The 7-Step Business Plan for Writers

business plan for writers

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Today’s guest post is by author Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) of Writers Helping Writers.


As you’ve probably heard, there’s no such thing as “only being a writer” any more, and while many might not want to handle the business side of things, to give ourselves and our books the best chance of success, we must.

In May 2012, when Becca Puglisi and I self-published The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, we had quite a few challenges. Living in different countries, we needed to create a formal partnership, set up businesses, and figure out how revenue would work. We had to learn publishing and take on marketing and promotion. Neither of us had a business or marketing background, so we relied heavily on research and intuition, and did our best to make the book discoverable. (You can read about our initial marketing plan here.)

Our unusual book on showing character emotion created buzz among writers, igniting word of mouth. Suddenly our lives went from busy to crazy as we tried to keep up with the burst of attention, writing guest posts, teaching workshops, and providing interviews. Books sales continued to strengthen, and we sold foreign rights. A few universities listed the book as required reading, and publishers began approaching us. At this point, Becca and I realized how far the book could go, but because we were being pulled in so many different directions, we didn’t know how to best take advantage of these opportunities.

The need for a business plan became our No. 1 focus. Fortunately, my husband is a management consultant who creates plans for many of his clients. With his help, we identified three areas that would help us grow in the year ahead:

  • improving our professional image and brand credibility: creating a website, presenting at conferences and hosting workshops
  • providing new product for our audience: writing two new descriptive thesaurus books
  • expanding into the education sector: contacting colleges and universities to spread awareness of our writing resources

The roadmap we created allowed us to avoid distractions and focus on what would help us grow.

As we near the end of the year, Becca and I now have a professional website, three writing resource books that have collectively sold nearly 50,000 copies, and we increased our credibility through speaking engagements, teaching at conferences, and hosting workshops. In the near future we are looking to create awareness of our books at the collegiate level, rounding out our business plan objectives.

Since much of our productivity and growth are a direct result of forming a business plan (and sticking to it), I want to share steps you can take to create your own.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Imagine your year ahead and what you would like to accomplish as a writer. What will help you reach your goals, whether it’s publication, releasing more books, beefing up your online visibility, or honing your craft? Write down everything that you want to accomplish, and don’t forget smaller goals, as these are necessary steppingstones to achieving larger ones.

Also, choose goals that are within your power to make happen. For example, while you might really want representation, “getting an agent” is not necessarily something you can attain yourself; the agent decides whom they represent. However, “researching and querying all suitable agents” is a goal you can set and meet.

Step 2: Find Your Themes

Read through your list and look for bigger themes. Are there several goals that fit into a similar area of focus, like platform building or writing improvement? Grab some highlighters and group these together. Then, choose a name or tag line that summarizes each theme or area of focus.

Common themes might include

  • Social networking improvement (platform building and connection)
  • Education (attending workshops, finding a critique partner, improving one’s craft, studying the industry, etc.)
  • Publishing (trying for an agent, working towards a traditional contract or self-publishing)
  • Marketing visibility (researching and implementing ads, hiring a publicist, finding one’s audience online, soliciting reviews, etc.)

Step 3: Assign Importance

Now that your goals are organized into different focus areas (themes), step back and look at the big picture. Based on where you are now, which areas are the highest priority? For example, querying agents (publication related) and honing your writing skills (education related) might both be areas you’d like to focus on, but if your writing still needs work, it will be a waste of time to query agents immediately. Likewise, if you are winning notable contests and trusted critique partners are hard-pressed to see how you can improve, likely you should make getting your work in front of agents and editors a priority.

This step involves soul-searching and honesty. Sometimes desire (wanting to be published right now, for example) can get in the way of what we actually need (to hone our craft further). To be objective, set emotion aside. Ask yourself hard questions about what your career really needs. If it helps, pretend you are advising a writer friend. If they were in your shoes, what important things would you suggest they work on to get ahead?

Step 4: Pick Two or Three Main Goals

Now comes the hard part: choosing which goals to pursue. Which two areas of focus did you mark as being the most critical? These two themes (say “Education” and “Networking”) should be the primary focus of your business plan. Pick specific goals that will help you most in these areas.

