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

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Indie Author Survival Guide (Third Edition) - Ch 2.2 - Five Year Plan

This is an excerpt from the forth-coming Third Edition of the
Indie Author Survival Guide (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career 1)
Second Edition is available now

The Guide should be read in tandem with
For Love or Money (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career 2)

Join my Facebook Group (For Love or Money) for monthly consult giveaways!

Ch 2.2 Five Year Plan

Why Make The Plan?
There are 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. When you have to make these decisions, the plan will help you see which answer will support your goals. 

(Also see, For Love or Money, for more on larger career strategies, i.e. deciding whether to write to the market or not... or both.) 

With your Mission Statement, you have a handle on your core values. The Five Year Plan is a concrete action plan that lines up with those values. This is one-sheet plan that, at a glance, says where you're headed. (I've also made a full-scale Business Plansee the end of the chapter). Do what works for you, but setting down some basic goals and how you expect to achieve them is the core of any business. And indie publishing is a business, so you need to treat it that way.

I'll use my plans as examples, so you can see the evolution from the beginning to present. This evolution shows how it's important to consider not just financial but creative aspects to your plans and how changing the plan isn't failure... it's learning.

STEP 1: What is Your Goal?

  • · Do you just want legions of readers?
  • · Do you have particular kind of story you need to tell?
  • · Do you dream of winning awards? 
  • · Do you want to be on the NY Times Bestseller list, and nothing else will do? 
  • · Do you want to earn a living with your writing? 

You don't have to have just one, and these will evolve over time. I make no judgment about your goals, except that they should line up with your Core Values.

This is critical: be honest with yourself. 
Don't spend a bunch of time chasing a goal that, once you achieve it, isn't what you really wanted after all.

For me, I took this (original) Mission Statement…
To leverage my background in science, engineering, politics and life, to create compelling stories and characters that pose moral questions to young readers and make them think. To have every story be an improvement in craft. To be a leader and member of a supportive writing community, through blogs, critiques, and social networking. To create a body of novel length works that reaches a large number of young readers, to provide the greatest impact on young lives.

…and came up with this overarching goal:
To make enough money from writing that it would be equivalent to working as a part-time engineer.

For me, my family's financial plans always included me going back to work once the kids were in school. I had assumed that would be part-time engineering, flexible around my kids' schedules, and that money would be used to fund our three boy's college tuition. If I was going to accomplish all the things in my Mission Statement, I would need this writing business to not just support itself, but grow into something that could replace that missing income. Something that could basically send my kids to college.

It may not be hitting the NY Times bestseller list, but at the time, replacing a steady engineering paycheck with money from my writing seemed like shooting for the moon.  (But I've done that before, so that didn't put me off.)

STEP 2: Make the Plan

My first Five Year plan was a ridiculous mess (don't be afraid to be messy!). I've cleaned it up, boiled it down, and essentially it was this:

*****

August 2011 Five Year Plan
5 year goal: To make enough money from writing that it would be equivalent to working as a part-time engineer.
Measure: $29,250/yr net income ($50k salary pro rated to part-time), before taxes.
Target: 16,500 ebook sales per year

Cost to launch an ebook ~$1000, so first 500 ebooks go against costs. Assume launch 3 books in a year, so first 1500 ebook sales go to expenses. $30k income is equivalent to 15,000 ebook sales/yr at $2/book profit. Need to sell 15,000+1,500(costs) = 16,500 total.

1 year goal: To self-publish a YA trilogy (3 ebooks) that will start to build my fan base toward that 16k sales number.
Target: hit the top 100 of my genre on Amazon's SF/F bestseller list (Kindle store).

This book goal: To launch the book, start building the base and build excitement for the series. 
First Target: break even with 500 sales
Second Target: break 1,000 sales on Open Minds in the first 6 months.

See that modest first target (break even with 500 sales)? The reason to set a low first target is: 1) hopefully you can reach it, and 2) if you don't, then early on, you can start to reformulate your Marketing Plan (see My, That's a Beautiful Backpack). Or recalibrate your goals. Note that I didn't expect to reach my five year goal in the first year. I knew it would take time to build a fanbase. I was in this for the long-haul. I wasn't planning on quitting if I didn't hit the NY Times bestseller list in the first year. I was planning on breaking even and hoping to break 1000 sales and hit the top 100 in SF/F at some point.

That entire plan fit on one sheet and helped guide my first year. 

And because I was both lucky and worked hard, I managed to exceed my first year goals.  

In fact, I actually did meet my Five Year Goal in the first year.

