For the new, and even the experienced author, there is a lot about publishing that feels unmanageable (because it is-insert wry grin here). It was my efforts in trying to figure out what could be managed that lead me to collaborate with Jamie Engle on our handbook, Managing Your Book Writing Business.
The truth is, all businesses deal with uncertainty, but the most successful businesses have a plan that they implementóand continually adaptóto succeed and to survive. Too often authors donít create business plans because they either donít know how to do it, they canít see the point of planning what they canít control, or they didnít realize they are a small business.
So letís start there. Authors are independent contractors who might work with publishers, editors, agents and marketing experts in the course of their careers. Any author seeking publication or currently under contract with a publisher or pursuing self-publishing owns a small business.
Whether you are just starting to look at submitting, or are hip-deep in the publishing weeds, it is never too early or too late to develop a business plan. While the concept can seem intimidating, all it entails is for the small business owner to understand their business. If you know the strengths and weaknesses of the system, you can plan how to avoid the worst pitfalls and be flexible when things change.
For an author, your business plan should deal with:
Why you write (often called a mission statement)
What you write (genre)
Who will want to publish what you write (or who youíll contract to publish it)
Legal issues (contracts, copyright, etc)
Which readers will want to buy what you write
Why You Write.
After over fifteen years, I can tell you that knowing why you write is as important to your business plan as all the other elements. When you hit those, ďWhy in the heck am I doing thisĒ moments, you can pull out your mission statement, refocus and reengage.
What to Write.
Knowing why you write also helps you with figure out what to write. Or the converse is also true. If you know what you write, it can bring clarity on why you writeóand again, help keep you focused during the tough times.
Who will want to publish what you write.
Once you know why and what you write, you can start researching who would be interested. Some books will be suitable for NY publishing and some books just arenít. Thankfully, authors have more choices now than when I first started submitting. Small presses abound and there are some very viable self publishing venues, such as Lulu and Create Space, available for authors with a work targeted to a more limited audience. Knowing the market for your work will keep you from wasting time submitting to the wrong markets and help you avoid publishing scams.
Iím constantly surprised by how many authors will submit to a publisher then ask what experiences others have had with that publisher. Those questions should be asked before you submit to any publisher, large, small or self. Submitting before doing your market research wastes your time and the publisher or agent. You may not consider their time valuable (though you should, because in the Internet age, information gets shared), but at least value your own time.
Another reason to research publishing options if that if you know what is standard for traditional publishing contracts and what are realistic self publishing costs, you are less likely to get hosed.
Your market research also involves legal issues. When you engage in a business partnership with any other entity, contacts will be signed, rights will be assigned. Too many authors donít read, or get clarification on contract clauses they donít understand. And far too often, they are surprised and outraged by contracts clauses that limit their choices. Itís not good enough to think you know whatís in a contract. You need to know.
This is probably the easiest part of your plan to figure out. If you plan to run an effective writing business, youíll need a computer, an Internet connection and a place to work. Even if you write longhand, eventually you will need to make contact with other writers, editors and publishers. Many publishers only conduct business online. Youíll also need to establish an Internet presence, either through a website or blog.
Which readers will want to buy what you write
More and more publishers are asking authors to submit a marketing plan with their initial submission. Even some bookstores are asking for marketing plans. Some publishers and agents wonít even look at a partial submission until they know that you know the market for your project and how to reach that market. Itís never too early or too late, to start building your marketing platform or brand.
Manage your writing budget as carefully as you do your household budget. Know what that budget is, know whatís going out, and whatís coming in.
Publishing is not a one-size-fits-all business. It can be customized for your personal needs and situation, but by creating business plan that is focused and flexible, you have a better chance of successfully navigating the craziness that is the publishing business.
Pauline Baird Jones is the award-winning author of ten novels of science fiction romance, action-adventure, suspense, romantic suspense and comedy-mystery. She's written two non-fiction books, Adapting Your Novel for Film and Made-up Mayhem, and she co-wrote Managing Your Book Writing Business with Jamie Engle. Her most recent release is Girl Gone Nova and Tangled in Time will release 12/2010. She also has short stories in several anthologies. Originally from Wyoming, she and her family moved from New Orleans to Texas before Katrina.