If you’re a writer, you’re a small business owner. That’s true even if you’re not making any money yet — kind of the way a store or restaurant owner is still running a business, even before they’re in the black.
Framing your writing as a business is kind of a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it can really help to make you feel like a real writer. It signifies in your mind that you take your work seriously and that it’s you real job (even if something else is earning more income at the moment.)
On the other hand, putting pressure on your art to earn you money before you’ve reached a professional skill level can be demoralizing.
A business plan for your writing can bridge the gap between art and business — helping to guide you toward purposefully improving your art and keep you from expecting it to support itself before it’s ready.
Having a very clear idea of where you are on your path lessens the likelihood of standing at the trailhead, or maybe even still sitting in your car on the side of the road, but feeling like you should be halfway finished.
A writing business plan also lays out your goals and helps you to visualize all the steps between where you are now and where you want to be.
Here are the parts of a writing business plan:
In the summary section, you’ll want to write a mission statement. Who are you, as a writer? Think about what you write, what you read, who your reader is.
You’ll also want to think about branding in this section. It can help to think about some of your favorite writers and try to pick apart what their brands are. What image do they project? What image would you like to project? What do you want readers to think of when they hear your name or see your work?
This is also a good place to write about your idea reader. Who exactly are you trying to reach?
In the objectives section, you’ll write about your vision for your writing career. This is your place to dream big. You’ll also break that vision down into goals, and then break your goals down even further into tasks you can do this year, this quarter, and this month.
In the production section, you’ll want to list all of your current works-in-progress and projects. This isn’t every idea you’ll ever have — it’s just the ones that you’ve done some work on. Ideas that are fully developed. Books that are half written. Income streams that you’ve taken some steps toward.
In the market section, you’ll list the markets you already have access to. Maybe a list of Medium publications you’re a writer for. This is where you’d write about your agent, if you have one. Any publishers you work for.
You’ll also want to write about markets you’d like to break into. Your plan for gaining a literary agent, for instance. A list of agents you think would be a good fit. Publishers you’d like to work with, based on how your work fits with what they’re already pubishing.
You can also keep a list of other work — books, movies, television, people, whatever — that inspires your current work. What is the current market for the kind of stories you’re telling?
The financials section is the nitty gritty. This is where you’ll explore what you’re already earning as a writer (even if that’s nothing right now.)
List every income stream — including your day job. One of the most powerful mind shifts I’ve ever had was when I finally started to see my day job as a support system for writing. Once I was able to see it as just another part of my writing career — I was able to tolerate it better, and also more quickly move away from needing it.
Also think in this section about the non-monetary things you’ll earn with your writing. Things like followers, readers, finished works, and education. What has your writing already gained you? What do you hope you’ll earn from it, outside of money, in the future?
This is the section where you’ll want to think about the investments you’ve made into your writing business in terms of money, but also time and energy. How many words do you think you’ve written? How many books or blog posts or whatever have you finished? How many times have you won NaNoWriMo? How many hours have you invested in your writing career?
In the growth section, think about two areas of development: education and professional.
As far as education goes, think of things like: What does your craft book library look like? Which books would you like to add to it? Have you been to writers conferences, taken classes, gotten a degree? What are your plans for future learning experiences?
Professional growth is all about your writing community. Write about your current writing community — in person and online. And think about how you can make it more robust. Do you have a critique partner. Do you need one? What is your dream writing community? What would it take to make that happen? Also think about what professional organizations you belong to. For instance, since I write for children, I belong to the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s represented by Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Literary Agency and her most recent book is The Astonishing Maybe. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.