Once you choose a goal, think about the steps you must take to achieve it. For example, if your goal is to “Build a Platform” you might have action items like open a twitter account and build a followingtake a class on social networking, and join a group blog. For inspiration, look at the highlighted lists you made. Chances are you’ll find smaller goals listed there that will help you achieve your larger one.

Two primary areas of focus or main goals are good for a business plan, but if you have a third area you’d like to tackle, list it as a secondary goal. Do the same exercise as above and list out tasks (action items) that must be carried out to achieve this goal.

When making these decisions, think carefully about your time. We all have roles and commitments outside of writing, and these things require a lot of energy. Business goals should be achievable, so don’t take on more than you can handle.

Step 5: Set a Timeline for Each Goal

Stick to your plan by setting timelines that fit your schedule. Becca and I chose a seasonal timeline, so we knew which goal to pursue at which time of the year. This helped us meet completion dates. If you are unsure how much time a certain task will require, set a deadline with a fallback date. This way you won’t be discouraged if you miss the initial deadline, and you’ll have a buffer if needed.

Step 6: Bring It Together in a One-Page Plan

A visual helps when it comes to following a business plan. By condensing your plan on one page, it will force you to be succinct in what must be accomplished to meet each goal. You can use a spreadsheet or table to do this (Excel, Google spreadsheet, a piece of paper, etc) or download this template. Here’s the business plan Becca and I created for ourselves:

Business Plan for Writers by Angela Ackerman

When your spreadsheet is filled out, print and display it where you write. This will remind you of what you should be doing and help you make good use of your time.

Step 7: Commit and Challenge Yourself Daily

Once your plan is complete, stick to it. When new opportunities come up, see if they fit your plan. It’s important to take advantage of potential windfalls, but only if they further your goals and you have the time.

Before you print your business plan, type this statement in bold at the bottom: Is what I’m doing or about to do helping me achieve my goals? Before you commit time and energy to new projects, challenge yourself with this question to evaluate if it’s worthwhile.

In today’s publishing landscape, writers must become master jugglers, wearing many hats. Whether you’re published or pre-published, having a business plan is one of the smartest things you can do to keep yourself on track, maximize your time, and ensure that you reach your milestones.

Posted in Business for Writers, Guest Post.

Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as four others, including the newly minted Urban Setting and Rural Setting Thesaurus duo. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

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103 Comments on "The 7-Step Business Plan for Writers"

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Adrienne
Adrienne
2 years 8 months ago

This is FANTASTIC and just what I needed to see this morning! Great post and I love your books Angela. They continue to help me hone my craft.

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Saoirse O'Mara
Saoirse O'Mara
2 years 8 months ago
Good step-by-step guide to create an overview of goals and an action plan for writers. It’s certainly a useful tool, although I wouldn’t call it a business plan since that usually also includes the financial aspects of a business. It’s a good starting point, and for writers who have other financial means to pay the bills, this is probably all they need. Writers who want to turn their writing into a full-time career can easily expand this action plan to include the financial aspects (cash budget including business and personal income and expenses, investment plan, three-year-estimate for business turnover and… Read more »
Linda Andersen
Linda Andersen
2 years 8 months ago

Thanks for sharing ideas for a business plan. I need to save this one!

Eleanor Sullivan
Eleanor Sullivan
2 years 8 months ago

Although I don’t need a business plan right now, I want to thank you for The Emotion Thesaurus! I bought if first on Kindle, then realized I’d like to have a paper copy, too. It’s been an immense help when my editor says, “More emotion, Eleanor, dig deeper,” a refrain I hear often. So, thanks for helping me mine my own and my characters’ emotions!
Eleanor Sullivan, Graven Images, A Singular Village Mystery

Sue Frye
Sue Frye
2 years 8 months ago

Awesome suggestions, Angela! Love the chart! And this is a good time of the year to focus on goals and new beginnings!

florabrown
florabrown
2 years 8 months ago

Angela, This is an well-thought-out and doable plan. I love that you included plans to get training where needed as well as being open to traditional and self-publishing. Your post made me remember that I have taken many webinars and workshops over the years. Before I take another one I need to go back and review all the content on marketing, building a platform, etc. that I’ve already gathered. Thank you.

