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The “Strategy” in Strategic Planning for Writers

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In the last two posts I introduced the components writers need in order to formulate a practical, usable strategic plan for their writing career. Instead of wandering aimlessly, writers can envision what they want their careers to look like in a year, two years, even five years, and reach a specific destination: the realization of their vision. Last week I looked at the first element needed to consider in strategic planning: the vision itself. Hopefully you filled in the blanks for all those vision statements and now are ready to tackle the next step: creating your strategy. I’m also going to touch on milestones a bit here and continue on in next week’s post.

Once you have a vision for your writing career, it’s not all that hard to create a strategy to reach it. But you want to be realistic when it comes to meeting your goals. Let’s say you wrote down that by the end of 2013 you want to have self-published three novels as ebooks. Now, the benchmarks you need in order to reach that goal have to be practical. If you haven’t even started writing any of those three books, do you really believe you can have three done, edited, polished, formatted with cover design, and uploaded all in those twelve months? Maybe you can. Maybe you don’t have to work a day job and you’ve written a number of novels already and know how long, realistically, it takes you to do this. If that’s the case, you might set your benchmarks like this:

  • Write one book completed by April 1st. Send out for editing while writing book 2. Hire cover designer to create cover for book 1. Write back cover copy, ad copy, etc.
  • Have book 2 done by July 1. At that date, send out for editing. Polish/rewrite book 1. Upload and start selling book 1 when ready. Write back cover copy, ad copy, etc., for book 2. Hire cover designer to create book 2 cover.
  • Write book 3 and complete by Oct 1. Send out book 3 for editing. Polish/rewrite book 2.  Upload book 2 for sale online. Have designer start cover design for book 3.
  • Polish/rewrite book 3 by Dec 15. Upload and sell book 3.

There may be a number of other benchmarks to tie in with this for your marketing, launches, and promo as well. All those are good things to set benchmarks for, such as determining how many free and paid sites you will advertise on, how much money you will spend promoting each book, where you will promote your books, how many interviews you will do, and the list can go on and on.

Dream Big but Be Realistic

However, if you have never even written a complete novel, would it be wise to set that same goal for yourself–to have three ebooks uploaded and for sale by the end of 2013? Probably not. Maybe you will put that at the end of your five-year goal. If so, you may set these same above goals but spread them out over a more doable time period. If you know it takes you about a year to write a rough draft of a novel while you work full-time and raise three small children, then set the milestone at the date on your five-year timeline that is realistic. For your one-year plan, you may just want to have “finish one novel, rough draft” by the end of the year.

The best way to set these benchmarks is to work backward. If your ultimate goal is to write three great novels in the next five years and get them published, you want to first picture what that looks like at the end of five years. Are you publishing these yourself? Do you already have an agent and maybe one novel already selling? Are you determined to first get an agent and then a publishing contract? Since you can’t control just when you might get things that are out of your hands (agent and publishing contracts), you plan what you can. You can write three great books in the next five years. You can send them out for professional critiques and editing, and polish them up. You can write query letters and synopses, go to writing conferences to pitch your books and improve your craft, do some rewriting based on the feedback you get, query agents. All these things should be on your strategic plan.

Reposition Your Milestones As You Go Along

Maybe your goal is to land an agent contract by the end of 2013. What if you achieve that sooner? Then perhaps some of the milestones you have set need to be adjusted accordingly. This would also be the case if you don’t land that agent. Maybe after two years of failing to get an agent, you have gotten great encouragement about your book. Maybe many professionals have suggested you go ahead and self-publish it and build your fan base rather than wait years until you might land an agent. The face of publishing is changing daily, so be flexible with your plan and your milestones. These milestones may sound like they are set in stone (seeing as the word stone is rather evident), so maybe they should be called mile markers instead. You can pull a wooden marker out of the ground and haul it a few miles ahead with little effort, then pound it into a new spot along your road to the town of Vision.

Keep your printed strategic plan on the wall by your desk so you’ll be reminded each day, and if you need to, you can just rework the document a bit to make the adjustments, then print out the new version and pin it up on your wall. Be sure to use that yellow highlighter to mark when you’ve reached a milestone (or marker, which goes nicely with the yellow marker, right?). How great will you feel if, at the end of 2013, your strategic plan for the year is all lit up in yellow ink? I can tell you now, you will feel terrific!

So think about your vision, then start brainstorming mile markers and figuring out how long it may take to reach those. I’ll talk some more on markers next week. In the meantime, happy planning!

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