Thursday, March 20, 2014

Query question: business plans for novel?

I recently read a forum comment about an agent who, in response to a query letter, asked the poster for chapters and for "a business plan" for her novel. On a different site, a professional advisor/author/blogger type avers that some traditional publishers now ask fiction writers for proposals which will become the business plans for their novels. I'm an entrepreneur. I know business plans. But I don't know jack about writing one for a novel. Is this a new hill to climb?

My business plan for your novel is as follows:

1. Sell for huge advance to large publisher;
2. Sell zillions of copies
3. Sell film rights
4. Retire to France.

Any questions?

Oh, right, what's a business plan? Well, for those of you who don't know, it's a document that business owners use most often to acquire funding.  Here's an example from the Small Business Administration.

When you look at it you'll see two categories that might not be familiar: revenue projections; and funding sources.

Here's the answer to your question:
Calling a marketing or publicity plan (which you still don't need at the query stage for a novel) a business plan is a sign the agent is throwing around jargon to sound important: an author can't project revenue any more than I can fly, and an author can't project funding any more than Jeff Somers can dance.

A business plan is used for companies who make products and sell to customers. Authors do not do that. If you're running your own publishing enterprise, sure, but if you're querying me, that's not your intent.

I have no idea why an agent would ask for a business plan unless they literally did not know what one was.


Kitty said...

Jeff Somers can't dance?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

But do you speak French?

Anonymous said...

I heard of this too, and thought, GEEZ, what next? I'm happy to know this is pure bunk - at least at the query stage. Is a business plan an expectation at any point in the process if the book sells? The only thing I've heard authors/their agents should know is what books might compare to the author's (preferably bestsellers, of course!)

But, a comparison is really a simple way to explain quickly what a book is about versus projections of what it might do in sales.


Cindy C said...

Oh cool-- your business plan for my book is the same as my mine!

Now all I need to do is finish up Step 1a. Write the book.

We'll be in France in no time :-)

Anonymous said...

Damn. That sounds too easy. See you in France. :-)

Stacy said...

Now I want to see Jeff Somers dance.

french sojourn said...

And that people! is why you make a business plan.

1. Sell for huge advance to large publisher;
2. Sell zillions of copies
3. Sell film rights
4. Retire to France.

Mine was....

1. Move to France.
2. Scramble for funds.
3. Finish book.
4. Learn French.
5. Query.
6. Sell as package for Publishing, movie and e-book.
7. Retire on a 47 foot Catamaran...named Schrodinger's Cat "Amaran"

I feel like an accomplished cautionary tale.

Cheers Hank

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

I have wondered about agents also asking for those marketing/publicity plans, too (vs the business plan). There is at least one high profile (social media-wise) agency that asks for this as part of the query and that has always been a huge turn-off for me. I respect a lot of the information they share in their blog, but that expectation at the query stage is not one of those pieces of information.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, my business plan involves retiring to Hawaii, not France. Will this make an agent reluctant to make an offer?

Adib Khorram said...

I think the larger concern is, with all these similar business plans out there, how does one stand out from the crowd?

Perhaps I should go all Leslie Knope on my business plan and make a 500-page color-coded binder to send with my queries. I'm pretty sure agents LOVE receiving large mail items from strangers.

Standback said...


What next?

"Ok, your business plan sounds solid. Now, what distribution avenues can you bring to the table? Do you have any connections that can score us some good reviews in major magazines?"

Adele said...

Last fall I had minor surgery on an organ that covers both sides of the body. Just as they administered the anaesthetic the surgeon looked into my eyes and asked "what side am I working on?"

If anybody came to the operating room knowing what side, it ought to be the surgeon.

If anybody has a business plan for a novel, it ought to be the publisher.

Craig F said...

So it is alright for me to say that my current business plan is to write three thrillers to turn my characters into a brand. When they are a brand I have three scifi books planned because I actually prefer real scifi and what is out there right now mostly sucks?

Or do I say that thriller series always end up being scifi so I'm not going to half ass it (i.e. find out a sixty year old super computer is planning world domination). I am going to consciously jump into scifi with both feet rather than dip a toe like say Brad Thor.

Elissa M said...

My honest and true "business plan":

1. Finish the book.
2. Sign with an agent.
3. Let the agent do his/her job.
4. Write another book.
5. Write another book.
6. Write another book.
7. See above.

I'll worry about marketing when there's something to market. I don't write nonfiction. I plan to sell stories, not myself.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I don't know if Janet Rundquist has seen the same high-profile agency advert(s) that I have, but I can confirm that business plans and selling strategies - at the initial point of contact, i.e. the query stage - are indeed demanded as something the author supply, in addition to their literary output. This wasn't some little cowboy outfit, either.

Great Dog, what are PR departments for? Why are authors expected to do other people's jobs, for free? Do the publicists write books? Oh, wait. Maybe they do...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My marketing plan:
Always shop the parameter.
Dismiss items at eye level.
Always, always check the sell dates.
Ah..we were talking Barnes and Noble, BAM and the book gondola at Walgreens right?

Stacy said...

Wow, Adele! I hope the surgeon was kidding!

Valerie said...

when i was querying a book almost two years ago, there was an agent who asked me to include my marketing strategy along with my synopsis and pages. womp-womp. probably needless to say, but i didn't have one.

TCW said...

Only a business plan? My favourite agent demand was (and this was a serious agent) that you had to have a publisher.