What is a Business Plan?

Help! My publisher has requested a Business Plan and I haven’t the faintest idea where to start!

There can’t be many publishers or agents around these days who do not demand a business plan from a potential author before they will even consider a manuscript.

The days of the author simply being the ‘Creative Artist’ who leaves all the business nonsense to others are long gone. We are in a highly fragmented and decentralised world now where even the biggest authors use their own publicists and publishers contract out most of the PR to outside companies. No longer are these functions carried out ‘In House’. This is the result of many factors, not least of which is simply the massive oversupply of new books coming on to the market. With literally thousands of new titles hitting the market every day even the biggest book launch can soon disappear under the tidal wave of badly targeted book advertising. People are bombarded with advertising every moment of every day as advertisers try ever more invasive tactics to push products in our faces at every turn.

Here’s a stark and unpleasant fact. The average book from a midlist author sells only around 2,500 copies. Yes, you did read that correctly, 2,500 copies over the lifetime of a book. Even if the publisher spent 5% of the cover price (about the average profit margin) on advertising, it wouldn’t even make a blip on the radar of today’s advert-saturated media.

A new approach is needed. As people turn away from advertising more credence is given to social media. We no longer believe what the travel agent tells us about a hotel, we check out what people are saying on Tripadvisor. Rightly or wrongly and no matter how misguided much of the content, these are the places to which people turn when making decisions. And a publisher’s money can’t buy credible access, people too easily see through a marketeer’s attempts to blag social media.

For this reason, publishers and agents are now insisting that potential authors come equipped with a workable business plan. They’re not expecting you to be the next candidate on Dragon’s Den but they do expect you to be ready show commitment to your own book. After all, if you’re not interested in its success, why should they be?

So what does a good business plan look like? Well, in essence, all it needs to be is a simple list of activities that you will do to support your book. Activities which are within your capabilities and control. It is important that these are independent, controllable and focused and do not rely on others. For example, saying you will attend a book signing arranged by your publisher is not an action plan. That is simply a reaction to somebody else’s activity. Saying you will contact XYZ bookstore and book a signing for the date of release is a valid action plan as it is controllable and non-reliant on others.  A good action plan is proactive, not reactive or worse, passive.

Reactive is saying I will answer all fan emails sent to me. Proactive is saying I will gather together a mailing list of people interested in my type of book and send out personalised emails. Passive is saying I will take out a big advertisement in a daily paper. Proactive is saying I will skydive naked onto the Whitehouse lawn with a copy of my book in my teeth after first sending out press invites and arranging a TV crew to be present.

Your publisher or agent will want to know what you are prepared and able to do. Usually, a one-page list of bullet points is sufficient to show you mean business. Things like joining social media sites and becoming active. Attending local events with a book-signing kit. It’s not rocket science or some Black Art, it’s just activity.

For an example of a well prepared and thought out business plan have a look here.