So I revised.

*****

August 2012 Five Year Plan
By the end of the first year, I had sold 10,000 copies of my first novel and was making enough money to replace that part-time engineering job (that I won't have to take now). So I recalibrated my Five Year target to fund my three boy's entire college tuition. Sure, I might not make it, and I had more than five years to meet it, because my oldest was only 13. But that was the real target, at least financially. 

Financial Goals
5 year goal: Fully fund 3 boys' college education (not starting from zero; at the end of the 5 years, the first one starts college)
Target: save an average of $34k/year net for each of five years ~ 17,000 ebooks/yr

1 year goal: Finish the Mindjack Trilogy and plan a future series. Establish the business end of being an indie author—get equipment (iMac) and skills (formatting, publishing team), business tracking systems, etc.

That financial goal was substantially more aggressive—I had to not just hit the target once, but every year

Creative Goals
Along the way, I discovered creativity was just as important as money (to me). Once you get past the how-do-I-format-this and how-do-I-price-this and what-the-heck-is-marketing-anyway questions, the real power of being indie starts to settle in. You realize that just because books have always been written a certain way, does not mean they have to be written that way. Rules you didn't even realize your subconscious has laid hold of (book length) no longer restrict you. The euphoria of realizing you can write anything is quickly replace by a deluge of questions.

  • What do I want to be writing in five years?
  • What drives the length of a story?
  • Where do I need to stretch myself as a writer?
  • If there was no consideration for sales, what would I write?
  • If sales were all that concerned me, what would I write?
  • Do I continue to deliver stories that will build upon my prior works?
  • Do I diversify and write something completely different?
  • Does brand matter anymore in the digital age? 

Once again, having a your core values written down helps guide you with this.

5 year goal: 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. At my current 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. (I laugh now at the 10 novels in 5 years—see my productivity increases in the years ahead—and this was just before I started scratching that itch to explore other genres)

1 year goal: To finish publishing the Mindjack Trilogy, including shorts/collection (Mindjack Origins) and live-action trailer. Stretch myself in my craft, branching out and experimenting with genre and form (length), while still building on the base built with Mindjack. 

Looking at my creative and financial goals, I realized I didn't want five years to go by without revising and publishing one of my middle grade stories. That meant it went on the schedule, and I was willing to renew my SCBWI membership to pursue the trad-pub path with that book (because trad is still best for MG). (Spoiler alert: one of the Amazon imprints was interested in it, then passed, then I decided to indie publish.)

When something's not on the schedule... 
Six Months later... Debt Collector, a future-noir serial, hit my brain like a thunderstorm. I wanted to write it... desperately. It didn't fit into my plans, but when I looked at my creative goals they included things like:
  • Branching out and experimenting with genre and form (length)
  • Experiment with novel length/number in series
  • Seek out ways to stretch myself in my craft
  • Constantly strive to boost my productivity

Writing a 125k, nine-part serial on the fly in four months was definitely all those things. It was not in the schedule, but it was in the creative plan. In other words, Debt Collector aligned with my core values.

But it wasn't on the schedule, so I revised again.

~*~

August 2013 Five Year Plan
Creative Goals
1 year goal: Writing Debt Collector proved I could write faster than I believed possible (125k in 4 months). Reducing social media and focusing during creative time (as well as tracking my creative productivity) was key. I need to continue to push those boundaries.
  • · Finish Faery Swap, Third Daughter, start Singularity, write second season of Debt Collector (basically increasing my speed is unlocking my ability to tackle more projects).
  • · Work with a professional developmental editor to speed story process.
  • · Continue to stretch myself in my craft by taking the Screenplay in a Year workshop with Kat Falls as well as the writing intensive in Minnesota with James Scott Bell. 

Revising your plans again and again isn't a sign of weakness, in you or the plan. It's a sign of strength that your goals can evolve with you, that you're remaining flexible and open to change. Once again, having your core values written down helps to keep you grounded as your actual plans shift.

A Full Business Plan
The one-sheet plan can help you identify where you're heading, but if you want to go full formalized business plans, there are many templates out there on the interwebs. This is one that I used.

