How To Build An Annual Strategy As An Author
Staring a new year in the face can be intimidating. It’s time to write out those goals, set your focus, and get busy taking action. It can be even more intimidating when you've got some pretty hefty goals for yourself like - writing a novel, launching your new book, or making more sales than last year. I get it!
At face-value those seem like huge things to accomplish. I have learned to take everything a step further and not just create goals, but to physically plan out my entire year all at once so that I know what's going to be happening and when. Every year, I put together this annual strategy for myself and now, I'm going to be showing you step-by-step how you can plan your own knock-out year!
Why I Plan My Entire Year at Once
First and foremost, I do this to prevent overwhelm. My personality type is super susceptible to overwhelm and being able to focus on one task at a time is super helpful in minimizing that. When you put deadlines on your projects you want to accomplish and then breaking you these projects into a running list of easily achievable tasks, you’ll find that you get a whole lot more done!
I'm a planner addict. I thrive off of structure and routine. So when I plan out my year, I know exactly what to expect and I know exactly what I need to be working on and when. That makes it easier to incorporate balance in my life. For instance, I know that when one project is complete and there is still time before the next deadline, I can use that time to rest or take a break.
A quick note before we begin...
Planning a full year upfront is a big task and definitely worth it in the long run. But it's also important to remember that the plan (and goals) you outline in the beginning of they year can be fluid. Nothing is set in stone. Understanding this upfront allows you to create a plan that will guide you but also stay aligned with you as time passes by.
How To Build An Annual Strategy
Prepare Your Tools
Before you begin, you'll want to prepare a space to work. You'll need an area where you can work with your entire year all at once. If you've been scribbling notes about upcoming projects in your planner or phone, bring those with you.
There’s so many tools out there and everyone's process looks a bit different depending on preference, but I wanted to talk about 3 tools I've used for this process, and what I use now as of 2021.
Thriving Scribes Planner
If you are a pen and paper kind of author, you may be able to complete your annual strategy inside of the planner you usually use. If the planner you are using doesn't have the right sheets in it, you can print off some note pages and a blank Google calendar to help you go through this process.
Or, if you are looking for an author planner that already has all that you need, consider grabbing a copy of the Thriving Scribes Planner - a productivity workbook and planner designed specifically for indie authors to plan epic authorship goals, up your productivity, and design the author business of your dreams.
In my planners, I use a color coding method to plan my year so I use an array of colored pens. Alternatively, you could use symbols, stickers, or washi tape.
Looking For A Planner?
This is the annual strategy worksheet found inside of the Thriving Scribes Planner - a productivity workbook and planner designed specifically for indie authors to plan epic authorship goals, up your productivity, and design the author business of your dreams.
Here's a quick video of me setting up my new planner
If you are more digitally inclined, Trello is a great choice for planning your year and breaking down goals as well. I used Trello for YEARS to stay organized, on track, and productive. While it’s not the most feature-rich, I’ve always really liked that it makes project management easy and streamlined – making it perfect if you are just dipping your toes into digital planning and need something that doesn't have a steep learning curve.
Trello excels at taking a big idea, breaking it down into steps, and keeping you on track with boards, cards, and checklist. There are also places for notes, important links, and all kinds of other important things you may need to plan your year. If you are interested in learning more about how to use Trello as an author, check out Trello 4 Authors.
At the time of writing the first version of this post way back in 2018, I hadn’t yet heard of Notion – which is why I create alot of what I was looking for as an author within Trello. Notion is an all-inclusive workspace that combines the functionality of word processors, spreadsheets, task management tools, and more. Its clean, minimalist style makes it the perfect companion for writers looking to get organized. In hindsight, I'm happy I started with Trello, since Notion definitely has a more steep learning curve that would have probably made me shy away at first.
Today however, I'm a die-hard Notion fan. I am using it and loving for everything authorship and if you are looking for a more encompassing tool for managing your author business, goals, and writing process - Notion is where it's at.
This template is available inside of my Epic Annual Success Plan masterclass.
As of January 2021, what I am currently using is a mixture of my Thriving Scribes Planner and Notion.
Begin With An Annual Review
In order to plan where you are going, it's important to know where you've been. That way you can make more informed decisions with insight on what worked for you previously and what didn't. No matter if last year was a success and you crushed your goals or you barely made it through the year – there’s something to learn from each and every bit of it.
Here are some questions to ask yourself.
When it comes to your author business:
- What went well? What were your successes?
