Episode 144: Future Planning Your Writing Career

In this week’s episode, Holly talks about planning for the future in your author business. Whether your goal is to finish your first book, or to become a six-figure author, this episode will help to guide you on your way.

The discussion covers:

  • Considering your Big Why
  • Making a plan to get there
  • Tips for reaching that goal
  • and thinking about your IP after you die

A transcript of the main topic is included below.

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Future Planning

Today I want to talk to you about future planning. As I’m sure most of you know, I’m big on goal setting and planning and all that jazz. Primarily, that comes from my number one Strength, Futuristic, but I also have supporting Strengths that compound that, like my number two Strategic, and Discipline at number twelve, which also likes the security of a plan.

I’ve always been someone who enjoys daydreaming about future events and having something to look forward to. I’ve been a compulsive holiday planner all my life, picking out destinations and ideal itineraries for trips I may never take. I’ve always dreamed of my dream house too, collecting images on Pinterest. I’ve used vision boards since before the internet was a particularly big thing in our lives!

But since getting to know about Strengths, I’ve come to realise, fully, that not everyone is like that. So the things that work for me, that motivate me, won’t work for others. Some people, particularly Angeline, don’t function better with a plan, they are actually better off without one, or at least a very lightly-held one that they don’t mind changing.

So I want to say this upfront as we get into this topic: it’s okay if you don’t want to plan for the future. If it’s not something that fuels you, don’t try to change yourself. Not everyone wants to use a planner, or have a system. That’s fine. But I’m going to assume that if you’re listening to this podcast, at the very least, you want to write at least one book, if not many and have a career as a writer. So even if future planning is not something that excites you, if you’re going to accomplish either of those things, you are going to need some strategies in place.

Know Your Big Why

So, first of all, I want to talk about deciding what it is that you want to get out of your author life. Knowing why you’re doing this is important, no matter how you feel about future planning. It can help you with decisions in the moment if you know what general direction you’re going in.

As difficult as this might be for some to accept, we can’t actually do everything in life. We have to make choices because our time is finite. If we say yes to having a family, we will need to say no to certain other things. If we say yes to constant travel, we may need to say no to regular appointments in one place. If you know that you want to focus on writing fiction and building a business around that, you may need to learn to say no to other tangent opportunities.

It’s so easy to look at what other successful people are doing and to assume that if we just emulate them, we’ll get the same results. But it doesn’t work that way because we all have unique personalities and life situations. Many of the more prominent members of this indie author community are people whose lives are nothing like mine, and whose Strengths are nothing like mine. A big part of why Angeline and I wanted to do this podcast together, and why Julia was the perfect addition to the team, is that we are on different journeys from many of the other podcasters and teachers in this sphere. We’re all parents first. We don’t have spouses doing the lion’s share of the parenting and housework. So we knew that our perspective was different and would resonate with an awful lot of writers out there who have and enjoy having other priorities.

You may not want to ever go full time with your writing. You may always want the security of a pay cheque, or to focus on your kids for the next ten years (or more). You may not be chasing six or seven figures. You may not want to run a business providing author services or courses in order to reach an income goal. You may not be in a position to churn out 20 books a year.

Your Big Why is your own and you shouldn’t feel as though you need to match someone else’s. Unless you’re highly competitive and are driven by that! But even so, try competing against yourself, trying to constantly beat your own records and milestones. It’s likely to be better for you than trying to emulate someone else’s path.

Maybe you are someone with huge ambitions and the drive to write fast, make big money or serve the community with coaching or a series of best-selling non-fiction books. Maybe you dream of being hired to speak at events.

I hope you can see how the choices you make day to day, will be very different depending on what Big Why you’re striving for. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re moving towards.

Now, you don’t have to get any more specific if you don’t want to. Just keeping a general idea in mind may be enough for you. But, if you’re like me, the destination is only part of the picture. You also want to have a plan for the journey.

Plan SMARTer

SMAT goal check list

I’ve been an advocate of SMART goals for many years now. It’s not a system that will resonate with absolutely everyone, and I will suggest some others shortly, but it’s the system that I’ve found to be the most effective for me and the psychology of it makes sense to me, thanks to how my brain works. But I encourage you to try different things and find the best system for you.

So, if you’re new to the concept, a SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. So something like “I want to make loads of money” is the opposite! A possible SMART version would be: I will make 100,000 per year within 5 years from fiction, non-fiction and courses; I already make 40,000 a year and my Big Why is to have financial freedom for my family.

It’s a specific amount of money and specific means of making it; it’s measurable because you can track the progress on a monthly and annual basis; it’s attainable because you’re already on the way towards it, not starting from nothing; it’s relevant because it leads you to your Big Why; and it’s time-bound by having a 5-year deadline.

