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Setting the Foundation for Your Writing Career: A Business Plan by Denise Grover Swank

Setting the Foundation for Your Writing Career: A Business Plan

Most authors are creative people. Our goal is to write stories and hopefully send them out into the world so that people will read them and lavish our babies with praise. And money. Don’t forget the money. 😉

But the reality is that it’s tougher than ever to get published in the traditional world, and many authors are self-publishing. The beauty of self-publishing is that there’s potentially more money to be made, but it’s harder for those authors to get attention. What they really need to do is come up with a plan. Marketing is a topic for another workshop, so for now, we’ll focus on laying the foundation of your business.

I published my first four books in the latter half of 2011—and was shocked that I actually sold copies of them. And not just a few. By the end of 2011, I’d sold over 26,000 books, 95% of which were e-books. When I tallied my sales towards the end of December, a light bulb went off in my head.

I could actually make money doing what I love.  

But to be successful, I had to separate the writing from the business.

My brother had recently started his own small wholesale floral business and had completed a business plan to get a loan. I decided that I needed a plan like his. A road map of future projects, and projected earnings and expenses. I had personally subsidized my book-publishing venture in 2011—four books that needed covers, copy editing, proofreading, formatting, and blog tours. But I wanted my business to be completely self-sufficient, which meant that I needed to put every line item on paper and plan accordingly.

When I created my first business plan, I couldn’t find much information to tailor a plan for authors. (There’s much more available now that can be found with an internet search.) I ended up using a blend of business plans I found on the internet, including ones from the Small Business Administration (sba.gov) and inc.com. But before you know what type of plan to use, it’s important to figure out what you’re wanting from your plan.

For me, I was setting up my business. Even though I’d published my first book six months earlier, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that I became a business the moment I hit publish.  First, I had to determine whether I was a sole proprietorship, or if I needed to form an LLC. I consulted with an accountant to decide which was the best path for me at the time. No matter which business type I chose, I needed to come up with a business name. I also needed to register my business with my city and state, as well as set up a business checking account.  

The name I created for my business is Bramagioia Enterprises. My first business plan is written for a sole proprietorship. Bramagioia is a combination of Italian words that means “yearning for joy” and while it has deep, personal meaning to me, NO ONE knows how to pronounce it (Bram-a-joy-a). It’s not necessarily a big deal, but I am considering changing the name when I create an LLC in the next month or two. I mention my business name because you will see its name throughout examples of my business plan below.

What do you want your business plan to do? I wasn’t really sure what I needed or wanted when I created mine, so I followed business plan templates fairly close. Here’s the table of contents for my original twenty-three-page plan:

Table of Contents
1. Description of Bramagioia Enterprises
2. Ownership of Bramagioia Enterprises and Location of Busin
ess
3. Products
4. Pricing Strategy
5. Financial Plan
6. Production Schedule and Writing Plans
7. Targeted Audience
8. Marketing and Promoting Plan
9. Web Plan
10. Long Term Goals
11. Summary


A lot of these concepts were foreign to me, and I had no idea how to fill them out. I studied several examples on the internet and then adapted them to what I thought I wanted. Some were simple concepts, like the description of the business and ownership, but they really made me dig a bit deeper than I might have otherwise.

Descriptions are my updated business plan for 2013 unless otherwise noted.

1. Description of Bramagioia Enterprises
Use this section to take a good look at what you want your business to do. What kind of salary do you plan to take? What’s really important to note is that all funds coming into the business, belong to the business. Any money allocated for personal use is considered a salary.

The purpose of Bramagioia Enterprises is to spearhead publishing and merchandising the written creations of Denise Grover Swank. Most creations are novels, although some will include novellas, short stories, flash fiction and a memoir. Genres at this time include urban fantasy, humorous Southern mystery, Young Adult paranormal/science fiction romance and a short memoir. All creations will be available to the public for sale via e-books and print for novels. Audiobooks will be created when deemed financially beneficial.

