Crafting a Business Plan

Only a couple weeks ago, I closed the chapter on a significant season in my life – the completion of my first three-book series. I feel as if the last three years of my life have passed in a blur of deadlines, beautiful character adventures, and growing pains. As I celebrate the ending of this season and the potential of the next, I also need to reevaluate what I want this writing gig to look like going forward.

But that’s the thing. It’s more than a writing gig. It’s a business, a ministry. As with all businesses, it requires strategy, planning, and much prayer. When I first began this adventure, I wish someone had told me to look ahead, to dream but to do so in detail. As I reflect on all God has done, I am hitting “pause”–as I pray about contracts and direction and stories–to craft a business plan, one that gives me direction for the years (I hope) that loom with possibility before me.

Kariss Lynch Shakespeare quote

Creating Your Own Business Plan:

1) Craft a mission statement.

What is the purpose of your writing ministry? We all want to reach and impact readers. Be more specific. What unique calling/gifting/direction do you bring to the table?

2) Identify your audience.

If you have worked with publishers or are working to break into the field, you are aware that you must define your audience for your proposals. Be more specific than the age range. Do you write for those who have lost hope? Are your stories for the courageous at heart who want to change the world?

3) Set long-term and short-term goals.

This is where I am crafting financial, spiritual, physical, intellectual, family, social, and career goals. If every area of my life feeds my writing, and I believe it does, then it is important I take all of this into account. I’ve noticed I write better in deadline season when I am taking time to eat healthy and exercise. On the nights I don’t sleep much in favor of finishing a project, my health routine gives me energy to keep pushing. When I don’t set time aside to invest in family and friends or have fun, I write from a drained tank. If I don’t attend at least one conference a year, I miss out on building relationships and gaining valuable training. Goals help me account for these moments, and tackle them with more gusto.

4) Formulate a guideline for the unknown.

I have lingering questions that I want to answer that will help me as this career hopefully grows. Do I want to limit myself to my current genre or do I have other story styles burning on my heart? If so, what do I need to do to incorporate those stories? How do I respond to speaking opportunities? How am I going to interact with readers? How do I answer those who ask my advice on writing? How will I handle endorsements and judging writing competitions? I am working on answers to all these questions. I believe having an idea in place will help me to respond well when these situations arise.

5) Share your vision.

I have a small group of people in my life who will gather to give me feedback on my business plan. They will respond as readers, but they will also respond from a place of knowing my heart. They will be my encouragers in the months and years ahead, my accountability if I get off track, and the ones with wisdom to help me reevaluate this business plan when the need arises. They are the ones who challenged me to identify my direction in the first place.

I am still working to finalize this business plan and would love to hear from you! What goals have you set for your writing career? Do you have a business plan that helps keep you on track, or do you use another method?

Can We Talk? Joan Rivers, Marketing Genius

Joan Rivers

Image via Wikipedia

Lately, it’s been a tough run of celebrity deaths. Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, Richard Attenborough, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, to name a few. The news media uses these events as a life review. Joan Rivers, the acerbic comedian, who recently died as the result of complications during a medical procedure, is one that has had a few “news specials” about her life.

I wasn’t a huge Joan Rivers fan but the pitiful side of my character did enjoy her taking down a celebrity or two when they dressed in something expensive and awful that might have been more fitting to clean up dog vomit (there’s my toast to you, Joan!). What I found interesting in these biographies on her life is just what a brand/marketing genius she was. We writers could learn some valuable lessons from her.

1. She triumphed through dark times. When her husband committed suicide, Joan was now not only a single mother but she was reportedly also left with quite a bit of debt. Yet we know she didn’t die penniless. She was a wealthy woman. In writing, there are definite valleys. Will I make any money with this novel? Will I make any money ever in publishing (indie or traditional)? Sometimes, we can only answer these questions by pushing forward through the next day and taking the next step even when we can’t see the answer in the distance. If you don’t try, the answer will definitely be no.

2. She didn’t hold public grudges. One of the pervasive stories of her life was when Johnny Carson chose never to speak to her again when she left being his “permanent guest host” for her own talk show. I don’t know what she said in private, but publicly, even though their friendship ended over this perceived slight (which really was a business decision), she always spoke very positively and gave him great credit for giving her a start. We all need to keep in mind publishing is a small industry. If you say something bad about an editor or agent, it will likely get back to that person. Keep in the forefront of your mind that a “no” is about your work and its fit for a company–it’s not a personal slight against you as a person.

