You are an author. You turn ideas into reality in the shape of a book.
You turn the thoughts in your head into valuable intellectual property assets. You understand how powerful the written word can be. Now it's time to use your words to create a business plan to take your writing career to the next level — whatever that means for your situation.
In this episode, I share some chapters from my new book, Your Author Business Plan, available now.
In the intro, Bob Dylan sold his song catalogue for $300 million [The Guardian] and thoughts on how streaming is impacting revenues [Financial Times]; Spotify and blockchain [Musically]; Daniel Ek interview [Tim Ferriss Podcast]; China's AI audiobook narration in the author's voice [BBC]; Tiktok's owner Bytedance launches an app with AI-narrated audiobooks [RadiiChina].
Google’s next Android update will expand audiobook availability on Google Play Books by auto-generating AI narrations for books that don’t offer an audio version [Techcrunch]. It's already available for public domain books. [Google Play Books]. Plus, Orna Ross and I talk about our Mistakes, Failures and Setbacks on the author journey [Ask ALLi podcast].
Your Author Business Plan: Take Your Author Career to the Next Level is out now in ebook, paperback, large print, and companion workbook editions. Plus, you can get the audiobook directly from me, and available in the other stores in January. You can get 50% off any of my audiobooks and ebooks if you buy direct from me – Payhip.com/thecreativepenn – coupon: DEC20
Here's how to apply the coupon correctly if you're unsure. Plus, I have made Successful Self-Publishing free as an ebook and an audiobook so you can give the Bookfunnel audiobook app a try for free. It could be a gamechanger for selling audio direct.
On this episode, I share two chapters from my [human-narrated!] audiobook, which starts at 26 mins if you want to jump straight to it.
- What is a business plan?
- Business summary and big picture goals
- Marketing Strategy. Author eco-system
Here are the chapters of the audiobook featured in the episode. You can find links to Your Author Business Plan in all formats here and at the bottom of the page.
What is a business plan? [6:22 mins]
A ‘business plan’ might seem like a dry, soulless document — the complete opposite to the creative words that you pour onto the page for your books. But think again.
Business is creative
Look around you. People working in some kind of business created much of what you see. Business creates jobs and meaningful work. It fuels income and enables money to flow between people. It turns ideas into reality.
If you can reframe business as creative, then you can also reframe your business plan that way. You are actively shaping your future writing career, and what could be more creative than that!
If you can articulate what you want, you can turn it into reality
You might think you know what you want to achieve and how to do that, but when you try to write it down, you may well discover that your thought process is fuzzy and you haven’t quite worked out what you want to say. That happens with our books, and will likely happen with your business plan, but the very act of writing it down will help make it clearer.
You’ll discover where you’re being over-ambitious, or over-complicating things, or trying to do too much based on the time you have. You’ll also find aspects that will challenge you and help you face the fears that are part of every creative life.
You’ll also consider the reasons behind what you want. So often we plow ahead into busy tasks and getting things done without ensuring that our actions will lead us to an endpoint we want to pursue.
Writing your plan down will also help you to turn it into reality, because you will have to articulate what you want to achieve. As you go through this book, don’t just answer the questions in your head. Write them down and turn your plan into words. You might be surprised by what you find.
A business plan has a high-level strategic focus
Your business plan will have a section on the books you’re going to write, but it won’t detail how you will actually write them. It will have a section on publishing, but it won’t include the steps for how to publish a book.
Your plan should be high-level. Think of yourself physically rising high above and looking down on your author business as it is now and where you want it to be in the future. You can’t see all the detail from high up, but you can see more strategically than if you’re down in the weeds.
A business plan is more than a goal … or a dream
I have a dream to see at least one of my novels turned into TV or film. This is a pretty common dream for fiction authors! A dream is something that you would love to achieve, but there are so many things out of your control that even if you do everything ‘right,’ it still may not happen. You can dream of being a brand name author like JK Rowling or Stephen King or Yuval Noah Harari, but there is no guarantee that you can achieve it.
A goal is something that could be achieved if you take consistent action toward it for the long term
I have a goal to become an award-winning author, recognized by my peers for the quality of my craft. At the time of writing this book, I am award-nominated. I made the final five for the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Ebook Original in 2017. I sat in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City, on the edge of my seat as my name was read out as a finalist. I didn’t win, but I keep taking steps toward this goal.
I focus on improving my craft, and I write the best thrillers I can. I work with professional editors and continue to submit my books to awards. I cannot include “Win an ITW award” on my business plan, because it is ultimately out of my control, but I can include, “Write the next thriller” or “Invest in a craft course to learn more about endings,” or, “Allocate $X for editorial feedback.” Of course, if I achieve the goal of award-winning author, I may well take a step closer to my dream of seeing my novel turned into a film or TV series. These steps compound over time as we improve the craft and the business.
