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How Not to Write an Author Business Plan (Guest Post)

Fellow writer and blogger, Carrie Bailey of the Peevish Penman is guest posting today (for long time followers of my blog, you may recall her blog shares its birthday with mine). Hopefully her post will get you really thinking about where you want to go with your writing and the best way to strive for those goals. (P.S. She’s currently seeking submissions for the second The Handbook of the Writer Secret Society anthology. You can find a link to the submissions page in her bio at the end of this post.)

How Not to Write an Author Business Plan

by Carrie Bailey

Can an author survive without a business plan? Yes, of course, they can and do every day, but they miss the opportunity to learn about, explore and refine their own business strategy through the very thing they love best. Writing.

I’ve written business plans for libraries and helped small business owners in a range of fields, from automotive to health food products to do the same. I’m not an expert at what makes them successful. People ask for my help because they believe I’m good with words. But while struggling to help great visionaries articulate how they’re going to change the world with their product or service, I have gained some insight into what prevents people from growing their business.

Here’s how not to write a business plan:

Ignore the context

If you don’t like the changes in the publishing industry and the impact of new technologies, just ignore them. They don’t matter. eBooks are just a fad.

It’s the same with genres. Just because readers in their later teens often make a beeline straight to the bookcase labeled YA in their favorite bookstore or local library, you don’t have to factor that into your business plan. Readers will just instinctively know how to find your book.

Maybe everyone has written about werewolves that moonlight as detectives this year or no-one is reading one hundred thousand word epic poems about the suicidal ruminations of massage therapists who lost a loved one in the apocalypse, but you don’t have to pay attention to trends. A true artist sets the trends.

Don’t plan strategically

Only heartless capitalist thugs use strategic planning. They start by defining what they offer in terms of their strengths, weaknesses and the threats to their business. Then, they identify their opportunities. For them, it’s about knowing where you are, where you want to go and then choosing what tactics you need to get there.

That’s evil. Don’t do it.

And don’t define what success means to you. Accept what your hair stylist believes: a successful author is mega-wealthy and a New York Times Bestseller. Like duh, she knows what she’s talking about. Do not set measurable short-term goals. If it’s not a multimillion-dollar book deal from a top publisher, it’s not worth your time.

Hate all publishers, agents, other writers or readers who deserve it

You deserve respect and you don’t have put up with people with their opinions. When you write your business plan, write anyone you don’t like out. It’s all about you and your book. Besides publishers and agents only want what the public will buy, right? And we all know people have no taste. Forget about them. Business plans are not about buying and selling. They’re about something else. Something indefinable.

Besides, everyone should want to read your work whether or not you respect him or her. It is that profound and they need it to change their lives and to make them better people. Don’t bother targeting a specific audience. No matter what age they are, where they live, what their background is or what language they speak, they should want to read your book.

Maintain absolute control

It’s also crucial that you never let anyone see your business plan, because they are going to steal your ideas. Don’t accept feedback from anyone either. That will disrupt the purity of your own artistic vision for your work.

And finally,

Never change your business plan

Just because the times change and the business of writing changes, doesn’t mean that your business plan should. Chisel it in stone. Adaptation is for losers who didn’t do it right the first time, right?

You would think that the people who held ideas similar to these-the real people I’ve met and worked with-would not be in business, but they had shops, clients, employees, products and services. They made ends meet, but they weren’t growing. They believed they couldn’t articulate their business plan effectively, because they lacked writing skills. I disagree. They simply could not articulate their business plans, because they were poorly formed in areas.

I used to spend hours having conversations that went like this:

Me:

“So, what threats to your business can you identify?”

Small business owner:

“There aren’t really any, except that sometimes I run out of money at the end of the month and I every time I train someone they leave and go into business for themselves and I can’t find anyone to do the accounts right. I think the accountant I hired is overcharging me.”

Me:

“Okay, so additional competition is one threat?”

Small business owner:

“Oh no! My product is completely different and unique to everything else available and no one else could possibly compete with it…”

Two hours later, I would often still not have identified one threat and I would have nothing written down for them, but they weren’t hopeless. Years later some have grown and developed from barely five figured enterprises to healthy six figured ones. They had passion.

