Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Executive Summary is a Private Affair

What I find interesting is a lot of authors talk about putting together an author business plan, but at the same time I don't see concrete examples of what these author business plans look like. I am a big proponent of writing by example, and writing the executive summary has been difficult a difficult process. Typical executive summaries highlight what's inside the entire business plan and is written toward investors. The executive summary generates a buy-in, but as an author you are not asking others to invest money; you are asking yourself to invest in you. An author executive summary, to my way of thinking, is more personal, more intimate. You don't have to share the executive summary publicly because the executive summary is a private affair. Thus, also probably the reason I don't see author's executive summaries posted online.
If you have written an author business plan, I want to know. Specifically, I would like to see the executive summary. How did you write the summary? What was your process? What was your thinking when you drafted the executive summary? You are more than welcome to post your executive summary or business plan writing adventures in the comments below. Or, if you want to be more private about the affair, feel free to email me. I promise not to spam you. :)
I have found several online resources for the business plan's executive summary from purely an entrepreneurial pursuit, a more traditionally aligned "Let's make money by selling stuff and/or services" attitude.
                   Entrepreneur has a nice template.
                   Mplans, which basically sells business writing software, has a decent executive summary sample that is reminiscent of my pizza shop experience.
                   Alxel Schultze, CEO of Society3 posted a run down of a one pager, which I really like.
                   Amy Fontinelle wrote a piece on titled Business Plan: Composing Your Executive Summary.

I've used these sites to assist me in composing my own executive summary.

What I liked in particular about Fontinelle's piece was that she quoted William Gregory O, an Illinois attorney and owner of the law firm Lex Scripta LLC and Mike Coleman president of The Startup Garage, and these two dudes basically say if the executive summary is not engaging, then potential investors won't look beyond that page and won't bother investing. Because the investor in your author career is you, the executive summary is written to grab your attention and no one else matters. My executive summary is personal and fits only my personal needs. It excites me to read my own executive summary. I want to buy this guy lunch and a beer:

I am an author embracing the creative life and helping other authors to do the same. I write mainstream literary fiction and fantasy fiction. My audience includes independent authors, literary readers, and fantasy readers. Currently, my audience resides on Amazon. Eventually, my audience will also reside in brick and mortar bookstores. I sell stories. More specifically, I sell stories that not only entertain but hopefully speak to a greater truth in relation to the human experience. I also sell the author experience, although not necessarily for monetary gain. I help people to succeed in their writing endeavors.

This, of course, is only the first paragraph of the executive summary. The rest of the piece needs to highlight the entire author business plan. After the entire plan has been drafted, I will be returning to the executive summary to include the plan's highlights—so as this blog series continues, look forward to that future post. Next week: the business description.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Write Another Book: Setting Goals

Goals for me, personally, often are confused with what I want to happen in relation to events that I cannot control. My wife and I went over next year's summer budget. I want to take time off to hike the Appalachian Trail. She wants to spend time in Ohio with the extended family as well as take our kids on several day and weekend trips. Except for the Ohio bit, none of this will happen unless I am able to make $XX,XXX by late May 2016. In addition, last week's post dealt with annual budgetary needs. So my immediate gut-level reaction is to set a goal that states I will make $XX,XXX off my writing by May 2, 2016.

That dollar amount end goal will get me into trouble. I will experience complete, utter failure not because I don't think my writing is worth $XX,XXX, but because I have zero control over how many people decide to purchase my books. It's like saying, "I will get 20,000 Twitter followers by December 31st 2015."

A distinct difference lies between wants and goals. A goal moves you in the direction of a want, but does not guarantee the want. A goal is an actionable achievable that you have total control over. A goal is a choice. You don't choose who follows you or how many people follow you on Twitter. How and what you tweet, on the other hand, you do have complete control over. You can choose to tweet or you can choose not to tweet. You can choose to tweet the annoying "BUY MY BOOK" or you can choose to promote healthy online relationships through your tweets. You can choose to tweet once a day or 50 times a day. You can choose to deliver pizzas or you can choose to write another book.

------------------------------------------------------CLICK TO TWEET--------------------------------------------------------
                                        Via @SteveBargdill #writetip
So, first and foremost a goal is a choice to do something and to complete that something. The goal should work toward what you want, but achieving the goal is not the all-beat end result. The goal is relevant to what you want—to what you are going after and chasing with passion.

The goal is specific. To continue with my Twitter analogy, I want 20,000 followers and the only way to move toward that want is to tweet—but tweet what exactly, and how many times? A specific goal moving toward 20,000 Twitter followers might read like: "I will tweet at least 10 times a day for the next three months." Better yet, the goal might read: "I will tweet at least 10 times a day for the next three months. 5 tweets will share a useful article I found online. 3 tweets will be retweets, and two tweets will direct my current followers to either my blog or my Facebook page. Additionally, on Mondays I will participate in #FF."[1] Notice the time component to the goal. The goal is an ongoing activity that runs for three whole months. Goals, therefore, are linked to a time frame. Lastly, goals are measurable. At the end of the time-frame that the goal is linked to, you can look at whether the goal had been or had not been accomplished. You can examine your Twitter feed and actually count how many times you tweeted over the last three months; you can check to see if you actually followed the mix of tweet-types. And lastly, you can examine whether that particular goal you set brought you any closer to those 20,000 followers.

