The Plan (first draft)

I’ve been, jokingly, telling people I’m having a mid-life crisis. It’s to comfort them when they get confused at my recent burst of planning. And myself. I’m a little discombobulated by it as well.

Every few years I have a crisis of some form, something which sets me off reassessing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. The turmoil in the last year has mostly affected people around me, but it’s been impossible not to be affected by it. All in all, I was due a re-evaluation, and it hit me at the end of last month.

I was pushed into action by a couple of things. Harry is planning to cycle around the country in December, visiting all those places he’s always meant to see (with luck Harry should be posting about his cold cycle adventure, and the build up to it, here soon). And I got a book called The 4-Hour Work Week from the library. Harry reminded me that I had things I wanted to do which I was putting off until some unspecified point in the future, 4HWW showed me how one person had gone about reorganising their life to do more of the stuff they wanted to by wasting less of their time on the stuff that didn’t matter.

Over half of 4 Hour Work Week didn’t, I felt, apply to me, but I’m going to shamelessly nick some bits from it. Specifically some of the ideas in the first few chapters. Basically, you can’t achieve your goals until you’ve defined them properly. Basic project management, I’m sure, and not a great revelation, but I’ve got to start somewhere. As Joe Jackson put it, You Can’t Get What You Want Till You Know What You Want.

When I announced that I had a plan I said I wanted to go Interrailing next year and then move to a foreign city for an extended period. I hadn’t quite figured it out for myself, but neither of those aims is the real plan, just things to do when the plan works out. The plan, simply put, is to be able to afford to do these things independently of being employed by someone else. More specifically, to make enough money from my writing to fund the adventures which will serve as inspiration and research for further stories. I know this is essentially what I’ve been trying to do for as long as Spinneyhead has been running, but a lot of stuff has changed this year to make it easier to achieve. The market for authors publishing independently has finally caught up with where I wanted it to be in 2001. The growth of the market for ebooks is the main reason for this. Amazon’s Kindle is the market leader, and it became possible for authors outside the USA to publish for it at the start of the year. I didn’t notice this development for a while, so I’m about six months behind where I should be. Never mind.

So I sat down last week and started mapping out what I should do to achieve my goal.

First a little maths. The average UK wage is £25,400. Now there’s no way I expect to go from nothing to that in a year, so let’s set a more realistic target, £15,000pa for instance. One of the good things about Kindle sales is that, in the UK and US markets, any book over $2.99 gets the author a 70% royalty. Other territories, and lower prices, return 35%. There’s a bandwidth charge based upon the size of the book, but it shouldn’t be more than cents. So a $2.99 will make me around $2.09. Taking the pound to be worth $1.70 and doing a bit of spreadsheet formula twiddling it looks like I need to average 34 sales a day of $2.99 books (or equivalents- 4 x $1.99 or 6 x $0.99) to make £15,000 in a year. That is 34 sales every day, but the beauty of ebooks is that once they’re published they carry on working for me whatever the day and whatever else I’m doing.

One of the important distinctions I’ve been able to make was between targets I can achieve and ones which I cannot directly make happen. I can’t make 34 people every day buy my books, but I can do various things to make sales more likely. So that minimum number of sales is a desired outcome, I should set some targets to hit which will help me achieve it.

Starting with an obvious target, I have milestones of averaging 500, and then 1000, words a day. This may not sound like much, but 500 word a day is 180,000 words a year, which is a big book. Or lots of smaller ones, which is what I’m considering. It’s also proving harder than I’d expected, especially as I’m a bit writer’s blocked on A Death In Didsbury, the next planned Irwin tale. The average includes days spent proofreading and editing, which will bring it down as well.

The writing is the easy part, the job that’s going to prove tricky is the promotion. I know that I’m really awful at self promotion, I’d much rather be making the stuff I’m supposed to be selling. Good at the sex, crap at the seduction, as I’ve put it before. I need to work out how to get better at selling myself and my work, learn to be more of a slut, if you will. More and better press releases, review copies, fliers, etc. I’ve got to try them all until I find a combination which works.

Which brings me to a more clearly defined deadline. I have a competition planned for the launch of the new look, and new to Kindle, Sounds of Soldiers. I’m building a small diorama which I will photograph and use for the cover artwork. For the first month of release- provisionally November 5th until December 5th- people can enter a competition to win the original art, the model, for the cover. Entries will be based upon buying or promoting the book, in a similar manner to that used by Zoe Winters in the competition she ran to launch her last book. Her competition only lasted a week, but she has an established readership to kick start the promo, I’ll have to build mine.

After setting milestones and a few firm deadlines there should also be some more open achievements to aim for. Stuff without a due date, though they can be broken down into “do as soon as possible” and “do when it is possible”. One of the ASAP aims is to learn how to create EPUB format files. Various programs will automate it for me, but so far I haven’t managed to get anything which the uploader at Lulu.com will validate. I may have to do it all by hand. Something to do when it becomes possible might be paying someone else to do the conversion for me, it would save time and more likely be correct.

This has rambled a bit, and not covered everything I planned to cover. It’s also taken a week to finish. Another thing to add to the list- become better at writing long posts clearly and quickly.


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