Do Writers Really Need a Book Business Plan?

by | Dec 9, 2011

by Deborah Riley-Magnus (@RileyMagnus)

Today’s guest post comes to us from author Deborah Riley-Magnus who is also a writer’s coach with a background in marketing, advertising and PR. Today she discusses how you can create a business plan for your book.

Seriously. I know no one likes to hear this, even my clients who are not of the author persuasion, but without a business plan you’re going nowhere.

It’s vital for a writer to have a Book Business Plan because your books and you are the products to be sold. It makes most writers queasy to even imagine selling themselves but without a plan, you can hardly figure out a way for your book to sell itself. Think of it as a GPS getting you from Starving Writer Street to Successful Author Square.

Since I’m talking to writers, I’ve decided to take this nice and easy, no sudden movements or anything like that. Let’s start with a simple comparison … if you want to write a book, what do you need? Don’t say nothing but your imagination because we both know that’s not so. You need a slamming idea and you need some talent. Some writers begin the process with paper and pen, so you need paper and a pen. If you’re not a jotting and doodling kinda writer, you’ve got a computer. Now, we’re not covering writer’s block or terminal confusion here, so let’s assume you now have your tools of preference and are ready to write the next great American novel. We all know what comes next.

Some writers work organically and let the story tell itself, some like outlines and some prefer pretty, colorful mind maps, charts or graphs. Either way (even the organic), you’re on the road to understanding the Book Business Plan process.

After the story is written, you edit, you get other people to read your work, you edit again and you begin the process of finding publication. Again, we’re not exploring agents or publishing methods today, so let’s move on. Any writer can write a book, good bad or mediocre, but only a smart author knows s/he also needs to write a business plan because only a successful author knows s/he is now in business.

When do you start a Book Business Plan?

Finding Author SuccessI’m going to toss this out so duck if you’re too afraid to catch but … the Book Business Plan starts when the book starts. This plan covers all aspects of the product. At the moment you begin a novel or non-fiction book, you should already have a clear vision of the message, the audience and even the venues and arenas where it can be sold. This isn’t wishful thinking, guys and gals, THIS is the beginning of your plan.

My strongest suggestion has always been to ask the Book Business Plan developer (that’s you) to start at the end. Start with your final goal. Don’t be ridiculous and say you plan to be the next Dan Brown or Neil Gaiman, but trust that with the right strategy, you CAN be the next Dan Brown or Neil Gaiman eventually. They too had to go through this process, and as we all know, ya gotta pay your dues.

Non-fiction writers will have a far better grasp on this than fiction writers for one simple reason … non-fiction writers are required to develop a proposal before they even start writing. If fiction writers take the same attitude, they are sure to have a better chance at sales success. A friend once told me, “I’d rather stick to the fantasy than write the facts of selling it.” Yeah, we argued. A lot. You can’t have success without both.

So, realize that when you start writing your book, you also should start writing your Book Business Plan. If your book is finished, it’s not too late so no excuses there.

How to write a Book Business Plan

Ready? Take a deep breath. Now, imagine you’re sitting at the bank, talking across the desk to the loan manager and asking for money. What’s he going to ask you? Those are the questions you need to answer when putting together your Book Business Plan.

