Those Books Aren’t Going to Sell Themselves: Why You Need to Treat Your Writing Like a Business


As an indie author, you’re more than a writer. You’re a business owner. 

The big difference between being an indie author and going with a publishing house? Who does the work. As an indie author, it’s up to you to treat your writing as a business. You’ll be the one who shoulders the responsibilities of a publisher—and they are considerable.

It’s important to cultivate the dream of being a successful author, but make sure you populate that dream with accurate details, especially if you choose to be an indie author. You’re more than a writer. You’re a business owner, as well as your own marketing department. And, just because your business is writing, you’re not exempt from the reality that it takes money to make money. You’ve got to have a business plan. Here are the elements.

What’s the plan?

The better question is, why the plan? It just looks wonky as a subhead. It’s important to understand the reason for an indie author business plan, though. Consider it to be your operating system.

We turn on our computers and mobile devices and expect them to know what to do. Imagine if we had to figure out the steps to creating a new document each time we opened our word processor, or we had to configure our smartphone every time we wanted to send a text message.

That’s the “why” behind a business plan. You want to stick to the writing, so mapping out the rest of what needs to be done as an indie writer can’t be something you have to re-create every time you’ve got something ready to share with the world.

It’s your operating system. It helps you stay out of the weeds and focus on what matters. Reality check: The writing really matters, but it won’t find traction without the support of your business plan. What’s the foundation of that plan?

What are you writing?

You don’t have to be an MBA to know that your product is writing. More specifically here, your book. And, like most authors, you plan to write more than one book. Each of your books must have its own business plan. Of course, your plan of action for each will most likely be similar, but as with most things, you may need to tweak the process along the way to find what works best for you.

The first step in this plan is committing to a specific product—in this case, a book topic. You can also pick a title, but it may change. Your topic is secure, and it allows you to build around it—even if certain details change. The key here is to go through the thought exercises to create as much detail as possible about what it is you plan to create and share with readers.

What are your deadlines and goals?

Successful businesses have mission statements and vision statements. Those are often lofty goals that basically present a future state. How do you get to that future state? You create and meet deadlines and goals that are taking place right now.

If you were diligent in fleshing out what you plan to write, you now have a confident idea of what’s going to be involved in creating it. Extract your deadlines and goals from this. You want to document things like:

  • Projected completion date
  • Daily writing goals to meet the completion date
  • Sales goals

Who are your competitors?

Businesses can’t operate in a vacuum. You must know who else is creating products like yours. This research is extremely helpful because it helps you to understand their process, and it may be something that works for you as well.

As an indie author, it’s crucial for you to understand your market and who’s already satisfying customer demand.

  • Who are these authors?
  • What does their target reader look like?
  • What have they done (besides writing books) to make themselves successful?
  • How, specifically, are they selling their books to readers?

There’s a fine line between art and commerce. Many artists say they’re not concerned about what others are doing. Business owners know it’s crucial to know what others are doing—mainly because it’s valuable information that can be used to duplicate their success for yourself. You must choose the median between being a writer and being a business owner.

What’s your marketing plan?

This isn’t an idea bouncing around in your head. It’s a document. You’ve done a competitive analysis. You know who else is in your niche, and you’re confident you know how they’re finding success. Now it’s time to take what you know and project what you can do.

Marketing plans can be crazy with details, or they can be beautifully simple. The choice is yours, and it often depends on how much you enjoy the process. Just make sure that whatever you decide to include, it’s about helping your target reader find and purchase your book. Minimally, your plan should include these four elements:

  1. Your target customer. Get as specific as you can, including age, gender, location, preferences beyond reading. Your goal here is to create what’s known as a customer persona. Some businesses get into such detail that they even name their personas.
  2. Marketing channels. How do you (and you must!) plan to communicate with your target audience?
  3. This just isn’t about how much you plan to charge for your book—it’s also why you plan to charge the price. Marketing is about strategy. Will you price it insanely low because your strategy is to get it read by as many people as possible? Or do you plan to price it to generate enough revenue to meet a certain sales goal? Your pricing should include any special offers.
  4. Sales channels. How do you plan to sell your book to readers? You have options—but knowing about them isn’t the same as researching how they work and what you must do to utilize them.

Who is going to help you?

Yes, this is a lot of work. Successful indie authors will tell you that they don’t do it by themselves—and it’s because they are thinking like business owners instead of writers. They understand the concept of core focus.

This part of your business plan is all about determining the outside experts you need to deliver a quality product to your customers. Businesses often undertake what’s known as a SWOT Analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

What are you good at (besides writing!). Knowing your weaknesses allows you to focus resources on these areas. You must invest in your product’s weaknesses to overcome threats if you want it to sell.

Assembling the plan

Business plans often include crazy amounts of spreadsheets and numbers, but they ultimately are nothing more than the story of a product’s journey. Take what you’ve discovered by following these steps and tell the story of your book’s journey. You’ll have goals and deadlines, you’ll know who wants to read it and who else is writing books like it, and you’ll know how it’ll get to readers once it’s written.

You’re in the business of writing. Businesses don’t succeed because of chance, hoping, or good luck. They plan for their success. It’s time to plan for yours.

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