I don’t try to write business plans for people anymore. Edit? Yes. Write? I can’t. Writing a business plan forces you to think through important questions about what you’re trying to achieve and how you’re trying to do it. The writing process itself is a vital learning tool. My sister, Winonah Drake, the co-editor at Peevish Penman, recently shared a Winston Churchill quote with me that I believe sums it up, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”

Carrie Bailey has been writing her debut YA fantasy novel for the past two years while attending graduate school for library science. She is currently seeking submissions for the second edition of The Handbook of the Writer Secret Society, an anthology.

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Peevbody Award Thank-you

During last week’s blogiversary celebrations I received a lovely surprise from Carrie Bailey (Peevish Penman) who also celebrated her blogiversary that day. I was honoured to receive the first ever Peevbody Award. This is the description Carrie gives of the Peevbody Award on her blog (full description found here):

An award for friends of writers that is grander than grand. This award commemorates bravery and true blue friendship in a writer’s career.  New writers put their egos on the line and risk everything to share their art and craft, but somewhere all the line they receive encouragement. The caption of this reads in the old latin:

“one less peevish writer
Why? because support makes us happy.  It makes us believe in ourselves, our ability, and our craft. Whether a best friend, family member, agent, publisher, or anyone, it will be awarded once a month by Peevish Penman…

And this is what Carrie said on her blog about why she awarded me the Peevbody (full post on Peevish Penman):

I want to send out the biggest thanks and appreciation for the ever awesome Jo Hart for making our blogiversary special by collaborating with us on the contest, designing the header, and just simply being an awesome writer friend.  For this reason, Peevish Penman sends the first Peevbody award to Jo for all around writer awesomeness.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to say a big thank-you to Carrie for thinking of me for this award. I really enjoyed collaborating with Peevish Penman for the blogiversary contest.

I also want to say a big thank-you to everyone who helped make my first blogiversary special by dropping by, commenting and tweeting about it. I had an awesome first blogiversary!

Blogiversary Celebrations: Part Four – Contest Winners!

I know some of you have been waiting for this all day. The time has come to announce Peevish Penman’s and my joint blogiversary contest winners!

CONGRATULATIONS TO:

Jessica (@jsubject)

Lisa. B. (@LisaMBasso)

and Monica B.W.

The three winners each receive a five-page critique from both Carrie and myself. If the three winners could please e-mail Carrie at  bzuley(at)yahoo(dot)com or me at thegracefuldoe(at)hotmail(dot)com we can organise your critiques.

Thank-you to everyone who entered and helped spread the word about the contest.

And thank-you to everyone for helping me celebrate my blog’s 1st birthday today. I’m looking forward to another year of blogging and writing. 🙂

Mini-interview + Blogiversary Contest Details

CONTEST NOW CLOSED – Thanks so much to everyone who entered and promoted this contest. Winners will be announced later today (11th Sept 2010 AEST)

In exactly one week my blog will be celebrating its one year blogiversary! By coincidence Peevish Penman is also celebrating her one year blogiversary on the same day (10th September in the US and the 11th September in Australia). To celebrate our joint blogiversary we will be holding a joint contest. But before I give you the contest details I’d like to introduce Peevish Penman (aka Carrie Bailey) a writer, blogger and mom from Oregon. She runs a fantastic Writer’s Zine on her blog and has taken some time to answer a few questions for my blog to launch our joint contest.

1.  Do you have a writing mantra and would you recommend it for other writers?

I use a string of curse words followed by “so write already, Carrie.”  In truth, I try so hard to stay “G-rated” on my zine and other media that it all just pours out other times and has led to my theory on “the conservation of curse words” which states that each individual must use a fixed finite number of them throughout the course of their lifetime.  My “writer mantra” is where I choose to expel all of mine safely and in the privacy of my own home where no one can fine me a quarter.

(GD: I think I will probably explode in an expulsion of expletives on my death bed. 🙂 )

2.  If you had to spend a year writing on a deserted island without any contact from the outside, what would you bring and why?

A generator and S. Michaels aka. @slushpilehero’s laptop.  My signed copy of Ashwin Sanghi’s book, “The Rozabal Line.”  Twenty thousand bags of coffee beans, an espresso machine, and a barista.  Plus, some peanut butter, spoons, and a row boat so I could row over to your island, Jo, and trade for chocolate. And a camera so I could prove to my twitter friend, @soulwindow, that I am not our mutual twitter friend, @ItaliaTrent.

(GD: I’ll trade you a Mars Bar for two spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter)

3.  So far what has been your greatest challenge as a writer and how have you overcome it?

Typos.  I can’t overcome them, because they’re inserted into my work by gnomes-who excel at html-after I’ve toiled and labored over each piece.  However, I’ve found that if I simply forgo the need to be perfect and hand my work over to other people to edit, they neutralize the gnomes’ damage.

