4: Strategy

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We’ve talked at length about principles, mindset, and business fundamentals. It’s finally time to start molding that into a strategy. A strategy, like many things in this guide, may seem like a wholly business-focused item, but in truth, it is perhaps more critical for a good strategy to account for productivity, craft, and personal preference. Such variables are key to execution. And any plan you cannot execute, no matter how optimized or brilliant on paper, will ultimately yield precious few results.

Strategy, Tactics, and Execution

Beyond administrative tasks and mindset, business boils down to two core elements: strategy (your system—the specific steps you’re going to take to achieve your core objective) and execution (actually implementing your strategy).

At the heart of this is, of course, your core objective. This guide assumes that you want to make a part-time or full-time income. There are many other objectives to pursue in this game; just know that they are often at odds with one another. Writing whatever you want without any regard for genre conventions, for example, is a fine objective; just know that it rarely reconciles with making money unless your tastes align with the market’s.

Most authors stumble in establishing a clear objective. Someone who wants to make a million dollars a year will need to adopt a vastly different strategy than the person who wants a small side-income that maintains work-life balance. Every choice comes with a trade-off.

As an alternative example, a non-fiction author might be using their book as a client generation tool, rather than trying to profit directly from the book’s sales. Their marketing strategy would look substantially different from the fiction author trying to make a full-time living directly from the books.

This is why the framework of this guide is designed to be flexible. There’s an old proverb that says chase two rabbits, catch none. Unsurprisingly, trying to chase sixty-five rabbits at once is not a secret way to hack this and turn things into your favor.

Thus, your objective, whatever it is, must be crystal clear. You then eliminate all choices, options, and tasks that do not help you reach that objective by making key strategic decisions in the following areas:

  • Indie or trad: whether you’ll self-publish your work or pursue a traditional publisher (or do both as a “hybrid” publisher)
  • Kindle Unlimited or Wide: whether you’ll be exclusive to Amazon or publish on all retailers (or a mix of both)
  • Release frequency: the number of books you’ll release per year
  • Genre, series, and length: what genre will you write in? Will you remain in one sub-genre, or branch out into many? Will your books be in a series? What will the approximate word count be?
  • Formats: eBook and print only, or will you release in audio as well? If so, do you plan on doing a royalty share, pay upfront, or seeking an audio-only deal?
  • Newsletter: how are you going to generate new subscribers?
  • Marketing: what platforms do you plan to focus on—e.g., you could focus on paid Facebook Ads, creating a reader magnet to grow your newsletter, or building up your BookBub followers
  • Production budget: will you purchase professional covers, editing, proofreading? How much will you invest?
  • Advertising budget: will you advertise? Where and how much?

If this seems daunting, don’t worry; this guide will help you answer these questions.

All the components of your strategy should be pulling in the same direction. To use an analogy, imagine a team of sled dogs. When they pull as one toward a common destination (the finish line), they make consistent progress. Perhaps they win; sometimes they lose. Sometimes the elements come into play, and wreak havoc. But they make progress.

However, if a few of the dogs stop pulling their weight, progress is slowed significantly. The team is now at risk of running out of resources or energy before reaching the finish line. And if a few of them start running in the opposite direction to chase a deer they spotted, then the whole operation stalls, and everyone dies of frostbite.

Thus, it pays to streamline your strategy to its absolute essentials. Remember the importance of 80/20: if the BS crowds out the core 20%, your results are going to be very poor indeed.

After you have a basic plan of attack mapped out, you need to actually put it into play.

Execution is the art of doing what you planned to do (and doing it well).

Most people blame poor discipline for their execution problems. But the root cause is often a bad, unrealistic strategy. It is easy to design a strategy that does not align with your existing skills and resources. Jumping beyond your current capabilities or employing overly complex methods are both tempting. An effective strategy that dovetails with your strengths is far better than an ultra-optimized one you cannot implement.

Great execution flows from great strategy—which in turn flows from a clear objective.

Which leads us to the ultimate takeaway: do not worry about what other people are doing or saying. Only worry about what you can do. The optimal strategy is the one you can execute. The end.

If you build a strategy around monthly releases, but can only write four books a year, that’s a strategy problem which results in poor execution.

If you plan to run thousands of dollars in ads, but have no plan in place to secure those funds, this is a strategy problem that inevitably leads to poor execution.

It should be noted that your strategy is not a fixed document; it is a living organism that evolves as the marketplace changes and your skills grow. This is a feedback loop: you start with a strategy, execute, use lessons you’ve learned to revise the strategy, and then rinse and repeat.

Finally, every aspect of your strategy does not need to be written out in pinpoint detail. This is not a business plan. Strategizing can quickly turn into procrastination. You cannot divine the future; you just need to reflect on the best way for you to achieve your core objective, then get to work.

Tactics and Strategy

Most people misunderstand tactics and strategy. This usually results in one of two approaches: over-reliance on tactics, or dismissing them as “just” tactics. Because any self-respecting business-related guide needs to quote Sun Tzu’s Art of War at least once, here’s what he has to say about tactics and strategy: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

A key component of your strategy is comprised of tactics. Well-used tactics can be nitro fuel for your career.

But tactics are often ephemeral. Situation-dependent. And they disappear at a drop of the hat. A lot of what you see online teaches you tactics. The cool hack or trick. The secret “strategy” (which is really just a tactic).

Using them isn’t the problem. The problem is when you put every single egg into one basket. Particularly one that has a fuse attached that could blow at any time. Because many tactics can be yanked away, either by the platform, or because of massive competition.

The takeaway is not to avoid tactics. It’s simply that you must have a strategy to transmute the money produced by any short-term tactic into a longer-term asset.

This is the “secret” to having a long-term career. The book business is incredibly volatile. Anything short-lived must be employed with an eye toward five or ten years down the line. If it is not, and you have but one approach to generating sales, or one ad platform to rely on, if something bad should happen, your business is toast. Remember our words about risk management from the previous section: going all-in is a foolish move in real life. And in business, you never want to have a single point of failure, no matter how robust you believe that tactic, strategy, skill, or asset to be.

Action Exercise

  1. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Then map out a rough draft of your strategy for the next year by writing out the following on a sheet of paper:
    • Your core objective
    • Whether you’ll launch your books wide or in KU
    • Whether you’ll write in a series and, if so, the planned # of titles
    • What length they’ll be: novels, novellas, serials, or short stories
    • The number of new titles you’ll release over the next year, with approximate word counts
    • The sub-genre(s) you plan to write in
    • The format(s) you plan to publish in
    • Your core three traffic sources
    • How you plan to build your newsletter
    • Your production budget for each title
    • Your advertising budget for each title

Answer as best you can, but don’t spend hours deliberating, researching, or otherwise worrying about making it perfect. This document is not set in stone. Rather, it’s something you’ll update as you learn more about marketing, what you want, and where your strengths lie.

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