Tag Archives: business plans

Investments of Time, Capital and Ego

The hobbyist writer creates for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. They write the story they feel driven to tell and will sometimes share it with a few close friends and family. Most professional writers start at this point. However, if you want to make a living from your writing, you must take the commitment a step further and start a small business. This means dealing with contracts and finance, being involved in all stages of the production process and comporting oneself in a professional manner whenever in public. I know, I just sucked all the romance from being a professional writer. Honestly, I wish that someone had taken off my rose colored glasses and forced me to don the business hat long before I did. You see, only the writer-as-businessman point of view provides the tools and perspective to create a meaningful career.

Creating stories is both a profession and a trade; writers generate and exploit intellectual property. Therefore, starting a writing business must be approached with the same thoughtfulness regarding initial investment and training as one would give to starting any other commercial enterprise. Would you ever consider opening a bakery without first buying ovens and ingredients? No. Could an aspiring doctor be successful without any sort of medical training? Of course not. Why then, do people expect writing to be different? Typically, the first batch of money goes into whatever is going to generate revenue; it is why many small businesses start in someone’s garage or kitchen. In the case of writing, the money maker is the writer’s skills and public image.

First, the writer must have some physical means of recording their thoughts in a way that can be transmitted to others. The specifics vary for each individual, based on their own experience and preferences. Some prefer direct entry into a laptop, while others prefer to write in a notebook, and yet others, like myself, prefer to dictate. I’d recommend experimenting with a few methods and then using what works for you. For many years, I only typed my stories out manually, but eventually bought Dragon Naturally Speaking. The text-to-speech feature helped a great deal with my editing, but dictating in front of my computer resulted in only a slight improvement in my rate of text generation. The problem was that I still spent too much time editing to realize the true benefits of dictation. I later took the advice of a writer I greatly respect and purchased a digital recorder to do my initial drafting. After training Dragon to do the transcription, my initial productivity has jumped significantly. By experimenting with my methodology, I was able to see significant gains.

The second thing the writer must invest in is their skills and craft. Sure, there are countless seminars, craft books, and online tutorials that promise to make you an international best seller, for a price. There are also excellent degree programs and teachers willing to pass on knowledge. They all help, but no amount of studying will allow a writer to entirely bypass years of practice. Investing in one’s craft means being brutally honest with yourself or having people who are willing to dispel your delusions for you. It means being able to think and consume critically about every piece of media you interact with on a daily basis. It means forcing yourself to write new material and edit old manuscripts until they are the best they can be, and then having the courage to let go of a piece and show your work to others. At some point, you will be disillusioned and despairing; internal and external voices will insist that you are wasting your time. That is the moment that you should know that what you are doing is meaningful. A writer’s craft can only be improved by investing and risking their time, pride, and effort. Without struggle and pain, there is no improvement, only stagnation.

The final element a writer must be willing to invest in is their persona. Readers will often become a fan of an author rather than a specific property, allowing the creative professional to maintain an audience from project to project. This realization has caused many contemporary authors to spend as much time on their own personal branding and networking as they do on an individual story. As an example, soon after donning my business hat, I hired someone to do both my graphics and web design for NathanBarra.com. I realized that I had no talent there and so hired out. I have invested time in maintaining my presence on NathanBarra.com, here on the Fictorians and on my Facebook page. All these things take time away from writing my stories, but the investments have paid off through the networks of professionals and support structures I have built. Likewise, I have spent thousands of dollars on conventions, and have even gone so far as purchasing a specific set of clothes that I wear when making professional appearances. By creating a “look,” I have made myself clearly identifiable and memorable in a way that fits with my other branding efforts. It is time and money up front, but I’m gambling that the investments will pay off later.

I have many things demanding my physical, mental, and temporal resources. Whenever I make an investment as the writer, it is with a clear goal in mind. Though I am still in the investment stage, I always am looking forward. I will be a professional writer some day, making my sole living through my art. It took a series of small hints from a number of different sources to guide me onto the path of professionalism. In order to build a successful business, I must invest wisely and with purpose.

