Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creating a Five Year Plan

Wordle of my blog

At the request of Magan Vernon and Jason Letts, I'm posting my Five Year Plan, and how I came up with it (I've been revamping it this weekend, having already met my five year goals in one year). I hope it will help you, if you're trying to make some goals in this wild and wooly time in publishing.

Why Make The Plan?
There's a million decisions you have to make as an author. What do I write next? Indie or trad-pub? Agent or no? Do I go to this conference or invest in how-to books? Should I join a writerly organization? Etc. Having a plan will help you navigate these to find answers that line up with your goals.

For example, I've been struggling for some time whether to renew my SCBWI membership. SCBWI is not friendly to indies. I have PAL (Published and Listed) status with them for my small-press book, but not for my indie book, which is far more popular. I love my local SCBWI crit group, but the local conference has nothing to offer indies as well. Why keep paying the fees?

Financial Five Year Plan
Creating the financial part of my Five Year Plan was fairly simple - I want to fund my three boys' college education with my writing earnings. That's a number I can calculate. It's not a small number, but if I can replicate my sales this year for the next five years, I will reach that goal. So, it's reasonable.

And replicating my sales means writing and publishing more books.

That I can do. :) But which ones? And my goal isn't just to make money, but be creatively fulfilled.

Creative Five Year Plan
I started with brainstorming things that I believed. This may seem unrelated, but I think if you follow your core beliefs, you will generally make the right decisions, and things like fame, fortune, and friends will follow (man, that's a lot of f's).

Identifying My Core Values
My original brainstorming was much messier than this. But here it is in brief:
  • I believe the best way to improve your craft is to produce a large volume of work. This is following the inspiration of Ira Glass, and I deeply believe this is why I've come as far as fast as I have. In the last 4 years (come December), I have written about 750,000 words. Short stories, novellas, flash fiction, novels. That's FINISHED works (although not necessarily published), not counting the countless edits that went into making those finalized words. And that doesn't count the words I've written on my blog over the last three years (I'm afraid to know how many those are). The idea of quality vs. quantity is a misunderstanding of how it really works - you have to write a lot in order to learn how to write well. And you have to constantly strive to make every work better than the last.
  • I believe you have to write what you're passionate about.  I believe that the magic pixie dust that makes people enjoy your stories is that YOU enjoy the stories first. I'm not talking about the flush of amazement that new writers feel when they first start writing and are in love with the act itself. "Hey! I'm writing! Look! I'm creating worlds and characters and stories! It's sooooo cool!" That infatuation will pass and then you will find the stories that truly move you, whether it's a love story or a heart-pounding adventure or a soul-searching literary piece. I believe if you unleash the creative side of yourself, allow it to create the art that you love, you will by nature produce the thing that has the most potential to attract people to your work. Because it has passion and authenticity. 
Having those core values (and a lot of other random notes), this is what I came up with:

5 Year Goals:  Do a large volume of work. Write stories I love. Constantly strive to boost my productivity, increase my creativity, take my craft to a higher literary level. Find a way to balance my creative work with my life, so I can continue to produce at a pace that I can maintain. I've previously produced two full-sized (85k) novels, plus three short works (5-10k ea) in a year. At that pace, I can produce 10 novels and a dozen or more short works in 5 years. That's enough to build a portfolio of works in one genre (YA/SF) while possibly exploring other genres as well.

1 Year Goals:
  • To finish writing/publishing the Mindjack Trilogy, including the Mindjack Origins short story collection.
  • Produce a live-action trailer for Mindjack. Consider acquiring a film agent to sell rights for the series.
  • Brainstorm/outline two possible indie series: one YA/SF, one adult/steampunk fanstasy/romance. Experiment with novel length/number in series. See what works best for the stories.Write and indie release at least one novel, possibly two, plus additional shorts related to these series.
  • Revise my middle grade fantasy. Renew my SCBWI membership. Attend my local SCBWI conference. Submit my MS to agents/editors. If the trad-pub path fails for this book, indie publish.
  • Seek out ways to stretch myself in my craft. Keep myself open to experimentation. 
  • After one year, make a new plan. :)
How does all this planning help? For one, I realized that I didn't want five years to go by without publishing a middle grade story (because I'm PASSIONATE about middle grade - see above). I still believe trad-pub is best for MG, so that meant renewing my SCBWI membership and investing in a conference that could bring me contacts with MG editors. If I'm able to land an MG contract with a trad-publisher, it will give me experience in that side of the business, as well as the potential to work with an editor who could help me stretch my creative skills. If not, I'll indie publish and see what's possible with that path for MG. Even though my YA indie works are helping me reach my financial goals, my MG works will help me reach my creative goals, and those are important too.