If that isn’t floating your boat, try looking into CLEAR objectives by Adam Kreek, or FAST goals established by the brains at MIT. There are many options out there, so take a look around and see what fits for you. You could even cobble together elements from multiple systems to find the best combination for you. I really like the E for Emotional in CLEAR, and F for Frequently discussed from FAST and do loosely incorporate these into my goals and planning.

Accountability

If you’ve listened to a fair few of our episodes, then you’ll know that we do monthly accountability around here. I also like to set quarterly goals, but my lovely co-hosts have much higher Adaptability than me and nowhere near as high Futuristic! So we differ on long term plans. A case in point being that a quarter isn’t long-term to me, it’s quite short term! My long-term goals have ten plus year deadlines, soooo….

Anyway, we tell each other, and you, what we plan to accomplish each month and check-in each week, because being transparent about goals can really help in accomplishing them. Not always, I think what we’re seeing on this podcast is that without concrete consequences for failing to meet our goals, it’s not all that effective. But you may find that just telling someone what you plan to achieve is enough. You might need that person to check in with you regularly and give you a nudge towards doing it. You may even need a dramatic forfeit as a consequence for not meeting your goals. Forfeits scare the crap out of me and actually just make me dodge the accountability! So I need to have a think about that and figure out what kind of a push will work for me these days.

I know a few writers who simply share their daily word counts on social media so that their followers can see what progress is being made. That dose of social pressure does the job.

You could also look at using rewards for meeting your goals. They can be as simple as cute or sparkly stickers for meeting your daily word count, or spending money on yourself for bigger milestones.

Frequent Reminders

The other key component of achieving goals is working frequent reminders into your routine. I bullet journal, so I write down my goals each week, month and quarter in there, as well as my daily task lists. Each evening when I reflect on the day, I also write down something I accomplished, but that doesn’t always relate to a current SMART goal. Sometimes it’s a household chore that was overdue, or a health-related thing that I want to celebrate.

When I’ve written Morning Pages in the past, I’ve made a point of writing down my long term goals every single day in those pages as a daily reminder of what I’m working towards. In fact, I recently agreed to some journaling accountability with a couple of writer friends to help me get back into this habit.

You might want to write your goals on post-its and stick them in places you’ll see them often, like the fridge door, or bathroom mirror. I have images related to some of my lifestyle bucket list items stuck inside my wardrobe door, so that every time I open it I see them there. You could set reminders on your phone to pop up at regular intervals. You can set your computer password to be related to a goal too. Whatever method works for you, find ways to keep your goals front and centre in your daily life so that you can’t just forget about them.

Writing To Market

One of the things that can be a great boon is keeping an eye on trends and being ahead of the curve when it comes to popular genres or tropes, or new technologies. So when thinking about your business’s future, you may want to get in on the ground floor of things like Kindle Vella, or perhaps you were quick to jump into producing audiobooks before they started to take off. I know of an author who wrote reverse harem before it was a thing. Being ahead of the curve can be frustrating because it takes patience and commitment to see a return on investment. But the wonderful thing about this business is that everything we write, every format we publish in, becomes a lifelong asset. If you feel called to write vampire romance, but it’s not currently enjoying much popularity, do it anyway and be secure in knowing that the genre will have its day again sooner or later. These things come in waves. If you see the start of a swell in a particular type of story, and if you can write quickly, you can jump on that trend and be one of the early adopters. When a new craze is getting started, the appetite can often be much higher than the number of books on offer, meaning that there’s far less competition in the market.

However, chasing trends isn’t possible for all of us, it’s certainly not sustainable either. If you’re always chasing popular trends, you may struggle to build a core following who will read everything you write, because those readers may not like the next thing you decide to write. Very few writers can consistently churn out books quickly enough to keep pace with the market for more than a few years. Eventually, they’ll face burnout. And I don’t recommend that!

Thinking long term is a constant balancing act of what makes sense now and what is practical over the years to come.

Prepare for the Future

Now, one last thing that I want to talk about that’s connected to future planning, is how important it is, in my opinion, to build a business that is future proof. You never know what might happen to your social media platform of choice, or what changes the retailers will throw at us, and then there’s the issue of what happens to your intellectual property after your death.

Some of this is unpleasant to think about, but it’s a good idea. Do you really want to cultivate a huge following on a social media network, only for your account to be deleted by a bot? We talk about this sort of thing a lot on this show and it’s because we believe in the importance of protecting your connection with your readers. A mailing list is the optimal means for maintaining a link with readers as it isn’t dependent on another platform. As long as you keep the email list backed up regularly, it’s yours to keep. If one service closes up shop you can take your list to another one and pick up where you left off. As long as you’re being ethical in how you collect those addresses, then it’s a valuable asset that is immune to the unpredictability of social media.

