For a self-published author, a business plan begins with a mission statement that will help direct your decision making at every stage of the book writing, book promotion, and book selling processes.
As a self-published author, your business plan, even a short one, will help set expectations and reach your goals. Creating a business plan requires that you study the marketplace, research a competitive analysis, and make financial projections.
If you are a one-book author, your business plan might consist of one simple document. If you are planning many books, or your book is tied to a product or service, it will necessarily be more complicated. There are many business plan templates on the web and in books that help.
Your mission and goals
Possibly the most valuable thing a business plan can do is to help you articulate your mission. Whenever you have to make a decision, you can return to your mission statement to help determine if the action you are about to take serves it. You may be tempted to skip this step and just blindly jump into publishing your book, but think it out, write it down and modify it as you become more aware of the challenges of becoming an author.
Authors have told me again and again that this step has helped give them a reality check and eased their mind about writing and publishing.
For example, why are you writing this book? Is your mission to change the world, to make money, to support your business, to leave a family legacy? Your goal may be to entertain or inform a small audience‚ a family or community‚ or a larger audience in a geographic area, profession, lifestyle, or interest group. Maybe you are writing to establish yourself as an expert in your field or to promote other products and services you offer. (Do you envision spinoff DVDs, workshops, a line of gourmet cookware?) Perhaps you are shooting for an international bestseller? It has been known to happen!
Perhaps you are among the many traditionally published authors disillusioned with the industry who are turning to self-publishing and creating your own small press. Will you use your book as part of a book proposal to try to attract an agent and publisher?
While it may be difficult to make a living as an author, it’s actually not all that hard to raise enough funds to create, produce, and publish your book. You may self-fund with your day job, or perhaps you’re retired with a small income. There are other ways to raise funds, too. Pre-selling is an option and crowdfunding has enabled lots of authors to finish their books and spread their message. Pre-selling is rather easier than crowdfunding, which requires lots of thought, planning, and marketing.
If you have a store on your website, you can begin pre-selling whenever you like, and you keep the profits (minus shipping and any store merchant account fees you may incur). Gumroad, Sellfy, and Selz are great storefronts with widgets that you can embed on your site to sell beta and final versions of your eBook and print book. They’re easier to use than PayPal, eJunkie, Amazon’s solutions.
Many authors are choosing to crowdfund their work, and there are now many platforms to choose from. The most well known are Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and PubLaunch. To explore the pros and cons of each platform, I interviewed successful authors from each of them to find out why they chose it and to get tips for you from their success. Publisher-crowdfunded platforms have also cropped up and below I describe Inkshares and Unbound. The information here is adapted from my in-depth PBS MediaShift series on author crowdfunding. [Ed. note: we also profiled Publishizer in a previous blog post.]
Since Kickstarter’s launch in 2009, more than 5.2 million people have pledged more than $900 million, funding nearly 53,000 creative projects like films, games, books, music, art, design and technology. Project creators set a funding goal and deadline. If people like a project, they can pledge money to make it happen. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. Projects must reach their funding goals to receive any money. To date, nearly 44% of projects have reached their funding goals. Kickstarter takes 5% of the funds raised. Funders pay via Amazon Payments (only), which then will apply credit card processing fees (between 3% and 5%).
PubLaunch acquired PubSlush this year and will officially relaunch in February 2016. I don’t know how much of PubSlush’s business model they will keep, but it’s clear that their crowdfunding platform will remain focused on authors, so stay tuned. So far they promise a crowdfunding service and a vetted industry marketplace where you can find the right publishing professionals for your book.
IndieGoGo was founded in 2007 as a place where people who want to raise money can create fundraising campaigns to tell their story and get the word out. It charges 4% of the money you raise if you meet your goal or 9% if you do not.
Your sales strategy
Your bookselling journey may be a short one, or it might be a long, fluid, and creative process. It can sometimes take years for a book to take off, so set up good channels, good relationships, and good communities. Never stop marketing. There are many ways to sell.
POD sales. By printing and distributing with a POD service, your print book is mailed to customers on-demand when they order from online retailers in their expanded distribution program.
eBook sales. Create and sell eBooks in many formats for many eBook readers, for sales and distribution in the widest possible array of online markets.
Direct. Use your website for direct sales in your own on-line store for both print and digital books. You can sell using PayPal, eJunkie, Gumroad, Selz, Sellfy or by using any number of integrated payment systems.
Mailing physical books. Books fit nicely in a free USPS Priority Mail envelope, and a stamp costs about $5. (You can charge the customer for shipping.) Customers will receive the book in two days, which makes them very happy, especially during the holidays, and especially if it’s autographed. Do send your books priority or first-class mail. The drastically lower cost of media mail might be tempting, but it can take a very long time to deliver, and sometimes (especially during the holidays) your book is likely to arrive to the customer later than they want. It also may be damaged, as media mail bangs around at the bottom of the pile.
Retail sales. Sell to brick-and-mortar booksellers and retailers in your niche. When you sell direct to retailers, you can negotiate their discount. 40 to 50% is standard. You will probably be asked to sell on consignment, which means you won’t be paid until the books are sold.
Back-of-room sales. Take advantage of back-of-room sales at personal appearances to earn 100% of profits. At some events, you may be asked to pay a small percentage to the organization or tip a cashier.
Specialty distribution. It’s also possible to sell through specialty distributors‚ for example, someone who travels to conferences and sells books for you. Expect to discount your book 50 to 55%.
If you’ve written a book to boost your business you may want to offload sales and distribution to a company who specializes in these tasks. These kinds of companies only take on books they think they can sell, so you’ll need to pitch them. They also take a lot of your profits, 65% and up. The most popular solution for indie authors with commercially viable projects is IPG’s Small Press United (SPU). SPU was formed as a branch of IPG’s distribution service for traditional publishers to serve self-publishers. All the authors I know who have used them like them a lot. You may also choose a specialty small press to serve as your distributor. The sooner in the book creation process you can contact them, the better. They may have valuable insights and advice on editing, design, and production.
Pricing your book
You may be tempted to calculate the price of your book based on what it cost to produce it. That doesn’t work; you really need to price your book to compete in the marketplace. eBook prices are all over the place, but are becoming standardized at 20% to 25% less than the least expensive print edition. $9.99 also seems to be a consumer-accepted price for eBooks.
Some marketers will tell you that to succeed you should price your first eBook at free and subsequent books at 99¢ or $1.99 or $2.99. This may work for authors in particular genres, but it is probably not a good model for business books, or books that are also available in print. Study your competition to see what the market will bear and price accordingly. Don’t be afraid to experiment with pricing or offer discounts and freebies to your social media followers and newsletter subscribers.
Image vis ShutterStock.com.
This post was excerpted and adapted from Carla King’s Self Publishing Boot Camp guide for authors. Published with permission.
Creating Your Brand As A Self-Published Author
Crowdfunding For Authors
Why Self Publishing Is A Lot Like Growing Bamboo
Get Discovered – By The Right Readers
Self-Published Authors: Your Sales Season Is Around The Corner (i.e. After The New Year!)