Do you have a Five Year Plan? If so, or if you're inspired to create one, please share your link in the comments!

Ok, back to the Writing Cave, to produce more volumes of work...


  1. You're awesome, Sue! Love your five year plan!!! =)

  2. I don't even have a one year plan, at least not formalized. But I finally established an SCBWI critique group so I can pick the brains of other children's writers who are getting published. And I think you're going to succeed with your middle grade even if you publish as an indie. If anyone can break the children's book barriers for indie authors, you can.

    1. I'm so glad you found your SCBWI crit group! I think you will get a lot out of that. :) And thanks for your kind words about the MG book - if I do go indie, I'll be much better prepared/experienced about how to make it work than I would have been before, if it was my first book. And I love this book enough to take the risk for it. I think that's what matters most of all.

      Thanks for the sweet comment! :)

  3. Time to review my business plan--thanks for the push!

  4. Great plan. I'm constantly reeavaluating my plan. My one year plan esp. That changes. I love that we have the ability to adapt our plans. :)

  5. Wow, absolutely astounding. I love this five-year-plan. I also love that you say how writing more=writing better, which is so true! I'm off to make my five-year-plan now...

    P.S.--Have you considered making this self-publishing how-to series into an ebook? I'd buy the hel* out of it! Right now I'm just saving all your posts into a folder on my computer. :D

  6. I love your left-brain/right-brain meld. I've told you that before, haven't I?

  7. Hats off to your fantastic plan. I'm lucky if I have plan for the morning, so you can tell I'm impressed.

  8. You're so awesome for sharing these things with us, Dr. Q. :D I think it's FANTASTIC that you've already met your 5-year goal in Yr 1--LOL! You're awesome.

    I need to do this.

    As for your SCBWI membership thoughts, I haven't seen how it helped me, and now w/my status in flux, I'm not sure it ever will. So I'll probably let that go, too. What I *might* do is join RWA. The *are* more favorable to indies, and I do tend to write everything romance. ;p

    Best to you! Keep up the awesome work. You're an inspiration! :o) <3

  9. Thank you for sharing your plan, Susan. It was inspiring to read and it's exactly what I need to do right now. Time for me to get back to writing too!

  10. Great post, Susan. And very impressive, your 750k word four-year output. You’re clearly on a clear path and I’m sure your planning has a good bit to do with your success.

    I recently published my first novel, which spurred me to put together a 1-year writing plan. I’ve scheduled my writing, editing, and marketing goals month-by-month. Having read your post, I think I will extend that to a 5-year plan. Not in the same detail as the twelve month one, but looking ahead to where I want to be then. And then revisit annually and revise based on where I stand. This makes solid business sense, and why not treat writing and publishing one’s work as the business it ultimately is?

  11. This is a great plan and a great exercise for anyone. Thank you for sharing it!

  12. 750k? Wow. An impressive output. I wonder what mine is? I'm pretty sure it's at least 150k. I'd never even thought about it until this post!

    Right. I'm off to do my five-year plan and then I'm sticking it on the wall as a daily reminder.

  13. Fantastic post, Sue! It's been so much fun to watch you take off as a writer.

  14. Great post! Thanks for sharing your tips - I definitely agree with writing what you're passionate about. Having a plan is a great idea! I aim to write two books a year, plus brainstorming for future work. As I'm publishing my MG/YA novel as an e-book only (with a small indie publisher) I need to work out how to market it, too.

    Good luck with your plan! :)

  15. This is a terrific post, and on a personal level, kind of eerie for me, not only because I was pondering that famous Ira Glass quote, but because I realized I needed to revise and nail down my own "five year plan." Reading this post was a great place to start. Thank you, Susan.


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