I usually sit down at the beginning of the year and set up some goals for both personal and business so that I have some sort of direction heading into the new year. Because of how the year started, I was a little behind on doing so and only sat down to think about that today.
(Not that I don’t have a running list of possible projects at all times, but this is usually the time of year when I try to at least pick one or two. Especially since some of those projects have been on that list for years now.)
Every year I ask myself, “If you could only write one more book, what would it be?”
Because that’s a good way to choose what to write if you want to accomplish something meaningful, right? Pick the one that matters the most to you.
Except…I never have an answer to that question.
I don’t have that “one” book that I’ve always wanted to write. When left to my own devices I tend to do something like write a book about an obscure software most people won’t use and for a niche audience on top of that. (Hence, Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts.)
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed writing that book and I’ve enjoyed writing the other ones like it that I’ve written over the years, but if someone did an exit interview with me at the end of my life, I probably wouldn’t list that book or any of those others as a life accomplishment.
So then I usually turn to the money approach.
What have I written that did well enough that I should write more of it? And that does sometimes work. Some of my more profitable titles have come from that approach.
Although most series have diminishing returns after a certain point unless you’ve really hit on something special. You can keep advertising the series, but people will fall off at certain predictable points in the series so that the number of readers who make it to Book 10 are almost never the same as the number of readers who read Book 1.
And sometimes there’s just no more to say or write about it. The couple got their HEA, the ultimate bad guy is dead, or it stretches believability to think that yet another person could possibly die in that quaint little village of a hundred people and in such a way that the only person who cares about it is the retired school teacher who now runs a knitting club.
That author can certainly write more. And in that genre or adjacent to that genre to try to keep those readers, but the series has seen its end. And not all readers will move to the new series.
Plus, not every author wants to keep writing the same thing, even if it is profitable.
The third option is the “shake it up” approach where you look at everything you’ve already done, decide that more of the same won’t get you where you want to be, and venture off onto a completely new path.
Depending on the path, that can be great. Or not.
I know more than one author who saw exponential improvement by switching genres. I’ve also known many who’ve found that non-fiction in an area of expertise they have has done far better than any of their fiction. But I also know of more than one author who switched tracks and saw even worse sales than before.
A side version of this is the new format/new platform goal. I’ve made goals in the past to list all my books on X site or to put out books in audio or print or large print. Sometimes that’s been a really good use of my time. Other times, not so much.
I was looking at audio sales the other day and I have one series that doubled my money and one that I might as well have never bothered with because it will never earn back its cost. Same with large print. Worked a treat in one genre, but a dud in another.
Bottom line is that sometimes it’s just a crap shoot and you can’t know what the dice are going to give you. Or how the world is going to change underneath you.
Which is why I usually go through this exercise, make goals to publish whatever I was working on in December so I do hit at least one goal for the year, make a few extra goals to have something to aim for for the year, and then completely ignore them but somehow end up hitting about 75% of them while also doing another two or three projects that weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of the year.
Honestly, the goals that work best for me are actually ad spend goals. I determine to spend $X per month on advertising my books which ensures that no matter what I decide to write for the year, I focus on promoting it and/or what I’ve already written and do so consistently month-to-month.
Whether that comes from AMS or a Bookbub feature or FB ads or a free first in series run doesn’t matter. It forces me to keep some sort of momentum. And if I find that no advertising works for anything I have, I can then brainstorm new covers, new titles, new categories, new blurbs, new audiences, etc. until I do get something that works.
Obviously, if you’re new to setting an ad spend goal like that, start small. You should build up to higher ad spends only after you know that what you’re doing will actually generate profitable sales.
So there you have it. My super exact approach to annual planning. One you may not want to actually follow. Haha.