Monday, August 22, 2016

Author Career Planning

Hi Folks,

Sorry for the break in business posts, it's been a busy end of summer for me. Day camps stop 1 week short of school starting. Our son Nate also started 1st grade, which has come with a bright and earlier-than-ever schedule. I've just had my hands full parenting and keeping the house functional is all.

We're back on today though and I'd like to talk about career planning. In my opinion, the trad vs self publishing choice is just a microcosm of figuring out a real career path for yourself. There are many more and deeper choices to be made. By the end of this post, I hope to have helped guide you through some of them and that you will have a much better idea of where to go with your publishing future.

Rachel and I do this kind of exercise all the time cause we love looking forward and painting a bright future for ourselves. I hope you will too.

Author Career Planning

It starts with goal
A mentor I once had (Hi Greg!) always said, "start with the end in mind". This isn't just great advice for developing software, it's a good method for writing a book, and it's also the key for developing a career strategy and a plan.

For authors, there's a handy way of quickly finding a big goal for yourself,
Is there an author whose career you want?
This is my way of really asking you about what kind of authorial career you'd like to have should everything you try succeed reasonably well. It's a thought exercise that goes far deeper than the classic money vs fame decision of trad vs pub. I like asking people whose career they want because it's a lot easier to analyse (read: superficially judge) someone else's life than your own. 

Also, I bet that there are a surprising number of successful authors whose career you wouldn't want to have. Maybe you don't like their fans, or maybe you don't like how fast or slow they write, genre aside - maybe you don't like their books, or maybe they just travel too much. Pay attention to who you'd like to be but also who you don't want to be. I bet you'll learn something about yourself in the process.

Take a minute to think about it. Then we'll move on.

Good? Great!

Now, I'd like to ask you some questions then.

In 10 years...

  1. What kind of books do you want to be writing? Serials? Series? Stand-alone? Fiction? Non-Fiction? Literary Fiction? Writing at all or doing something else entirely different?
  2. How rich or famous do you really want to be? "LOTS!!" might be the gut reaction, but many people out there wisely understand that fame isn't all its cracked up to be (your mileage may vary) and that there's more to life / writing than money. Clawing your way up these ladders always comes at a price, so how high are you willing to actually go?
  3. How do you want to be known?  This is partially reputation. As in, "what do you want to be known for?" It's more than that though. Please go read my author branding article when you are thinking about this. How you want to be known is what should go into your brand planning and persona.
  4. Are there any big achievements you want to accomplish? Aka, do you have any artistic goals? To write a true dystopia novel? To win a Nebula? To be an NYT bestseller? Some of these goals can take years to aim for and hit. They are also healthy and good to have as they will help pull you forward.
  5. What do you want your life to be like? I ask myself this all the time. When I have a business idea, I ask, "if this works, do I like the life it makes for me?" We have lots of business ideas around here, but many don't fly because, well, I don't want to be running them if they should succeed. The ones we pick and pursue are the ideas that create a future we would enjoy being in, because, ultimately, ideas are cheap but execution is everything. Sure you could crank out fifteen 50k first-draft-only novels every year to make money (some do! I'm aghast!), but it's soul crushing. Is that a life you even want? Would you be happier with a regular job at that point?
The 10 years part I mentioned is important. You can accomplish almost anything (reasonable) with 10 years of planning and directed effort. It's far enough out where we can dream big and find the real answers. What you want as your life next year is too close, too small, and far too tied down by the concerns and limits of today. A decade from now though? That's a temporal wild west!

Having a vision for your future is key to forming a strategy. I'm hoping that, as you sit and answer those questions, you will start to get ideas on how to get them all on your own. Clarity is the key blessing of this exercise.

Take some time if you need. These are big questions to answer! When I first did something like this, years ago, it took me a week. Then I didn't like what I'd written down and took another week to really figure it out. Totally worth it though. 

Next you need a plan

"Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat" - The Art of War

Thanks Sun Tzu! This is so true. Most of what you learn on this blog and in most writing advice places is what I'd call tactics. Specific actions or courses of actions aimed at a specific result, say boosting sales or launching a book properly. 

Strategy is bigger than tactics. If tactics win the battle, strategy wins the war. Working with both is the key to huge success.

In my humble experience though, most people don't understand strategy at all. Anyone and everyone focuses on tactics, but strategy is much tougher, because it's more subtle. Good for you that we're already a big step forward on forming a solid strategy for your career! 

So, abstract ruminations on strategy aside, let's get into specifics, actionable items, and how to's.

Let me ask you this. 
What needs to be true, FIVE years from now, to accomplish your goals?
While this is a more narrow question than, "What career do you want to have?", it's still far in the future and has a high potential for actualization. These are strategic needs to be met, so while they are specific, they are still big.