As of January 1st, 2013, Bramagioia Enterprises will provide Denise Grover Swank with minimum income of $XXXX per month, which will be raised as needed, when finances are available. All remaining funds will be left in a bank account until further action is deemed necessary. Denise Grover Swank may only take funds that are not allocated for future expenses for the year.

2. Ownership of Bramagioia Enterprises and Location of Business
My current business plan lists my business as a sole proprietorship, but as I mentioned above, I plan to form an LLC. I’ll amend my business plan accordingly when this is complete. It’s important to remember that a business plan is organic. It adapts to the changes you make along your publishing journey. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

This current section is similar to my original plan, but has been changed to add my agent and my part-time employee.

Bramagioia Enterprises is a sole proprietorship operated and managed by Denise Grover Swank. 

Bramagioia Enterprises currently has one part-time employee, a personal assistant to Denise. 

Consultants such as accountants and attorneys may be hired to offer professional expertise and services. Other professionals will be used to aid the preparation of the creative works of Denise Grover Swank to be made available for sale through various outlets. Such professionals may include but are not limited to: cover designers, developmental editors, copy editors, proofreaders, and book formatters.

Denise Grover Swank is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich for foreign rights deals, and movie and television options on self-published works and works released through a publisher. Bramagioia Enterprises may need to contract additional professionals or agents outside of the realm of Denise’s expertise.

Bramagioia Enterprises will be run and operated in a designated office on the residential premises of Denise Grover Swank. Bramagioia Enterprises will provide Denise Grover Swank wit
h a desk and desktop computer, a printer, and a laptop for mobility. Additional software and equipment will be provided if finances are sufficient and a need has been demonstrated.


3. Products
Products include my books, obviously. But they have also come to include audiobooks, as well as a few items I have for sale through Zazzle, and a few products related to my books.

Products Offered by Bramagioia Enterprises
Here is where I list all the books I have available for sale, and the month and year of their release. I list them by the following categories:

Currently available from Bramagioia Enterprises in print and e-book
Currently available in e-book only
Currently available as Audiobook
When I look at my current products, including e-book boxed sets, I currently have seventeen products available. This is also where I list my future projects.
Planned for 2013:
The Curse Keepers  (The Curse Keepers #1) published by 47North, due March 2013, release Fall 2013
The Death of Me—a short memoir, February 2013
After Math—a New Adult, March 2013
The Chosen series anthology with two new stories, April 2013
The Curse Keepers short story (1.5), due June 2013
Thirty and a Half Excuses (Rose Gardner Mystery #3) June 2013
The Curse Breakers (The Curse Keepers #2) 47North, due September 2013
Untitled (On the Otherside #3) possible January or February 2014 release (subject to change)
The Curse Keepers short story (2.5) due November 2013
This list is subject to change. Notice that I have a VERY full schedule for 2013. I am usually adding and shifting things around, but it’s good to have a general plan. I also have a schedule for each project on giant whiteboards on my office wall with the dates that my projects are due to editors, proofreaders, and when to start cover design, as well as the production schedule in a later section of my business plan.
I have future projects listed I know about for 2014. There are currently three projects already on the list.
I go more in depth with this in the financial plan in the next section.
5. Financial Plan
From all the business plans I studied, this was where the business looked into the future. Expected income. Expected expenses.

This is the longest section in my business plan. This was also the hardest to write.

In both my original 2012 and my updated 2013 business plans, I’ve listed the previous year’s sales in both total books sold and money earned.

But for me, the most important part of this section is the expected expenses. For each project I plan to release, I list the expected expenses including all editing, cover design, any expected promotion and marketing as well as listing price of the book. I can then estimate how many books I need to sell to break even.

With books in a series, I can often guesstimate how many books I expect to sell. But this is truly a guesstimate. You just can’t predict when your sales will take off for a book or series or when they will plummet. You don’t know how effective your promos will be. When I estimate my expected sales, I always estimate low.

After I’ve listed all expected expenses—including office supplies, business travel, any equipment (such as computers) I expect to purchase, and now my employee’s salary—I subtract the total from expected gross income, then find my net income. Again, I think it’s better to expect a lower number than too high and fall short with expenses.  