3. She had a brand. Whether or not you like Joan Rivers, you knew what she was about. She had a clearly defined brand.

4. She branched out. Joan didn’t make her money doing only stand-up comedy. She also sold fashion items on QVC. What else? Reality TV. She authored several books. What can you do in publishing that maintains your brand but gives you additional income? Can you do non-fiction? Can you write in your genre for another age group? Consider not having all your eggs in one basket.

5. She was willing to try anything. In one interview, she compared herself to, putting it nicely, a lady of the night. “I’ll try anything at least once.” In publishing, there are so many things you can do but fear may be holding you back. Reconsider and take a chance at learning something new. Marketing definitely means stepping out of your comfort zone. M

Thanks for the laughs, Joan. Rest in peace.

The Summer of Success: Michael Ehret

Facing a crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about the late Donna Summer, as a result.

DonnaSummerDonna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Variety defined her career

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (sort of like fiction genres)? Further, did you know she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975’s 17-minute+ disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. There’s greater freedom in music (Linda Ronstadt also played the field, musically). But in publishing, writers are often advised that if they start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) then they should stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth.

But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

DiscoBallWhat are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first major album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance, historical, suspense, other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years. Three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.

That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:

  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”

Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?
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MichaelMichael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the former ACFW Journal Magazine and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star. You can connect with Michael via his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Four Tips to Grow Your Platform–Part 1

I don’t care what you write, if you want to publish and sell books, you’re going to hear the words, “You need to grow your platform.” This is true no matter what route you take, traditional publishing or self-publishing.4 Tips to Author Platform Growth

There are numerous books, articles, websites, and programs, telling you everyone’s advice on how to do so. I’m going to tell you now, there’s no secret or quick one-time overnight trick. If someone is trying to sell you this, they’re probably trying to make a quick dollar. But there are tips and ways you can build a solid platform before, during, and after the book deal that are legit and work.

I’m going to share with you what has worked for me and ways you can do the same.

1. What do you have to offer? None of these tips will work if you don’t know what it is you have to offer people in the form of your books, blog posts, articles, podcasts, videos, and interviews. Once you know what it is you have to offer people, you can begin researching who your target audience is and how best to reach them. Need help defining your target audience and your brand? Here’s a free workbook to get you started.

2. Where and how will you offer it? You need to have a website that reflects your brand, immediately tells readers how they’ll benefit from your site, great content, social media share buttons (you’d be surprised how many sites I visit that don’t use these), and a way to capture the emails of visitors so you can stay in contact with them. Other things to offer on your website are podcasts, videos, articles, interviews, e-books, and e-courses. You don’t have to do all, but choose the ones that work for you at this time and for your audience.

3. Social media presence. You can moan and groan all you want about social media or you can choose to look at it as a chance to share your message with people who need it and can be helped by it. I guarantee you the latter response will take you farther and benefit not only you, but others. Choose which social media outlets you enjoy and your readers respond to. Don’t try to master all of them. You’ll go crazy.

Pick two until you feel confident and then analyze where to spend the rest of your time. I use my Facebook page and Pinterest the most frequently. My audience prefers these two sites. Pinterest (Using Pinterest for Writers) sends me the most traffic, but I get more reader conversation and interaction on Facebook (Using Facebook for Writers). Some folks love Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or the new social site to watch, Instagram.

The main thing to remember about social media is to share relevant content with your audience. Everything you share should benefit them in some way or another.

4. Join or create a blogging network or group. Find a group of bloggers (or contact and start your own) who write similar or complementary content to your own. Agree to share each other’s content on your social media pages. This gives you great content to share with your readers and gets your work in front of other readers who want what you have to give or say. You can also work with these people to brainstorm new projects or marketing endeavors. This has helped my own platform take off. Plus, I get the added benefit of advice from people who have been there and offer support when needed, because at some point, we all need it.

Here are some of the most helpful books I’ve read regarding growing your platform and marketing:

Platform by Michael Hyatt
Sell Your Book Like Wildfire by Rob Eager
Pinterest Savvy by Melissa Taylor

What has helped you grow your platform? Where do you need help? What books have helped you the most with marketing and platform growth?

