Writers & Forging a Plan for Success

Did you know that first-time novelists have a 90% failure rate? Pretty sobering. That means that 9 out of 10 writers will never see their second book in print. Is it because they can’t write? Maybe. Was it bad timing? Perhaps. Did they just have one good book in them? Maybe.

…or maybe it isn’t any of those things. Maybe, just maybe, it was a lack of proper preparation.

I have been in this business for going on a decade, and have had a lot of writers cross my path. Most got burned out, worn out or simply gave out. What is sad is that most aspiring writers will never make it to publication, and now with that staggering statistic above, we can see that even being published isn’t a true victory. We must stay in the game.

How do we do that? We plan for success. We plan to win.

There is this overwhelming mystique to being a writer that too often excludes thinking in business terms. We are lulled into believing that if we can only get published, all our dreams will come true. We surround ourselves with inspirational quotes and stories of writers who were turned down 973 times, but oh, on the 974th!!!!!…..boy, those 973 other agents were dumb *snicker, snicker.* Thus what ends up happening is we throw all of our energy and effort into our baby, *cough* book…and we fail to plan.

Fail to plan and plan to fail.

How many of you have a business plan? Nothing super fancy. Just a basic business plan. We don’t. We think that NY is going to whisk us off in a limo and that their PR people will take care of everything necessary to make us a household name like Sandra Brown. They’re not??? Nope. Yeah, I was kind of bummed too.

Hey, Kristen, we wanted to be writers so we didn’t have to do all that spreadsheet nonsense.

Oh, I don’t blame you. I still have to go through the Excel tutorial every time I try to use it. I would rather think of character arcs and plot points. But successful people don’t just do what they like to do, they do what they must do.

So what would a business plan look like? Well, no need to get too complicated. A basic business plan has four parts.

1. Description of the Business—What kind of author are you? We have talked a lot about brand. What is your brand? If you want to be a romance-thriller-fantasy-non-fiction-memoir author, you need to either focus or get a small business loan to hire a full-time support staff. Pick one for now. Your mission statement. I am a romance author, specifically Harlequin Intrigue series. I am responsible for a minimum of one manuscript per year.

Yes, use the verb I am. When you use the I will be future progressive, you give yourself permission to be unprofessional and to procrastinate.

“I can send farm animals all day on FB and cuss and rant on MySpace, I’m not a published author yet. This isn’t REAL marketing. This is fun time.”

“Oh, once I am published I will be able to afford a real office and it will be easier to write two hours a day.”

Your mission statement, like most businesses will evolve and change. It isn’t set in stone. But it will position your mindset and it will strip away your excuses. It will help you be taken more seriously and demonstrate to others that you are a professional (hobbyists generally are not known for having a business plan). Most of all, a mission statement will help you maintain your creative focus.

2. Marketing—It is never too soon to begin marketing your product…YOU. This is part of why I teach social media to writers. Social media is how people come to know you as an author. Hopefully one day it will be as a published author and they can buy your books. The sooner you start building your platform the stronger it will be. Do winners wait until the day before the big race to start training? No. Winners don’t wait to build a platform either.

3. Finances—It is safe to assume most of you reading this are not independently wealthy. But, you are a business and businesses have start-up costs, production costs and maintenance costs. Yes, even you. Unless you want to write your novel long-hand or write on a library computer (which are viable options if you have no choice), you are going to need equipment.

How much money are you going to allot to becoming good at your craft? What are you willing to give up in the short-term to invest in your long-term success as an author? What are you willing to sacrifice to fund your new business? To grow your business? These are questions we would ask if we were opening a family-owned pizza parlor, so we also need to also ask them when we decide we want to write. Lay the groundwork for victory.

Think about it then make a list of what you will need. Get what you can afford and make a plan to get what is out of reach. Some people balked at my suggestion of MySpace as a free web site, but that is a minimum of $300 that could be put toward something else.

So what would your new business need?

List of Equipment: computer, printer, Internet access, software.

List of Training Materials: Funds to join a writing group, conferences, workshops, weekend retreats, craft books, magazine subscriptions

List for Marketing Expenditures: Funds to buy a domain, web hosting, software, money to build a web professional-looking web page. I suggest using MySpace as long as you can. New writers especially can use that money for a better computer or a conference.

4. Management: You are the only one who can produce the product, so how much time will be slotted to write per day? Blog? Read? Sift through research? Become more skilled at your craft? Those are jobs only YOU can do.

Now ask what tasks you can delegate, and who can you delegate to?

What is your social media marketing plan? Who can you get to help? How much time do you want to spend per day building and maintaining? (I teach how to do all of this in my upcoming book—We are Not Alone—Social Media Marketing for Writers).

For those who took my suggestion to build a MySpace en lieu of a web page, don’t automatically assume you must do it all. You are a business. Do what businesses do. Outsource.

