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How a Business Plan Can Help You Achieve Indie Author Success

Kristen Kieffer
October 2, 2020
Comments: 0
Book Marketing | Mindset

Storytelling may be a craft and a calling, but publishing is an industry.

If you’d like to publish and profit from your stories, then you must treat writing as a business. After all, indie authors are neither employees nor independent contractors. They’re small business owners who create and sell intellectual property (i.e. books) directly to readers. 

So tell me, writer: Are you ready to kickstart your creative small business and begin selling books ASAP? 

If so, then now’s the time to develop your author business plan. This reference document outlines your creative mission, operations, and career goals, providing you with the clarity and direction you need to write, publish, and profit as an indie author. Ready to dive in?

Below, I’ll break down the six elements every good author business plan should include, offering the guidance you’ll need to develop an effective action plan for the growth of your creative career. But bear in mind that you can’t devise a strong business plan if you don’t first understand the industry in which you’d like to do business. If you aren’t yet aware of how indie authors make their livings, then take a step back and do some research. 

When you’re ready to begin developing your author business plan, here are the six elements you’ll want to include:

1: Your Author Mission Statement

An author’s mission statement is the short declaration that summarizes what an author writes, who they write for, what they aim to accomplish with their creative work, and how they plan to achieve that aim. In essence, it’s an overview of the remainder of an author’s business plan and should therefore be developed last, despite its primary location.

Example: “I write inclusive Asian-inspired fantasy novels {what you write} for young adult readers who don’t often get to see themselves as the heroes in their favorite books {who you write for}. My books will become online bestsellers {aim} as I build community with my readers via my online social presence {action plan}.”

When developing your mission statement, use definitive language that empowers you in your creative work. Avoid phrases like “I hope to achieve…” and “I want my novels to…”. Instead, confidently stake your claim on your creative identity and career goals. 

2: Your Creative Niche

Your creative niche explores what makes your work unique, defining in greater detail both what you write and who you write for.

What you write shouldn’t be determined by your stories’ genre and age market alone. The sub-genre(s) in which you write may delineate your work, as well as what makes your stories unique within that sub-genre(s). For example, do you write contemporary young adult novels that explore the Native experience? Adult literary science fiction that centers queer characters? Historical romances that feature love interests who are differently-abled?

When developing your creative niche, take time to consider your target audience. Your ideal reader should be defined by more than just an age market or demographic (e.g. middle-grade readers, adult women, horror fans). Exactly whom do you want your stories to reach? Do you write for middle-grade children who live in difficult or abusive home environments? How about adult women who adore international spy thrillers, or Black horror fans who want to see themselves survive the haunted house for once?

If you write within multiple genres and/or for various age markets, determine whether there’s a unifying thread that links your stories. You may find it helpful to explore the works of authors like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, who have built distinct creative niches despite the wide variety of stories they publish. That said, if you plan to publish wildly different types of works (e.g. children’s lit and erotica) then you’ll likely want to create separate author identities and publishing plans.

3: Your Publication Plan

Before you can profit from your writing, you must first publish a book. Ideally, multiple books. Your publication plan should therefore outline both how and what you plan to publish. 

Firstly, use this space to note the online platforms where you’ll list your book. Will you stay exclusive to Amazon or “go wide” by uploading your book to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, IngramSpark, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and/or other online book retailers and distributors? 

You may also wish to note who you’d like to bring onboard your publishing team (e.g. developmental editor, proofreader, cover designer). If you know of anyone you’d specifically like to work with, list their names, rates, and other pertinent information in this space.  

You can also use this section to outline the backlist (i.e. list of published books) you’d like to build. No need for exact titles or storylines. But is there a particular series you’d like to write? Or any specific topics or experiences you’d like to explore in upcoming books? Most authors don’t achieve monetary success with one book alone. Having a tentative plan in place for future books can help you plan for long-term publishing success.

Speaking of which, you’ll also want to use this space to outline your long- and short-term publishing goals. What would you like to accomplish with your writing this year? Next year? Over the next decade? These goals may evolve as your writing career develops, but having a flexible vision in place will help you maintain the focus and momentum you’ll need to succeed. 