- What felt challenging or hard to do?
- What projects did you take on that felt right and aligned?
- What projects do you know in your heart, it's time to let go of?
- Where did you spend your time last year? Where might you need to make changes?
Hopefully, you can see how valuable looking back on your last twelve months will be. I always tell my author clients that this is key when planning for the year ahead. I also host an event each year between November and January called the Annual Author Review that walks you through this process each year. So if you are reading this during one of those months, keep a look out for your chance to take part.
Brainstorm Your Big Goals For The Year
What is it that you want to achieve in the next 12 months? What are the things, in 12 months time, that will you feel like you had a successful year? When brainstorming these things - there are two things you want to consider:
- What is your current stage of authorship? The goals and tasks an author in the building stage makes will look very different than an author in the scaling stage. You can figure out your authorpreneur stage here.
- What really excites you? When you make time to focus on the things that bring you joy, it'll get you one step closer to a breakthrough year.
Once you have a general idea of your "big rocks" you can also begin thinking about what action steps or sub-tasks are involved in that project. For example, if one of your goals this year is to rapic release a series of 4 books, you might end up with a list that looks like this:
- Pinpoint a series concept
- Do market research
- Outline the series arc
- Outline books 1-4
- Draft book 1
- Self-edit book 1
- Find beta readers
- Complete beta read
- Send book 1 to the editor
- Draft book 2
Remember that everything on this list may not happen. At this point - these thing are candidates for focus items. You won't know if they are possibilities until later on in the process. You always want to be realistic with your goals and make sure that you have both the ability and the availability to complete your projects before you finalize them.
Make Space For Time Off
Now, it's time to get started planning! The first and most important thing to list out is where you will need time off in the upcoming year. What time-frames will you be unable to work? Where will you be taking vacation time?
Get a calendar and literally cross off the days and week where no work will be done due to vacations, holidays, and confrences. And then give yourself a few more days to fall back on in case of illness, appointments, or you just want to cuddle up with Netflix one day.
For example, I tend to take a family vacation in June and won't be working for a week so I know to cross off on week in June even if the dates end up changing later on. If you notice you tend to feel a bit stir crazy or overworked during a particular time of year, make a note to plan a long weekend away that month.
After this step, you'll have a much better idea of how much time you have to actually work toward some of those goals you listed in the last step.
Deadlines & Launches
Now that you know when you’ll be gone, you can look at the entire year and begin setting dates for projects, deadlines, book launches, content themes, and any other items you will be launching. Being able to see the entire year at a glance like this is super useful to give adequate spacing between dates so you can make sure that you're not over-booking yourself and you'll have plenty of time to prepare while being able to take into account holidays and down-time.
Writing Project Timelines
I've written an entire post on setting up a writing / publication schedule that works for you and the same method applies here.
This also helps gives you an idea of when you will need certain serivces like cover designers, editors, or publicists and allows you to go ahead and got those booked ahead of time so that you know for sure they will be available when you need them to be.
Do you know for sure that you will hold a sale of any of your books/products at a certain time of year? Do you discount your books annually for a certain holiday? Be sure to pencil in any sales you plan on holding throughout the year. For example:
- Black Friday
- Holiday Bundle
- Pre-launch discount
- Birthday sale
Now that you have the structure to your year planned out, you can begin considering your content. This will fluctuate depending on which mediums you use for your author platform. If you do a lot of content marketing or communicating with your audience (which you should), now is a great time to start scheduling blog posts, videos, and posts for any launches and sales that are already noted. The next step is to do a content brainstorm and figure out which topics will work for content-themed blog posts, videos, or posts. At this point, it doesn't have to be super indepth, just a simple bulleted list of ideas will help you when it comes time to create.
Next, I note any giveaways I plan on running as well as if there is a certain newsletter I want to send at a certain time.
Bringing It All Together
By this point in the process, you should have a pretty detailed plan for your upcoming year. The last thing to do is schedule monthly strategy sessions within your planner or project management system to re-visit your annual strategy in order to build off of it and tweak it if necessary.
Things to remember:
- Leave some white space- or in other words, don't over-schedule yourself. As a planner lover, I can easily get overzealous at the sight of a full schedule. I'm always sure to add some wiggle room that will allow off days and emergencies (like sick kiddos).
- This is just a road map to your year. As time passes, it's okay to take a detour or two or randomly decide you'd like to take the scenic route. In other words, this isn't set in stone. And, you should never be afraid to make changes to this strategy as life calls for it!