Lexa Cain
2 years 8 months ago

I’m so happy to hear about all your success, Angela. If anyone’s worked hard and deserves it, you do. (And how nice to be married to a business consultant, right?) Thanks for all the tips. 🙂

Celia Lewis
Celia Lewis
2 years 8 months ago

So practical and thoughtful! Makes great sense, and I can implement it immediately. Also use for my ‘other’ passion, genealogy, and my goals there as well! I appreciate the clear language and straightforward style in this post as well.
Cheers.

Nina Amir
Nina Amir
2 years 8 months ago

Great post, Angela. I had to giggle because I wrote on the exact same topic just yesterday on my blog! And we weren’t far off in our advice.

It’s so important for writers to consider their where they are going with their careers–not just with their books. They need a good map, and a business plan is just that, with concrete and quantifiable goals broken down into action steps to get them where they want to go. Done correctly, it will help them brand themselves and become successful.

And I love your template! Thanks for that.

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[…] is at Jane Friedman’s blog, sharing the ins and outs of creating a business plan. This was a hugely important endeavor for us; […]

Traci Kenworth
Traci Kenworth
2 years 8 months ago

Sound advice!!

Bish Denham
Bish Denham
2 years 8 months ago

Okay, now I’ve got some place to start!

Mindy Hardwick
Mindy Hardwick
2 years 8 months ago

A great post! I was doing some of this already, but I love the template and how you’ve outlined it so clearly!

becca puglisi
becca puglisi
2 years 8 months ago

Great job, Angela! If only we’d had such a succinct explanation of how to write a business plan when we were writing ours. That would’ve been helpful, lol. Thanks for hosting her, Jane!

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Shirley Showalter
2 years 8 months ago

Excellent
post, Angela. Shared it with my daughter. I chuckled when I saw that
your husband is a business consultant. Writing has become a new form of
family business in my case too. Website design, editing, and marketing
skills in my family have proved enormously beneficial.

Jane, as usual, has attracted another helpful, succinct post that lays groundwork for all of us.

Thank you both.

Ernesto San Giacomo
Ernesto San Giacomo
2 years 8 months ago

A veritable resource for a beginner. Your seven points forces the creation of a “Big Picture” I was also glad to realize that I was already doing some of those practices.

Julie Musil
Julie Musil
2 years 8 months ago

Angela and Becca have not only been smart about their business, they’ve been generous.

Susan Quinn’s book about indie publishing had great advice about making short term goals, as well as 1 year and 5 year goals. I’d never thought that far ahead when it came to publishing!

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[…] The 7-Step Business Plan for Writers by @angelaackerman via @janefriedman […]

Krystol Diggs
Krystol Diggs
2 years 8 months ago

I truly love this article. Thanks so much for sharing. This will be great for my blog and my writing group.

Mytrae Meliana
Mytrae Meliana
2 years 8 months ago

This is such an excellent, helpful post! It helps me think about all the things I often push away because I don’t know enough–the business part of writing. I’m close to the publishing phase of self-publishing a book and this really lays out the business arc of what I need to think about. The template brings clarity and focus to what can be bewildering and overwhelming to a novice writer. Thank you so much for sharing your process.

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2 years 8 months ago
freedomreeves
freedomreeves
2 years 8 months ago

Really great piece. I need to get focused about my writing goals and this is a great start. Also, I love a good template.

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Archon Manes
Archon Manes
2 years 8 months ago

The Emotion Thesaurus is a cool, useful book.

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[…] need to have a plan of action in place for marketing your book – a Book Promotion Plan. The competition is fierce on Amazon and […]

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Sherry
Sherry
2 years 7 months ago

Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m coming late to this post, but it’s very timely for the start of my new year and organizing my writing goals for the year. I can’t wait to give it a whirl and see where I end up.

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Louisa Clarkson
Louisa Clarkson
2 years 7 months ago

Great info and breaking it down step by step! Thanks Angela.

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:Donna Marie
:Donna Marie
2 years 5 months ago

I just LOVE this, and really appreciate the image of the chart. It saves time rather than having to figure things out from scratch. Seeing what works is SO helpful. Thank you, ladies!

Cheryl Cloyd Robbins
2 years 4 months ago

Thank you for sharing. This will be very helpful as I build my business.

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Mary Brown
2 years 3 months ago

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