Monday, August 21, 2006

Writing is a business

Writers need to have at least two hats hanging in their office. One is the creative one that we barely notice putting on at 2 in the morning when we have this great idea and just need to get it onto paper, and other similar moments, like when we're developing characters and outlining plots and searching for just the right word to show our readers the story that's floating around our brains.

The other hat, the one that's not as much fun or fashionable or exciting, and that we tend to pick up gingerly and reluctantly, is the business hat. Writing is, after all a business. We have valuable skills, we create a good product that's in demand, and we expect to be paid (as much as possible) for that product.

Part of what we do while wearing that business hat involves planning: figuring out what we're worth financially and how we can maximize our income. If I didn't hate aphorisms so much, I'd remind you to "Plan your work and work your plan." But I really hate such sing-songy oversimplifications, so pretend I never said that.

Instead, let's talk about business plans and how writers can use them. Usually, a business plan is intended to give to investors to raise the initial (or expansion) capital. Writers are, in this regard, luckier than the average business start-up, because our initial costs are so low. Start with a computer and printer (things you probably have for other reasons anyway), paper, envelopes and postage, and you're up and running. Add in your own skills, a bit (okay, a lot) of practice and a few (relatively inexpensive) how-to books and workshops, and you've survived the first year, which is more than a lot of other types of businesses can accomplish.

Writers don't need a business plan to raise capital, but it can be useful in helping the writer to figure out goals and strategies to achieve those goals. Ultimately, it might be useful for sharing with an agent, when discussing long-term goals for the writer/agent team.

I'm in the process of creating a sample business plan for writers, and I'll share it here when it's done, but for now, I'm wondering how many of you have done a business plan for your writing career.

Even if you don't have a formal plan, do you have lists of WIPs and their potential markets? Do you keep records of submissions and expected response dates? Do you set aside time to search for new markets or re-research older markets? Have you thought about what your particular niche is or perhaps established a tagline that defines all your stories? Do you have a budget (or money set aside) for educational and/or research materials and workshops?

So, what do you do when you've set aside your comfortable creative hat, and you're wearing your down-to-earth business hat?


Kis Lee said...

I'll be the first to admit that I don't have a formal business plan. When I first started this journey, I wasn't sure if I'd ever get published. Now that I'm in the "beginning writer" stage, I'm slowly figuring out what I want to accomplish.

I keep a chart for submissions and a chart for payments. When I'm not writing, I research markets and see what titles publishers are pushing. I try to study trends to see what's popular and what could become popular.

James Buchanan said...

While I don't have a formal plan, I do have a submissions & WIP spreadsheet. I set aside a time of day, each day, for trolling and e-marketing. I'm constantly scanning new venues for promotion and trying to gauge what the market wants... more cops less vampires... and tailoring my work to than in many ways.

It is ultimately a hobby right now, but one I don't want to end up ass over teacups in. And I'd rather it be a profitable hobby then a money sink.

Vincent Diamond said...

After making a sale to an antho I hadn't heard from in nine months, and realizing, with a galloping heart, that I'd already sent the story back out to another publisher(!), I understood that jotting down notes on a first page wasn't going to be a sufficient method to track submissions any more. Yep, gots me a Word table and keep copious info therein. I know who, what, when, where, pub date, payment date, and other assorted info to track my short stories.

Maybe it's just the Capricorn in me, but I've always been pretty linear about managing this as a business. I've had a Schedule C tax form the last five years; I keep every receipt for office supplies, postage, books, magazines, anything to do with writing; I even track my mileage to the post office and office supply store. It all adds up.

No formal business plan for me but last year I started a Submissions/Sales goals sheet. Last year it was 27 subs and 8 sales. This year my goal is 36 subs and 12 sales. I'm already at 28 subs for the year and 7 sales so far:). Progress!

It's a different head space to manage the business aspect of the life but it's a necessary one.

Barrie Abalard said...

I don't have a formal business plan. But I do have goals. Every time I plan to spent time doing promotion, submitting to a new-to-me publisher, etc., I ask myself: will it further my goals? If it does, I go ahead, If it doesn't, I put off the action for a little while. As goals can change, action A that I put off three months ago may now be an appropriate action.

The last time I did a huge round of queries/submissions to about thirty agents, I kept a table in Word. The next time I do another round of submissions (probably not long from now), I will check that table (in case any agents rose or fell in my estimation) and create a new table to track my submissions.

Now, if I could only organize my records to suit my left-brained husband, we'd be all set. :) But I hate spending time shuffling paper.