Don’t forget to remember that you’ll need to pay quarterly taxes. The more you make, the higher percentage of your income you’ll be paying. I don’t currently have this in my business plan, but it might be beneficial to note the importance of putting enough money aside to pay your quarterly taxes.

While this section is one of the most important sections, it’s also the one expected to be the most inaccurate. As long as you know this going in, you’ll be fine.

6. Production Schedule and Writing Plans
I mentioned in my Products section that I have dates set for most of my projects with deadlines and dates to turn manuscripts into my editors. (I also have these on a giant whiteboard.) I have projects scheduled with my developmental editor into 2014. The schedules of good editors fill up fast. If you don’t want to delay your projects, figure out a schedule, confirm it with your professionals, and stick to your deadlines as closely as possible.

In my business plan, I list every book I plan to write, and the schedule I plan to follow.

Production Schedule
Thirty and a Half Excuses:
Developmental edits: April 8
DE 2nd read and line edits: April 22
Copy editor: May 7
Proofreaders: May 16
Send to e-book formatter: May 23
Cover needed by: May 15
Expected Release: June 4


7. Targeted Audience 
When I wrote my first business plan, I realized I hadn’t given much thought to this topic. Honestly, I still haven’t done much more than I originally did. However, I’ve added a new genre to my list: New Adult. I decided to try a different marketing technique with this. We’ll see how effective it turns out to be. When writing this section, I list each SERIES and the target audience. My example below is for my new adult book that has an expected March 2013 release.

After Math
A standalone New Adult romance. The story is told in first person present from the POV of the twenty-year-old female protagonist. The story is emotionally heavy and contains medium-sexual-heat content. The story is set at a fictitious university in Tennessee.
Rating: R
Number of books planned in the series: Standalone
Target Audience: Mature YA readers, romance readers
Best way to reach readers: Review blogs, Goodreads, current newsletter subscribers, give away free e-books to bloggers at Boston Author Event in March 2013.


If you have good idea who your target reading audience is, you can try to specifically reach them instead of just shooting in the da
rk.


8. Planned Marketing and Promotion in 2013
When I wrote my original business plan, I had enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program. I couldn’t predict the effectiveness of running a free promo when I created the plan, nor could I anticipate the ultimate demise of the program. (Note: many people are still enrolled and still run free promos, but there is no arguing that the days of 30,000 to 50,000 free downloads in a two or three day promotion are over.)

So what is effective?

I believe putting books on sale is the most effective sales-boosting tool at the moment. You can still get an ad through Pixels of Ink, but they are rarely available. Multiple sites offer ads, but be sure to ask around to see how many sales other authors have generated from promos. I’ve found some sites are much more effective than others.

I’ve recently joined a group of authors who cross-promote one another. Every few months, we each put a book on sale and then we all send out newsletters promoting our books. This was wildly effective for my Young Adult novel HERE last November, especially on the B&N site.  The success of HERE pulled CHOSEN up into the B&N Top 100 for over a month and a half, along with the rest of the books in The Chosen series. I sold over 11,000 copies of each book on B&N alone in December.

No matter how well a book is selling, just remember that no book will sell well forever. But it doesn’t mean the book needs to fade into obscurity. You can boost it with promos and make it visible again.

In my old business plan, I listed each book and what I planned to do for promotions, which also included book blog tours. Over the last six months, I’ve found most blog tours to be ineffective and have greatly cut back on using them to promote books. My newsletter is much more effective, especially with subsequent books in a series. My newsletter subscribers have read the first books in a series and are much more likely to buy a new book than someone who’s never heard of the books.

In my new business plan, I list my proposed promotions by month. I’m usually promoting more than one book within a short period of time.

There’s something else to consider when writing this section. It’s important to brand and promote your author name. I do this by answering interviews for websites and review blogs who make requests. I also plan to participate in multiple author events, giving me a chance to interact with readers in person. My 2013 branding schedule includes three author events and the RT Booklovers Conventio
n in May.


