Friday, December 02, 2005

I'm Not Getting It, But I'd Like To

There's been some talking and linkage to various professional writers who actually go so far as to write up a business plan. They don't just leave their careers up to the fates but establish goals and strive to achieve them.

I'm impressed. I think this is a brilliant idea. And I think it's an idea I should consider.

Except, I can't for the life of me imagine what a business plan for a writer might look like.

I was a Marketing/Advertising major in college, so writing business plans is something I've done first hand. But that was some un-mentionable number of years ago, and I haven't looked a business plan in the face since I turned in my final A-core project. So if one floated right in front of me, I doubt I'd recognize it.

Even so, that's a sovable problem. I'm sure a quick Google of sample business plans would yield quite a bounty. And there's always that old standby, the library.

But my issue comes with the complete uncertainty a writer faces in terms of success. So much is out of the control of the writer. So much is subjective and thus impossible to predict.

Like, if you set a three-year goal to sell three books to Harlequin, there is only so much you can do to make it happen. You can set daily writing goals in order to make sure you complete your manuscript. You can set the goal of finding a writers group or joining RWA to open up an avenue for feedback and critiques. You can determine that by such-and-such a date, you'll have sent the manuscript to X number of agents or X number of publishers. You can plan to spend so much on postage and printer paper.

These things are all within your control.

But how do you factor in the amount of time your manuscript will sit in piles? How do you determine how many rejections you'll have to work through, how many rewrites you may have to do to get the manuscript back into submissable condition?

Or how do you adjust when you write historicals and the market is only buying paranormals? Or your last book was fabulously written but saddled with cover art that featured a hero resembling a donkey and a heroine who looks as if she just ate a batch of bad chicken salad?

How do you factor in the reality that writing is an art, not a commodity? And as such, it cannot be tied down to absolutes.

In the "real" business world, a company writes up a business plan wherein they determine to manufacture or acquire a set amount of product. They determine how they will market said product, how they will distribute it, what price point they will chase. And they have in mind a specific bottom line they expect to achieve. They follow their plan, and when all is said and done, they either made their money or they didn't. They can then adjust accordingly or call it a day.

How does a writer compensate for not knowing how her work will be received? How does she know when to call it a day or how to adjust when her plan isn't met?

I'm honestly asking these questions. To any writers out there who've written business plans, could you please share? Talk me through the process and tell me how you cope when your goals are affected by forces beyond your control?

I'd really like to know how something like this might work. Because it sounds like a great idea.


Amy said...

I majored in advertising too and, like you, have no clue how one would write a writer's business plan!

meljean brook said...
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meljean brook said...

I don't have any business plan but "write my rear end off" (hopefully literally...but alas, it keeps expanding). I figure, two books a year + a novella is my speed right now, maybe getting an agent next summer--and that's about the extent of my plan, because it's the only part I can really control: the writing.

Jill Monroe said...

Ugh, obviously ANOTHER thing I'm not doing.

I'm with you, other than the obvious of upping word count. Now office expenses...planning better for National. Invest any royalty/advance money to make up for the fact I no longer have a job paying into a 401k, setting aside money to pay quarterly taxes.

PBW said...

I make a business plan every year, and I also keep running five-year and career goal plans. Writing is a sub-contractor business, so it's always like on-spec work, but you can still organize yourself and plan your income.

For writers not yet published, a submission and income plan is essential. During the ten years it took me to break into publishing, I hired myself out at various times as as a typist, copy-editor, speech writer and personal assistant -- anything that would allow me to work at home. I knew at the beginning of the year how much income I needed to generate each month to cover my expenses and while I was submitting, looked for work-at-home jobs that would bring in the money. Also I went only for jobs that involved some sort of writing, which helped me improve my skills.

I think a submission plan is also vital if you want to go full-time with writing after your first publication. It provides deadlines for you just as an editor does when you get published, and I think it's good training to set writing goals and track your progress rather than just write whenever the mood hits you (disclaimer: a lot of organic writers say this stifles their creativity, so if you're that sort of writer, ignore this.)

Long-term and career goals are not for everyone, either, but I like them because they give me focus, and they can be adjusted as the business changes. Keeping your goals realistic is also a good idea. I started out with the single career goal of "I want to see my name on the cover of a novel" and that got me through ten years of rejection. It was a tough goal, but reasonable enough that I felt I could work toward achieving it (unlike goals such as "I want to make ten million dollars for my first book, move to Malibu and date Brad Pitt.")

gootau said...
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