IMO this is the meat of author career planning. It's the bridge between the dreams you want and what you need to make happen in order to succeed. It's tough to explain, so I'm going to lean on examples here.

Example #1 - I want to have a speaker career where I travel all around the world all the time
(I heard a guy who does this on the authorpreneur podcast, great place, check it out.)

Do you write non-fic? Is your goal to be paid mad money to travel around the world speaking at awesome locales? Well, what needs to happen in 5 years so that you're on the road to this future?
  • Publish a successful line (5 to 10) of non-fiction books on your area of expertise.
  • Become an established, if minor, paid speaker on the area of expertise. Ie.. be going to a couple of paid gigs per year at least.
  • Have a voice in the online discussion of your area of expertise. (Establish a reasonably popular blog, guest post on bigger blogs, be known by a few of the more important people out there)
  • Have been on at a couple major interview or news sources as an expert.  (HARO anyone?)

Example #2 - Have tons of fans that come out for conventions you go to.
Is the life you want one where you go to several conventions a year and party with your fans? Well, where do you need to be in 5 years?
  • Have written 3 to 4 trilogies (I'm thinking 90k books here) all under the same name, set in the same universe, perhaps with overlapping characters. Focusing like this to build the largest cohesive base of fans possible. (As opposed to multiple genres which makes for a fractured fandom).
  • Traditionally publish as many of those books as possible for maximum reach and fame generation.
  • Have a serious street team that helps setup fan events at conventions. 
  • Be going to at least 2 major reader cons per year (the same ones each year), the cons with your street team, attending fan events you've all put together. Try to build a tradition that people can plan around and that you can grow. 

Example #3 - Make tons of money
I'd be remiss if this wasn't an example. My points here will be a little extreme to help this serve as a good example. In 5 years, the millionaire author needs to have,
  • A 5 seasons worth of serials (12 eps per season) published and well-rated. All self-published and with no middle men taking a cut (like Smashwords -10%). Lean production costs as well.
  • A robust and powerful online marketing presence. Facebook ads with positive ROI, a massive newsletter, and substantial social media followings that have good conversion rates. Everything tracked and funneled using best practices.
  • Box sets of every season produced in audio, print, and hardcover. Rotating promos on these sets year round.
  • Wide distribution for everything, substantial readerships on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, and Apple.
  • All debts paid off, stock portfolio started and growing. Regular contributions established.
(Quick disclaimer - I'm really oversimplifying here. Please don't go using these examples as actual road maps for your career. They would be a starting point at best for more research and planning)

Books planning is only one part of this

As you can see, what to write is a big and important question. Looking at what you want, what you write to get there is key. Your books are the foundation of your career, but there are so many different books out there to write. So many genres, lengths, and story structures. Hopefully, knowing what you want will greatly help you decide on how to write your way there.

Books aside, your 10 year goals really dictate or encourage what marketing tactics and reader engagement tactics you'll pursue. As you can see above, every example I made has strong marketing activities, but those activities are very different by example.

All writing and marketing take time, money, and energy. You only have so much and everything takes time to grow. If you know where you're going, you can make sure that your efforts will be taking you there and not pulling in ten wrong directions at once.

For example, Rachel doesn't have a street team. Conventions and fan meet ups aren't really her thing. (She loves fans, but she gets embarrassed by all the attention! Sshhhh, don't tell!) She loves good reviews though and the quality of her books is a big deal to her. So instead she has built good relationships among review bloggers and beta readers. It's much more natural for her and is in line with where she wants to be career wise.

But books planning is also a lot of it...

All that said, the product is the car that will take you to your dreams.
[Where you want to go] X [what stories you want to tell] = what to write and how to market it
Now THAT is strategy!

It's also a career. So again, take some time and really think about what you need in order to make those career goals real. Its amazing what you can achieve in 5 years after all. You have loads of time and effort to pour into any gaps between here and there. Lastly, remember that 5 years is just the big stepping stone, you are writing down what success looks like to you mid-journey. 

What to do right now

I hope that, by this point, you are all fired up to go plan you next 20 novels and do wild amounts of research into the careers of authors who inspire you to aspire. That's awesome! and I want you to write that down on the last part of author career planning we're going to do. There's one last question I have for you today.
What are YOU going to do this year to move towards meeting your 5-year needs?
Every journey begins with a first step. What are you going to actually, specifically DO this year? Now you can think tactics!

What book(s) will you write this year? What is your marketing plan for this year? What tools, connections, and resources will you acquire this year that will help get you to your goals? If you don't know how to do something, then R&D it is.

Twelve months from now, I'd like you to do this again. The whole post I mean, not just what you're doing this year. Its important to keep your eyes on the prize. Life is messy, things get in the way. Books melt down sometimes and series derail. So, remember why you write!

Do it every year and you'll stay as on course as anyone can. Luck, skill, and persistence will have to do the rest.

