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The Dreaded Business Plan

In the business world, it's good to align yourself with more experienced people in your field. Taking advantage of their business advice and tutelage can help tremendously in your efforts to establish a business for yourself. This is especially true in the ever-changing world of publishing.

Whenever I consult with my good friend, Author Olivia Gaines, for advice on some issue, she inevitably asks, "Zena, what does your business plan say?"

The first time she asked me that question, my thought was, "Business plan? To sell books. Duh!" To say I'm not the most business-savvy person on earth would not be an understatement. When I got started in book publishing, the only things required of me were to write the manuscript, submit the manuscript to my publishers for publication, and if accepted, work with the editor to polish said manuscript to the best of my ability. I also was required to have a website and find a way to interact with readers. That was the extent of my business plan: Write, submit, edit, advertise, repeat. I'd even been told by more experienced authors that the best way to sell more books is to publish the next one.

I had to level up when I embraced self-publishing and began educating myself. I no longer had a publisher to handle the business side of things for me. The learning curve was steep. First, because I wanted to do it right, I had to learn about the different types of businesses and pick the one that best suited my needs: Sole Proprietorship or LLC. Then, I had to research how to register my business at the federal, state, and county levels. That took time, patience, and money. I won't even get into the learning curve for filing self-employment taxes.

Fortunately, by this point, I'd established quite a network of authors, editors, and publishers willing to help me with all of the tasks my publisher used to handle. These people answered my many questions about formatting and distributing my books to sales outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. The cover artist I met during my brief stint as an editor for the now-defunct Red Rose Publishing agreed to become my cover artist, which was a blessing.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about the business side of publishing until Olivia asked me that pesky little question. Apparently, there was more I still needed to learn, so I did what I always do. I consulted YouTube. What I learned is the first thing I needed was an objective.

Obviously, my objective is to sell books. Specifically, to sell the books that I write at a profit. To meet that goal, my "plan" was, and still is, to write two to three books a year and publish them (measurable). That number may change based on word count and the time it takes to write, edit, and publish each one, but three a year is the goal. It's not only my goal, but it's achievable. (See what I did there?)

Now comes the tricky, ever-fluctuating part of the equation. How do I want to sell those books? Meaning, which sales channels do I want to use? Amazon is key, of course, despite my becoming progressively more disgruntled with them as time passes. I use Smashwords/D2D as a distribution hub for other retailers and libraries to save time. I also applied for and received access to sell directly through Google Books.

In the last year or so, my focus has shifted more to direct sales. My new business plan is to remove the middleman as much as possible. I want greater control over my product. So now my business plan requires researching how to drive readers to my website and get them to purchase directly from me. Why is that important? Retailers take 65% of the book price, leaving the author the remaining 35%. When I sell directly, I keep 95-98% of the purchase price with only 2-3% for processing fees deducted. That is a much better return.

Kindle Unlimited used to be a part of my business plan. I'd post books there for the first 90 days to boost reviews and exposure, and then push my books out to the other retailers. I've hit pause on KU. In my opinion, a royalty of less than a penny per page read isn't worth it. Other authors may feel differently.

The same goes for Kindle Vella. The monthly bonuses were nice, but when I looked at the actual royalties earned for reads, it was a mere pittance. Since I started with Kindle Vella to pressure myself to finish Mate Run: Cara, it served its purpose. However, the stress of that pressure eventually wore me down. As a result, I pulled the two stories I had in Vella, too.

One of my goals is still to put all my books in all available formats: ebook, print, and audiobook. A future goal is to have all books translated into Spanish and perhaps German. Translation done right is costly, and unless a publisher expresses an interest in acquiring the translation rights to my books, that may remain an unrealized dream.

I think the biggest component of my business plan that's lacking is marketing. Frankly, advertising/marketing books is hard. Doing it cost-free is even more difficult. Olivia says I should have a marketing budget. The problem is finding places to advertise my books that aren't a waste of money. Contrary to popular belief, all authors aren't rolling in dough. Most of us have a day job for a reason.

There are days when the business side of publishing feels overwhelming. Every time I think I have a handle on things, it changes. I miss the days when all I had to do was finish the next manuscript, but I also enjoy having greater control over my books. Since I'm not going to stop writing, my only choice is to keep learning and growing so that I can be the best I can be at this thing we call publishing.

If you're an author, what has been your greatest challenge? If you're interested in becoming a published author, what do you find most frustrating about the process?

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