Lining Up The Ducks: Writing An Author Business Plan

By Susan Spann

It’s autumn, time to get organized!

Words like “organization” and “business plan” throw many accomplished writers into fits – but every author should write a business plan – and this guest-blog series is going to teach you how. In the months to come we’ll walk through the process step by step, with concrete examples and exercises to help you organize your publishing path.

Why should authors have a business plan?

A business plan can help new authors clarify the proper publishing path for their debut works. For experienced authors, a business plan serves as a road map, helping keep the project and related endeavors like marketing and platform-building on schedule, assisting with organization and helping the author track the results of his or her efforts.

What does a business plan cover?

Some authors write a single business plan to guide their careers. Others prefer to work on a smaller scale, and prepare a business plan for each individual work. Still others take a hybrid approach – preparing an individual plan for each work that fits within an overarching framework.

Most career authors have a plan in place, so this series will focus on helping authors prepare a one-book plan for a current work in progress (or completed manuscript that hasn’t yet entered the publication process).

But I haven’t finished my manuscript! Isn’t it too early for business plans?

Not at all. It’s never too early to treat your writing as a business – and you wouldn’t open a brick and mortar business without a plan!

Conversely, it’s never too late to prepare a plan if you haven’t got one. Even if you’ve already self-published or contracted to publish your work traditionally, a business plan can keep your business and marketing efforts on track – or put them there, if you’re wandering in the weeds!

Traditional business plans have seven components:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Business description
  3. Market strategies
  4. Competitive analysis
  5. Design and development plan
  6. Operations and management plan
  7. Financial factors

An author’s business plan parallels this structure, but with a few significant differences that reflect the nature of writing as a business. We’ll look at each section in depth in the weeks to come, with advice about how to prepare the section, real-world examples, and exercises designed to help you write a practical business plan that works for you.

But do I really need one?

A business plan is not a legal or ethical requirement for publication. Many authors do fine (and some very well) without one. But the publishing paradigm is shifting, and business-savvy authors with plans adapt more quickly and tend to outperform the ones who simply want to write and “take everything as it comes.”

The decision is yours – but I think the exercise is well worth your time.

Just to be clear: a business plan is not a book proposal. A proposal is a tool authors use to sell a book “on spec” (before the book is written). By contrast, a business plan is the author’s personal (and often private) “road map” for writing, marketing, publishing and promoting a work.

Don’t be scared of business plans.The writing takes a little work but it’s not nearly as difficult as it seems.

Tune in next month, and we’ll start our in-depth tour of author business plans and how to write them. If you stay with me – and do your homework – we’ll get you ready to start 2013 with your very own author business plan!

Got questions? I’ll try to answer them.

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author who practices in Sacramento, California. CLAWS OF THE CAT, the debut novel in her SHINOBI mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books in Spring 2013. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com

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30 Responses to Lining Up The Ducks: Writing An Author Business Plan

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Susan, As a businesswoman, this appeals to me, and it should to every author. Can’t wait to hear your wisdom and get started! Perfect timing for me, with my first book releasing next May, and two more to follow next year. Thanks so much for covering this important subject.

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thanks Laura, I’m glad the timing is so particularly good for you! My own novel releases next July, so this has been on my mind quite a bit in the last few months. I mentioned the idea in passing on Twitter and had several people interested in whether I’d share what I knew, so I’m delighted to have the chance to blog about the topic in more detail, both here at WITS and on my own blog.

  2. I can’t wait for this series to unfold.

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thanks Carole! Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions along the way – general or specific. I’m glad to tailor the segments to meet needs!

  3. Susan, I agree that it’s never too early. Also, in today’s market, authors need to develop a plan for multiple paths … do they want only traditional? Do they also want to veer off and do indie for some of their work? Do established authors have a back list they can market?

    I will be tuning into each of your posts … no matter what direction we plan to go … a business plan is a great road map to success !! Thanks🙂

    • Susan Spann says:

      You’re very right about this – developing the business plan gives an author time and opportunity to consider all of the possible paths. In fact, many authors I know have discovered that the business plan helped them decide which way to go with a particular novel. Sometimes thinking through the “nuts and bolts” clarifies issues that seem vague until you look at them as business points.