1. Description of Business
Details about business plus summary of Five Year Plan.
2. Ownership 
The Legal Beagle stuff.
3. Products
A summary of current works and planned works for the next 5 years.
4. Pricing Strategy
Philosophy of pricing (including promotional pricing) as well as a listing of current prices, both print and digital.
5. Financial Plan
A summary of sales of current works in the past, plus expected revenues in the future. Observations about which books perform better/worse.
6. Production Schedule and Writing Plans
A description of the production process (time to draft, critique partners, editors, other publishing team members), as well as a schedule for the coming years.
7. Targeted Audience
Some understanding of who you're reaching with your books.
8. Planned Marketing and Promotion in Current Year
An analysis of what's worked in the past and what new promotions will be explored in the future.
9. Web Plan
Plans for a professional presence(s) on the web as well as author branding.
10. Long Term Goals
Both Financial and Creative Five Year Plans, as well as Core Values and Goals.
11. Summary
Executive summary of the business plan.

Honestly, I think the one page is better, but do what works for you.
~*~
May 2015 Five Year Plan
Didn't update the plan for 2014... I was too busy writing! 2014 was about increasing my productivity (I wrote 500k that year), finishing off some series (steampunk) and advancing others (Debt Collector), so I could launch a new series (Singularity) in 2015. I also focused on streamlining any extraneous work that didn't directly contribute to my wordcount or my business bottom line. Things like using a professional developmental editor were becoming standard. I simplified my sale/business tracking, used a formatter, expanded into translations and audiobooks, all while staying open to innovative deals like anthologies, charity projects, and optioning some of my works for Virtual Reality with Immersive Entertainment. 

Oh, and I met my five year target of fully funding my three boys college education. After only two years.

[Ed note: the funniest part about that was that I didn't notice. It took my husband pointing out that we'd met the goal number for me to see it. I was buried in launching books and doing taxes and the general business of the business. Moral: keeping your head down and focused can get you farther than you think.]

In 2014, I also launched my penname (see For Love or Money)... the penname didn't help with my financial goals, because the money for that goes to my "special project," but it sharpened my need to become more productive (balancing two pennames and still write in both isn't easy), as well as broadened my knowledge of the industry, different genres, the market, and marketing in general. 

Today, I don't generally have a formal, written plan, because planning has become second nature. I'm constantly learning, growing, striving to write more, and folding in the lessons learned under my penname for my SKQ works, and vice versa. The way I launched my new series in 2015 was very different than my first in 2011 (you'll see more of this in later chapters). Which is one reason I feel the need to update this Guide with a new edition every year or so, in order to keep the knowledge fresh and useful to you. (That's part of my Mission Statement as well!)

~*~
March 2016 Five Year Plan

Financial Goals
For SKQ: To keep making enough money with my works to justify the time spent writing stories I love.

For PenName: To hit a financial goal for my "special cause" that will make a significant contribution.

Creative Goals
For SKQ: To write stories I love, even if they don't make money. To continue to push myself in craft (which this year means experimenting with a more literary style for some of my short stories). I have an agent now, so submitting to traditional publishers is an option, but not one I'm interested in (my agent mainly tries to sell audio and foreign rights). I may submit a literary short story to an SF magazine. I may not. But my primary goal remains to build that body of SKQ works: Singularity, another trilogy of Mindjack, three more seasons of Debt Collector... and who knows, beyond that.

For PenName: To continue to chase the market, trying new things, finding ways to maximize income from my penname while still writing stories I enjoy. Be as creative as I can within the confines of market demands. Enjoy flexing my character-development muscles as I write romance. Continue to reliably publish and grow a fanbase in this genre.

Balancing two pennames and LIFE is my biggest challenge now. In the pursuit of that, I've transformed my process so that I dictate the majority of my works, which allows me to produce more content while also being healthier (i.e. my body can move while I'm creating, so that I'm not glued to the chair). Unlocking greater productivity allows me to reach both my financial and creative goals by simply creating more while still having a life outside of my work. 

This is a job I hope to keep until I die (happy) at the keyboard, so developing creative endurance and life balance is key.

The Future Is Bright
Making a plan is no guarantee of success (remember my first target? breaking even?). But it puts you squarely in the driver's seat of your own future. Which brings me to thoughts of the future. A whole generation of writers are making their careers solely as indie-published authors. Those authors are making their own rules (about storytelling, writing, and careers), and they are fundamentally different from any other generation of authors in the past.

This crucible of indie publishing isn't just changing the industry, it's changing the writers.

Be bold! Make No Small Plans! Which brings me to the next section, Taking the Road Less Traveled.
~*~

This is an excerpt from the forth-coming Third Edition of the
Indie Author Survival Guide (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career 1)
Second Edition is available now

The Guide should be read in tandem with
For Love or Money (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career 2)

Join my Facebook Group (For Love or Money) for monthly consult giveaways!

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