In my last post, Dealing with Realities, I figured I need to publish 13 more titles to begin to see more income from my writing. I also learned I need to write faster. In my Vision Casting post, I mentioned that I want to see my novels sitting on actual brick and mortar bookstore shelf. Lastly, I'm concerned with visibility, marketing and sales. My goals need to chase after those wants. I've listed the goals just below here. In addition, I've limited the goals to 30 days. At the end of 30 days, I will measure my success and/or failure and change accordingly.

  1. I will keep a writer’s log for 30 days. In this log, I will set daily writing word count goals aimed at pushing my limitations beyond the average 2000 words per day. At the end of each day, I will log the number words I have written. If I fall short of the daily word count goal, I will explain why. If I exceed my word count goal I will explain why.
  2. For additional accountability concerning the number of words I write per day, I will tweet a word count before I go to bed. I will not comment in the tweet whether I hit my target word count or not.
  3. In 30 days, I will complete a rough draft of a grammar guide aimed at fiction authors. I will use my Top 20 Grammar Error blog series as a template for this grammar book.
  4. In 30 days, I will complete the writing for the business plan for authors blog series. Once the series is written, I will outline a book based upon the posts.
  5. By the end of 30 days, I will begin a blog series on Scrivener Writing software. I will have at least 3 posts completely drafted and the rest of the series outlined. I will look forward to, but not yet work on, converting this series of blog posts into book form as well.
  6.  I will begin writing a five book series in the neo-noir genre about newspaper reporter Jack Boomer. Each book must be roughly 35,000 words. At the end of 30 days, I will have completed the rough draft of the first book. Additionally, at the end of 30 days, I will have outlined the rest of the series. When I write, my individual scenes normally run at approximately 500 words. This means at the end of 30 days, I will have outlined a total of 280 scenes. As these books are completed, they will be posted on Amazon.
  7. In the next 30 days, I will send out 13 short stories to various literary magazines for publication. These stories have already been written, so only the queries need sent.
  8. I will research literary agents. By the end of 30 days, I will have a list of at least 10 literary agents who I think might be interested in my WIP Breath: An American Story.
I believe the above goals fit my needs. The first two goals are aimed at writing more per day. Goals three and four address my blog, a place my presence is visible online. Number seven also is directed toward visibility. Number eight is aimed at that vision cast of seeing my books in an actual real-life bookstore. Overall, the list aims towards another eight books, not including Breath, which I plan to market toward traditional publishing as opposed to my efforts through Amazon.

I considered adding more goals for the next 30 days; however, eight began to seem overwhelming. I think when you get to the point where you are starting to feel overwhelmed, that's a good stopping point. Goals are meant to push you in the direction of your wants. That doesn't mean stressing out about everything you have to do, but it does mean stretching further out in a direction you have previously thought you could not reach. Get that ladder out and start up some goals!

I'm of course not the only one talking about writing and setting goals. Check these sites out:
Setting Effective Writing Goals by Moira Allen
Goal Setting Strategies for Writers by Mindy McHorse
How to Set SMART Writing Goals by Dustin Wax
Self-Publish Like a Pro: Setting Goals for Your Book and Career by Alexandra Fletcher

Next Week: The Executive Summary!

[1]For those uninitiated, #FF stands for "Follow Friday." You tweet the names of people that you think are cool, that you think others should follow as well. Traditionally, this is done on Fridays, but I am weird and do not follow the rules, so I tweet #FFs on Mondays. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dealing in Realities

With any business, the end result should be a focus on money. As I stated in my vision casting post, for me writing is not just a job but a lifestyle choice, and the writing has to support that lifestyle. It does not have to necessarily support employees, but it does have to first and foremost support my individual needs.

My individual needs include paying out some money every month.

Here's my monthly budget:

Renter's Insurance
Auto maintenance
Auto Insurance
Running Money
Bus Pass
Life Insurance

I have blacked out the numbers for, well, obvious reasons, but these are the numbers I have to hit with my writing for me to be able to live comfortably. Does not really include upcoming college loan payments, or my daughter's soon to be a college expense. In fact, the budget above leaves a lot of stuff out, but this quick and dirty monthly budget gives me a number to shoot for.

Here's the kicker: every time I sell a book on Amazon, that brings in $2.05. That royalty number is not a secret. Anyone can look it up.