9. Web Plan and Social Media
A website is important. A good website is essential—a website that is clear and easy to maneuver. I’m currently working on providing changing content for my website. My own market research shows that dedicated readers visit my website several times a month, looking for news about my books.

Social Media wasn’t part of this section in my 2012 business plan, although I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to include it. Facebook pages are very effective as long as they are regularly updated. Some authors are finding success with Pinterest and Tumblr. If you enjoy those sites, by all means, make a plan to use them to give you visibility and help you sell books. I DO NOT mean posting “buy my book” updates. That is not only ineffective, but annoying. It’s one thing to announce a new or upcoming release. It’s another to outright ask, beg, cajole or berate potential readers to buy your book. Don’t do it. It will backfire.

I focus more on Facebook than Twitter because most of my readers are on Facebook. The majority of my Facebook posts are personal status updates about my family or my writing life. They are usually humorous. I interact with my readers in the comments. This is all listed in this section of my business plan.

The following is my website plan.

Bramagioia Enterprises maintains a website titled Denise Grover Swank:  www.denisegroverswank.com.  The website is hosted through WordPress. The site currently has links to each series with blurbs, future release dates, and buy links to each available book. The site also has a review page listing some reviews of all books, frequently asked questions, about the author page, and a blog.

Bramagioia Enterprises plans to build a website for The Curse Keepers series before the late Fall 2013 release of the first book of the series. The website will have a .com domain and will be linked to and from www.denisegroverswank.com. The series website will have photos of characters, deleted scenes, “extras” not in books, maps, and anything else Bramagioia Enterprises deems necessary.

10. Long -Term Goals
I find it hard to think about long-term goals and this is my most fluid section. I’ve added things to my current 2013 production schedule that I would never anticipated in 2012. It’s important to make a plan, but be flexible enough to adapt to a changing market or reader response.

In the new version of my business plan, I try to be general with my plans. I’ve listed a couple below.

Bramagioia Enterprises plans a minimum of three self-published releases in 2014.
Bramagioia Enterprises plans to release one Rose Gardner Mystery per year into 2015, when the series will be re-evaluated.
11. Summary
Just like an essay, this is where I condense everything into a paragraph of information.

Bramagioia Enterprises will see continued growth through 2013 and will release two new self-published novels, as well as a minimum of two shorter projects. Bramagioia Enterprises will have a minimum of twenty-two books and audiobooks for sale by the end of 2013 as well as one novel available from 47North. Bramagioia Enterprises will continue to strive to produce high-quality, high-content books and stories. Bramagioia Enterprises will push to promote and brand Denise Grover Swank. Name recognition equals sales or futures sales.

While creating a business plan may seem like an intimidating project, just take it slow and give it some thought. You’ll have much more insight into the business side of your writing and will hopefully help increase sales. All because you have a plan.

*********************************************************************************

Denise Grover Swank has self-published eight novels and sold over 200,000 copies. Her book Chosen has been in the Barnes & Noble Top 100, the Amazon Kindle Top 100 twice, and was #1 in Amazon's Science Fiction/Fantasy in December 2011. Her YA Here hit #8 on the Barnes & Noble Nook Top 100 and was #1 in young adult Nook books for five days in December 2012. She currently has a contract for a three book series with 47North for an adult urban fantasy series. You can find out more about her at denisegroverswank.com.

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This Post Has 80 Comments
  1. of course like your web site however you need to check the spelling
    on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with
    spelling issues and I in finding it very troublesome to
    inform the truth however I will certainly come again again.

  2. Your specifics help me imagine what my own writer’s business plan could look like. I’ve done one for my freelance and editing business (a plan that needs updating), but I have only begun to think of this step. As a beginning author, I’m stumped on how to guesstimate sales. What would be reasonable, assuming I offer a quality product and promote like crazy — 100 for the year?

  3. Hi Denise, thanks so much for this generous post. I’ve done business plans for other endeavors, but never one like this. I know there’s work ahead in crafting my own personalized business plan, but I want to thank you for clearing much of the fog of the process. You are much appreciated. 😀

    1. Katharina, I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t have it in my business plan, but I track my sales daily. When I run promotion, I track the sales and rankings of the book MANY times a day with a spreadsheet. Otherwise, you have no idea how to gauge how effective a promotion is.

