My rating: 4 of 5 stars for more business-oriented writers
Business Planning For Professional Publishers by Leah Cutter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars for less business-oriented writers
I'm doing something different this week. I've read two books about business plans for writers. Both are good books for the right audience. And in actuality, I think every writer should read both books once. You'll probably be drawn more to one, and want to revisit it periodically, but I think the other will give you some insights and things to think about.
Tonya Price is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She publishes her own work, and also has an MBA and considerable experience in business beyond her writing and publishing. She approaches the creation of a business plan from the point of view of someone with that background and degree.
A Writer's Business Plan is a thorough explanation of how to produce a business plan, without any extraneous clutter. Some "business plan" books for writers only discuss the marketing plan, which is only part of an actual business plan. Or they go into great step-by-step detail about how to go about indie publishing a book (how to format, how to create a cover, how to upload the book, etc.), which is outside the bounds of an actual business plan. Tonya gives you what you need and only what you need.
Tonya's book is organized as follows:
Chapter One: Every Quest Has a Mission
Chapter Two: Plotting Your Writing Success
Chapter Three: Market Analysis
Chapter Four: Marketing Plan
Chapter Five: Your Financial Plan
Chapter Six: Your Business Strategy
Chapter Seven: Your Business Plan
Each chapter comes with one or more worksheets, which make it that much easier to get your ideas down and organized. She talks about mission statements, business organization, insurance, and why you need a lawyer and an accountant. She also discusses financing your business.
She explains how to set goals. Many people have goals which aren't actually goals -- they're too vague, the win condition isn't defined well enough, they aren't achievable by the person who set the goal through their own efforts, etc. Tonya describes the SMART system, devising goals to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timeframe Defined. This is a good system, and will keep you from writing, "Have a bestselling novel out before I'm thirty-five" on your Goals List, and then spinning your wheels for years before you figure out you can't control whether your novel is a bestseller. (Yes, I've heard a lot of writers say they have that kind of goal. That's a wish or a dream, not a goal.)
There's a lot of valuable information here, including commentary about when things aren't necessary. You don't need to go whole hog when you're just starting out, and probably can't afford to do so. Figuring out what you absolutely need, and what it's going to cost, is a valuable skill, and Tonya talks about separating the wants from the needs.
This book is set up so you can work on your business plan for a couple of hours a day, filling in the worksheets, thinking about the questions and finding answers a bit at a time, and end up with a business plan that a modern businessperson would recognize. And she says right up front that a business plan is not a static document; it's expected that the plan will change over time, as you spot problems, fix mistakes, discover more efficient processes, grow (or shrink) your business, or reach a point where you can now afford some of those nice-to-haves that you couldn't justify when you started out. A business plan isn't a trap or a permanent committment; it's a way of noting down what you plan to do and how you plan to do it, so you can figure out later on whether you're on track.
Even if you're not terribly business-minded, I recommend you read this book through once. I don't come from a serious business background, and although I want to conduct my writing and publishing in a businesslike way, this is maybe a bit of overkill for me. But while reading the book, I had a lot of little "Huh," moments -- things I hadn't thought of, things I didn't know to think about or plan for, things that don't apply to my business right now but might in the future. These are good to know about.
For example, I don't remember ever hearing about someone who was indie publishing doing a market analysis. That was a major, "Wait, what?" moment for me while I was reading. It won't change what I decide to write, but it's good foundation data for marketing efforts. Which I also won't be doing much of for a while, but it's something to keep in mind for the future, something I hadn't thought of before now. Unless you have a business degree yourself, you'll probably find at least a few similar "Huh," moments that make this book worthwhile.
[Note: I rated this book four stars instead of five because my copy is frankly riddled with typos and similar small glitches. They're easy enough to read around, and they don't affect the usefulness of the information, but they're distracting. A decent copyeditor could've done some good here.]
Leah Cutter is a writer and publisher. She owns a publishing business, which many writers can say these days. But Leah publishes other people as well as herself, which means she has complexities to deal with that your average indie-publishing writer doesn't have, and she's done them very well for some time. Leah is an excellent businessperson, but her background isn't in business per se.