My Journey to Professionalism, Step 2: Creating My Business

In order to make a living at my writing, I must act like a professional writer. At first, I thought that meant that I needed to establish an identity and brand myself as a writer. Though that is true, I recently realized that that is only part of the story. I invest money into Nathan, but do not track that expenditure as well as I should. I’m an engineer by training, not an accountant. This means that I must learn a new set of skills.

Unfortunately, I can give much less concrete advice on this topic that I could on yesterday’s discussion on branding. I am still exploring my options, and seeking advice for my own use. So instead of giving advice on the end game, I’ll try to explain my process so far, what I have learned, and maybe save my readers a few steps. If, on the other hand, one of our readers were to have knowledge and expertise beyond my ken, I will be monitoring the comments very closely. 🙂

First, I need to set the direction of my business. What are my business goals, and what timeline do I wish to establish these goals upon? I am doing research online about writing formal business plans, and will sit down to do so in the next few months. I am looking at my next creative projects, and judging them based on their business value rather than my personal entertainment. Being a businessman is as much a mindset as anything else.

Second, I am looking at what sort of business I need to establish. I have learned that if you do not set up a formal business framework, you, by default, form what is called a sole proprietorship.  This is at least how it works in the United States. In this sort of business structure, individuals can sue me directly for my business debts. Though the sole proprietorship gives me a framework to operate within, I am not too fond of this drawback. General partnerships seem to spread this risk between multiple individuals, but my writing business would not involve another at this time. So, that business structure does not fit either. Instead, I am looking at establishing either an LLC or Corporation.

As per my understanding, both of these structures create a separate legal and fiscal entity, sheltering me as the owner from some liabilities. The legalities behind these types of business entities are a bit more complex, ranging from their formation to how they’re taxed, to how they are viewed in a legal setting. I am taking my time with the research, seeking to understand as many details as possible before I move forward. It seems like I can transform one type of business entity to another, but it also seems simpler to adopt the best fit from the beginning.

LLC or Corporation

To learn all this, I am googling my local state’s tax laws, Corporation codes, and reading a book called LLC or Corporation? By Anthony Mancuso. The book is part of a series called “NOLO” that describes the law in simple terms and includes web support for free legal updates. It was highly recommended based on reviews, so I gave it a try, and have not been disappointed.

While I am working on forming my business entity, I am also cleaning up my books. Though I have limited financial training, I have an understanding of the basics of business accounting. Though most of my cash flow to date has been expenditure, I found that much of this can be deducted from my personal taxes at the end of the year. Eventually, I intend this to be a thriving business, so it is for the best to get into good accounting practices now.

Accounting Made Simple

To help me with this end, I have purchased a copy of QuickBooks, which I’m using to help track business expenses such as writers resources, conventions, and even my new laptop. At the end of the year, I’ll use QuickBooks exports with my tax preparation software and hopefully get a good return from the investments. I am also working to improve my knowledge of basic accounting, with online articles and books such as Accounting Made Simple by Mike Piper. Though this book will not make me an expert, it is a quick guide to help me avoid an expensive faux pas down the road.

I recognize that I have a great deal more studying to do, on both business structures and accounting. I am however just lifting my foot to take the next step in my journey as a professional. I spent a long time learning to be a writer, and now I am learning to be a business person. I can’t expect to be perfect overnight, but I believe that hard work and diligent research will translate into future benefit. After all, it’s one more step in the right direction.

Business Plans for Writers

A business plan for writers – what an absurd idea! That may be your first reaction, but chances are that you already know how you want to your writing career to evolve. A business plan is the road map to launching and growing your career in a strategic, efficient manner. Everything you’re doing now – networking, writing, learning craft, blogging – it’s all part of a plan but let’s face it, we’re writers first and the less time we spend floundering or making mistakes with the business part of our career, the more time we’ll have for writing.