  4. This is a God Sent! I need one of these bad, thank you! My biggest hurtle is always the beginning of everything and I rarely have a real plan… something I really need to work on.

  5. My husband is my business plan 😉 He works in Financial planning and analysis and is a CPA so he is doing the research and getting me all set up! Can’t wait for him to see this post as it should give him more insight into the writing world.

  6. Great post and chat. I’ve had a business plan from the beginning because it is the only way I can make sure I don’t overspend on bright, shiny new options. 🙂

    I do have a followup from the chat you just completed. You and Bob Mayer have both talked about what “used” to work and doesn’t work now (i.e., free and blog tours). I’ve never put my books up for free because my sense was that free was already overdone and readers were telling me they no longer picked up “free” books because they were bad self-pubs. I’ve done three blog tours now and though I see no sales linked to them, I do see that I’m getting name recognition and building my list of reviewers for the next book release.

    I also haven’t found that advertising works. You mentioned cross promoting with a team of authors. How many are on the team? Is there anything else you know that DOES work now? Or is it simply writing more books, building slowly, and waiting?

    1. Maggie, things have changed multiple times since I first published July, 2011. My early success, especially with CHOSEN, came from two back to back blog tours. Those two blog tours boosted Chosen into the top 100 on Amazon and #1 in contemporary fantasy. But when I ran blog tours less than six months later for my YA, I hardly saw any upswing in sales.

      Then Amazon offered free days if you joined Select. I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to try free. I was worried I’d screw up my ranking. I ran Chosen free for TWO days and had 36K+ downloads. The book climbed back into the top 100 and got to #19. It was on the list for 10 days and had over 11K downloads. There’s no way you could replicate that now. The algos won’t support it. In fact, I suspect Amazon changed the algos only a few months after that. Now free will ger you a fraction of the downloads and only a slight boost in sales– if you’re lucky. Some people end up lower in the rankings.

      The new way to boost your sales is to run your book on sale, preferably $0.99. The key is to advertise it and to get other people to promote it for you. I tell my readers on Facebook about books I hear about that are on sale. They’re always looking for new books and many have found new authors they love. And they love ME for telling them about the books.

  7. Thank you, Denise, for sharing your plan with us. When you “guesstimated” your expected sales and income, what types of things did you factor in? Was it just based off of your last year’s sales or where there other things you looked at?

    1. Jennifer, guesstimating is tough. I try to base it on past sales and promotions I have planned in the future. But it’s all still a guess. I say, aim low and hope for high, then you’re not disappointed. I USED to think books had a baseline of sales, but there are just too many new books flooding in for a book to maintain a certain level of sales indefinitely. New releases in the same genre are one of the best ways to keep your sales up.

  8. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing your business plan and the step-by-step explanations. Really helpful. But I have to say I had a little “Damn, really?”-moment when you mentioned KDP Select and its demise… I’m writing out of France and they make KDP Select sound so ‘in’. Delayed reaction over here? Or is it just me?

    Anyway, thanks for the post!

    1. No one was more sad about the demise of KDP Select than I was. I attribute a lot of my success last winter and spring to free promos. But they just aren’t working anymore. Amazon used FREE to help promote there Kindle Fire. Once they got a strong foothold, I guess they thought they no longer needed it. The Kindle Fire used to list the top 100 free books on their home page, but they took the list off last summer. This GREATLY killed the success of free. It became harder for readers to find free books. Also, Amazon changed the algos, giving less wait to free downloads compared to sales. Books didn’t climb as high on the charts after a free run and they didn’t hang around as long.

      Amazon will need to come up with a new incentive to keep Select members. I suggested to Dan Slater (Amazon) that the offer the ability to run your book on sale so you can get a red slash through your price when you put it on sale. I also suspect (and have begged for) the ability to set a book up for preorders. Of course, this is all speculation on my part. 😉

  9. I learned more from your blog in five minutes than I did researching and hiring an attorney to help me create my business. Your writing is GOLD! Thank you so very much for sharing your priceless knowledge.

