Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Planning for an Indie Future: Creating a Business Plan

posted by Saul

All too often I talk to or hear about a writer who's published a book on Amazon or through Smashwords and it's clear they have no idea what to do next. Now, granted, some of these writers don't aspire to a career in writing, but many do, and so it astonishes me to think that they've taken the first step on a very long journey without properly preparing for it.

Where's your plan?

Before the indie movement, before the technology was available to allow Joe Anywriter to publish, the basic book writer's business plan went basically as follows:

  1. Write
  2. Submit
  3. Fret
  4. Revise
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 ad infinitum
  6. Die
For many, the democratization of publishing has simplified this:

  1. Write
  2. Publish
  3. Get rich
Unfortunately, this is not only a fallacy, it's a dangerous mindset to have. Even so, I think I understand where it comes from.

For so long, every aspect of publishing a book, from selection and revision, design, pricing, printing, and distribution to promotion, was dictated by the big publishing machinery. Once the writer broke through that paper wall, there was nothing else to think about.

Wake up indies. Self-publishing is a business--your business--and you'd best treat it that way.

Creating a roadmap

You don't have to be a business guru with an MBA to come up with a business plan for your writing future, but you you do need to come up with something that shows you've given some thought into what it takes to make a career of writing. I'm not going to go into too many specifics because my plan is custom tailored to my personal situation. What I hope to provide is a taste so you can begin to work on your.

The Tanpepper Ten-Year Plan

Okay, maybe not ten years, but I liked the alliteration. In truth, I don't think it's realistic to plan beyond the next five years, and in such a dynamic time for publishing, it's probably a waste of time to put too much emphasis on detailing beyond two years out, though I recommend having an outline to build upon.

Set your goals

Goal-setting is probably the most important activity you can do to prepare your career, but only if it forces you to make a realistic assessment of what you can and cannot accomplish given the resources available to you. Mine is based on the fact that I'm a full-time writer, albeit with a limited runway. I not only want this to work, I have to make it work, which means taking the entire process, including the planning, seriously. These were my goals as of September 2011:

Short range goals: 0-12 months

1.      Establish social media presence
a.       Twitter
                                                              i.      @SaulTanpepper
                                                            ii.      @WritersReTweets)
b.      Website (tanpepperwrites.com)
                                                              i.      Register author name domain (GoDaddy.com)
                                                            ii.      Find host (free: Weebly.com)
                                                          iii.      Build and populate website
c.       Google+
d.      Discussion boards
e.      Blogs
2.      Establish a platform/branding
a.       Identify niche: speculative fiction
                                                              i.      Horror
                                                            ii.      Sci-fi
b.      Market
                                                              i.      Young adults
                                                            ii.      Adults
c.       Hangouts
                                                              i.      Bookish sites
                                                            ii.      Horror/sci-fi blogs
                                                          iii.      Discussion boards
3.      Start publishing company
a.       Brinestone Press
                                                              i.      Incorporation
                                                            ii.      DBA (doing business as)
                                                          iii.      Accounting
b.      Website (Brinestonepress.com)
                                                              i.      Register author name domain (GoDaddy.com)
                                                            ii.      Find host (Websitetonight.com)
                                                          iii.      Build and populate website (currently under development)
c.       Capabilities
                                                              i.      Editing
                                                            ii.      Design
                                                          iii.      ISBNs for print and full-length books
                                                          iv.      Distribution
4.      Begin publishing
a.       Launched The Headhunter September 2, 2011
b.      Adjust as necessary (be flexible, but firm)
5.      Begin promotional activities
a.       Business cards and other physical materials
b.      Internet
c.      Big push after 1st collection (want readers to have >1 product avail to them)

Medium range: 12-36 months

1.      Continue to build platform
2.      Continue to self-publish
3.      Promote
4.      Branch out (overlapping genres, services)

Long range: 36-60 months

1.      Financial independence
2.      Continue to self-publish
3.      Publish other authors

Don't be vague

What you see above isn't the extent of my planning. You need to be specific with your goals. For example, my goal "Start Publishing" is further broken down by schedule, format and pricing:

September 2011: 2 short stories ($0.99 each)
October 2011: 1 short story ($0.99)
November 2011: 1 short story ($0.99)
December 2011: 1st collection (2 previously pubbed shorts + 4 new shorts; $5.99)
January 2012: 2nd collection (2 previously pubbed shorts + 4 new shorts; $5.99)
February 2012:
March 2012: 1 short story ($0.99)
April 2012:
May 2012: publish post-zombie apocalypse novel TOUCH ($6.99)
June 2012:
July 2012:
August 2012:
September 2012:
October 2012: publish 2nd novel ($6.99)

As you can see, this requires me to have written and polished eight short stories by December, an additional four by January and a complete novel by May. This is doable for me.

There is also a method to my madness. Many of the shorts are somehow tied-in to my upcoming novel, TOUCH, whether directly or otherwise. They help me establish the world of TOUCH and let me experiment with different ideas. In doing so, they function to clarify my path and make the process of writing said novel much more streamlined. They also introduce readers to those concepts so that when they read TOUCH, there’s already a level of expectation and familiarity; they've build a connection.

I’ve also given careful thought to pricing. For now, it’s all geared to building my platform and my following. Amazon doesn’t allow me to offer my shorts for free, thus the ninety-nine cent price tag, but I’ve begun offering free ebook copies through my website. The idea is to build a following through my short stories and collections. I’m less concerned about making money now; it’s my novel where I really hope to make my first big splash.

It's my business

Some people might wonder why I chose to establish a publishing company. The answer's simple: it allows me to take my career where I want it to go, namely into publishing not just my own titles but, eventually, those of others. In building Brinestone Press, I'm bringing in those capabilities I cannot provide myself. For now, it's editing and design.  Later, it'll be ISBN registration, distribution, and marketing. Further down the road, I'd like to publish other writers.

It also forces me to think about the enterprise as a business venture and not a hobby.

A note about being a publisher: Some indies self-pub under the cloak of a "publisher," essentially hoping to shrug off the stigma that continues to stick to the movement. While I don't disagree with their reasons, I don't think it's helpful to be dishonest about it either. If a writer simply intends to self-pub, there is no need for a "publisher."

Just do it

Look, creating a business plan doesn't have to be mind numbing. It doesn’t even have to be complicated. As long as it forces you to think about the journey realistically. Do so, and you’re halfway there. The other half is implementation. Now, go do it.

To get you started, here are some additional resources you can use for creating your own plan:

Writers Write. Successful Authors Write a Business Plan, by Deborah Riley-Magnus

Building a Writer's Business Plan, by Moira Allen

The Writer's Busines Plan, by Stephannie Beman

The 10 Components of a Writer's Business Plan, by Beth Mende Conny

Saul is an author of speculative fiction for teens and adults. His short stories, The Headhunter and A Thing for Zombies, are available from Amazon and are selected singles from his upcoming short story collections. The Object of her Obsession is his most recent publication. His post-zombie dystopian, Touch, will be self-published in May 2012.


  1. I love your train of thought: turn your writing into your business.

    That is where writing is headed anyways, so to do it yourself is genius.

    Thanks for the inspiration

  2. Thanks, Leigh. Is it selfish to think writers, especially indie writers, have a responsibility to help their colleagues succeed? Each failure reflects on every one of us; each success, lifts us all.

  3. This is a great post and where my mind went 6 months ago. When I decided I was going to write and publish my own children's books, it only made sense to do it right and start a company. In 3 weeks (yikes!) we're launching our 1st additional author and her series of amazing books for little ones. It's an exciting time, but one must have a plan!

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