyle was not it. My husband grew up on a farm and has a livestock background; alpacas are livestock, but these farmers were not treating them this way. I didn't need - or want - the fancy gadgetry and hand-breeding; my animals know how to do the dirty just fine on their own, and their offspring are just as great. I don't need to win awards at shows and to have a piece of paper saying how great my animals' fiber is; the spinners and knitters I sell to don't care what the judges say - they just know good fiber.

Sorry to go all farm-talk on y'all. The point is: it was easy to see what others have and put those ideas into my plan. But when I really thought about it, I realized those weren't the things I wanted. Sure, they were great for those other farms, but just not for me. So now I run a very laid-back alpaca farm, very different from all those I researched before business planning, and I couldn't be happier with it. (Well, I could be happier if that one devil alpaca would stop eating our dog food, but that's beside the point.)

So take some time and think about what you really want out of your writing and publishing. It's fine to look at what others are doing and have accomplished**, but when it comes time to actually write your own plan, first try to put all of those other authors out of your mind so you can meditate on you. Once you figure yourself out, you're ready to write out the vision for your business.

Okay, I think I've gone on about long enough for one blog post. I'll be back next week to talk about production schedules.

Your homework for this week: if you've not yet done this, take some time to sit down and envision what you want from your writing and publishing. Where do you want your plan to take you? (And if you've already done this, take some time to read over what you have and re-evaluate. Are you still in line with what you originally planned? Business plans are fluid. Don't be afraid to change course.)

*This was before I destroyed my right shoulder and effectively squashed a steady massage career.

**It's actually really great and beneficial to research what others have done, and that research will come in handy for later parts of your plan. Just try to ignore the others for this part.


  1. Indeed, a business plan is important whether you are backed by a major publishing house or are going it alone in the publishing business. It contains your vision and mission statement, as well as how you are going to achieve those goals by looking at your strengths and weaknesses as an individual, especially if you're self-published. It will also help you strategize your finances and taxes so when it comes to filing your returns, you won't have much headache.

    Cory Saba @

  2. While it’s fun to write creatively, it’s also essential to write something that will set as a guidance for everything that we do. If one’s really intended to make writing career his/her bread and butter, outlining a business plan is definitely a must. Not only to establish their own mission and objectives, but to keep track of their quota and targeted margin as well.

    Cameron Scott