Pay your teenager who is goofing off on MySpace anyway an hourly wage to add quality friends to your page. Have your blog pulled up in a Word document and get them to post it and link it and send out the bulletin while you’re cooking dinner. Now what you pay them is now a tax deduction because it is outsourced work.

Don’t you think your family would benefit from you being a famous, successful author? Recruit them to your team and allow them to not only support your success, but be a part of it.

There are a lot of exciting changes happening in publishing. The Internet. Social media. E-books. It is now possible for a new author to pitch a book to an agent, a strong platform included. That was almost impossible to do a decade ago. Now anyone with a computer, Internet access, and a good work ethic has a real shot at laying the foundation for success.

Yet, with these changes come new responsibilities and more competition than ever in human history. Now any knucklehead with a computer and an idea can claim to be a blogger or a writer. How will you stand apart?

You will plan.

You will show up on Race Day prepared and focused. You will work harder than all the other wanna-bes whose best strategy is to rely on dumb luck to get the golden ring. If you are reading this blog, then you already have demonstrated you desire real, genuine success. So go make a plan and I will be cheering from the sidelines when you crash through the tape ahead of all the other competition.

Happy writing.

Until next time….

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By the way! If you loved this blog and just want MORE? My book, “We Are Not alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” is now available. Buy one today and take charge of your writing career! My book is designed specifically for writers. I want to change your habits, not your personality. Harness that same creative energy used for writing and use it to build your platform.

I recommend Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer Workshops and book. WW training is an excellent resource for learning how to grow from writer to professional author. www.bobmayer.org

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  1. #1 by Jamie D. on May 26, 2010 - 2:09 am

    Can’t get to where you’re going without *knowing* where you want to go, and roughly how you want to get there. I do have a business plan, and it’s coming together pretty nicely so far.

    Excellent advice, as usual.🙂

  2. #2 by BubbleCow on May 27, 2010 - 8:08 am

    This is great advice. I hope that the days are gone when a writer sits back and thinks it is the publisher’s job to promote their book. Writers live and die on sales and the second a book is in print a writer must be doing all they can to sell books. If they are to have any chance of creating a career, in the early days, they need to be a book selling machine….

  3. #3 by Jason on May 28, 2010 - 3:34 pm

    So what you’re saying is, “Never give up, never surrender”?

    Heh.

    Good advice, Kristen. (IF that’s your real name)

    • #4 by Kristen Lamb on May 29, 2010 - 12:28 am

      Yes…yes I am. In fact, I play “The Eye of the Tiger” when I write, over, and over…and over. Hey, we have the odds stacked against us. We need to do all we can to…..and the eyeeeee, of the Tiger.

  4. #5 by Janet Morris Grimes on May 29, 2010 - 3:27 pm

    Thank you for this article.

    It required a huge shift in my own thought process to go from writing as a hobby, to becoming a published author, to realize that I am a business manager and the business is me. I can’t forget to include in my business plan ways to make money. Very difficult in the beginning, but with each grueling step. I get stronger and better and gain confidence. After attending my first writer’s conference last June, I realized that no one knew how to do this when they first started.

    My thought process is still shifting, but I can now safely say that I am a business manager, and my business is me.

    Always reading,

    Janet Morris Grimes

  5. #6 by Pam Laux on May 30, 2010 - 1:59 pm

    Great advice. Like most careers, writers, have to work hard to be successful. And part of that success is to have a plan. If you know what you want to get from your writing career, you’re a lot likelier to get it than if you just go at it blindly without a plan, fantasizing you’ll one day fall into fame and fortunes. Sure it happens to a very small percent of writers, but while you’re waiting for Hollywood to call… have a back-up plan!

    • #7 by Kristen Lamb on May 30, 2010 - 2:28 pm

      Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  6. #8 by Mary Lindsey on May 31, 2010 - 1:13 am

    Fantastic advice, Kristen. I kept waiting for that magic threshold. I finished the book>>I got an agent>>She sold my book. It doesn’t get easier. You’re so right. Getting there is hard, really hard, but staying there is even more challenging. Your advice to create a business plan is spot on. I’ve had one from the beginning and revise it twice a year. Thanks for the refresher in staying on course. I needed it tonight.

    • #9 by Kristen Lamb on May 31, 2010 - 1:47 am

      Thanks. I think we forget that we are a business. I have been guilty. That’s part of why I wrote my upcoming book. To keep all of us mindful of what we must do to have a career doing what we love…writing. Thanks for taking the time to comment. It is MUCH appreciated.

  7. #10 by brownpaperbaggirl on June 2, 2010 - 1:11 am

    Great, helpful post. Thank you for this!

  8. #11 by Terrell Mims on June 3, 2010 - 8:11 pm

    Good blog…would comment more, but I have blogs to write, myspace to restructure, books to read (Scene and Structure). Oh oh oh. The most important thing. I have to go and finish Act III of the darn book😉

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