Writing an Author Business Plan (Part 1 – The Overview)

As promised, our Writing Wednesday series now shifts to the all-important topic of the author business plan.

All authors should have a business plan, regardless of whether the author plans to self-publish or to pursue a traditional publishing contract. For some, the business plan may even help clarify that choice.

It’s never too early for authors to start writing a business plan. The author’s business plan will differ a little from the plan for a traditional “brick and mortar” businesses – but not all that much. We’ll talk about those differences, and how to write an author’s plan, in the weeks to come.

Today, we’re taking an overview look at author business plans and how to write them.

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. The publishing analogues to (or clarifications of) the traditional categories differ slightly depending upon whether the author is writing a career-length business plan or one that covers only a single work. Authors starting their careers may want to write a one-book plan to begin with, and expand that to a career-length plan later on.

I recommend starting with a single-book plan for a couple of reasons. First, it’s easier, especially if an author isn’t accustomed to writing business plans. Like any new skill, the training is easier when you’re focused on one element instead of the larger whole. Second, an author needs a marketing plan for every individual book anyway, so preparing a one-book business plan kills both birds with a single stone. For that reason, this series will focus on one-book business plans – but the information can be applied to career-path business plans as well.

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

Let’s look at what each section of a successful one-book business plan will contain:

Traditional “Executive Summaries” contain a half-page synopsis and summary of the entire business plan. In many cases, they’re written last, or written first and revised when the rest of the business plan is complete. In the case of an author’s one-book business plan, the executive summary will contain a one-paragraph description of the book itself, along with a description of its genre, target audience, current status and other “at-a-glance” relevant facts.

The Business Description (perhaps better renamed “book description”) contains a longer synopsis of the work – one page, or possibly two.

The section on Marketing Strategies will normally contain three sub-sections or components: pre-release marketing, release week (or “around release”), and marketing efforts after the initial release publicity push.

A Competitive Analysis requires the author to look at competing or similar works in the marketplace, analyze why readers will (or should) want the author’s book instead, examine strategies the author can use to maximize advantages and minimize weaknesses, and acknowledge and address potential weaknesses in the work and the marketing plan.

The Development Timeline (a change from the traditional “design and development” label) includes multiple timelines. One addresses completion and editing of the work itself. Authors pursuing traditional publication but not yet represented by agents will want a plan and timeline for obtaining representation, whereas independent authors will need a timeline for the production and publishing process. Marketing and appearance timelines may also prove useful, especially for authors with complicated or busy schedules.

In a traditional business plan, the Operations and Management Plan describes which individuals (or corporate divisions) will handle specific parts of the business’s operations. In an author’s business plan, this section may be simple or very complex, depending on the level of organization the author needs and the amount of assistance he or she anticipates.

Last but not least, the author’s business plan must consider various Financial Factors. As with Operations and Management, this may be simple or may be very complex. This is a good place to assemble information about the costs of publishing – traditional or independent – and to create a marketing and travel budget. Solid research here can help the author put valuable marketing dollars into places where they make a positive difference, rather than simply throwing money into a project without knowing whether or not results will follow.

In a panic? Don’t be! Business plans take work but they’re not as difficult as the bare facts make them seem.

Next week, we’ll start an in-depth tour of each section. At the end of our focusing on how to prepare a successful – and useful – author business plan.

5 thoughts on “Writing an Author Business Plan (Part 1 – The Overview)

  • August 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Oh, I’m looking forward to this! Just thinking about the business aspects of writing makes me go cross-eyed. I’m sure this will help me loads. 🙂

    • August 9, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Thanks Linda! Hopefully I can provide some helpful information. I think the business side makes a lot of creative people nervous – I’m hoping to take the sting out of it!

  • August 8, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Hi Susan,

    I concur to Ms.Grimes comment. Business plans can seem very complicated, but your voice adds a confidence to the process. I look forward to the tour.

    • August 9, 2012 at 10:23 am

      Thanks Sandy. Hopefully by the time the series finishes, everyone who reads it will feel more confident moving forward with a business plan, or at least feel better prepared to manage that part of their careers. Thanks for commenting, too – I love hearing from other authors!

  • August 17, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Oh wow! I love this. The business of writing is very intentional for me, I’m not a pantser so I work from a book plan. Now I’m going to add a business plan. Subconciously I’ve done all of the things you’ve listed, but having it written down and going into more depth with it will certainly be helpful.

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