So you want to be a writer, eh? Good, me too. The question is, where to start? Nine years ago (that’s right, I said nine years) I started writing my first novel, ‘Settled,’ and at the same time I started writing another novel called ‘Till Then.’ I had no specific plan in place on what my goal was and no clue on what was actually needed to publish my books. Needless to say, I ‘Settled’ for not writing the book and ‘Till Then’ was basically ‘Till Now’ when I have finally put a stake in the ground and claimed ownership of my life.
I shall be victorious, I thought, as I looked around my backyard with a piece of wood in my hand that was meant for the dahlias that never grew in my garden. I raised the stake and shoved it in the dirt, claiming the land and my future as mine. I puffed my chest out in pride as my kids cheered me on. After the excitement of my proclamation was over, they promptly asked me when they could have a snack. I made them their snack, and then I knew that I had to get down to business if I really wanted to make this happen. I thought about all the businesses I had wanted to start throughout the years and failed at. Being the big foodie that I am, I first thought about starting a catering business, and when I realized it was no fun carrying around a kitchen and setting it up everywhere, I then turned to the food truck idea. When that didn’t work out I started a website called e-virtual admin, and guess what? That didn’t work out either. See the trend I have going here? I had no real plan in place, with no goals set and no path on how I would achieve success.
When I attended the 2016 Romance Writers Association conference, I sat in on a workshop hosted by Stephanie Bond. There she taught the importance of developing a business plan for a successful career in writing because that is what we want: a SUCCESSFUL WRITING BUSINESS. As I listened to her workshop, I instantly wrote down in my notebook, in big capital letters, WRITE BUSINESS PLAN FIRST! I saw this as the first serious step in establishing myself as an author and business owner. Having a plan in place would allow me to outline the key steps I needed to get from point A to point B. So I went home and started brainstorming what I would put in my plan. I asked myself if I was starting from the bottom (which I am) and wanted to go the top (the very, very top) how would I climb that ladder without falling down too many times? What were the pieces of the puzzle that I needed to put in place to create this master piece?
Here are some questions I asked myself and I recommend you ask yourself as well:
What is your short term and long term goal?
What product and services will you provide?
What genre will you write in?
What sells? Does it even matter to you?
What is your budget?
What is your timeline?
What is your marketing strategy?
Who do you need on your team?
What makes you unique and how will you brand yourself to your customers?
Once you can start answering these questions you can begin to formulate your plan. If you are looking for more information to get you started, here are some links that I found very helpful:
As I find more helpful information I’ll be sure to share it. In the meantime here is a short preview example of what I have included in my business plan:
Business Purpose and Goals: Describe what product you will produce and sell and what services you will be providing. Write down goals you have for your business and what it is you want to accomplish. For example, one of my goals could be to make a comfortable three-figure annual income from my writing within the next five years and to write books that can reach readers on an emotional level.
Genre: In this section I outlined what genre of romance I would write in. For me, I picked my main genre as contemporary romance with the goal to start writing historical romance within the next five years. Also, based on Stephanie Bond’s recommendation I left room for eventually writing a non-fiction book. In here you can also include if you will be writing series or single-title romance books (I will explain these in detail in a later post). For those who are as confused as I was about the different types of genres, the RWA website provides a breakdown of the subgenres of romance writing.
Market Research: Find out what genres are selling and in what format. For example, if you are writing romantic suspense, find out what percentage of this genre is selling and in what type of platform (ebooks, audio, paperback, etc.). Once you have this information you may decide to tailor your genre and marketing strategy to best align with current demand. The RWA provides some great information on current market statistics for each genre.
Uniqueness: What makes you different from the rest of us out there? How will you market your product or write your books in a manner that will separate you from the pack? How will you be the next Nicholas Sparks, J.K. Rowling or Nora Roberts? When I stated brainstorming about this, it was a challenge for me because when it comes to romance novels it’s all about the happy endings, right? So how was I going to brand myself in a way that would set me apart from everyone else? At first I thought my wit and awesome sense of humor would be enough to distinguish me from the crowd and anyone who read my work would fall instantly in love, but I had to dig a little deeper. I decided to use my prior military background combined with my Hispanic heritage (aka lots of attitude) and growing up in a third-world country as a basis for building strong Hispanic female and male characters with military elements and humble beginnings; I’ll tell you how this works out for me when I release my first novel early next year.
