Plan for Success

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

Plan for Success

by Mary Anne Hahn

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood — Make big plans, aim high in hope and in work. –Daniel H. Burnham,Architect

Before you post your first web site, print your first business card or hang that shingle on your door, you can lay a foundation for your writing business that might make all the difference in the world between total success and dismal failure.

What you need is a plan. A business plan, that is.

Most entrepreneurs develop a business plan primarily to secure financial backing for a new enterprise, something that freelancers rarely qualify for. But even if you can’t bring your business plan to the bank, having one enables you to do the following:

  • Focus on the kinds of writing service(s) you want to offer;
  • Identify your potential markets;
  • Outline your marketing and promotion strategies;
  • Itemize the expenses involved in getting your business up and running;
  • Study your competition and determine how your service differs from, or improves upon, what is being offered by other writers or agencies;
  • Detail your financial goals.

While that sounds like a lot of work, the value of having a business plan is that it will help get you from where you are today to where you want to be six months or a year from now. And believe me, after working on your own for awhile with no boss to answer to other than yourself, no co-workers to coach or criticize you, and no annual performance appraisal to hold you accountable, your business plan may be your only means of gauging your progress. Think of it as an ocean chart, guiding you even when there is no land in sight, or a road map that assures you that you are heading in the right direction, even when you are miles from civilization.

Besides, you’re a writer, aren’t you? Unlike potential business owners who shudder at the thought of putting a sentence together, you can have a little fun with your business plan, making it every bit as creative, inspirational and exciting as your own freelancing dream itself. You may end up enjoying it so much, you decide to write business plans for a living, who knows?

Your Writing Mission

So, where do you start? Begin with that dream of yours, put it into words, and let it become your mission statement. Be sure to think big, though — you want a vision that makes you jump out of bed each day, eager to get going, or keeps you up well into the night. Perhaps you could borrow from the original Star Trek television series: “It’s five year mission: to boldly go where no man has gone before!”

Here are some other ideas for your mission statement:

  • “Within five years, I will become an international authority on writing for the Web.”
  • “My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to make at least $100,000 a year as a freelance copywriter.”
  • “I will establish a successful freelance writing business with an emphasis on books and articles that inspire others to be their very best.”
  • Again, this is not the time to be modest or cautious; lofty goals raise the bar for us, inspire to try just that much harder. Make your mission worth it.

A Summary of Your Business

Next, develop an overview of what you envision your business to be, based on your mission. In the executive summary, describe your writing experience, your business goals (Do you plan to work on this part time? Full time? Will you remain a solo practitioner, or do you plan to hire other writers someday?), the kinds of services you will offer, and the types of customers you will target. You don’t need to go into detail here; your executive summary should not run over two pages long.

Your Services

In this section, spell out what kinds of writing services you aim to provide, an explanation on how you plan to provide it (for example, will you work strictly via fax and email, or require face-to-face interviews with clients?), and how you believe your business will differ from others providing similar products. The more detail you include here, the better – this is one of the sections you will refer to when developing your promotional strategy and marketing campaign.

Your Market

Whom will you target? Are you staying local or going global? Will you court large corporations or small businesses? Advance research before writing this section will save you a great deal of effort and worry down the road, since you will already have accumulated information on who could use your services. You can also use the information you gather to help you develop the next section of your business plan, which is…

Your Marketing Plan

Now decide how you will reach your potential customers, and the costs associated with doing so. Direct mail, business cards, web site, classified advertising, giving seminars and lectures – set out to try them all, or in any combination, until you hit upon what works for you. Develop a calendar for each phase of your promotional campaign. Work up a slogan. Create a logo, or a telephone script. In the beginning, you will spend the lion’s share of your time concentrating on this aspect of your business, so be sure create a plan that you will find challenging, fun, effective, and within whatever budget you have set aside for yourself.

Your Fiscal Goals

Finally, map out what you ideally want to earn from your endeavors. How much would you need to earn in a month, a week, or daily, less your expenses, in order to reach your yearly goal? Doing this will enable you to set your rates, decide on which sorts of projects to accept or turn down, and further define your target markets.

Help With Your Plan

If this all seems overwhelming, rest assured that there is help available to you. Yes, there is a “Dummies” book on writing business plans! On the Web, the best tools for business plan development I was able to locate include the tutorial provided by the Small Business Association (sbaonline.sba.gov/starting) and the Canadian Business Service Center’s Interactive Business Planner (pegasus.cbsc.org:4000). If one of these can’t get you started, there exists a host of consultants who would certainly do so for a fee.

There is a saying that goes: “Plan your work, work your plan.” This is not a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Following the first three words by developing your own personal business plan will make the last three words so much easier to accomplish.

Knowing and Finding Your Voice

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

Knowing and Finding Your Voice

By Shirley Kawa-Jump

Finding your true writing voice is a lot like falling in love — you know it when it happens. Until then, you bumble along, trying this style and that, wondering if this is it or if a better voice is out there just waiting for you. You question and doubt, reaching nearly the point of despair before finally, your true voice comes to you and you know exactly who you are as a writer.

A few tricks exist to help you know and find your voice. Don’t expect this to just fall into your lap–it takes real listening and exploration of yourself as a writer before your voice manifests itself.