What is Branding Anyway? (7 Reasons Why You Care)

Like it or not, you as an author are your brand. As an introvert, I find that fact disconcerting. The trouble with branding, from a privacy perspective, is that it needs to be honest. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hide out in my office than bare my soul in public. Do you share my hesitancy? I suspect I’m in good company. How many of us would bother with branding if marketing realities and/or others in the publishing industry didn’t demand it of us?

Enough said.

And yet, if I approach branding from a reader’s perspective, I become more willing to brand. A reader needs a quick way to identify what I write. Without it, I could lose a sale. From a negative perspective, it’s that simple. But let’s look at the positives.

Janalyn Voigt Website Screenshot

This screenshot of my author site illustrates how branding can direct not only your tagline and artwork, but the content you include on your website.

Seven things branding will do for you:

1. Create dedicated readers through the nifty dynamic called brand loyalty. Every writer needs an audience base, a group of people ready and willing to purchase the next book. Branding helps you draw and interact with your target readers.

2. Keep you from getting lost in the crowd. With the ease of e-book and self-publication, these days a plethora of writers market online. Branding will make you stand out, increasing your discoverability.

3. Control perceptions about you. Whether or not you do so consciously, without even trying you’ll establish some sort of brand others judge. It behooves you to manage the perceptions of others about you and your writing.

4. Establish familiarity. Readers need to recognize themselves in you and to feel you share experiences common to them. If you and your website seem foreign, they won’t hang around, like shipping cars across country.

5. Let readers connect with you. Nowadays readers want authors to be available. Branding lets them feel like they know you personally.

6. Help you find your writing niche. Sad as it may seem, not everyone wants to read what you write. People have preferences. Branding draws your specific audience, thus focusing your marketing efforts.

7. Establish reader trust. Consumers buy from those they know, like, and trust.

Developing a focused author brand will make life easier for you on many levels. Given that reality, it becomes much easier to embrace, and even welcome, branding.

What is Branding?

As something of an abstract, the concept of branding generates confusion, suspicion, and even skepticism among writers. But neglected or (worse) inaccurate branding can have a negative impact on a writer’s career. And that’s a shame because branding isn’t that hard to understand.

Simply put, branding is the personality of a line of products or services drawn from your essence and informed by your passions and unique abilities.

Newport Wall Mural

I’ll illustrate. While in the Oregon town of Newport, I noticed the sides of buildings painted with scenes depicting whales, fishermen, and boats. The fact that Newport is a historic seaport would be true without these murals, but their presence make the air seem a little more salty. Newport brands as a seaport. If it didn’t, would it still be a seaport? Yes, but it probably wouldn’t be the tourist mecca it is. Imagine those same walls covered in the peeling paint found on buildings in other seaports. Where would a visitor with cash in hand feel most welcome?

Newport draws from what it already is to provide its special brand of tourism.

One more illustration: The folks in the obscure town of Icicle, Washington, adopted a Bavarian theme in keeping with its alpine setting. They changed the town’s name, erected chalets, and put weinerschnitzel on the menu. Droves of tourists now come from around the globe to sample Little Bavaria, or Leavenworth as it is now called.

Leavenworth’s brand came not from what the town already was, but from what its unique setting allowed it to become.

Key Point: To discover your own brand, ask yourself what you can willingly offer others based on who you already are or can realistically become.

Understanding your brand identity eases the process of developing social networking strategies. Further reading: 10 Strategies to Keep You Afloat in the Treacherous Social Media Waters.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

Drive Traffic to Your Website Or Social Media Sites? (7 Things A Writer Should Know)

Image-of-Traffic

With so many people on social media sites nowadays, it’s tempting to ask yourself if you should forget about driving traffic to your website and focus on marketing elsewhere. Why not go where people already are instead of making what can seem like a herculean effort to drive traffic to your site?

The answer to this question is that yes, you should go where people congregate, but yes, you should also invite, bribe, entice, and otherwise encourage others to your website. Here’s why:

