Letters from the Real World: Do you have a 3-year plan?

By Cait Reynolds
Me and my fuzzy, useless business partner.

Me and my fuzzy, useless business partner.

Do you? I do.

That’s one of the first things I worked on before I decided to step out as a full-time author. I realized that I needed a business plan. Author marketing was a major chunk of the plan, but I wanted to create a career trajectory that was grounded in sales and would lead to growth opportunities.

Here’s the kicker, though: just how do you write a 3-year business plan for books?

I started by reading. Weeks of reading. Reading while commuting on the train. Reading before bed. Reading in the morning while I had coffee. I read about trends in the publishing industry, what the hot markets are now, what they will be in two years. I read real-life stories of other writers and “how-they-did-it” articles. I soaked in everything I could.

Then I took time and didn’t read about the industry. I forced myself to be patient, to simply let my mind ruminate and percolate. That was honestly the hardest part – I’m not a patient person. In the end, though, it paid off. When I decided it was time to start putting the plan together, I found that ideas and decisions were already there in my mind. They were better quality ideas and sharper, more sensible decisions for having had the time to mature.

The first thing I looked at was what genre I was going to write for. Now, I admit this was fairly easy, as I already write romance/erotica. I had chosen this genre long ago because of fast turnaround times for publication and the fact that it’s one of the most lucrative genres out there.

Okay, so I was going to start with romance and erotica. I had my Blue Moon series that already had one book published (albeit two years ago), but that series was ripe for the picking. Volume is key to income in publishing, especially in romance. Therefore, I put together the list of books for the series and set them up for writing this year. Blue Moon was to be the foundation of my income base, creating a backlist and a recurring revenue stream.

I don’t know about you, but I have a whole plot bunny nursery full of ideas for stand-alone books and series. It was easy then to pick up and figure out what the erotica books I will be writing are for 2015 publication, again continuing to grow the income base and drive interest in the back list.

The Blue Moon series is written under my erotica pen name – Fiona Blackthorne. There’s a funny story about how it took a village to come up with that name, but that’s for another time. I knew that I wanted eventually to move into mainstream romance, literary fiction, and even some nonfiction under my own name. You can’t just burst onto the scene, though, and expect instant success (which had been part of the reason I failed so badly the other times I’ve tried to make a go of full-time writing). You have to build.

So, in addition to my Blue Moon series, I added to the writing schedule three more books for mainstream romance under my own name. Then again, for 2015, I added the next set of mainstream romance books. For 2016, I have both a couple of erotica books and mainstream romance books and my first nonfiction book. I’m trying to be patient, here. It’s very hard.

I want to write ALL the books NOW. But, I can’t. And bills must be paid on a regular basis. Therefore, I will write on a regular basis and be sensible. This is a business, and I have a business plan. Success comes from sticking to the plan. Failure comes from jumping around and changing all the time, as well as trying to do too much, too soon.

I also planned to attend a couple of conferences and tradeshows this year. I already went to AWP, and I will be at RWA this summer. This is to teach me about the business, make networking connections and create business opportunities for myself. What I decide to attend next year is up in the air, based on financials and usefulness of the conferences this year, but so far, it’s looking good!

Denny Basenji sticks his nose into my financials

Denny Basenji sticks his nose into my financials

Another part of the business plan that you cannot ignore is the numbers. You have to be ready to deal with numbers.

This year is my trial balloon for financials. I planned my income – only roughly, but I tried to factor in things like when my publisher pays out royalties, the way that Amazon delays royalties by a quarter, looking at old sales reports and figuring out approximately how much to expect from other distribution channels. For every book in the Blue Moon series I publish, I added a 20% increase in sales due to the growing volume of my backlist.

Being super conservative (and admittedly somewhat naive about mainstream romance income numbers), I didn’t add anything in from mainstream romance for this year. I will wait until I publish something and see how it goes before I do that. I am also watching my expenses this year for conferences, web stuff, taxes, etc. to see how to budget for that against my income for next year.

So, the three parts of my business plan are: the book plan, the marketing plan, and the financials.

Without those three things, I feel like I would just be writing and throwing stuff into the wind, hoping for rain. My business plan might give all the accuracy of a local news meteorologist in New England (yet another story for another time), but it’s something to start with.

me-fb-bm-blackeandblue-sBy the way, if you want to help support my little experiment, you can pre-order my new book – “Blacke and Blue” from Bookstrand. It’s a sexy thriller with werewolves, serial killers, and cannibals. And sex. The release date is 3/24, and I’m just a wee bit inappropriately excited.    http://www.bookstrand.com/blacke-and-blue

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