Productivity Level: How much are you going to write and how are you going to do it? How many books do you plan on releasing each year and what will the word count be for each book? What will your writing schedule be? And most important of all, what are you willing to give up to meet your writing schedule? For me it was watching TV and reducing my working hours from 40 hours a week to 30.
To track my productivity level, I use two methods. For the first one I use a calendar to outline how many words I need to write each day to meet my goal of writing a 70,000-word novel. The second one is to outline my book production schedule that covers everything from finishing the first draft, sending to editors, working on revisions, coordinating book cover design, social media setup and plotting for the next book. As hard as I try, it’s not easy to stay on course—especially if you have two kids, commute for work, and have a husband who is working and also going to graduate school at the same time. But when I know that achieving success relies entirely on me putting the effort in, even if it means a little less sleep and a little more coffee, I drag my butt to the computer, put my headset on, turn on the music and get to work while everyone else is already in bed asleep.
Budget and Pricing Strategy: For me this was a crucial aspect of starting my writing business, especially now that I was working part-time. I’d be able to spend more time with my kids and dedicate more time to writing, but that also meant less disposable income so I had to carefully consider what my initial investment would be and how many books I would need to sell in order to break even. It helps that by day I am a management analyst and numbers are my thing. If you are considering going through the traditional publishing route, then this may not be something you focus on. But if you’re giving it a go on your own, you will have to determine what amount, if any, will work for you and how you will price your books. (Stay tuned for a special blog I have planned for budgeting and getting things for free.)
Author Branding: This will be a continuing evolving process as you grow your business and decide what is it that makes you unique. Think about what image you want to put forward that is satisfying to both you and your audience. Remember, your name is your brand so when you write a novel, display that sucker proudly and consistently across the front of the book. If you look at authors who have created their own brand, their book designs have the same look and feel; even the type of font they use for their name and book titles are consistent across their books. Always make it easy for your readers to find you and recognize you amongst the millions of books out there.
Team: Do some research and decide who will form part of your elite production team. A word of advice: if you are going through the self-publishing route, save up the money and invest in professional editors (yes, more than one) and book cover artists; they will be essential members of your team. Remember, the first rule of self-publishing is that you don’t want your book to look self-published, so don’t skimp on these. Some other members you might consider or eventually add to your team is a virtual assistant, critique partner(s) and beta readers, just to name a few.
Publishing Platform: With so many options now available to market your book, you should research them all and find out which ones will best suit your needs. Some of the publishing platforms available include: Kobo, CreateSpace, KDP Select, ACX, Nook Press, iBooks, iTunes and many more. Personally, my goal is to make my book available in as many formats as possible to reach as many readers as possible. Take time and evaluate each one of these options and the royalties they provide. If you don’t have time, just give me a couple of months and I will post the details of each option available and let you know which ones I end up choosing.
Marketing Strategy: I’ll be brief on this topic because my plan is to discuss this at a later date with way more detail and helpful information. So for now I will tell you this: As much as you may not like it, you need to build your social media platform (website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.). To be honest, I’m not a very social person—hence the romance author hat—but it is a necessary evil. You have to put yourself out there and let people know you exist! My previous life as a geek and cyber security person is dying inside, yelling at me to keep my information private, but I have come to understand that this is an important aspect of building my brand and my business. For me, creating “The Inside Voice” was a truce with myself. If I was going to be out for the world to see, at least I wanted to be of some use and help and provide resources for people like me who are just starting out. I still have many things on my to-do list that I must check off, including creating my author’s website, creating a monthly newsletter, and building a mailing list. Once you have these in place and are ready to start marketing your books, here are some other strategies you can start looking at: Facebook Ads, Bookbubs, Amazon Advertising and Goodreads, just to name a few.
In today’s world becoming a successful writer is more than just writing. No longer are you just in charge of producing the next New York Times best-seller; you are now a business owner selling and marketing entertainment materials to customers. You are in charge of creating your own brand and managing your own company.
As I go through the process of building my business, I will address each topic discussed in this post in detail and share my business plan with all of you. I am a firm believer that it is integral that, as business owners, we understand the ins and outs of the writing industry in order to become successful in it. Only by doing so can we become the master of our own domain. So go ahead and take your own wooden stake and claim your future, and then go and make a snack for your kids or whomever it is that you’re responsible for feeding, and when you are done with that, roll up your sleeves and get down to the business of writing your plan for success.