Yes, self-published writers need a business plan

I recently came across this article by editor Rob Bignell, an esteemed editor and owner of Inventing Reality Editing Service. And I thought I might offer another perspective.

First off, let me say that I have an incredible respect for Rob Bignell. He has a proven history of high-quality editorial work. More to the point, it’s clear that Rob is making the point that having a structured budget is just as effective for the casual self-published author insofar as tax purposes go. As Rob mentions, “Even if not seeking a loan, such a plan can be useful in guiding your strategy to grow a business.” This is so incredibly true. A business plan can help you keep a budget on track and give a big-picture view of the future.

And then, Rob argues that you don’t need one:

Generally, creating a business plan is unnecessary for self-published writers, even then they establish their own “publishing company” that owns the ISBN to their books. Such businesses generally are a self-proprietorship, and any royalties coming to the author is considered personal income. 

Here’s the thing: writers who are really serious about writing and publishing, even self-publishing, need a plan to succeed. It also needs a budget, true, but even a self-proprietorship needs a plan to stay afloat if it’s ever going to succeed in the long run. I’ve never met a writer who was happy with “just one”. We all (with few exceptions) want to chase that dream of writing for a living, forever. That can’t come true without one of two things: a load of money or a business plan.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that authors with money are more likely to succeed. Book covers cost money. Editors cost money. ISBNs cost money. Whether you’re buying 10k copies of your book to get on the NYT bestseller list or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal advertising, the person with the largest wallet has the advantage. For a writer who has a full-time job and writes on the side, every penny matters. That is why a business plan is so important.

Too often, I see writers who take their book sales as “side hustle” income and don’t reinvest that money back into their own books. When I ask why, the answer is inevitably: “well, what am I going to spend it on?” That’s where a plan comes in. Knowing where your money is going, and what it is going to do for you, is going to maximize your success.

Most of the profits of The Wizards on Walnut Street went toward making No Place successful, and in turn that’s going to go toward the next book, and the next one. But I can only do that effectively if I have a plan. So yes, self-published writers need a business plan. Maybe not a big one, or a complicated one. Maybe they’ll never use the business plan to get a business loan and maybe it won’t significantly change their tax filings or their net profits. But if a self-published author wants to play in the big leagues, they need a plan or they will drown in the slush pile.


Sam Swicegood is an author, speaker, blogger, and podcaster from Cincinnati, OH. He is the author of fantasy and science-fiction literature, including The Wizards on Walnut Street and No Place.

2 Comments to Yes, self-published writers need a business plan

  1. Rob Bignell says:

    The key quotation from the Inventing Reality article that was not quoted is: “A business plan becomes necessary when you publish enough books with large enough sales that you can quit your day job. By that point, you have a serious small business going, and the writing effort no longer can be viewed as just a hobby or a side job. In addition, a business plan is necessary if the writing leads to the creation of another business, such as consulting, speaking, editing writers’ books, designing book covers, or self-publishing titles the writer didn’t pen. In this case, though, the business plan is geared less for the self-publishing of your books than for the small business you’re running. ”

    Are you just a hobbyist who wrote a book about your family history or who decided to publish a novel that you wrote 10 years ago and don’t plan to publish again? Then you don’t need a business plan. After all, what’s the point of writing an executive summary, company description, market analysis, competitive analysis, description of management and organization, breakdown of your products and services, marketing plan, and sales strategy? Banks want to see that stuff before giving you a loan, but you’re not looking to borrow money.

    If you plan to write multiple books or start a business of which your book is just a promotional tool, though, then yes, you ought to have a business plan (Indeed, I do both – write/publish multiple hiking guidebooks and run an editing business and have two business plans, one for each). The quoted article states that, though Sam’s article infers that it doesn’t.

    Thank you for the kind words, Sam, about my business and experience. However, I think we actually agree rather than disagree.

    • @Rob We definitely agree on more points than we disagree, for sure. Too often, though, self-published writers take on tools like CreateSpace/KDP and think it’s a set-it-and-forget-it system, even when their goal is to publish many books.

      Thanks for everything you do!

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