4: Your Business Expenses & Revenue 

Few authors profit from their work without planning for success. 

For indie authors, creating a publication budget is essential. How much are you willing to pay for the services you’ll employ (e.g. editing, proofreading, cover design, formatting)? Do you plan to list your book on any platforms that charge upload fees? How much will you invest in pre- and post-launch marketing, whether that be Amazon or Facebook ads, giveaways, merchandising, etc.? 

You can also use this space to note the prices at which you’ll list each edition of your book(s), as well as the royalty rates and profits you’ll earn from sales via each listing. 

Finally, if you plan to one day quit your day job to write full-time, then include your freedom number (e.g. how much publishing revenue you’ll need to earn per year to comfortably quit your job) in this space. Don’t forget to factor in your new business expenses, small business taxes, and self-employed health insurance costs. 

5: Your Sales + Book Marketing Plan

Books don’t sell themselves. Use this section of your author business plan to outline your author platform, income streams, and the marketing strategies you’ll use to get your books into readers’ hands.

Publishing expert Jane Friedman defines “author platform” as, “the ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” Unless you’re already a celebrity author, you’ll need to establish a platform to ensure readers can find you and your work. 

An author’s platform typically consists of their backlist, online presence, and social network within the publishing industry. Authors can extend their reach by employing smart book marketing and publicity strategies, such as maintaining an author website, cultivating a social media presence, running a newsletter, appearing on podcasts and other forms of media, going on book tour, and running digital book ads.

Every author’s approach to developing their platform and marketing their work is unique. Take time now to outline the methods you’d like to use to achieve these aims. 

Of course, to market your work effectively, you’ll first need to identify your income streams (i.e. sources of revenue). Each book you publish can provide you with multiple streams of income, including royalties from the e-book, paperback, hardback, audiobook, and large-print editions of your book and any foreign language and media rights you may choose to sell. 

Once you’ve identified the income streams you’ve chosen to develop, you can effectively create a plan to market each applicable source of revenue. Use this space to list those marketing plans. 

6: Your Roadmap to Writing Success

In section 3 of your author business plan, you outlined your short- and long-term publishing goals. These are your metrics for success—the aims that, once achieved, give evidence to your growth as an independent author. In this final section of your author business plan, you’ll create your action plan for achieving these short- and long-term goals. I like to call this action plan your “roadmap to writing success.” 

To develop your roadmap, first identify the first 3 – 5 long-term goals you’d like to achieve in your writing journey, such as publishing your first book, selling your first 1,000 copies, and having your book listed on the first page in your preferred Amazon category. These items will serve as milestones in your writing roadmap. 

Next, consider the 3 – 5 major action steps you’ll need to take to reach your first milestone goal. For example, do you need to revise your novel based on your editor’s notes, hire a book cover designer, and format your proofread manuscript? These are landmark goals in your path to writing success. 

Finally, identify the 3 – 5 tasks (or a daily or weekly goal) you’ll need to achieve to reach your first landmark goal. These tasks (or this goal) will serve as benchmarks in your journey, the everyday distance you can cover as you slowly but surely follow your roadmap to writing success. 

When you reach a landmark goal, take a moment to celebrate before revising your writing roadmap with the next landmark in mind. Do the same each time you pass a major milestone in your writing journey, and you’ll successfully manifest your author business plan. 

Like your writing roadmap, it’s important to remember that your author business plan can and should be an evolving document. As you achieve your goals, experience roadblocks, and discover more about who you are as an author, you may need to revise sections of your author business plan—and that’s okay. 

Keep this reference guide to personal writing success on hand, and you’ll clarify your creative mission, find confidence and direction in your journey, and avoid many of the speed bumps that other authors experience by setting down their path to publication without a plan in place. 

IAL success
Kristen Kieffer
Kristen Kieffer is a fantasy fiction writer, author of Build Your Best Writing Life, and founder of Well-Storied.com, where she helps writers craft sensational novels and develop strategies for personal writing success. When not writing, Kristen can be found stargazing, wanderlusting, and otherwise fueling her relentless curiosity for this beautiful world in which we live. Find her on Instagram @kristen_kieffer.

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