A Business Plan for Publishing Success

 Today’s guest post is written by publishing attorney and author Susan Spann

business booksAll authors should have a business plan for every book, regardless of which publishing path the author intends to pursue. To be clear: A business plan is not a book proposal. A proposal is a tool authors use to sell a book “on spec” (before the book is written). By contrast, a business plan is the author’s personal tool for writing, marketing, publishing and promoting a work.

It’s never too early or too late to get started, so let’s take a look at what your author business plan should contain and how to write it.

Traditional business plans have seven components, which together form the author’s “road map” for writing, publishing and promotion. Let’s look at each section in turn:

1. The Overview contains a one to two-page summary of the plan as a whole. It’s hard to write a summary first, so write it after the rest of the plan is complete.

2. The Book Summary contains a one-page or two-page synopsis of the book the business plan covers. Remember: Synopses are always written in third-person present tense regardless of the manuscript’s style and voice.

3. The Marketing Strategies Section contains three sub-sections: pre-release, release phase, and post-release, each with plans and strategies for that phase.

  • Pre-release Marketing involves building platform and making contacts with readers, bloggers, authors, and other professionals. Advertising the book plays a role, but learning to manage social media and personal connections is critical, too. Remember: only genuine connections are effective. People know when they’re being used and don’t respond well to authors whose primary motivations are selfish ones. Become an information-provider – someone with useful or interesting information that other people want to hear. The platform and relationship growth you establish in pre-release creates connections which turn into opportunities later on.
  • Release-phase Marketing starts when the book becomes available for pre-order and continues through the first 2-3 weeks after release. This is the phase when most sales are made – and thus, where having a business plan can make the biggest difference. Release phase marketing should include both in-person and online appearances (think guest blogs, articles and interviews). If you have expertise in a relevant area, consider speaking at conferences, libraries, or even coffee houses. Think outside the box!
  • Post-release marketing begins about a month after the book releases. Initial buzz passes, sales may begin to decline. Don’t let this depress you! Books, readers, and sales go through cycles. In the post-release phase, an author should return to blogging, maintaining personal connections, and writing. Remember: the best advertisement for the last book is the next book.

4. The Competitive Analysis Section contains an analysis of the author’s current work in comparison to other books in the marketplace, and a plan to enhance the work’s strong points and minimize weaknesses. How to do this? Identify similar works in the market – books that share genres, distribution methods or potential readers with the one you’ve written. Learn why those books sell, where they sell, and who buys them, and then learn from successful authors and publishers’ methods. Writing out this analysis helps highlight patterns and also creates a resource for future works.

5. The Development Timeline contains a timeline for each phase of the author’s work. These timelines are most effective when authors use calendars and establish concrete dates. Build in time for delays – life happens, and smart authors prepare for setbacks. This section of the business plan often contains:

  • A Writing and Editing Timeline. This sets out the schedule for writing the work. Plan time for at least two revisions – and as many more as you customarily use.
  • A Production and Publishing Timeline. For traditionally-published authors, this starts with submission of the manuscript to the author’s agent or publisher and ends on the date the book hits shelves. For independent authors, this timeline tracks the production process – digital conversion, working with presses, and anything else required to transform the work from word processing document to finished book.
  • A Marketing and Distribution Timeline. This timeline will overlap the dates in the first two timelines, because it incorporates all three steps in the marketing process. Authors find it easier to keep marketing efforts on track with a calendar timeline that shows when each milestone should occur.

The key to effective timelines is flexibility: Use concrete dates, but don’t be afraid to revise as you go.

6. The Operations and Management Section contains detailed lists of the people responsible for each step of the writing, production, distribution, marketing, sales and fulfillment process, along with detailed contact and payment information for each. In addition to providing a “one-stop resource” for important facts, this section also gives the author a resource to use with future projects.

7. The Budget may be simple or may be very complex, depending on whether the author publishes traditionally or independently and how much marketing the author intends to do (as well as other factors). The budget contains a detailed list of every cost the author will or may incur in the publishing, distribution, marketing, sales and fulfillment process, dates when each bill must be paid, and a total. (It’s okay to work from estimates, use firm numbers whenever possible.) Researching costs and preparing a budget helps independent authors set price points and helps all authors decide how much to spend on marketing.

Authors’ costs fall into two primary categories:

  1. Production Costs like editing services and technology. Independent authors will have additional costs here, too, like cover art, publishing and distribution costs.
  2. Marketing and Promotional Costs include advertising, travel, giveaways (like review copies and reader contests), and any other sums the author spends on promotional activities. These numbers will vary, but all authors will have these costs – and should plan them wisely.

Many authors find the thought of writing a business plan frightening, but if you take it step by step the simplicity may surprise you. Writing a business plan can improve your efficiency, help with sales, and even reduce your stress – leaving you with more time and energy to focus on the part you really enjoy – the writing!

About the Author

jpg”>Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut novel, Claws Of The Cat (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in the Shinobi Mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com. Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SusanSpannAuthor


  1. Holy moly! I had no idea I should be putting a business plan together for my book! Does this apply for fiction as well as non-fiction?

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