The Five Year Plan, Part I

Last week, I hit my thirty-fifth year on this rock. One of my big life goals was to be a published author. I'd carried this dream around with me for at least half of all my years, if not longer, and I think this desire really solidified during a high school creative writing course under the guidance of Lisa Hunt. In some ways, I think she was my first fan and first really vocal supporter. I remember penning a series of detective fiction short stories over the course of five assignments, and I put a little "to be concluded" at the end of the fourth story. As we approached that final assignment, she returned our stories and mine had a big smiley face next to my end note with a "Yay!" [I prefer to think that this 'yay' was regarding the resolution of a growing theme that developed across the series and that she was genuinely happy about my work, and not the more pessimistic view of "yay, I never have to slog through another one of these stupid, piece of shit "stories" he turns in...."]

Those short stories have disappeared in the intervening years, but the fundamentals of story-telling that Mrs. Hunt instilled in me have remained. In fact, a short time after finishing that creative writing course, I returned to those detectives to produce my first novel. This was before self-publishing was any sort of viable option, so I did what all other writers of the early 2000s HAD to do and sent that book out to a number of literary agents. I then waited, and waited, and waited, then spent sporadic amounts of time rolling around in rejection letters or being duly ignored. (Mostly the latter.)

It's probably for the best that I've lost that novel with the passage of time, along with many of those short stories. Looking back on it, the work strikes me as immature, although I think the core idea was sound and there might even be enough fodder to someday return to if it has merit.

But, this post isn't really about looking back, even though I often find my own post-birthday reminisces to be about all the things I haven't done, the things left unaccomplished, the failures I've collected rather than the successes I should be proud of. But that's a whole other ball of wax.

Now that I'm a little bit older and probably none-to-only-a-little-bit the wiser for it, it's high time I tried something different by looking ahead. Mostly because I did get to fulfill one of my big ambitions, which was to be a published author. Shortly after 2014 rolled around, I released CONVERGENCE, and went from writer to author-publisher. Which now means, I need a plan.

If the goal was to be published before I hit 35, then I nailed it with little time to spare. But what comes next? What do I need to do by the time I hit 40? Or 45?

Writing is its own pursuit, and that's fine and noble. However, being an author, and, I think, particularly when being an author-publisher where one individual has to wear multiple hats, a bit more is needed.

Being an author-publisher means running your writing operation as a business, and businesses need, yup, you guessed it, business plans. I need to forecast, I need to set goals, I need to work my ass off to hit my own self-defined levels of success. Success comes in a couple different ways - there's financial success and creative success - and I need to weigh which is more important at this time, in the immediate, and figure out how one type of success can lead to the other over the next few years.

Hence, my Five Year Plan.

This is a topic I've been thinking about since hearing Denise Grover's interview on the Self-Publishing Roundtable podcast in April. Grover wrote a three-part business plan (part One, Two, Three), which is collected, along with a number of other valuable business tips for indie writers at The Writer's Guide to E-Publishing. Also, a very timely tweet popped up not long ago on the topic of planning from Indie Author News and Susan Kaye Quinn's guest post on thinking long-term in the realm of indie publishing. Quinn is the author of INDIE AUTHOR SURVIVAL GUIDE, and the Mindjack trilogy. And I'm pretty sure she gets all the credit for inventing Bollypunk with her The Dharian Affairs trilogy.

In order to figure out how to build my own five-year plan, I turned to both of her very helpful posts, as well. First up was this excerpt from her INDIE AUTHOR SURVIVAL GUIDE, as well as Grover's own five-year plan and how she created it.

While I've recognized the indie publishing gambit as a self-starter business on its own, I have been a bit lazy in carrying out the full implementation of what it means, exactly. My efforts have been limited, and little of it committed to paper or word processor. I keep track of the one-time expenses, monthly net profit, and monthly net sales of my one book across its various outlets in an Excel spreadsheet, and that's about it currently. Whatever little bit of long-range planning there is rests rather uneasily in my head, which makes setting benchmarks goals and measuring success a rather iffy proposition.

The importance of having a plan in place, rather than winging it, crystallized a bit further earlier this month. Back in Oct. 2013, I had submitted the manuscript of CONVERGENCE to Angry Robot, during their two month open door period. After growing decidedly impatient at the continual delays in decision from the Harper Voyager open sub period, I never expected to hear from ARB. Until, in early June, I did. Angry Robot requested the full manuscript, a rather surprising, if not short-lived, bit of excitement. Now, let me say for the record here, Angry Robot Books is hands-down one of my absolute, drop-dead favorite publishers. They really seem to have their act together, and their cadre of authors that I follow all seem to be really happy with them. If there was one publisher I'd really be enthusiastic about signing with, it would be Angry Robot. Getting an offer to review the full manuscript was no small thing, so I was truly delighted at their reaching out to me and responding well to my effort. However, not wanting to mislead them or risk damaging things later on down the road, I explained that I had already self-published the book. Any chances of having it published by ARB and joining the ranks of Lauren Beukes, Chuck Wendig, Chris F. Holm, Michael Boatman, and Adam Christopher quickly evaporated, but I do have a solid contact now for future works, should I want to pursue a traditional path with them later. And that's really freaking awesome, I think!

Also evaporated - the chance to have any books in this series published by ARB alongside CONVERGENCE. Which means, no editor, no cover designer, and no marketing or publicity for any past or future DRMR novels. While they expressed a desire to see any future work not in the DRMR series (and I'll certainly consider them, once I approach those future ideas), as far as this brand of books go, I'm on my own. And it's simply not enough to stay the course and do what I've been doing.

When I set out with publishing CONVERGENCE, the intent was to stick with self-publishing for the long hall. Nothing has changed in that regard, although there is certainly potential to grow into more of a hybrid-author model, rather than purely independent. And with CONSUMPTION on the docket for a fall release, and EMERGENCE dropping in 2015, I really need to sit down and examine the state of affairs of this thing I do.

So, the plan. Much needed.

And I'll be talking about it some more tomorrow, so check back then!

UPDATE: Part II is now live.

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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