Treat your writing like a passion, but treat your novel like a business.
Being an independently published author is extremely time intensive. Knowing that going in is the first consideration you need to include when evaluating your trajectory and goals. Much as you may outline your novel—with plot arcs, story goals, and finale outcomes—think of your business plan as the outline to your writing career. The following are the three universal steps (as I see them) to accomplish this.
1. Set realistic goals.
The fact is, brand-new, unknown authors cannot expect to hit the publish button and sell hundreds of books overnight, even if they hire a publicist. The number one way people sell books is through word of mouth, and if your book hasn’t yet been read by anyone, there’s no one to spread the word on how fabulous it is. But that’s okay, as many people describe it, becoming a success is a marathon, not a sprint.
So being realistic about defining goals actually has the prerequisite of understanding the realities of independent publishing. Writing wonderful words is merely the first step of the waltz (or line dance, whichever you prefer, no judgment). You have a lot of steps to take before the music stops.
One such realistic goal is not to simply decide “I want to sell as many books as I can.” That’s a given. Carve that goal down into discrete maneuvers for which you can then build a strategy to achieve. “I want to sell a hundred books in my first month of being published.” That’s more like it (although I highly recommend that your initial goal be about amassing book reviews over sales). That’s a statement that you can bring some partners in on. Now, how will you do that? See step 2.
2. Analyze your resources, including your time, and decide how to best leverage what you have.
If you have more goals than you have resources to support them, you might consider launching a crowd-funding strategy such as you’d find on Kickstarter or Unbound. (How to be successful at a crowd-funding campaign is a large topic that won’t be covered in this series, but definitely something to look into.)
Here is my suggested ideal process for the lifespan of a novel—from writing to marketing—including financial outlays.
I. Write the book, however long it takes. Cost: Your soul and sanity. Possibly a new computer and spiffy writing software like Scrivener (which runs around $45 for Mac).
II. Find and enlist beta readers. These are your NUMBER ONE resource. Your novel needs feedback from people who are well versed at understanding the difference between a good story and a snoozer. Start doing this before your novel is complete. You can even have them read a few sample chapters early in the writing process to help you discover if you’re on the right track. Cost: Your eternal gratitude and possibly cookies.
Or, you could hire a developmental editor. Cost: Anywhere from $1,000 – $5,000. Obviously a resource-dependent endeavor.
During this step, you also need to look at your expected availability to engage in social media and self-promoting endeavors. Two hours a week? Two hours a day? Depending on this tally, you’ll then be able to choose what type of online presence you’re going to be able to maintain. Facebook and Twitter have very specific utility, as does a blog or website, and each are different. Facebook and Twitter take far less time to engage in than a well-run blog, but they also have far less impact. This type of online presence, while essential to becoming a brand, is a moving target that will have a level of effectiveness that is unique to each author. The key is, you need to be developing your online presence at least a year before you ever publish your book. Cost: Basically free, depending on your willingness to be your own PR manager (i.e., tweet junkie, blogger, facebooker).
Or you can hire a promotion firm, but even many of these will assume you have at least a basic online presence such as a website. Cost: $450+.
III. Hire your cover designer. Unless you are super digital-arts savvy and artistically talented, you need a vetted cover designer. More books lose would-be readers because of bad covers than anything else. (I have zero data to back this up, but cut me some slack on the hyperbole. I am an author, after all). I think it’s the “shiny” factor. Even if a person is setting out to buy something that is nothing but words on a page, they still want the words to have the “shiniest” wrapper. There’s also the reality that people are going to consciously or unconsciously assume that if the cover is bad, the writing will be too.
You’ll need to know by this point if you’re doing only an ebook or both ebook and print. My recommendation is to plan for a print version as well and have your cover designer, if not creating one now, knowing you may be requesting one down the road. Cost: $150 – $1,000.
IV. Editing and proofreading, post beta-reading, and final edits (which could take several rounds/drafts). I’m going to go back to the statement above: Treat your writing like a passion, but treat your novel like a business. Would you buy products from a company who put up for sale the first product they ever created without so much as having tested it first? What if Edison had mass-produced his first light bulb, even though it didn’t work? A line-edit and copyedit are like the product-testing phases of your novel’s production. It works out the kinks in your language, plot, and design, and polishes your words before they go on display. A novel without a copyedit and a proofread, stands out. But usually not in a good way. Cost: Depends on such factors as word count and overall prepolish of your novel, but generally line-editing can cost 3¢–10¢/word, copyediting costs about 3¢/word, and proofreading is about 1¢/word. My business site [www.inspiredinkediting.com] offers another look at pricing and describes exactly what a copy editor can help you with.
V. Print and/or ebook design, formatting, and creation. Cost: Free for DIYers; around $100, or $400 for those who’d rather hire out.
VI. Launch. Cost: Ten years off your lifespan and the salary of a good therapist.
VII. Post-launch ongoing marketing and promotion. Cost: As much or as little as you desire. This will be dictated by the intersection of your goals and resources.
These are the absolute essentials to publishing a novel that will be read and enjoyed by thousands. As you can see, there are huge differences in cost, time commitment, and quality for each, and you’ll have to take a long, thorough look at them all to decide what your personal publishing path will entail.
3. Set up your publishing calendar. My personal motto is: A deadline is the only inspiration I need.
There are those who catch the stream of events and continue merrily onward without ever getting stuck in an eddy. Then there are those who must stop at every riverbank to smell the flowers. Problem is, sometimes you forget that the takeout van at the end of the river is leaving at 6 p.m., and you still have miles to go. (Too many whitewater kayaking references? Sorry, I was a kayaker before I was a writer.) The point is, many people need to see their publishing trajectory in black and white in order to stay on track. Therefore, creating a publishing calendar at the outset, usually around the time you begin to know exactly when you’ll be typing “The End” on your first or second draft, can become an essential tool not only for seeing that everything you need to do is checked off, but also for motivating you to keep going. All of the above need to be included, along with start- and end-by dates, deadlines, etc.
For further inspiration on developing your own writing business plan, please visit this post by Susan at Writers in the Storm and another by contemporary fiction author Molly Greene.
Learn how to create an ebook or hire someone to do it (including pros and cons of each option).
Research the different distribution sites, their requirements, and how long they take to set up and use.
Learn how and where to find an editor, proofreader, and cover designer.
And finally, learn how to market, including using social networking sights, blog hops, and review requests.