  1. How much money to you want? This should be an easy answer. How successful do you want to be? Think of the imaginary loan amount as the financial success you want to gain from your book sales. Your answer might be in the number of books sold, or it might be in number of dollars earned. Be realistic, you most likely won’t be the top ten best seller or make millions with your first novel, but if you set the right strategy, you could make millions down your career road.
  2. How do you plan to organize and manage your product? Yes, they do ask that and you should have an answer when your imaginary loan officer spits out those words. Exactly what is your plan for dealing with the organization and management of your new book? Should you have a publicist? Do you need an advertising agency? A book video? Imprinted bookmarks or tee shirts? Remember to research everything and be sure of the success rate for each element you plan to employ. It’s a lot to think about. You can do it alone, after all, who knows your book better than you do? Managing the product means clearly understanding it. So now is a good time to face the fact that YOU too are the product, your creativity, your talent as a writer, your expertise, your personality, your skills … and your book.
  3. Who will want to buy your product? Now is the time to jot down all those people who will want your book, why they’ll want it and how effective they’ll be at getting more people to want it. Know – really know – who your market and readership target is. Are they men? Women? Romance lovers? Mystery or history buffs? Knowing your target market is as important as knowing good spelling and grammar. It will determine the venues you choose when the book is ready to be sold.
  4. What makes your product so special? You better know this or put down your pen right now. No point in writing a book if you don’t know why or if it’s special. Many writers write books they’d love to read, many write books readers are buying, some write books because the subject is risky or has never been explored before. KNOW why you and your book are special. It’s the backbone of a successful Book Business Plan and effective marketing strategy.
  5. How do you plan to promote your product? Ugh, here’s where most writers cower in a corner. Relax. You know people, lots of people. And those people know people. You must put yourself out there. Of course there are the “big” things you must do; social networking, book events, gaining reviews and interviews, speaking engagements, attending book shows, but don’t forget your friends. Most writers have or have had another life, another career or another circle of activity that has made their lives full. Don’t forget your friends, work associates and family. Let old buddies from college know that you have a book out there. You may be surprised the buzz that can be generated when you post your book one-sheet at the dentist or vet’s office cork board. People like to support people they know. This is a powerful, easy tool to enhance the “big” stuff mentioned earlier.
  6. What are your marketing strategies? Think about it. Yes, it’s cool to have your book available on Amazon or in your local book store, but where else might it fit in perfectly? Stretch your mind and think this through. If your novel is about travel, maybe you should seek distribution at a travel agency or on travel agency websites. If the story revolves around people drinking coffee, coffee shops often sell gift items and books. Is the story about wine? Wineries have wonderful gift shops. If your novel is historic in nature, perhaps museum gift stores can be a venue. Be creative, after all, that’s what writers do … think creatively.
  7. What if you fail? Forget it. I have a very strong theory that failure is just the lack of seeking success. When someone tells you that you can’t do something or market a book that way … try it anyway. Chances are it just hasn’t been tried or it hasn’t proven effective for someone less aggressive or creative. There’s a slogan I use with my clients. “We are the can-do team.” Go on, tell me I can’t and guess what … I do. So can you.

A Well Written Book Business Plan is the Roadmap to Your Success!

It determines who you want to sell your book to, how you want them to find or hear about the book, and how successful you want to be with it. See, that didn’t hurt one bit, did it? All you need to do now is follow the plan. Let it grow and fluctuate but always keep your eye on the prize. Ebb and flow in a strong plan is a good thing, as long as the end goal is always at the top of your mind. Who knows, you may even exceed your expectations, but how will you ever know if you haven’t set them?

Just like working on your book, show your business plan to people, let them make suggestions and offer ideas. Share what you’ve learned with other authors and again you will find your sphere of influence expanding. Everything about the process is good and positive.

Questions about Building a Book Business Plan? I’m here, just ask! In fact, if you’d like to win a copy of Finding Author Success: Discovering and Uncovering the Marketing Power Within Your Manuscript, just comment here, ask questions or simply say you’re interested and we’ll have a drawing for the winner.

ALSO … I’d like to offer you a FREE 10 Tools for Author Success downloadable handbook. Just go to and hit the button for your FREE downloadable PDF.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising and public relations as a writer for print, television and radio. She writes fiction in several genres as well as non-fiction, and blogs at Deborah-Riley Magnus, Writeaholic. She’s lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and just returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years.

Photo by bingbing

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Serban V.C. Enache

    Indeed, nonfiction writers require a business plan. This requires doing research on the current public agenda, and on those subjects which might make it/ought to make it/are important for that agenda. When you write about real stuff and not fantasy or SF, you need to know who you are addressing to. If you’re going to tackle women’s rights and self determination vis-a-vis patriarchal society, laic and religious, you’ll need to make a business plan. At least, that’s how I’d do it. Erotica is an exception, of course. For that you need imagination and clever writing style. You can make a business plan for fiction as well, if you don’t have something truly unique that is. If you had a character like Gandalf and there was no character like him in any other’s books, you wouldn’t require a business plan to bring that particular story to the unsuspecting crowds. All in all, it’s best to communicate to the world what you’re about and what you’re books are about. Studying the market must be everyone’s – just don’t let it become an obsession like trading currency, options et all. Write and research your field of interest, and constantly communicate with the people around you.
    PS: Market and promote finished and polished books. Don’t rush. Don’t be like the big game companies that launch unfinished game, while pumping up the hype, then announcing first day DLCs and other such crappy tactics. Besides, all those marketing and promotion efforts will count for nothing, if you write a weak book. Writers write different volumes of words per day or per month, but what they should do is THINK – think every minute of every day. Procrastinating the writing is one thing, but never procrastinate ideas and reflections.