OK, now I'm fired up to go work on my own book haha! Let's do this!

Thanks for reading today. If there's any topics you'd like me or Rachel to talk about here on the blog, please feel free to leave them below. We're always working hard to find information that is useful to you. You can also just hit me up on Twitter, that works too! (@TravBach) Rachel's social media links are here as well if you want to get live updates! (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+)

Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you all next week!



Kessie said...

Great article! I'm finding it hard to overstate my satisfaction. ;-)

As we get into the end of the year, it's a good time to be evaluating and figuring out where we want to go. This is a great guideline. Thanks so much!

Amber Sillmon said...

Very great article.. I don't know about leaving me fired up..I'm a little overwhelmed! I have work to do!

Nicole Montgomery said...

This is brilliant - - so many great points, but one that I think gets overlooked a lot: the (often unintended) consequences of getting what you (think) you want. I worked for almost ten years toward getting one particular job, because I wanted the security, the status, and the money. Then when I finally had a real shot at it, I pulled my application, because I realized all the things I'd have to do that I would really hate. Always before it had been "get position, full stop." I'd finally realized that the money and the position weren't worth what I'd have to do to have them.

I think that kind of thing happens to new writers a lot, too.

Thanks, Travis, as always, for the thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post! I love you guys!

Nicole Montgomery said...

This is brilliant - - so many great points, but one that I think gets overlooked a lot: the (often unintended) consequences of getting what you (think) you want. I worked for almost ten years toward getting one particular job, because I wanted the security, the status, and the money. Then when I finally had a real shot at it, I pulled my application, because I realized all the things I'd have to do that I would really hate. Always before it had been "get position, full stop." I'd finally realized that the money and the position weren't worth what I'd have to do to have them.

I think that kind of thing happens to new writers a lot, too.

Thanks, Travis, as always, for the thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post! I love you guys!

Teagan Marie said...

Is it even possible to self pub without a middle man taking a cut?

Travis Bach said...

Well technically no since all the marketplaces take their %. You could sell direct only but you'd have to already be famous to even stand a chance.

Really what I meant was no publisher taking a cut.

Though the whole example is silly. I was painting an unlikely scenario because I wanted maximum juxtaposition.

Tom Sweeney said...

Welcome back! And thanks for choosing this subject. With the help of your earlier articles, I formed Tom Sweeney Books LLC. To my surprise, I found the main advantage is in the way I look at writing now. I always thought business, but now I think BUSINESS. Although I now somehow find myself working for my wife, who's the manager, it brought her much more into the fold. She always supported me; now she pushes me. We actually have formal business meetings, which I first thought a bit silly, but which turned out to show that my writing focus and subject matter needed a new direction. Nothing like writing things down to get to the heart of the matter.

We're currently writing a business plan, so the timing of this article is perfect, and thanks for including a example for non-fiction.

I'm a tactics guy, and this helps me understand kind of what I was groping for in the way of a plan (strategy), and I am clueless about marketing, which (hint hint) might make a fine Monday article in itself.

As you said, adjustments needed to be made. I'm 69, so my ten-year goal is pretty much to be breathing. I just adapted to what do I need at three years to make my five-year goals, and what should I have in place after one year to make the three-year goals possible.

But now, it's back to my business plan. Thanks again.

Hannah Nicole said...

This really is a fantastic post. I tend to get so caught up in storytelling that I forget about the whole "business" part... However, five years in the future lines up pretty much exactly with my college graduation and the start of my career, so this post has really gotten me pondering where I want my life to go, and not just in the realm of writing.

Like Mr. Sweeney said above, I would be interested in a marketing post. It is difficult for me to market anything since I feel like I am imposing on them or being too pushy. Plus, I hate when people try to advertise to me, so I am hesitant to going that direction. However, I know it is critical in most businesses. I would be highly interested in a post that covered tactics for how to "market" without being pushy. I know it is highly subjective, but I also know it is possible. I got into Rachel's books because she used them as examples in her posts, and they sounded so neat. I would love that - getting people interested in my books without making them feel like I am trying to force them to buy something.

Thanks so much, and good luck with the new school year!

Teagan Marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teagan Marie said...

I thought the scenario was gold. I had one of those, "Is that even humanely possible?" moments. It would be cool if it were true though. Thanks for clarifying :)

Travis Bach said...

Marketing is a huge topic ya"ll. Not to dodge but i could run an entire blog just on marketing books, its that big a topic.

@Hannah my best advice here is to think about what draws your attention on books. Market to yourself is a simple and effective strat.

We do talk about marketing in many places on this blog though, its always interwoven with our reg business though.

Check out Title, Cover, Blurb post. Also Nice Dragons Mega Fall promotion. Starting authors can definitely benefit from the low cost newsletter services out there.

I have a mega marketing post in the works but its waiting on data. Maybe later this month itll be out.