  1. Social networking sites own your list of friends and followers. You don’t. If one of them goes out of business, it won’t matter that you have 4,000 followers. Every one of them will vanish into cyber space. By contrast, the list you build through your website belongs to you.
  2. People want to know where you live online. If you’re spread thin across social networks without a strong central hub, your brand will be ineffective at best. Branding is all about distilling your essence for others to grasp with minimal effort. If your online presence is scattered, you’ll have a hard time maintaining a brand.
  3. A neglected website reflects poorly on its owner. Those who connect with you on social sites will sometimes visit your website. A languishing website may make the casual visitor wonder what else you neglect in your writing business. The same can be said of a languishing social media account. You shouldn’t try to be everywhere, so pick and choose where you will and won’t maintain an online presence.
  4. Exclusivity. If your website becomes one of those places people gather, you won’t have to go out and haul people in to connect with you.This takes a great deal of thought and legwork up front, but after that it can pay off.
  5. Less competition. That’s usually not true on social sites where instant messages, notifications, advertisements, and the updates of others all compete for attention. You still need to have an interesting website, but at least visitors will have fewer interruptions while you try to maintain their interest.
  6. Higher search engine rankings. The more traffic your website generates, the higher it ranks in search engines. A higher search engine ranking means that those who enter keyword searches matching content on your website will find your site closer to the top of search results. This brings traffic to your site without any additional effort on your part.
  7. The ability to sell products. Once you give friends and followers a valid reason to come to your site, you can then offer products to them. This privilege can be abused, so be considerate. Remember that visitors to your site want an immediate takeaway, usually for free. Without one, they may not hang around long enough to buy anything.

Do all your social media accounts point to your website? If not, I suggest you change that as soon as possible.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Related Posts:

SEO Is Not Enough To Grow Your Blog Subscriber List!

Marketing with Integrity: 5 Tips On What Not to Do

Social Media Numbers: How Many Friends and Followers Are Enough?

What Food Network Star Taught Me About Author Branding

Marketing your Debut Novel: Part Two

Last month, I started this series on how to market your debut novel. You can find Part One here. We’re going to stick with the same time period of the writer’s life–the pre-contract phase.

In brief, I discussed those things an author should be doing pre-contract phase, which is identifying and building your brand through social media. You are working to build a well-defined tribe. (You are reading Seth’s book by now, right?)

The issue of branding became very apparent to me while watching The Next Food Network Star. Yes, hand straight up in the air, I like reality TV. If you’re not familiar with the series, earnest chefs attempt to win their own show on Food Network by doing next to impossible cooking tasks for a panel of feisty food judges they may work for someday.

The judges want to know what their POV is. This season one contestant, Malcolm, was often heard saying, “I don’t need a POV. I just need to cook great food. That will speak for itself.”

I’d like to indulge a few different words. “I don’t need a brand. I just need to write a great novel! The words will speak for themselves.”

The problem is where do said judges, or in our world, publishers, place you?

If you’re seeking publication and you’ve not been published before (particularly in fiction) you are going to have to 1. finish your novel and 2. write a book proposal.

A book proposal is essentially a marketing tool for your book. It’s the sales plan. It’s the blueprint of how your tribe (again, reading it?!?) will purchase your product.

One section of the book proposal is the dreaded “comparison” section. It can be called other things. Market analysis. Comparable books. In this section, you list books that are like yours (and what sets yours apart in a nice, professional way.) The purpose of this section is to help a publisher identify what type of audience you’re trying to reach. Is there consistency amongst the authors you picked and what type of novels they write? This helps a publisher know that you know yourself pretty well. You have brand awareness and can plug into the group of people who also like those authors.

But say I have little brand awareness. My novel is a Steampunk, alien invasion set during Roman times with a population of Amish quilters–and if a book like this makes it big, you heard it here first! My website looks like a Steampunk machine tossed out a Roman gladiator who just tousled with an alien on the prairie–and throw in a couple of Amish looking bonnets for good measure since those books sell really well.

In your comparable books section, you list these books: Proof by Jordyn Redwood (a medical thriller), The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club by Wanda Brunstetter (Amish gives a clue there), Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman (this is Christian non-fiction), and Francine Rivers’s A Voice in the Wind (which is historical fiction).

A publisher is going to be scratching their collective head. How can one fiction book possibly be placed by each of these novels? They’re so different. Not even in the same section.

But, you say, my book will satisfy all of those readers. A publisher shakes their head. No, it won’t. The books above represent very diverse readers. I’ve personally read two: my own and Not a Fan. Not to say the other two by Wanda and Francine are not excellent novels– but they don’t appeal to me and what I like to read.

Don’t be Malcolm. Discover your brand. BE the BRAND (think Miss Congeniality– BE the CROWN!)

So, you may ask, what happened to Malcolm? Voted off midway through the season. Great chef but “we don’t know who he is.” They didn’t know how to brand him.

What about you? How did you like writing your book proposal? How easy or hard was it to write the comparable books section?