A Business Plan for Writers

I’ve often found that novelists are like academics: they abhor the business world and often make a living criticizing it. While all of us would like to play the role of Socrates, none of us would like to end up drinking hemlock (or, less dramatically, changing jobs, working two jobs, etc.).

I’m a former academic so I’m prone to a bit of arm-chair criticism myself, but I’m also an Internet entrepreneur, and find it satisfying to develop a product that someone will actually use, and which will enable me to make a living.

I have reprinted below, with some changes, Sequoia Capital’s outline for writing a business plan. Sequoia is one of the top-tier venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, and has backed numerous companies that have impacted all of us, from Apple, to Google, to YouTube.

Sequoia, like many investors, likes business plans that present a lot of information in as few words as possible. In the Valley, you often hear the advice to make your pitch (usually a Power Point presentation) ten slides long and to use an 18pt size. While that may be overdoing it, there’s a lot to be said about brevity and clarity of purpose.  Hope this helps!

Purpose of Your Book

  • Define the purpose of your novel (or non-fiction work) in a single declarative sentence.

Problem or Pleasure that Your Book Addresses or Provides

  • Describe the gap within your genre (e.g., “no paranormal works featuring believable female werewolves”).

Solution that Your Book Offers

  • Demonstrate how your work “fills” the gap.
  • Show where your work sits in relation to other, similar works. (If you are writing YA, for example, where does your work sit in relation to The Hunger Game?)
  • Provide use cases on how your work distinguishes itself.

Why Publish Your Book Now?

  • Set-up the historical evolution of your genre.
  • Define recent trends that make your solution possible.

Audience Size

  • Identify/profile the reader you cater to.


  • List competitors (other books)
  • List your competitive advantages


  • Development roadmap (when will your book be done?)

Business Model

  • Pricing
  • Sales & distribution model


  • How much will you spend to produce and market your book?


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4 responses to “A Business Plan for Writers

  1. Adriana Ryan

    I’ve been looking for something exactly like this – thank you! It’s so important to have a plan so you can know where you’re going, but like you said, most authors hate it (and I’m no exception). Sharing on Twitter. 🙂


  2. This is 100% vital!

    I did a similar exercise (I lean more to the science and math side of academia) before I wrote CANCELLED. When I market it as the gap it fills (a romance/chicklit from the guy’s POV) I get tons of clicks and hits.

    It’s also unique for that genre, where the stories are predominantly told from the woman’s point-of-view. I even sketched out my ideal reader, who is a woman (far more specific than that, I include education, types of hobbies I think she likes, what is her role within her family etc), but have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of male feedback I’m getting on the book of finally a realistic, but fun love story from the guy’s side. When I looked for competitors, the only comparable books I saw split the novel between both the male and female perspective, but the guy’s POV was mostly throw away narrative, rehashing what the reader just saw happened from the female side of the story. The advantage for those authors over me is definitely their backlist, something I’m working on! 🙂

    • Elizabeth, thanks so much for the comment. You certainly did your homework! I would be interested in what your results were????
      Thanks again! Mark

      • Well, I’m still learning. But I managed to sell 100 copies of my book as a completely unknown author in the first 90 days after it’s release. 🙂 I call that a success as most of the literature I read said most self-published books only sell 100-300 copies EVER.

        Mostly though, I find it helps me tailor my marketing messages. I participate on Mommy blogs because my readers are Mommies. I really try to think about what kinds of things my readers are also interested. Another niche I’m exploiting because it comes naturally to me is explaining technical ideas for laywomen :). My reader is hip to technology, but doesn’t give herself enough credit for the stuff she does know. I write blogs and posts about tech topics that let my readers feel good about what they already knew, and let’s them learn something new. This is a new branding I’ve been working on for about 2 weeks. 🙂

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