PHS editor, Christy Kate McKenzie, takes us away from the craft of writing to explore and develop the business side of your writing career...
I am an all star cheerleading coach (of course, you knew that if you had read my #10Things last month) and this month is important in UK cheerleading. August marks the start of a new season. Most teams attend their last competition in June or July and then hold tryouts to start fresh in August.
Stay with me here…
Also in July were a number of writer’s conferences—RWA, RNA, etc. As I spent 6 hours last Sunday evaluation 45 athletes to decide what team they should be on, my mind started to wander. In my defense, there’s only so many times you can watch the same kid throw the same tumbling pass before you start to daydream a little. I started to think about the two things I consider to be my callings in life—coaching and writing. Notice I said these are my callings, not my career.
The fact is, although I occasionally get paid to coach or do choreography and I was once an About.Com Expert, neither my coaching nor my writing is enough to pay the bills. Someday they will be, but until then, I have to hold down a 9 to 5 to keep me in wine and sparkly things. Oh, and to pay for the brats’ karate and riding lessons.
My ‘real job’ is as a business development manager for a local university. Every day, I help small start-up companies set up, grow, and plan for their futures. And as sad as it may be, one of my favourite things about running an all star cheer program is using the same strategies to build our teams. In the past year we have gone from 15 athletes to nearly 50!
About now, you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with writing. So here goes…
With cheerleading, we have a set season it starts just after the last competition and continues until we’ve picked up that last trophy just before school lets out. It’s easy to create a business plan, moving from one season to the next, I know how much money we brought in through teams and classes and how much we spent on overheads (training, equipment, promotion, etc.). I can also look at these figures and decide where we need to concentrate our efforts in the next season, what expenditures we need to cut because they didn’t deliver an acceptable return on investment, and how much money we need to have to attend certain competitions, training, or events.
Writing isn’t really that different. There is a ‘season’ even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Whichever conference you decide to attend is like your last competition. And in its own way, conference signals the end of your writing season and the start of a new one. With a little time spent planning (come on pantsers, you can do this!), it is entirely possible to create a business plan for your writing career.
And just like each girl in the picture above forms an important part of the pyramid, the strength of each decision you make while planning your writing career determines how successful you will be. Sure, you may not be able to hand in your notice right away, but you can look to paying off bills and preparing for your retirement. Who knows, if you end up being the next Queen Nora, you might be able to resign from your ‘real job’ sooner than you think.
Sound good? Then let’s get down to business. First things’ first… writing IS a business. If you plan on making any kind of money out of it, it will come with the same pressures as, say, owning a bakery. There will be bills to pay, no sick leave, taxes to file, and you will undoubtedly find yourself up in the wee hours trying to finish something that you couldn’t do at work or while the kids were running around the house at warp speed.
Once you have decided to seriously pursue a writing career, it is important to approach your writing business as you would any other ‘job’. One thing is for certain, whether you submit to a traditional publisher, get an agent, or go indie you will need to know where you are trying to go in order to decide how to get there.
Are you looking to replace your day job? Perhaps you just want to build a safety net in the form of a savings account? Maybe you want to travel the world with your laptop in tow? Or maybe you just want to chip away at bills bit by bit? Perhaps you are already publishing or writing full time and you are just looking to increase your sales and step up your promotion? Over the coming months, I will take you step-by-step through creating a business plan for your writing which will focus your attention to building a better brand and reaching your writing goals.
The first step in planning your writing season and building your business plan is understanding what it is that you hope to achieve. Where do you want to be next August? This ‘mission statement’ is the foundation of your business plan. It also forms a part of the ‘Executive Summary’ section present in every business plan.
Now’s the time to pull out a notebook and a pencil—we are going to write your business plan and build your writing career! For the rest of this month, I want you to concentrate on the Executive Summary section of your business plan. Consider the following questions and record your thought on each in your notebook.
Ready... Set... WRITE!
Questions to answer for your Executive Summary:
1. What is your business name and location?
By starting down this path you are creating a brand with the ultimate goal of becoming a household name, or at the very least, the author who is recommended at book clubs. So, first, consider your name. Do you plan to write under your own name or use a pseudonym?
Location can be tricky. You may not be comfortable letting readers know where you live, especially if you live in a small town where you can be easily found. Since you are not opening up a bricks and mortar business, there really is no need to give a location. You can; however, use your general area to enhance your brand. For example, many Southern US authors’ voices are influenced by the culture of their hometown.
2. What products or services do you offer?
This one should be easy—what do you write? Novels? Novellas? Short stories? All of the above? Do you write contemporary romance or paranormal? Or maybe suspense?
Knowing what you write—and more importantly, what you write well—will help as you look to market your manuscripts to agents, publishing houses, or shoppers on Amazon.
3. What is your vision and mission statement?
This is your public message. Why do you write? Who are you trying to reach? What do you want to achieve? Who is your target market? Where are you trying to go?
4. What is the specific purpose of this business plan?
This can be a little more personal. Remember when I said if you want to reach your goals you need to know where you want to go in order to decide how to get there? Question 3 showed you the destination; the answer to this question creates that map. The purpose of your business plan should be to drive you to meet the vision you described above. Make sure these complement each other.
Don’t rush. You have a month to carefully decide how your Executive Summary should read and how it will represent you and your writing—remember, a business plan can make or break a brand or company. Once you have finished, don’t be afraid to come back to this section and reconsider what you have written. Keep polishing it until it feels right. I'll be back next month to help you ploy your writing career.
Christy is an aspiring author, fairy tale fanatic, peanut butter connoisseur, and wannabe mermaid. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.