  2. Marcia Richards

    Sorry I’m so late to the party, Joel and Deborah. I’m so happy to have found your post, as I had been thinking about doing this but wasn’t sure how to begin. I’ve been brainstorming ideas for other ways to market my historical fiction short story anthology–different forms like audio, marketing each as a stand alone, etc. It will be helpful to have it all down in a BBP. I’ve downloaded your handbook, Deborah, and would love to win a copy of Finding Author Success, if I haven’t missed the drawing. I have Joel’s Self-Publisher’s Companion, but it still seems a bit overwhelming. I’ll appreciate anything that will help me get through it. Wonderful post and thanks to Joel for bringing you here.

  3. oyagha michael

    I am interested.

  4. Nancy Ellen Dodd

    Nancy Ellen Dodd • I want to thank Janet Angelo (Editor and Publisher,
    IndieGo ePublishing) for linking to this article in our LinkedIn group. I’m faculty in the business school at a university (as well as creative writing program) and it never ocurred to me to do a Book Business Plan! This so got me going that I spent the weekend combining what the article suggested with SBA guidelines and another set of guidelines and then putting together misc from my own notes. I am well on my way to developing my Book Business Plan–but the most important thing is that it caused me to add a couple of my own initiatives into the plan and created a couple of new very doable goals related to developing a new market for my writing book and expanding that book into other markets (as suggested by other business faculty who love the concepts in the book and apply them to business and life). I also figured out how to take the next step with some of my fiction work that I’ve been struggling with.

    I have taken the BBP to the next level of a plan for my publishing life–a Publishing Business Plan.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus


      This is fantastic! AND, exactly what it’s supposed to be. A really good Book Business Plan is a living, breathing thing that is the perfect canvas for the perfect solution for YOUR book(s) and career. Keep me abreast of your successes, and I know you’ll have many!

      Deb Riley-Magnus

    • Joel Friedlander

      Nancy, that’s terrific.

      If you’re interested, I’d like to hear how it works out for you and how you’ve taken the plan to a new level. Let me know.

      • Nancy Ellen Dodd

        Deborah and Joel,
        One of the things that I did was change this to a Book and Publishing Business Plan to cover more of my work and not just one book–expanding all the legs I could add to my writing book and allowing for my other work. I also added “Time Assessment” at the beginning. One of our problems is often that we are fitting our Book Business Plan into an already crowded life. So for me, in order to make this succeed, I had to figure out where the time to put this in place was going to come from and how I was going to spend it (writing vs business time). In doing that, I also realized that I would eventually have to hire a part-time, then full-time assistant to do the things I could pass off and make my time even more productive, which meant my plan had to include a significant increase in my book income. Anyway, this is just one of the things I’m working on in regard to creating my plan.

  5. Sharon Beck

    The ideas in this post dovetail with what I have discussed with others in related fields. I know an artist who laments that he spent his years as an undergraduate and graduate student studying art! He felt that he could learn what he needed for his artistic development on his own, and that his educational time would have been better served by studying marketing!

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      You know Sharon, I totally agree with him. I’m seeing more and more people in many different industries making the same statements. Look at the music industry, the fashion and culinary industry, even the movie business and what we’re seeing is that more and more individual efforts to enter these industries REQUIRE marketing knowledge and skills. Marketing is simple, but creative people have such issues with facing the fact that it’s also necessary. Everything is a “performance” art and if no one knows you wrote a book or did that painting or anything else … the performance failed.


  6. Mark Bell

    Our perspective at Legerity Entertainment is that, every author should have a business plan. It is that plan that will enable you to sell your hard work. Unless someone is just writing for themselves, such as in a diary, an author needs to plan out how to achieve their goals. Marketing yourself as an up and coming author requires a comprehensive plan. Very few authors can write a book and have it go to the top ten best sellers list. It takes planning a marketing strategy and diligently working towards that goal on a daily basis. Once you have an agent and a publisher, they can do a lot of the marketing on the author’s behalf, but self-published authors must develop a plan and to be honest, work as hard as or harder than they did writing their book. An author’s audience has millions of choices, so a plan to place your work in front of them and convince them that they should buy your book instead of all the other author’s books is mandatory. An author’s plan must be comprehensive, to include book signings, Book2Film trailers, fliers, internet marketing – such as developing followers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and everywhere else you think of. In addition, it must be constant. Until people buy an author’s books just because of the author’s name, it must be marketing, marketing, marketing. Over my years, I’ve seen a multitude of businesses go under, even when they had a great product. If no one knows how good your product is, no one will buy it. All aspects of marketing one’s book is a must, if you want people to know it exists.

    At Legerity Entertainment, we offer tools to assist authors in marketing their work, such as award winning editing, our handcrafted award winning Book2Film trailers and book covers, to name just a few. In fact, we’ll edit five pages of your manuscript (finished or not) at no charge. Authors have the chance to see just how good our editing services are, with no strings attached. We just hope to have the opportunity to edit their entire manuscript. Check us out at: WE DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU!

