The Fiction of Prediction: A Fun Way to Write a Publishing Business Plan

by Brian


Planning: Who What When Where Why HowAs we approach the end of the year, it is a good time to look forward and begin creating your 2020 vision. Authors and self-publishers know how to create a good story, so if you are unsure of how to build a publishing plan, why not use your expertise to write one?

Writing your publishing business plan as a fiction manuscript can be a fun way to do the necessary work of planning. It can also help you identify and deal with the people (characters) that impact your business. Your subplots help you recognize the value of previously unsought opportunities, perhaps in non-bookstore markets. And your narrative can point out the inter-dependencies of market segments rather than dealing with them as isolated groups. Here are a few novel ideas to help you write your first plan – or sequel.  

Start by asking yourself a few questions. Your answers will create the outline for your story – your plot. How many titles will I publish? Why and for whom? At what price will they be sold? How will they be distributed in traditional and non-bookstore (special sales) markets? How can I use publicity, advertising, sales promotion and personal selling techniques to promote them (online or inline)? What will all this cost and how much can I expect to make at the end of the year? How will all that position my business for future growth?

Next, identify the characters for your story. Who will be the protagonists (distributors, retailers, readers and buyers)? What roles do they play? What are their motivations for buying? How will they benefit from reading your content?  Then define your antagonists, perhaps in the form of competitors or hidden obstacles (subplots).

Where does your story take place? If potential buyers seek your book in libraries, then make it available there. If they buy in bookstores, whether brick-and-mortar or online, that is where your books must be. If they purchase via direct mail, through catalogs, in airport stores, supermarkets, discount stores, gift shops, book clubs or at craft fairs, then that is where your books must be accessible. Or will you venture into new territory and sell to non-retail buyers in corporations, associations, the military and schools (another subplot)?  

When does your story take place? Have your plan completed prior to the end of each year so you can begin the New Year with a running start. Then rewrite it by performing quarterly updates to make your actions more applicable to changing conditions.

Finally, run the numbers. Place a cost on each of the actions you plan to take, and how many books may be sold if you do everything you planned. Can you be profitable?

Just as with writing a book, action is not the same as accomplishment. A manuscript that is not released will never lead to success. Similarly, a plan that is not acted upon will never be profitable. The difference between a novel and a plan is that a plan does not have an ending. It is a work in progress that you regularly evaluate and rewrite to update and make necessary changes.

Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and author of How to Make real money Selling Books and Beyond the Bookstore.