    Any comments on un-enrolling form KDP select to join B&N? Seems like 10% of my downloads are “borrowed” from the library. Your thoughts? Jennifer

    1. Wow! Thank you!!! I consider that high praise!

      I unenrolled from KDP Select last September and October. I was hardly getting any borrows at the time and my sales had gone down. I republished my books on B&N and had only a few sales, BUT more than I was getting in borrows, so I was happy with that.

      The key to getting sales at B&N is to run a book on sale–the first book in your series– and get it advertised somewhere. Ereader News Today will sometimes pick up books and they are free. They can boost your visibility, and your sales and get you a foothold at B&N.

  10. Thanks for the great information. My daughter started drafting a plan for me this year. I’m a retired elementary teacher and business planning is not my strong suit. I just want to write, but I understand the need for this side as well.

    1. So many of us are right brained, it’s hard to think about numbers. But it’s so helpful, if nothing else, to have a plan for future books so you can plan your schedule. Without a schedule and deadlines, I flail around and I’m pretty worthless. I thrive on deadlines. A schedule holds me accountable.

  11. Denise, As a person who wrote business/marketing/action plans for a living once upon a time, yours is pretty good. For a proper business plan there should be short (1-6 months) and long (1-5 years) ranged plans. For a novice who has never written one before, you hit the major points on the head.

    Where do you expect to be in 5 years? Having been in the trad author business for over thirty years and the indie author business for a little over a year, I can tell you where I’ll be in ten years.

    What you say in your blog is true. You need framework to conduct business with and writing is a business.

    1. J.L. In five years, I hope to have released a lot more books. I have a contract with 47North for my new adult urban fantasy. I partially signed with them because they can help build my readership. They have marketing power to sell my books that I don’t have the existing resources. I’d like to get a traditional publishing deal to get more of a print audience, but I’m in a position that I have some negotiating room, and I feel comfortable walking away from something that won’t benefit my career.

  12. Wow! Great information! I know the importance of a business plan, but never thought to set one up as a writer…DUH! LOL thank you for taking the time to share your insight.

  13. I followed your advice and after mulling it over for a month or so, I put together my first honest-to-goodness business plan at the first of the year. I found it really helped me think of my work as a business and also to realize exactly what needed to go into the process to help me reach my goals.

    Plus, because I’m committed to my production schedule, I’m able to book my editor(s) in advance which is great for me!

    Thank you Denise!

    1. YAY!!! That’s so awesome, Ali!!! I love helping authors empower themselves! After I wrote my first business plan I felt like such a grown up. LOL (Only half joking!) But I also felt like a BUSINESS. It made a huge difference.

  14. I’m interested to know why you thought it necessary to come up with a company name rather than just being a self-employed writer using just your name? Do you think, if you ever decided to write under a pen name, that you would just manage the pen name under your company as well? It’s certainly opening up my mind a lot – I had never considered writing a business plan but now I will definitely do this.

    1. Lisa, I answered this for you in the chat(thanks for coming!!!) but I’ll answer it here too in case anyone else is wondering. My city requires I have a business license since I make money working from home. I thought a business name other than my own name gave me more credibility. Also, I plan to write a middle grade and I can do it under my business name.

  15. Thank you! I know enough about business to know a business plan is needed, but I was not sure how to go about putting one together for my writing. This is great information.

  16. This is a fantastic post. As a writer, I want to get my books out to as many readers as I can, not necessarily make tons of money. However, I will need money to do so. I am starting my business plan now. Thanks!

    1. Christy, whether you want to make money or not, it’s good to have a plan. You WILL get devoted readers who want to know what’s coming next. It’s good when you can tell them. I had one reader tell me she put a reminder in her phone to look for my book when I said it would be out. (Of course, she could have signed up for my newsletter and it would have told her. LOL)

  17. Ah, this is super helpful and makes complete sense. I never thought about it this way, but it makes it easier to see how your writing CAN become your business rather than just your hobby. Thanks!

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