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Thanks for the confirmation about author’s NEEDING a good Book Business Plan!

    • Joel Friedlander

      I guess what I’ve learned from authors is that there are many models, many paths to follow and many ways to be successful, that each person defines success for themselves. Deborah’s approach will strongly appeal to some people, not to others. It’s all good.

  7. D.D. Larsen aka Dean

    What wonderful insights in today’s blog. Thanks Deborah for your wisdom on the subject. And thanks to Corey for his comments. Very good stuff being discussed here.

  8. Jennifer Coons

    Thanks for your words of wisdom. I am a budding author who last January picked up my computer and decided I was ready to begin my dream of becoming an author. I have learned ALOT this last year and I appreciate your thoughts.

  9. Andrea Bandle

    A great example why a Book Business is Plan is useful: Today, it’s not enough to have one great book out there…you need to have the next one coming out soon thereafter. Many authors are realizing this after losing months or years on publishing one book at a time. Having a Book Business Plan can help determine that perhaps you need to split your current story into two books because it’ll be easier to market. But, if you’re not even thinking about marketing during the writing process, you could miss making this very important decision.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      So true, Andrea!

      Thinking about your marketing as you write your book does a lot more too … it helps the author see the various cross markets available to them as well as the special and unique ways the book can be brought to market. It’s nearly impossible to build a writing career without understanding all the nuances of the market and your unique book strategy for approaching it.


    • Corey Michael Blake

      Andrea, I have to disagree if you’re referring to non-fiction. If you put everything into your current book and then spend a good year moving it out into the world and changing lives with it, then the theme of your next book will eventually become apparent, and it will be something you never expected. The process of writing your book should be transformational, not simply a regurgitation of what you already know. When you write a book that changes your life through writing it, it will change your life again when people respond to the experience of reading it. Let those experiences change you and motivate your next epiphanies. It’s from that new place that you want to write your next book.

  10. Michelle

    Always a pleasure to read more of Deb’s ideas. And kudos to Joel for the great platform – it’s always helpful.

  11. Corey Michael Blake

    Here’s another idea. Stop thinking of selling books as the end goal. People buy books one at a time. So your profit of $2 has little to no value unless you win the lottery of publishing. Focus on writing your book as a lead generator for your brand. Use it to generate 4, 5, and 6-figure clients. Use it as an intimate introduction to your voice. These people buy one at a time too, but at levels that can help you grow your writing brand. Publishing is changing and if you’re looking at it only through the old lens, you’re missing the boat.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Hi Corey,

      Unfortunately, first time and beginning authors don’t have the advantages of the past, old publishing business model. They aren’t marketed and promoted and sadly, if they don’t sell books, they lose their future publishing contracts.

      The book business plan is not a tool to take the beautiful craft of writing away from the author in favor of gaining book sales … it’s a tool to help authors survive and thrive so that they CAN continue writing and possibly, build an effective career from it.

      This IS the new lens, and if authors ignore the need to understand their market and the business of writing, they may really miss the boat.


      • Corey Michael Blake


        Thanks for your thoughts. Some people (like me) dive in face first and learn by doing. Others are careful planners before they execute. Both can be wonderfully successful. For those who prefer the planning route, I would encourage them to a focus on a business plan for their brand, not their book. The book is the marketing tool for the brand. I wrote book proposals for years and then eventually determined that my authors don’t need an agent’s and a publisher’s permission to put their work out into the world. That worked well for my authors and their return on investment has been significant for most, not because they sell tens of thousands of books, but because they use the book to grow their business or their personal brand and they generate legitimate revenue from both.

        First time advances are at an all time low and most first time authors simply don’t have the experience to put together a realistic proposal. What they end up with is an idealistic proposal and those don’t sell. If you already have a major name brand in place, you’re in a different boat and that’s where the leverage of a proposal helps sell a book at a high price.

        I am not saying that writers shouldn’t be busy savvy. They need to think intensely about their market and who they think needs their book and how they plan to make it visible to that crowd. But most need professional guidance in understanding who that market is. I work with amazing professionals who do brilliant things in the world, and yet totally miss the bigger picture of who they are and what they really bring to the world. They thought they were writing a book about their business and the 19 things you need to do to be like them, but in actuality, the book they wanted to write was far deeper and more interesting. If they had simply executed on their “proposal” they would have created a product that no one cared to read. So it’s also important to remain flexible and open to the creative process. If you don’t change through writing your book, don’t expect your reader to change through reading it.

        I appreciate the debate!



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