In my vision casting, I mentioned a part of this whole thing is teaching writing at the university level. I'm doing that now, though it is not creative writing but developmental writing and beginning college composition and some writing center coaching/consulting. Not totally where I want to be, but pretty dang close and on my way, so I'm going to include that income as writing income. Teaching adjunct covers rent and gas.

That leaves me with monthly expenses of $n,nnn, which means I need to sell on Amazon nnnn books a month. I'll be honest: that number seems like an absolute impossibility to achieve.

Chris Mullins has something different to say, but I think he is over optimistic. He suggests a committed author should sell way over between 300 and 700 per title. For argument sake, that means a successful author should have 800 sales per month per book. Which means, to hit that number a successful author needs to have at minimum 2 ½ books published on Amazon. I actually do have that many books on Amazon.

Mullins also suggests the book should be ranked in the top 10,000. Actually, he uses an author ranking, and I'm not quite positive where he's getting this number from. Amazon? Maybe?

My novel Banana Sandwich hovers right around the 10,000 mark for its genre. The novel is ranked 1,309,362 in the best sellers at the time of this writing. Wasteland, Neighborhood Mums, Color of Hope, those rankings are much more dismal than Banana Sandwich. I don't even want to talk about those numbers.

For 2014, I made seventeen dollars in royalty checks. Thus far this year: eight dollars.

Maria Force published some harder 'soft' numbers not based on as much speculation as Mullin's ideas on where an author should be rank-wise for sales. Force reports 2012 sales figures per author per unit sold. The lowest number on that list is 5 total unit sales in a single year, and the highest number on that list is 646,908 unit sales in a single year. That means, one author sold over fifty-three thousand books per month.

More specifically, Force highlights Liliana Hart's success: 441,069 sales in one year, never been traditionally published. In 2010, Hart had zero sales, and in 2011 she had 76,527 sales. By the way, I just liked Hart's Facebook page. My question has to do with what happened for Hart between 2010 and 2011.

Man, listen, I'm content with a starting point. Everyone needs a starting point. The numbers Hart shares suggest overnight success. We all know that's not true. Overnight success means sweat, blood, and tears that no one ever sees. A closer examination of Force's post suggests authors didn't really start hitting significant sales numbers until they had around 15 titles available. For example, Laura Hunsaker has one title available and only 193 sales. Juliana Stone seems to be the exception in Force's list; Stone has three titles and 19,000 unit sales.

Practically, that means I need 13 more titles available for purchase to hit Mullin's magic number of the top 10,000 ranked authors.

Here's the bad news: on average it takes me about a year to write a novel. To achieve 13 more titles, I'll be 55 years old.

Here's the immediate take away: I need to change.

Next week: Starting Point Goals

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Vision Casting

Last week, we discussed the epiphany of having an author business plan. Today is about vision casting,[1] and I've actually been avoiding writing this particular blog. What I'm writing is not anything I haven't already thought of. There has been countless midnight after the kids go to bed discussions with my wife where we have talked about all of this stuff I'm going to share with you today. This is private stuff. Soul-searing stuff—dreams and hopes of a not yet reality. A reality I am unsure if will actually manifest. The following eleven points encapsulate my personal vision cast.

  1. I want my novels sitting on actual brick and mortar bookstore shelves.
  2. I want to publish and work closely with, but not necessarily edit a well-respected literary journal.
  3. I want a house with two barns & a guest cottage
  4. I want to provide writer in residence programs and utilize the cottage on my property for this purpose where an author can reside rent free and most meals provided while he or she crafts art.
  5. One of the barns I want to convert to a radio and video broadcast studio where I can produce online training courses for writers.
  6. The other barn I want to host writing conferences, workshops, and classes.
  7. I want to purchase an Espresso Book Machine and publish independent titles that would be distributed to indie bookstores only.
  8. I want to open my own bookstore/coffee shop and host nationally known authors on live radio.
  9. I want to teach fiction writing and literature at the university level.
  10. I want a personal assistant.
  11. I want a team of enthusiastic, passionate people around me

Why eleven points? Why not ten or five or fifteen? I don't know. I simply wrote down what I wanted my future to look like; what I wanted my career to be. Who I wanted to be.

I believe writing is not just a job; not just something one does in his or her spare time as a hobby. I believe writing is a lifestyle. Writing is about how I want to live my life. It's how I want to contribute to the greater world around me. Coming from this perspective, my author business plan will probably look considerably different than the plan I created for the pizza shop.

Obviously, this vision is my vision and highly personal. You may not relate to any of the stuff on the list. You might think I'm crazy. That's okay because this blog is about the process of casting your vision. To create your own vision cast, imagine yourself five, ten years out into the future. What do you want that future to look like? Write it down.

Next week, we'll look at some of my immediate realities. That is, what I want need to accomplish now.

[1]Vision casting is normally done by church pastors. The pastor and his/her team communicate their goals for the church to the congregation. Often times, vision casting is couched in terms of what God wants for the church. The vision is sometimes far flung into the future.