Business-based Tips for Start-ups: Part 1, Project Management
by Maggie Calonico
When I decided to start my own publishing company, I felt myself teetering on a sled at the top of a steep hill with rocks protruding from the snow. But I took some comfort from the fact that I have a professional management background and a graduate business degree. I was pretty sure that my project-management experience, my organizational skills, and my calm under fire would be assets to the business of publishing. So I put one foot in the snow and pushed off.
So far, this background has been an asset; and on the theory that what I’ve learned from my experience can help other start-ups too, I offer these pointers in three major areas:
Project management—managing many tasks at the same time without losing track either of them or your sanity (covered below)
Professional perspective—viewing the artistic work as a product that must be sold (watch for this one in the April issue)
Projecting revenues and expenses—using different scenarios to determine the potential profitability of a book project (coming in May)
Creating Project Plans
If you’ve ever written a piece on deadline, done any remodeling, or hosted a large holiday dinner, you know the importance of organization and planning. In managing projects with timelines that span several months, it helps to plan major deliverables and their individual deadlines.
Deliverables is a common corporate-speak term for all the things that must happen for a project to be completed successfully.
If you plan backward from the final deliverable, you can make sure you’re starting early enough. For example, if you want to mail advance reader’s copies (ARCs) on July 1, you must list all the tasks that have to happen in support of that goal, and estimate how much time each task will take. Then you must determine what tasks can be done simultaneously, what tasks are dependent on other things happening first, and how much extra time should be allowed for errors or miscalculations.
A project plan should consider things like how much time the printer needs, and how much time you need to prepare envelopes and labels for mailing, to develop a list of ARC recipients, to get packages to the post office, to write an effective marketing plan, and to prepare personalized correspondence.
Here are some of the major components of an ARC project plan:
Set retail price
Identify needed disclaimers/
Obtain Library of Congress Control
Develop marketing plan
Target ARC recipients (libraries,
bookstores, distributors, major
retailers, reviewers, other media
Write personalized ARC cover
Identify target mailing lists to
announce your ARC
Prepare labels and envelopes
Choose a designer
Decide on cover paper stock
Write jacket/cover copy, front/
Determine photo/design credits
Get cover/interior design/page
Proof preliminary copies
Send files to printer
Proof printed documents
Get ARCs from printer
Learned Along the Way
Lessons I’ve learned as my ARC project plan progressed include:
While your designer is working, you can develop your marketing plan and identify the recipients of your ARC mailing. This is a good example of things that can be done independently, because nothing under “marketing” affects your designer’s schedule.
On the other hand, before your designer can finish the cover, you have to finalize the book’s page count, write the cover or jacket copy, decide pricing, and determine what disclaimers or permissions you need. These are things on which the cover and interior designs are dependent.
Preliminaries don’t take long, but you have to plan. Request blurbs six to eight weeks before you actually need them, because you may have to approach additional blurb candidates, and you definitely have to give people ample time to read the manuscript or sample chapters, as they wish. More about blurbs later.
Determining what disclaimers and permissions are needed may require professional legal advice; an attorney may want to review the full manuscript. Allow several weeks for this as well.
Leave enough time for third parties (i.e., your suppliers and designers) so that their failure to meet a deadline has less chance of derailing your overall schedule. I started out being really honest about deadlines, and I nearly missed a major one because of an unanticipated interruption.
Purchasing mailing lists may or may not be better than compiling your own. I contemplated buying an independent bookstore mailing list but decided instead to do my own research using yellowpages.com. Although this is taking longer, it allows me to see which bookstores would be unlikely to stock a novel (e.g., those devoted to children’s books or travel). Also, looking at bookstores’ Web sites or calling individual stores assures that I will have current contact or buyer information, while information on mailing lists may not be current or even correct. Finally, I will find out immediately if a store isn’t interested. Don’t have time or money for the research? Hire an intern.
It’s useful to organize your receipts. Simply file them sequentially in an envelope or folder as you receive them. Be sure to document the business purpose for each one (because you may not remember at tax time), and if you have entertainment expenses (meals with suppliers, for example), it’s important to write down who was at the table. This will help justify the cost as a legitimate business expense if your accountant questions it, or if you’re audited.
At the end of the year, you’ll need to organize receipts into different categories depending on their IRS deductibility, but at least you’ll know they’re all in one place. It helps to keep a running record or spreadsheet of all expenses so that if a receipt is not obtained (or somehow finds its way under your radiator), at least you have some record of the expense.
Remember that these are only guidelines. Maintain your flexibility—your ability to respond to change—as you progress through your own project-planning efforts. Next time, we’ll discuss some tips for maintaining your professional perspective when the work everyone is talking about, for better or worse, is yours.
Maggie Calonico is president of Lenox Road Publishing LLC, which will release its first title, Shakedown, a debut thriller by Andie Ryan, in June 2009. She welcomes your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.