Make sure your business plan includes practical steps toward your goals rather than dreams that are out of your control.
A business plan can be in any format
You’re not going to present this to a bank manager. You're not pitching for funding and you don’t need to justify anything to anybody. You don’t have to share this with your significant other, your writing group or the internet. This is for you, so your business plan can be whatever you want it to be.
You can draw it with colored pens or make a collage, or you can use a spreadsheet. You can hand-write it in a journal, or you can type it into a document. You can use the downloadable template included with the book or you can use the Companion Workbook available in print. Whatever works for you.
A business plan is a living document
You're not going to make one business plan for the rest of your life. Whatever you think you want, it will inevitably change as your writing career progresses, the market shifts, and your life develops. Start where you are and expect it to change.
Make sure you date your plan and keep the historical versions. It's always interesting to look back and wonder, “why did I want to do that?” Inevitably, something will make sense to you at the time, but later on, you might change your mind so it’s good to keep track of your reasons why.
- What is a business plan?
- Why do you want to create one for your author business? Why will you spend time on this?
Chapter 1.2 Business Summary and Big Picture Goals [8 mins]
In this section, you will summarize your author business in a succinct way. This helps to frame the entire business plan. Some people might call this a mission statement, but you might prefer to consider it as a direction or a guiding principle.
Even though this is a short section in the plan, it’s similar to a book description in that it can be the hardest part. You might need to write a lot of words before you truly articulate what you want, so give it a go and then circle back once you’ve completed the other sections, as your answers later may inform this part.
Before you write your business summary, you need to consider some big questions.
What is your ‘why’?
Why do you want an author business, anyway?
Why is writing more than just a hobby for you? (Since no one ever does a business plan for their hobby!)
If you want to “make some money,” consider the reason behind that.
Personally, my author business is about giving me the freedom to choose what I create, how I spend my time, where I live, and where I travel now and into the future. It means I am truly independent. I want income to fund my creative lifestyle now and also fund my investments for the future so I can keep on creating for the long term.
I also have a deep need to be useful, as many people do, and the non-fiction side of my business fulfills that need and helps my community.
What is your core life value?
This is a huge question but if you can articulate this, it will guide so much of what you do, in both your creative business and your life. It might also help you to understand why you might be unhappy and unsatisfied in other areas.
Examples of values include family, loyalty, faith, honesty, sustainability, and optimism. You can find lists of values online if you’re struggling.
Of course, we all have multiple values, never just one. List as many as you think apply to you and then spend some time moving them up and down. Be honest about what is the most important in your hierarchy. It will help you to decide the direction of your business.
Freedom is my highest value, with the associated aspect of independence, and this shapes many of the decisions I make in business and also in my personal life. Before doing something, I ask, “Will this give me more freedom or less? Will this help fuel my independence or will it leave me trapped in the future?”
You might have used this values list in creating characters if you write fiction. It’s an incredibly powerful tool because values shape behavior and actions, which all have consequences. A positive value can also become a fatal flaw, and believe me, I know this well! For example, if you take freedom and independence too far, you might never collaborate or work with other people, you might never enter a long-term relationship, or ask for help if you need it.
It’s obvious how this value has shaped my business plan over the last decade, but yours will probably be different. For example, a business plan based on the core value of Family might favor income streams that don’t require being away from home; or a core value of Status might focus on pitching a prestigious agent or aiming for a literary prize. Only you can decide what’s most important.
Who do you serve?
A business makes money by selling customers what they want to buy. This might seem obvious, but many authors don’t think about readers until they have finished a book and want to market it. If you think about this upfront, it will help you with your business plan, but of course, I know from experience that my creative muse does not want to be put into a box!
If you know your target market already, brilliant! Include that in this section. If you’re not quite sure, then we’ll go into more detail in chapter 1.4 Comparison authors and reader avatar, which is mainly focused on books, but the principles also apply if you’re offering services, courses, or other products.
What will you say “no” to?
At the beginning of your author career, you will probably say “yes” to everything and try all kinds of creative projects and marketing techniques. That’s a great way to start, especially if you’re a multi-passionate creator, as I am.
But as you go through your author journey, tasks will proliferate and expand and you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the things you decided to start: Multiple series of books in different genres, different marketing channels with various audiences, and so on.
At some point, you have to start saying no. If you create boundaries with your high-level business plan, it will help you to say no to the things that aren’t important for your overall life value and goals.
For example, I went down the rabbit hole of screenwriting for a few years. I've written a couple of screenplays. I've been to conferences and paid for courses. I've interviewed screenwriters on my podcast. Screenwriting is an incredible skill, and it’s helped my writing craft in terms of story structure, but being a screenwriter is a completely different career and it’s not something I want to focus on. When I’m tempted to work on a screenplay, I look at my “no” list and get back to writing another book.
