Thursday, December 14, 2017

Planning for Pantsers -- A (sort of) Guide

Hey, indie authors how are your plans for 2018 shaping up? If you're like me you might have that deer-in-the-headlights look as you ask, "What do you mean by plans, exactly?" Sound familiar? Planning can be the eighth level of hell for a pantser, but -- as a recent convert -- I promise you, you might even be better for it.

1. Decide how your writing fits into your life goals
This is an important starting point. "I want to publish a book someday" is a different mindset from "I want to be able quit my day job and write full-time." If your 2018 plan is more along the lines of the former -- you want to finish that book and work on trying to get it published -- you're probably feeling a different kind of pressure than the writer who's hoping full-time writing allows him/her to do things like eat and pay rent. 

2. What else is going on in your life right now that impacts your writing?
Have you just had a baby, gotten married, divorced, and/or moved across the state/country/world? All of those things are going to impact your writing and it's only fair to be gentle with yourself during times of big transition. As Kimberly pointed out in her recent post, 2017 has been a tough year to be creative, and it's perfectly okay to say, "The whole world is on fire and I can't muster up the enthusiasm to write about shifters, period." Of course, if you rely on your writing for things like food and rent, it gets a little trickier. Which is where the rest of the Pantser Planner strategy comes in.

3. Before you look forward, look back
What went right in 2017? What went wrong? If you were to look at the various areas of your life -- health, relationships, family, career, creativity, finances -- how would you rate yourself on a scale of 1-10? Of those things are 5 and below, which three areas would you like to move up to a solid 8? (I'm suggesting choosing three areas because it's impossible to do all the things and no matter how good your plan, it can feel pretty overwhelming to face a life overhaul.)

4. Continue looking back for just a few more minutes
Take a deep-dive look backwards at those three areas you want to see become 8 or above in 2018. You want to improve your financial situation? Write down the things you did right -- and wrong -- related to your finances this year. Did you take a course that really spurred you on creatively? Or did you attend a conference that, in all honesty, was just way too expensive for the career benefit it provided? How about your advertising dollars? Which advertising decisions were good and which ones were the equivalent of throwing money into the wind? It's important to be as detailed as possible here because it gives you a really robust picture of where you are currently and how you got to that point.

5. Now take those three areas and write them down as goal statements
Goal statements are supposed to be SMART -- Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely. As a Panster Planner, I find writing SMART goals kind of intimidating. BUT, it's easier having done step 4. I know, for example, that I've spent way too much money in 2017, so my SMART goal related to finances might be something like: Total publishing budget for 2018 not to exceed $1500*, including covers, editing and copyediting. Total advertising budget for 2018 not to exceed $1500, with the exception of additional FB advertising during release week of $200 per new release. (*These numbers are totally made up, but not completely unrealistic.)

6. Look at those goal statements. How do they align to your writing/publishing goals?
In the above example, I've allowed myself $3000 towards publishing next year. It's a decent amount, but not a lot, by any means. So how many books does that translate into? Ideally three, so that's $1200 per book, including the additional spend for release-week advertising. Budget set.

7. Okay. So when?
This is where the Pantser Planner wants to throw in the towel and where you absolutely should not. You don't have to nail down the day you're going to hit publish, but think about the schedule in relation to the rest of your life. Your kid is off for spring break in April and you have the in-laws for a week in May? Maybe April and May aren't great months to try to publish, but June? June is wide open and everyone loves a summer romance, right? Be realistic about the commitments in your non-writing life and how they impact you. Also be realistic about what you do to support your release and who else needs to be involved. Do you hire a publicist? How much notice does she need? Do you need to book your editor months in advance? Are there penalties for changing the date, if necessary? How much time do you need to prep for your release, yourself?

8. June. You've decided on June.
Get your wall calendar, Google calendar, diary, whatever and look at the month of June. Right now. Pick a date that doesn't seem to clash with anything else and pencil in, "Publish book." There you go. Date set.

9. Then work backwards
If you're publishing your book on or around June 13, that means you need to have a first draft done by...when? Hiring a cover designer/artist? How much lead time do they need? Looking for a premade? Maybe you want to start looking. If you work with a publicist, clue her in regarding your timeline. 

10. Settle in to do the work.
The problem with self-imposed deadlines is that they're self-imposed and no one knows this better than the indie author. However, if you start the ball rolling booking covers, edits and publicity, suddenly your deadline firms up because other people are depending on you. It's not a bad thing.

Some people get down to the nitty-gritty of daily word count goals. If that works for you, you should absolutely do it. If the big picture "I need to have draft 1 done by February 15" works for you, you should do that. Planning is NOT one size fits all, but there is a way to make it work for you. Even if you're a pantser at heart.


Cheryl Oreglia said...

Great post Brenda. Excellent questions and points to ponder. I'll be laying out 2018 soon and these are awesome guidelines! Thank you.

Brenda St John Brown said...

Thank you! I need to revisit all of this after the holidays b/c it feels like I have even less plans than normal at the minute. :)

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