Here are the key elements for a writer’s business plan:

1. Company Description
Yup, you’re a company with accompanying tax write offs but let’s be more specific than that. Does your business include writing, editing, holding workshops, attending trade fairs, or other activities related to writing and promotion? As a writer, do you write short stories, novellas, novels, magazine articles, or some combination? What is your genre? Who is the target audience?

2. Operations Plan
This is a one person company, right? Wrong. For tax purposes you may be a sole proprietor or an incorporated entity but your company is bigger than one person. For example, who are your support groups – writers’ groups, critique groups, book clubs, blog group? Do you belong to interest groups locally or on-line such as science, knitting, bird watching, Sherlock Holmes fan club? These are important to note because they not only inspire you and provide valuable input they may also be part of your readership. Who are your mentors, critiquers and editors?

Bestselling authors have an organization. Take a look at the Acknowledgements page of their books. Most Acknowledgement pages list editors, research contacts, readers – anyone who helped them. For ease of organization, you can divide your support network into four categories: craft, business (contracts, taxes, editors, finances, etc), networking (conferences, on-line, writers groups, readers groups), and market access. Note any deficiencies you have in these areas and develop a strategic plan to deal with that aspect. For example, I need to know more about marketing strategies and so I’ve chosen to attend a seminar on marketing rather than a critique workshop to fill this gap. Finding the experts I need fills a gap in my organization and allows me to use my use my limited budget wisely.

Remember – it takes one person to have the idea and write the story, but it takes a community to support a writer and make the work available to the reader. Who is in your community?

3. Products and Services
We touched briefly on this in the Company Description, but now we need to get specific. You may be writing in one genre or several writing poetry, short stories or novels and writing for the children’s, young adult or adult markets. In the market you’re writing for, who exactly is the audience? For example, not all people who read mysteries love the same type of mystery or the same degree of graphic language. Those loving cozy mysteries (think Stephanie Plum series) may not like Ian Rankin’s gritty detective or James Patterson’s thrillers. What type of mystery/fantasy/romance do you write? Who will it appeal to? What are the sensibilities of the genre and does your writing reflect that? Where will your work be placed on the bookshelf?

If you’re editing or involved in some other aspect of writing (volunteer or paid), note that too. Depending on the level of your involvement, you may need to create separate business plans. However, having them listed in one spot will help you manage your time better when setting goals.

4. Marketing
It’s so easy to want to stay at home and only write or at most, to go to a writing meeting where we chat with like minded people. Marketing means getting out of our comfort zone and reaching out. The easiest way to do this is to have a plan and to follow it. A haphazard approach erodes confidence and the ability to present things in a comfortable confident manner.

For every product you need to have your elevator pitch, synopsis, chapter by chapter plot line, a great manuscript before you promote. Having these will help you understand your product so you can differentiate it and create a unique selling proposition. In other words, what distinguishes your story from others it the market? Why will your target market (children, young adults, mystery/romance/horror fans) like it?

Describe how your stories will be sold – book stores (which ones?), on-line, book clubs, and how you intend to get the books there. Even if you have a traditional publisher, you still have to market and sell, so be prepared to do that.

What are your promotional tactics? In other words, how will you reach your audience? Some examples are: tradeshows, school appearances, readings, book tour, social media marketing (Twitter, Facebook, etc,), reading clubs (local, Goodreads, etc), on-line advertising, conventions, local advertising and book trailers. Your website should appeal to the book buyer. One writer I know designed her site for teachers because they’re the ones who will be buying her books and will be allowing her to make school presentations. Who is your website designed for – readers, teachers, technical users (how to books), other writers?

There have been many good posts on marketing at Fictorians so just click on the Marketing category and you’ll receive a ton of information. Just remember to choose a few things to do (for example you can’t belong to every book club and effectively utilize all social media) and do them well.

5. Finances
Having a budget will focus your marketing strategy and allow you to develop and manage your business more effectively by allowing you to prioritize. Which convention/workshop can I afford to go to? Do I purchase business cards or have a professional design my website? What can I do for free?

After all the work we do to write our wonderful books, we can’t afford to fail now because we failed to plan the business part of our passion.