      My goal is to make the series work equally well for the traditionally-published and independent (indie) author – where the paths diverge, I’ll talk about both so there will always be something for everyone.

  4. But is it ever too late? So far my plan has been just to write as fast and as well as I can. Obviously not very forward looking. I’m definitely going to tune back in for the rest of the series.

    • Susan Spann says:

      Good news – it’s never too late either! In some ways, being farther in the process will help you with parts of your business plan (like the synopsis) which other authors may not be able to write yet because they’re not quite far enough along in the process.

      Even if you already have a book released, you can put together a plan that will help with marketing and keep you on track with publicity and sales – so no, it’s absolutely never too late to develop a business plan!

  5. Sharla Rae says:

    I’m kind of like Shelley. I just write and hope for the best. Um, it doesn’t work. I should know better. In the past I owned 2 businesses and I did the marketing and planning big time. So why would the writing business be any different? I think part of the problem is that with writing I sit at home behind a desk and I feel set apart from the business side of things. So yes, Susan we NEED your help!

    • Susan Spann says:

      You’re not alone, Sharla! Most authors do exactly what you do. In fact, even though I’m both an author and a publishing/business attorney, I didn’t even think about putting together a business plan for myself until after my mystery series sold. (Embarrassing, but true!) I’ve helped many author clients put together and review business plans over the years, but when it was my turn it completely slipped my mind until the novel was written and in my agent’s hands. I have one for my law practice, of course, but I hadn’t taken the time to do it for the author side. I have now, though, and I’m eager to share my experience (personal and professional) with everyone I can!

  6. texasdruids says:

    My “business plan” — if I dare call it that — has been pretty helter-skelter up to now. It consists of blogging wherever I can, tweeting (though not very successfully,) joining writers groups and forums, and enrolling my books in Amazon’s KDP Select program. And, oh yes, trying to write more books. I don’t really know where I’m going. I hope your series will help me figure that out.

    • Susan Spann says:

      The good news is, it sounds like you already have most of the foundational pillars in place. As you’ll see in the months to come, blogging, tweeting and interaction with other authors and publishing professionals are all important parts of developing yourself and your career as an author.

      I’m glad you’ll be coming along on the business-plan road trip!

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  8. I love the idea of drafting a better business plan and am looking forward to your next post!

  9. Jenny Hansen says:

    I love this, Susan. You got me thinking about author business plans, so you’ve already achieved part of your goal. I’ve never actually sat down and thought about what that would look like for me, but I will now.

    • Susan Spann says:

      Great news, Jenny, I’m glad to hear it. A lot of authors are scared about business plans, but hopefully the next few installments will show everyone that they’re not only manageable, they’re useful too!

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  11. This sounds like a great series, Susan. It might be smart to do some competitive research at the idea phase so you see if the market is already flooded with similar books (like vampire romance books). If you still want to go at it, you know that the characters, themes and voice need to be especially unique. Anyone pursuing traditional publishing needs to do this legwork when querying since agents like to hear about comparative titles. And self-publishers can benefit from seeing what others do when setting their Amazon categories and tags.

    • Susan Spann says:

      Exactly, Reetta! This is why I encourage authors to write business plans as early as possible – even if they can’t finish the whole plan in one go. The competitive analysis section is very good at pointing out exactly the kind of issues you mention.

  12. Susan: have you got a schedule for this article series on Writing An Author Business Plan? I’d very much like to know the dates each installment is published🙂.
    I did check both the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” and “Notify me of new posts via email.”

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  14. Suvi Hull says:

    A business plan can really help new authors clarify the proper publishing path for their debut works and it is really really very important,in Finland country business plan is one of the best way to caught an attention of investors and it is also one of the key for success.

    • I don’t think writers need investors, but to get her/his book out there and selling well. Thinking like writing is a business really helps, too, because it is – that is if one wants to get a few cents for all the sweat and toil🙂.

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