FIND IT IN OTHERS
Read widely, across genres, picking and choosing authors who are distinctive. Some authors tend to have very little voice, and it’s difficult to tell their books from others. But if you read a Stephen King and compare that to a Dean Koontz, you’ll see definite differences in style, pattern and manner of writing. All these things, combined with an echoing premise (see below), create a voice. Jenny Crusie has a distinctive comedic voice that is very different from Stephanie Bond’s.

LaVyrle Spencer’s voice was more melodic and emotional, far different from the fast-paced Iris Johansen or the hard-hitting Suzanne Brockmann. What takes a bit more skill is telling similarly-voiced authors apart. How does Vicki Hinze differ from Suzanne or Merline Lovelace? All cover military-based novels, but each with her own voice. If you can pick up a book, open it randomly and immediately know the author without looking at the jacket, then you have discovered that person’s voice.

EXAMINE THE PARTICULARS
Another thing that sets one author’s voice apart from another’s is the level of language, the structure of the sentences and the type of verbiage chosen. Obviously, a Regency author has a much different tone from a contemporary Blaze author. Some authors, like Jayne Ann Krentz, change their voice to fit the period of their novels. Underneath it all, however, the basic sound of a Jayne/Amanda Quick novel is the same. It’s what makes her novels unique to her.

DETERMINE YOUR STRENGTHS
All authors who have a voice make the most of it by capitalizing on their strengths. For some, it’s dialogue; for others, emotional descriptions. In your own work, you are better at one thing than another. If it’s humor, then comedy is part of your voice. If it’s drama, then that is a part of your voice.

FIND YOUR AUTHOR THEME
This is something Vicki Hinze has talked about before in her newsletter, AIDS4WRITERS. All authors, whether they realize it or not, have a common theme running through their work, whether it’s the strength of love, the theme of redemption, the saving power of truth, etc. Your theme is part of your fingerprint on your work and is part of what makes your writing sound uniquely yours.

READ OUT LOUD
Finding and knowing your voice requires listening, not just to the words in your head as you read your work silently, but to how it sounds when spoken aloud. Do you have a lot of witty repartee? A number of pauses or shortened sentences? How does your spoken work leave you feeling? All of these are elements of your voice.

When you find your authentic voice, it’s like stepping into a comfortable pair of shoes. The rhythm and pacing of your words feel right, as if they’re meant just for you. That’s not to say that writing gets a whole lot easier, just that it feels more natural. You’ll still be dragging those words, kicking and screaming, some days, but they will finally be the ones that only you could have written.

Working with a Critique Group

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

Working with a Critique Group

By Shirley Kawa-Jump

Not all of us are objective about our work. In fact, if you asked even top authors if they are the best voice of reason over what works and doesn’t work in a given story, they’d probably say no.

Why? We are too close to our writing to see the flaws. And to be quite honest, a piece of writing is a lot like a child–even if your kid is ugly in the eyes of other people, you see the beautiful creation of your genes. You don’t see the missing plot lines, the stilted dialogue, the flowering descriptions. You see art.

The best option is to find a critique partner or a critique group with some experience in the writing world, but also a good knowledge of the publishing industry and how it works. The opinions of those outside your work can often serve as a great beginning for revision. A few cautions, however, before you hitch yourself to a homegrown editorial service. A good critique partner/group should do the following:

Understand Where You Are Going. A mystery writer might not be the best partner to evaluate your book on plant life in Antarctica. Someone who has no idea what is selling in the humor market today also might not be the best authority on your Dave Barry-type work. Search for people who are at least familiar with your market.

Keep Your Voice In The Material. The last thing you need is a critique partner who will impose his or her ideas, voice and style on your work. That’s not to say that a good critiquer shouldn’t offer suggestions, rather that they should leave the door open for you to make your own decisions.

Let You Learn From Your Mistakes. Showing you how to craft a good lead for an article or suggesting a strong hook for the end of a chapter is one thing, continually rewriting your work is another. You are there to learn. A good critique group helps you do that by pointing out areas of weakness and giving you options for fixing it. The true rewrite, however, should be done by you.

Point Out Your Weaknesses. This should be done honestly, and without malice. You don’t need a critique partner who says, “This is terrible.” You need someone who can say, “Your opening is a little weak. Why not try starting with this scene instead?”

Do Not Forget To Mention Your Strengths. You also need feedback on what you are doing right. This helps you understand your areas of best writing and then capitalize on them in your work.

Be Kind: This doesn’t mean every comment should stroke the writer’s ego, but rather, be put in a way that doesn’t purposely hurt the author’s feelings or disparage his/her skills. We’re all trying to succeed at this writing game-let’s be a help to each other, not a hindrance.

Be a Reciprocator. Some critique groups take and take, by bringing in first drafts and unformed pieces. They expect the group to help them write the entire piece. In exchange, they give nothing. Be prepared when you go to your critique meetings, and offer as much as you receive.

If you aren’t getting all that you need to from your critique group, don’t be afraid to say something. This is your work, after all, and if you don’t stand up for it, who will?

Remember, a good critique group is there to help you with your writing, not harm. While criticism is never easy to take, as long as it is constructive and paired with honest compliments, your writing will benefit. So search for a group that gives you all you need, and then be prepared to see your writing skills grow.

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