As a writer, especially as one who is pondering the self-publishing route, it can be enormously helpful to think of what you’re doing as a business.
I don’t mean ‘business’ in the sense of a group of people looking at graphs and meeting constantly with accountants or making decisions in sterile rooms in tall buildings - I mean ‘business’ in the sense that you have a product which you’d like to offer to a group of customers (readers). You might not wish to walk too far down this road and get yourself tangled up in complexities like ‘commercial viability’ and ‘cash flow forecasts’, but whether you like it or not, these things will play a part in your life if you want to make writing a career.
It doesn’t have to be either boring or complicated, though.
As a first step, then, and perhaps your only step, it can really help to try to describe what you are doing on one side of one piece of paper as a kind of condensed ‘business plan’. Use sketches, use numbers, use analogies, use pictures, use a logo or quotes, but, once you have a plan, try to keep it to one piece of paper. A full and comprehensive business plan is essential when you’re raising finance, recruiting partners or still working things out, but a proper and full business document is simply too clunky and, well, ‘business-like’ for most writers and isn’t even useful on a day to day level for business owners. A condensed one-page business plan, on the other hand, can provide you with a genuinely useful tool to keep your writing career on the right track.
But how should you start putting one together?
1. Personal Brand
You may have read something about developing a ‘personal brand’ as a writer. This is usually defined along the lines of ‘a particular identity or image regarded as an asset’. Think of the brand names in your local supermarket, or even your local supermarket itself: they have ‘brands’ to try to present themselves as special or different in some way. As a writer in a congested and highly competitive marketplace, it can help, so the theory goes, to ‘stand out from the crowd’ in some way by having a specific identity which is different to the identities around you.
We can go one step better than this: a personal brand could be defined as that sense of personality which lingers around a product or business based on the identity of the main person or people associated with it.
In writing terms, we could call it your ‘voice’: it’s the particular quality of style, the specific communication of a viewpoint, a resonating set of characteristics in your work which is unique to you. If that can be developed visually into a logo, or even reduced to a couple of sentences, then you have something that you might call a ‘brand’.
Another definition of ‘brand’ is an identifying mark burned into something. This is where ‘branding’ in our modern sense comes from: ‘brand’ as ‘mark with a hot iron’ dates from late Middle English, giving rise to the noun sense ‘a mark of ownership made by branding’ in the mid 17th century.
How do you work this out? Funnily enough, one of the easiest ways to develop a sense of your uniqueness is to communicate with others. Engage with communities, whether they are to do with your writing or not; have conversations; give and get feedback on a range of topics. You will find, in a relatively short space of time, that your own identity starts to take shape against this background of interchange. Those with whom you are communicating will come to expect certain input from you and will probably, after a while, say exactly what that input is and why it belongs to you and not really to anyone else. Your personality, your voice, your personal ‘mark of ownership’ will emerge.
Of course you can try to avoid communication and ponder who and what you are in a dark room on your own. That can work, but it can be uncomfortable and in the end misleading: your voice is best discovered when it is spoken.
2. Your Purpose
Many writers don’t realise that they have a purpose. Failing to discover what it is, or even that it exists, their writing careers can grow flaccid and their voices fade into the background. A strong purpose, on the other hand, usually has a powerful, positive effect on writing.
On this one-page business plan, make the purpose of your writing as clear and straightforward as you can. This doesn’t have to be anything complex or globally altruistic or mysterious: you can have any kind of purpose, from exorcising your own inner ghosts through to saving the planet. The key thing is to know what it is and to make it shine out from your work.
3. Point of Difference
While you’re working on your one-page plan, leave room to develop what it is that makes you different from everyone else. This should be easier if you have tackled the above steps successfully.
Your personal brand is your uniqueness; your purpose is what you are trying to do with that uniqueness. Your point of difference is the gap between that and everyone else.
Are you ‘just another romance writer’? Or are you a romance writer with a particular passion for historical accuracy, or a burning desire to reform society, or a specific, individual ‘take’ on romantic dialogue? What is it about your romance writing that is different to every other romance writer’s work?
If you write science fiction, why should readers read your stories rather than the other guy’s? Is your material darker? Are your stories more uplifting? Are your characters more appealing?
What are you going to compete on and what will you be better at? How will you be the best in a particular field?
Nail it down.
Business plans usually involve numbers. But we’re going to skip them. As a writer, you are that master or mistress of words. Numbers can be someone else’s concern, at least for the moment. Fixing attention on sales in any business is actually a mistake, in any case. What a business needs to focus on - and what you need to focus on - is satisfying customers. Only that will bring about growth, sales, and the numbers you want to look at.
Sketch out on your one-page plan the tools and channels you will use to communicate with your customers, for example Facebook, email, advertising, book shows, networking, etc. Boring? Only if tackled the wrong way. My Marketing Handbook for Writers shows how marketing is actually an extension of writing. The field of marketing, though, is so full of false ideas and hyperbole that you may have incorrect expectations about what you can achieve in any period of time: getting real and being patient are two fundamentals of successful marketing.
What to Do with Your One-Page Business Plan?
Keep it to hand.
Stick it on the wall above your screen.
Look at it regularly.
Test every decision and action you take against it.
You’ll notice a difference.
If you’d like a consultancy from me on the subject, drop me a line at