But seriously, there was a point when I used to experience a mild euphoria each time I noticed errors in other people’s writing.  I think it is an important stage many writers go through when they realize that talented writers aren’t great because they’re perfect, but because they’re experienced.

My desire to be perfect used to paralyze me from writing and/or sharing my work at all.  Now, I let the keys fly and worry about the mistakes later.  Lately, I’ve been sending out very rough drafts to people I trust, because the earlier I get feedback, the better my work turns out. Just ask YA writer, Juanita McConnachie aka @WritersblockNZ, she’s seen the havoc gnomes’ wreak first hand.

(GD: I wonder if those are the same gnomes who stole my TV remote.)

Thanks so much Carrie! And if you would like to see my answers to those questions then pop over to Peevish Penman’s blog for my mini-interview.

And now for the contest details…

THE PRIZE:

A critique from both Carrie and Jo for up to five pages of your manuscript. That’s right a total of two critiques for your first five pages. And because it’s our blogiversary there will be not one, not two, but THREE WINNERS! Three people will be getting a critique from both Carrie and Jo.

HOW TO ENTER:

Simply comment on this post (or Carrie’s contest post) with your entries. We’ll be running entries on a point system:

+1 entry for following @gracefuldoe on Twitter (+2 if you are already a follower)
+1 entry for following @PeevishPenman on Twitter (+2 if you are already a follower)
+2 entries if you subscribe to The Graceful Doe’s blog (+3 if you already subscribe)
+2 entries if you subscribe to Peevish Penman’s blog (+3 if you already subscribe)
+1 entry if you tweet about the contest (please include link to tweet)
+4 entries if you mention the contest on your blog (please include link to blog)

Good luck! The winners will be announced in one week on our blogiversary (that’s 10th September in the US and 11the September in Australia).

My Best Advice for Other Aspiring Writers

I’m writing this post as part of Peevish Penman’s “My Best Advice to New Writers” Blogfest.

My best advice is something I’ve talked about on this blog a couple of times before, but it truly is my writing mantra: “Show, Don’t Tell”.

Some of this advice I’ve covered before, but there are also a few new little gems I’ve recently discovered.

Use All Five Senses

Don’t just tell the reader what the characters are experiencing, have them feel and experience through your character.  Use sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. For example, don’t tell the reader your character is cold, show the reader how your character experiences the cold, “Lucy pulled her coat tightly around her body against the icy wind. The snow crunched under her feet.” Something I like to do when writing is close my eyes and imagine myself in my character’s place, focusing on each of my senses. I’ve even gone as far as putting my hand in a bowl of ice water to describe how my character felt as she plunged into an ice cold stream.

Eliminate ‘Was’

This is something I’ve recently been focusing on in my edits for my novel. Find the places where you’ve used the verb ‘was’ (or ‘is’ if writing in present tense, or ‘am’ if writing first person present tense), then reword the sentence without using ‘was’. This forces you to not only use stronger verbs, but turns a ‘telling’ sentence into one that shows. Take this sentence, “I was tired.” Let’s try to eliminate was and turn it into a ‘showing’ sentence, “My eyes felt heavy, I could barely keep them open.” The sentence conveys the same information, but shows the character is tired, rather than tells.

Interweave Description into the Story

Telling your reader your character is short or the building is old is boring and assumes the reader is not smart enough to figure out things from more subtle descriptions. Interweave details into the story to create a picture that allows the reader to form their own assumptions and at the same time create a stronger story. Take the above examples, the character is short and the building is old. Let’s interweave those details into a few sentences without using those adjectives. “Bill and Peter had to duck low as they passed under the arch, but Jimmy walked under it comfortably, his head barely grazing the top. The boys looked up at the building before them; its brickwork crumbled in places and ivy wound its way up the wall.”

Take Out Your Highlighter

As I proofread my drafts I use a blue highlighter whenever I come across any parts I think are telling, then when I do my edits I rework those parts to show instead of tell.

Just a few other pieces of advice to end this post:

  • Keep writing, every word makes you a better writer.
  • Listen to those who offer critique on your work, your writing can always get better.
  • Always keep a pen and paper handy for when sudden inspiration strikes.

To check out some of the other great advice being offered during Peevish Penman’s blogfest, check out the links on this page: “My Best Advice to New Authors” Blogfest