Just as a recent example, my primary social media is Instagram, but what I and many other creators there have noticed is that reach and engagement has dropped off a cliff in the last few months. People are reporting a 25% drop in these metrics, or worse. The platform is also now heavily pushing short video content, in its attempt to compete with TikTok, and many of us OG IG users don’t like this change. We were attracted to Instagram because it was a photo-sharing platform. That’s what we liked about it and why we chose to be there. Now it seems that static images are being dropped by the algorithm in favour of Reels. Facebook and Instagram, which are the same company, both also practice something called shadow banning, where they mute your reach if they decide they don’t agree with your content. Women are being particularly affected by this.

There’s really nothing that we can do about this. When you join a social media site, you’re agreeing to abide by their rules, even if those rules change. It’s not your sandbox. So it’s really quite unwise to build your primary platform on that sand.

Likewise the ebook retailers. Amazon is an imperfect site – remember that its primary business is in data mining, NOT retail. It’s essentially a giant product-based search engine designed to collect data about its users and then profit from that data through targeted advertising, just like Facebook.

I remember hearing a gem of advice along the lines of: if you don’t pay to use the service, you ARE the service. It’s free to be on these giant platforms, it costs nothing to create a KDP account and upload a book to sell. As a customer, you can be on there and never buy a thing. That’s because they are making their money from selling your data. If in your author life you’ve ventured into cost-per-click advertising on Facebook or Amazon, you’ll have seen this for yourself. The targeting you can do on those platforms is thanks to their massive data collection. Now, can we benefit from access to that back end data? Yes, absolutely. But in the interests of future-proofing your business, bear in mind what the relationship between yourself and any company you deal with actually is.

KU vs Wide

Just as I believe it makes sense to have a mailing list to maintain direct communication with your readers, I also think it’s sensible to publish wide and not be at the mercy of Amazon for 100% of your income. Authors have had their KDP accounts terminated without warning and without appeal before. They’ve had books taken down, reviews stripped. We are really beholden to the whims of the algorithms and bots that run day-to-day operations on the platform.

Can KU be a really good option? Yes, it can, under certain circumstances. If you’re new and just want to learn one thing at a time, then it makes sense. If your genre is dominated by KU authors then it stands to reason that you’d reach more readers if you’re exclusive. But again, what is your Big Why? My genre, for example, is a very KU dominated one. There are precious few of us writing urban fantasy who publish wide. Am I missing out on KU page reads by not being in that program? Probably. But one of my core values is freedom and part of my Big Why is to be accessible to readers all around the world. So I choose to take the risk of less income now in pursuit of greater reach in the long term. I have experimented as well and found that when I was in KU, page reads made up about a third of my income. However, I now make about 40% of my income from wide sales. So that gamble was worth it for me.

So think about what you value and what you want your publishing journey to look like. Do you want to essentially be an Amazon-contracted writer and potentially get paid very well for that role? Or do you want the freedom and independence of publishing wide?

After You’re Gone

Now then, onto the last, slightly icky part of future planning: what happens when you’re gone?

I’ve mentioned a few times about your books becoming assets. Assets outlive us. Just as any physical property you own will have to pass into someone else’s hands when you die, so too does your intellectual property. This is a slightly complex area and I’m not a legal professional, so I highly recommend speaking with a solicitor or attorney about this topic. An excellent starting point is the Alliance of Independent Authors. Intellectual property in the form of books becomes public domain at different times in different countries, but in the UK it’s life plus 70 years. What does this mean? Well, in short, it means that your family can continue to sell and profit from your books for 70 years after you die. You’re potentially leaving a legacy for your children and beyond.

However, the passing on of these rights isn’t necessarily automatic. You should speak to a solicitor about creating a will, and producing this episode is indeed putting this higher on my radar!

A couple of notable authors who died without leaving a will are Michael Crichton and Stieg Larsson, both of whose families ended up disputing the transfer of the rights to their works. For an independent author, you may want to give some thought to not only who would own your IP, but also who would manage those assets best. There’s not a lot of benefit to leaving your children the rights to your work if they are too young, or not knowledgable enough to make money from that work. It may be possible to have someone else manage your assets on behalf of your heirs.

Anyway, that’s enough gloom-forecasting for today.

I hope that this episode has given you something to think about. Obviously, future planning is something I enjoy and that drives me forward. That isn’t necessarily true for you, but I hope this was informative and thought-provoking in any case and has given you some ideas to help get you from a to b. If you would like to go deeper on this topic, check out my book, Goal Setting for Writers.

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