Create your business summary
Now it’s time to write a succinct summary that encapsulates your business. You might have several, for example, by author brand, as the purpose might be different. Here are mine as examples.
The Creative Penn empowers authors with the knowledge they need to choose their creative future. Books and courses by Joanna Penn, as well as The Creative Penn Podcast, provide information and inspiration on how to write, publish, and market books, and make a living as a writer.
Both summaries reflect my core value of freedom, and they include my target market as well as my main products. They also underpin my financial and creative goals.
In order to facilitate freedom and independence, my primary business goal is to create multiple-six-figure revenue streams from different aspects of the business so it’s resilient against market changes. I also have a goal to win an award where peers judge my creative work, and that can only be achieved by writing more books, the heart of both brands.
I know it’s a difficult task, but as with a book description, start by writing a rough draft and hone it down until you’re happy — with the knowledge that you can change it later!
- What is your why? Why do you want an author business, anyway?
- What is your core life value? Or your top three, if you’re struggling with one.
- How are you currently living this value? How could you move closer to it?
- Who do you serve? Who is your target market?
- What will you say “no” to?
- What is your business summary, by author brand if applicable?
Chapter 3.1 Marketing Strategy. Author eco-system [6:20 mins]
You cannot publish a book and just expect it to sell. That’s not the reality of life in the 2020s. There are so many millions of books and a multitude of other options through podcasts, TV, film, gaming, and music that you need to draw attention to your work somehow.
Marketing is the act of promoting your books, products, or services and although many authors resist it, marketing is an integral part of the writing life and therefore critical for your business plan.
There are lots of different ways to market your books and build your author platform, which I cover extensively in How to Market a Book, but in this section, try to rise above the detail of tactics and consider a high-level view of your author ecosystem.
What is an ecosystem and why do you need one?
An ecosystem is basically a network, and in this context, it’s all the things that work together for your brand. This is sometimes called your author platform and includes all the ways that you can reach your readers.
If you build an ecosystem for your books, it will become much easier to manage marketing and sales over time because it will all work together in the background as you continue to write and increase your body of work. You can add in short-term advertising to the mix, but a robust ecosystem can underpin your career over the long-term.
My non-fiction ecosystem for Joanna Penn
The central hub is my website, TheCreativePenn.com. For more than a decade, I’ve created articles, videos and my podcast as marketing content that bring people to the site. 99% of the content is free and the business model is based on a percentage of those people buying something or clicking on an affiliate link at some point.
My email sign-up offer, the free Author Blueprint, provides me with a steady stream of new contacts, essential for an online business, and I have an autoresponder series leading people into more useful content. I’ve used this same call to action for over a decade, but I update the material every six months to ensure it remains relevant.
I have books, courses, tutorials, and tools that provide value to my community, all linked from the website and within the emails and content that I produce.
I own and control my intellectual property assets, and I pay for premium hosting, so I own and control my website. But of course, your ecosystem has to be more than just your own website. You need to take advantage of the opportunities to reach customers with your books and marketing content on other sites.
The most common examples are:
- Publishing sites like Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google, Draft2Digital, Ingram Spark, Findaway Voices, and more. These sites ensure that my books are available in every format, in every country.
- Podcasting platforms like Apple, Google, Spotify, Amazon, and more to reach listeners
- Video platforms like YouTube and Facebook Live
- Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and others
- Advertising platforms like Facebook Ads, BookBub, and Amazon Marketing
Think of these as ‘outposts,’ places where you can reach customers but that you do not own or control. Over the years, these platforms have changed their terms and conditions and authors have had to adapt. For example, both Amazon and Facebook have shifted from organic reach to ‘pay for play’ in the last few years in terms of advertising.
These sites are part of the author ecosystem, but the goal should always be to drive people back to your main site and sign up to your email list so you can control the relationship over time.
My fiction ecosystem for J.F. Penn
The central hub is my website, www.JFPenn.com, which has pages for each of my books with links to the various stores and how to buy direct, as well as an email sign-up for my free ebook offer at www.JFPenn.com/free
I have an email autoresponder series that introduces readers to my books and after a period of time, includes an offer to be part of my Pennfriends team for Advanced Review Copies of my new books.
I include some content on the site, like videos from my research, but my main content marketing activity is my Books and Travel Podcast, which has a call to action for my free thriller. I use the same outposts as non-fiction, with the publishing sites being the primary focus for book sales.
Design an ecosystem for the long term
If you’re just starting out, it's hard to imagine creating such an ecosystem, but if you think about it strategically early on, you can build something that will last.
If you’re further into the author journey, then consider what your ecosystem looks like right now. Start with where you are and consider what you want your ecosystem to look like in five or ten years’ time, and take action toward that.
- What does your author ecosystem look like now?
- What do you currently own and control?
- If you carry on as you are for the next five years, or ten years, what will your ecosystem look like?
- What do you need to change to ensure it works for you over the long term?