Reviewing Your Author Business
Authors always have a lot to do. When we’re not writing the next book, we’re analysing paid ads, negotiating cover updates and penning newsletters. At times, the writing life resembles a never-ending treadmill on which there is never enough time. Stuck on full speed, we feel inclined to sprint forever. But is there a better way? The answer: probably. You simply need to conduct a performance review on your business to assess how you could be more effectively spending your time.
Far from a pointless exercise, reviews are super useful. Survivors of the corporate world might recall quarterly or annual reviews with dread, but as the boss of your publishing operation, you have nothing to fear. Don’t consider a review an emotional challenge that points out your shortcomings. Instead, view it as a positive tool that helps you assess your business choices and identify ways to improve. Using one, you can analyse what’s working and what needs to change. Yes, it means halting production for a few hours, but giving yourself the opportunity to work on your business rather than in it can make you more productive in the long term.
Authors who excel at these often rely on a mixture of key anecdotal evidence and measurable metrics to help them make better decisions. Identifying what numbers to track, how to go about it, and how to read the data you gather to maximise the benefit to your operation during a review can be tricky. Follow the advice in this blog post, however, and soon you will be able to perform a productive performance review that identifies flaws, inefficiencies and opportunities in your author business.
Many entrepreneurs have run companies into the ground, believing everything was fine, because they didn’t have a grasp on their finances. It’s easy to make this mistake, especially if revenue is increasing and you’re funding your company with your own money, making it harder to keep a track on what is actual profit. This is why doing a periodic review of your finances is essential; it helps you gather an accurate picture of how much money is entering and leaving your venture overall and understand where the money is flowing. In doing so, you might discover, not only that your author business is sinking in time to save it, but also where to plug the leaks.
Carrying out a financial review is simpler than it sounds. All you have to do is look through your bank statements and log all incomings and outgoings, as well as cash injections you’ve provided to keep the whole operation afloat. Then follow this formula:
Profit = Revenue (Not Including Cash Injections) – Expenses
If the resulting figure is positive, your business is healthy; if negative, you have a problem. Either way, it’s possible to improve, providing you’ve broken your costs and revenue streams into line items in a spreadsheet. Simply look over the figures to identify where you can cut wasted spend, ramp up profitable revenue streams, or retreat from a long-term project to loosen cashflow, and the picture will get brighter.
How productive are you? If you’re a habitual procrastinator, you might already know the answer. But for many of us, the question is complicated. If you spend lots of time feeling busy and produce a lot of “stuff” but don’t see similar results to your productive author friends, you might have an output issue — if only in key areas. For example, say you write several newsletters, publish YouTube content and launch fleets of ads every year. Yes, you probably write a lot of words, but are they book words? Remember… books? The publication that defines an author. If you find yourself neglecting that one medium without realising, a review can help you focus.
Monitoring your wordcount is essential to see progress. To assess the nuances of your output, though, not only must you record how many words you’ve written but also what projects they contributed to and how many words you’ve published per project. Writing 300,000 words a year sounds impressive, but you’ll quickly realise where your problems lie if you see an actual breakdown that look like this:
- 100,000 words of blog posts
- 100,000 words of YouTube scripts
- 100,000 words for books
Drill into the final 100,000 and find it was spread across 10 books, none of which got published, and you will understand your issue: you’re using productive procrastination to lie to yourself. Fortunately, using a review, you can get to the crux of your issue and form a plan to improve.
You may not be a department manager at a corporation but employee performance reviews can still provide you value, even with no full-time staff. After all, books don’t materialise on their own. Most of us work with teams to produce them to a high standard. Hence, it makes sense to review your collaborators as well as yourself. Doing so, you can accurately identify the strong players, the mistake makers, and how to develop everyone for the better. If you decide to include others in your review, that’s fine. Just be sure to warn them in advance and focus on data and constructive criticism, not any factors they could consider a character assassination.
You could talk about your cover design’s typical turnaround times, for instance, or the number of typos readers found after a book passed through your proof-reader. Talk about expectations, email responsiveness and anything you can measure. Then turn the spotlight on yourself. Do you stay on top of emails? Do you set the example when it comes to turnaround times? Is there anything you could do to be a better project manager? Staring nakedly at your own inadequacies and having hard conversations with others can be awkward. However, identifying your team’s strengths and weaknesses can help you run a better collaborative environment overall.
When are you most stressed and when do you normally get ill? Business owners often find that anxiety and illness stem from work-related sources of stress. For example, do you get headaches when working with a particular person? Get cold sores during tight deadlines? Develop stomach problems when your work bleeds into family time? Look back through your accounts and you might even uncover a data pattern that tracks your sick days with times you’ve blown your ads budget and struggled to cover the bills. Reviewing everything through an emotional lens can prove enlightening and help you make changes to improve your mood, avoid burnout, and even suffer less downtime from your writing.
Stepping back gives you the breathing space you may need to question whether what you’re chasing is what you actually want. So, during your review, ask yourself a few powerful questions:
What do you dislike doing?
Could you automate and outsource it?
Could you stop doing it altogether?
What do you enjoy doing?
Does that work make you enough money?
Have you become obsessed with vanity metrics and lost sight of what matters?
Nobody likes to find out that their emotions have misled them, but we get derailed all too often from our dreams in pursuit of someone else’s vision of success. A simple review, however, can give you the self-awareness you need to re-align your business with your personal goals.
A business is only as efficient as its processes. Do you have procedures or is your writing and publishing work just one big game of Whac-A-Mole? If that’s the case, it’s time to look at what you do every day, week and month to see what jobs you can automate or systematise. Systems alleviate stress, free up considerable amounts of time and, accurately documented, make it easier to remember and complete every routine step in a standard project like a book launch. What’s more, standardising procedures can help you offload routine tasks to an assistant for times when you fall ill or want to take a vacation.
If you’re struggling to systematise your work, try keeping track of the jobs you carry out each day for a few weeks or months. Notice you’re creating similar metadata from scratch for new launches every 60 days? Could you map out where you find the information you need and explain how to present it? Could you plot out a book launch plan in Asana or Monday to have your virtual assistant take on a portion of the workload you don’t enjoy? Are you losing sight of unfinished side-tasks left abandoned in your email inbox? Could updating a rolling to-do list each Sunday night help you finish them? Review your chaos and you will inevitably find ways to create order.
Working in your business rather than on it can be tempting, particularly when you have pressing items on your agenda. That said, the analysis a review provides will make your work easier, calmer and more effective after it’s done. It might not feel worthwhile at the time, but the few hours one costs will inspire revelations you would never encounter if you kept working and never questioned yourself. Done well, one could even help you to avoid a financial iceberg or completely innovate your business for exponential success.
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