This article by Tara Wyatt is from the October 2021 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
When it comes to writing our books, some of us are pantsers—those who write by the seat of their pants without a solid outline to guide them—and some are plotters. Some of us are a combination of the two. There’s no one right way to write a book. In fact, if your method is resulting in completed projects that you’re happy with, I’d say it’s working for you.
However, when it comes to our careers, too many of us are pantsing it—moving forward without a plan, goal, or solid vision as to where we’d like to be six months, 12 months, or two years from now. While it’s perfectly acceptable to pants your books (I’ve written more than 20 books this way), you can’t pants your career.
If you’re unsure where to start when it comes to career planning, keep reading.
Organize your workflow
Before you start planning, first do some reflecting and analyzing. Creating an effective and realistic plan requires a level of self-awareness when it comes to not only your goals, but also your capacity and capabilities. Open a blank Word document or grab a journal, and answer the following questions:
- How many books do I write a year, on average?
- How long does it take me to write and edit each book?
- Is my current pace sustainable? Could I do more? Should I do less? Where is my happy medium?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Answer them honestly, and pay attention to how you feel as you answer them. Don’t take on more than you know you can realistically handle, because that’s a sure path to burnout.
Once you have a clear picture of how many books you can comfortably release in a year, create a spreadsheet with a column along the top labeled “new releases.” Down the side, create a row for each month of the coming year. Now that you know how long it takes you to write a book, slot in your releases for the next 12 months. (Note: If planning this far ahead stresses you out or doesn’t work for you, cap it at six months).
Plan your promotions
Now that you have a clear picture of your upcoming release schedule, it’s time to plan your promotions around those releases.
When you have a new release, look for what’s similar in your backlist to promote. If you write in series, this could be an earlier book in that series. If you write standalones, it could be a book with the same or similar trope, setting, or overall theme. It’s up to you when you’d like to run the promotion—a few weeks before the release, during the release, immediately after the release. Experiment and find what works best for you. Discounting a backlist book creates a low barrier to entry into your series or your books, enticing new readers. This is especially helpful if the new release is a later book in a series, which is more difficult to market to new readers. By discounting an earlier book in the series, you reclaim some of that marketing power. Once you’ve selected the backlist title to promote in support of your new release, note how you plan to promote it. Will it be on sale for 99 cents? Temporarily free? How are you going to market the sale? Are you going to apply for a BookBub? Submit to other newsletters such as Robin Reads, Ereader News Today, or Fussy Librarian?
When you’ve selected your backlist promotions, create a new column in your spreadsheet called “Discounted Backlist Book” and slot in your planned promotions next to your new releases. Now you’ll have a clear picture of not only the new books you’re releasing, but the backlist books you’re going to promote to support them.
Now that you know what new books you’ll be releasing as well as what discounted books you’ll be promoting in support of that release, it’s time to plan your other marketing activities. Take a look at what you currently do and/or enjoy doing when it comes to marketing. Some examples of marketing activities outside of a discounted book promotion include:
- Social media: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter
- Newsletter swaps with other authors
- Cost-per-click ads on platforms such as Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub
- Giveaways (joint giveaway with other authors, Goodreads giveaways)
Please note, I’m not saying that you should do all of these things. These are merely examples of marketing activities. What do you usually do? Is it working for you? How do you know? Analyze what you’ve done in the past to make the best possible decision for the future. When you’ve decided what marketing activities you’re going to undertake, create a new column in your spreadsheet called “Marketing” and slot in what you plan to do. It could be a Goodreads giveaway, a Facebook ad campaign, newsletter swaps with other authors in your genre, all of the above, or something entirely different. But figure out what you’ll be doing, and slot it in.
What if I’m a slow writer?
As we all know, the pace of the market is increasingly relentless. There are authors releasing a book a month, and if that’s the speed where you’re comfortable and fulfilled without burning out, power to you. However, many of us are not writing six, eight or 10 books a year, and that’s fine. If you only write one or two books a year, there are ways to boost your income and round out your calendar.
1. Rebrand an older book or series. If you have a series that isn’t selling well and is a few years old, consider putting new covers on the books (pay attention to what’s selling in your genre to make sure your covers are right for the market) and writing fresh blurbs. Then discount the first book to 99 cents or free and promote it as best you can. Freshening up an older series can attract new readers, especially if you treat the rebrand just like a new release, with cover reveals, a sale, and other activities you do to promote your new releases.
2. Write a free prequel to an existing series. Consider writing a short story or novella that serves as a prequel to an existing series. Adding content to a series and creating a new entry point can bring in new readers. You could also treat the prequel just like a new release. Because it’s shorter, it won’t take as long to write but will still help boost sales of that series.
3. Create box sets of existing content. If you have a multi-book series that’s at least five books long, you could create a box set of the first three books in the series and treat the release of the box set just like you would a new book. This box set can also act as an excellent promotional tool in the future. For example, if you have a new release in that series, you can offer the box set for 99 cents or $1.99 as your discounted book. You could also create a box set of three or four first-in-series books if you have multiple series to play with, and treat that box set like a new release as well.
If you don’t write in series, you could create a box set of two or three books with the same trope, theme, or even setting. Be creative! Another idea would be to team up with other authors in your genre and offer a multi-author box set for free for a limited time. This type of cross promotion is excellent for finding new readers.
4. Create audio versions of your books. This is a pricey option, to be sure, but audiobooks are a growing market. Creating audiobook versions of your backlist books is a way to find new readers, round out your release calendar, and diversify your income streams. However, it does come with a heavier investment than, say, putting together a box set. But it’s an option if you have the cash flow.
Putting it all together
You should now have a clear picture of the next year (or six months, or possibly even 18 if you like to plan that far ahead) and all of the big, important pieces. What new books are you releasing and when? What backlist promotions will you do to support those new releases? What other marketing activities are you planning?
You can customize your spreadsheet to reflect your workflow and plans. For example, some people create a separate column to track applying for BookBub Featured Deals. Others create a column for cover reveals, or series rebrands, or audiobook releases. It’s up to you how to use it. But I do encourage you to use it, even if you’re a pantser when it comes to your writing. With a little planning, strategy, and organization, it will be that much easier to grow your author career and take it to the next level.
Tara Wyatt is an award-winning contemporary romance and romantic suspense author of more than 20 books. She lives near Toronto, Ontario, Canada.