Business Planning For Professional Publishers is written from the point of view of a writer/publisher who's read books like Tonya's, and wanted to swear and beat her head against a wall. Blaze Ward says in the Editor's Note:
What artists need is a book that breaks the MBA-blather down into terms an artist can understand, because, frankly, they are two entirely unrelated languages that both share English as a common tongue.
I enjoyed this read. It's a very voicey book, and Leah's personality shines through on every page. It's much more casual than Tonya's book, less "businesslike." And her frustration and anger at how poorly that sort of book fits the personality of so many writers is clear throughout. (After I read this book, I saw Leah and did the "Hey, loved the book!" thing, and we talked about it for a minute. As soon as I brought it up, she got very intense and I saw a reflection of those emotions I'd felt through her writing. I think her eyes started glowing with wrathful flames, just a tiny bit.) But seriously, there's some swearing in this book. If that offends you, well, read it anyway, but grit your teeth.
Leah's main realizations here are that 1) you can create a business plan for whatever period of time makes sense to you, and 2) a business plan is (mostly) "just a big f@#$%g to-do list."
Everything else builds on that, thus:
-- The Differences
-- The Meat Of The Plan
-- The Pieces
-- Problems Planning
-- Beyond Merely Writing Shit Down
-- Editorial Goals
-- Living Documents
-- NOTE ON THE WORD GOAL
-- Production Goals
-- Publishing Goals
-- Business Goals
-- Marketing -- What Is It?
-- Passive Marketing Goals -- The Beginning
-- More Passive Marketing Goal Planning
-- Passive Marketing -- Learning Sales Copy
-- Passive Marketing -- Reader Samples
-- Passive Marketing -- Pricing
-- Active Marketing -- The Beginning
-- Active Marketing -- Next Steps
-- Yet Another Caution
-- Choosing A Marketing Strategy
-- Succeeding Regardless
-- Conducting Sales
-- Perma-Free? Or Not?
-- Online Ads
-- Bigger Goals
-- Cooperative Marketing
-- It's All About The Money
-- Publisher Mission Statement
-- The Vision
-- What To Do With Your Mission And Vision Statements
As you can see, this is more detailed in some ways than Tonya's book. It's not just a book about how to write a business plan, because Leah's not really into business plans per se. It is a book on how to look at what you're doing, figure out where you are, make plans for the future (however far in the future you're comfortable projecting) and make to-do lists to help keep your business on track. Which is basically what a business plan is for.
One point Leah brings up is that formal business plans are largely produced to be shown to other people. If you want to start a business, or want to expand your existing business, and you want a bank or other institution to loan you money, if you want to attract investors, if you want to persuade someone who has skills or resources your business needs to go into partnership with you, the first thing you do is give them a copy of your business plan. Having a good, thorough, well organized business plan with all the right topics and terminology in it helps convince other business people that you're at least worth listening to for five minutes. You speak their language, you've done your homework, you have some business expertise to bring to the party.
Indie publishing writers don't need any of that. We rarely seek loans, we don't want formal investors, and anyone we'd want to work with probably thinks like we do, not like the MBAs do. To a writer, your business plan is purely for you, something to help you figure out what you're doing, what you want to do in the future, and how to get there. It's something to help keep yourself on track. It doesn't have to be structured like the plan a marketing or electronics entrepreneur would come up with, and it doesn't have to be written in formal business language. You'll probably never show it to anyone, so it can be written and structured in whatever way suits you.
If all you want is a big f@#$%g to-do list, then that's all it has to be.
To someone who does have a business background, I imagine the thought of being this loose and disorganized is pretty appalling. If you're comfortable with spreadsheets, and making detailed plans for the future makes you feel like you have a firm handle on your business, then you'll probably like Tonya's book a lot. But read Leah's book anyway; she has a lot of great ideas for staying organized on a day-to-day level that even someone who prefers a more formal business plan might find useful.
These are both great books. Which you'll prefer depends on your background and your preferences for how to plan and operate. Leah's book speaks to me more, and I've been using a big f@#$%g to-do list ever since I first read it, but I'm glad I read Tonya's. Try them both, and see which one resonates with you.