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A 5-Year Publishing Plan
Plan to succeed as an indie publisher by setting goals for the next five years.
Let’s talk about a reasonable five year plan for your publishing empire!
This may be the shortest recommendation, but it’s the most important!
You must write a good book. And do it again. And again. For five years, you must plan to produce a reasonable number of great books. The other tasks below may come or go, but this is the non-negotiable part of your business.
You must obtain the best illustrations/cover art possible. Again, non-negotiable.
Without a passion for quality and a deep understanding of what that truly means in children’s literature, the rest is a waste of time.
1) READ. Read 100 books in your genre published within the last 5 years. Read award winners. Look at the art in the award winners and Best of the Year lists.
2) Study. Take classes, and read about Mentor Texts in such groups as Reforemo.com.
Here’s my video course on How to Write a Children’s Book.
3) Critique groups are often a way to improve your writing. Look for a group that is actively producing manuscripts, actively pursues educational opportunities, and is encouraging to you personally.
GOAL: Write, produce and publish one quality book.
The first year is about basics, getting your business structure set up, and laying groundwork for future marketing efforts. You’ll be making basic decisions such as name/logo, and creating accounts everywhere.
Tasks for Year One
Decide on business structure - LLC or other, DBA, Business Licenses
Set up bank accounts in business name.
Commission or create a logo.
Decide on first book: write, commission art, layout/design.
Buy ISBN blocks.
Set up accounts at POD printers, ebook distributors, and educational distributors.
When books are available, submit books for consideration to targeted educational distributors, review journals, etc. Start your mailing list of reviewers now and plan to build it in the years to come.
Set up basic online presence - website, ecommerce store, landing pages, etc.
Set up basic social media presence - establish accounts and start posting.
File copyright for Book 1.
Second and Third years
In general, the second and third years are about building on your basics, refining your brand, and staying afloat!
Staying afloat is hard the first couple years because you’ll be spending money on illustrators, marketing, etc, and your income streams will still need to grow. Take whatever work you need—work for hire, traditional contracts, etc—during this time to stay afloat!
Building your brand. Indie authors tend to do well if they publish in one area consistently. Perhaps you only do fantasy novels for YA, or folk tale adaptation picture books, or early chapter books. Whatever your writing strengths are, work to build a following for your style, genre, themes, etc. This means, among other things:
Write in a series.
Build connections within the community of authors who write for the same audience.
Refine your brand. This is likely a time when you wrestle with what exactly IS your brand. You may publish several books in wildly different areas. Fine. But the sooner you refine it to a coherent publishing program, the faster you’ll grow. If you find success with picture books about animals, the audience for those books is vastly different from the audience for YA sci-fi. If you bounce around, you’ll start the marketing for each book from scratch each time. It’s far easier to go back to the same audience a second time because you’ll have data on what messaging worked, where they hang out, what sorts of promos they like, etc.
By the end of the third year, I hope you’ll be hitting your stride and finding books that work consistently. You can start to build an audience who is passionate about your genre or topics or themes.
Wide or exclusive. The question of taking ebooks wide to many retailers or going exclusive with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program should be obvious by the end of the third year. Either way works. Just work to find the best way to reach your audience.
Write and publish a lot! Indie authors with more books published have higher incomes. However, work at your own pace; just adjust expectations if you write and publish slowly. Don’t worry if you have a couple books that flop. It’s normal. Keep improving your writing craft, choose better covers, get better copyediting, and market smarter. Keep working!
Advertising. You need to learn to advertise. As I’ve said before, your publishing company is a small business and you’re no different from any other small business. Every small business needs a way to bring in customers. Plan to add one advertising platform a year. Most people will start with either Amazon Marketing ads or Facebook ads. Both can have success, but the key is that it will take time for you to learn the platform to be able to use it successfully. Each has strengths and weaknesses, quirks and frustrations. But you should choose one! Stick with it for a year or even two until you are consistently growing your business through ads.
Tasks for Year 2
Look at Year 1 accounting and set financial goals for the year.
Decide on second book: write, commission art, layout/design.
Plan publishing schedule for next 2-3 years.
Plan and execute social media content.
Expand distribution partners.
Submit books to appropriate awards.
Learn to advertise with Amazon Advertising, Bookbubs, Facebook ads, Pinterest ads, or whatever advertising will work best for your titles.
Tasks for Year 3
Take a hard look at your successes and failures in the first two years. Readjust your publishing plans accordingly.
Follow your publishing schedule to write, edit and publish new titles.
Add new distributors.
Take classes as needed: layout, design, Indesign, advertising, craft of writing, etc.
You’ve made it through the hardest years, the early ones where you are learning so much! Congratulations! But now it’s time to dig in and ask some hard questions that will determine future success.
Do you have a unifying vision for your publishing program? Think about quality, category, theme, or format. Could someone pick up a books and say, “This is a XXX Press book?”
Do you have a vision for your publishing program for the next five years? Ten years?
Are your books “best in class” for your category (categories)?
Do you have the start of a healthy backlist? Which titles are cornerstone or evergreen titles? Can you build more of those titles into your publishing program?
Where have you sold well? Can you build on that success to scale up sales?
Where do you still want to sell into? Do you have plans for how to do that? For example, you may want to expand into audio books, or you may want to increase sales in Australia, or you may want to do more foreign rights deals. Do you have goals and plans to reach those goals?
EDITORIAL AND DESIGN
Are your books consistently high quality in layout, design, cover art and marketing materials?
Are your books competitive in “today’s crowded market”?
Have you built relationships with editors, illustrators, designers, and/or marketers to sustain the growth of your business? Are there areas where you need stronger team members?
After a hard look at your publishing company, you should be able to write out some goals for the next year, two years, five years, and/or ten years.
What other tasks would you add to the various years?