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Mission Possible

The last management consultancy job I undertook was to write a marketing strategy for a medium-size business (I have a Masters in Management). Then I started the MA in Writing for Children, fulfilling a long-held dream. For several years I forgot all about business strategy and management models and simply wrote whatever I felt like. Children’s fiction — lots of fantasy. It was wonderful! But now I find myself dusting off my old marketing folders for Electrik Inc members and also for me.

Before you can write a marketing strategy for an indie publisher you need a clear sense of what the business or individual is trying to achieve and their direction of travel. You need to look wider than the book that’s just been written. This would normally be documented as a mission statement. On Wikipedia it is described as:

“A statement of the purpose of a company, organisation or person, its reason for existing.

The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It provides the framework or context within which the company’s strategies are formulated.”

But as independent publishers do we need to be business focused? Having now published two books myself, I believe the answer is yes. From the moment I set up a limited company, I became accountable for the financial bottom line. I am responsible for paying the illustrator, graphic designer, ebook formatter, the printer . . . for their services in a timely manner. If I want to publish more books, the business has to generate enough income to fund these people again. I would also like to pay myself at some point in the near future — I am responsible for looking after my family, too. On Wiseinkblog.com they say that “the biggest and most devastating mistake indie authors make is that they forget to think like a publisher. A publisher understands its vision as a business and seeks manuscripts that reflect those values, principles, and its established criteria.” But the writer in me just wants to create, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to be so market driven I stifle my imagination.

One of the main reasons I became an indie writer after the MA was that I wanted to have complete creative freedom to write what I wanted to write and not be pigeon-holed into producing a particular type of book for a publisher, just to meet their sales targets. However, I find the writer and independent publisher in me somewhat at odds. I have to find a way of balancing both sets of needs, as does a traditional publishing house.

I have looked at publishers’ mission statements for inspiration for my own one. What is interesting is how different they are and how those statements shape their business activities. Stripes Publishing said their mission is to “make books that children WANT to read, not because it’s good for them but because it’s fun!” While Scholastic said they are, “committed to providing quality, engaging educational content in digital and print formats for the next generation of learners, and their families and educators who guide them”. Clearly they will publish different types of books and market them in very different ways. On Random House’s website, they talk about “connecting  readers worldwide to adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction authors both familiar and new.” Here we have a real focus on distribution and marketing. I don’t believe my books will just be found by readers. Connecting readers with my stories is important to me as well.

Interestingly, publishers’ mission statements often leave out the need to be commercially successful, but it is usually documented elsewhere. For example, Egmont said:

Mission – stories are at the heart of all our activities at Egmont. Stories are our promise to the world. In short we bring stories to life.

Ambition – We are commercially minded. We are here to achieve results, both on the bottom line and within the media industry.

But I have decided to include the need to be commercially viable in my mission statement. I’m not vanity publishing or self-publishing on the cheap. Costs must be covered. Due to the low profit margin on my books, I’m also aware of the need to find different revenue streams. Note that Egmont’s focus is on bringing stories to life not books.  On their website, they said, ‘Our organisation can tell a world of stories in every medium imaginable’.  I also want to make story content that can be translated into other media. It would introduce new audiences to my work and help with funding.

The creative side of me is still not inspired though, so I’ve looked at other artistic organisations’ mission statements. One of my favourites was for the Cirque du Soleil:

“Cirque du Soleil is an international organization founded in Quebec and dedicated to the creation, production and performance of artistic works whose mission is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.”

Independent publishing is also partly a lifestyle choice for me and I want to include something about my personal situation in my statement.

I am wondering how different the electrik inc co-founders’ mission statements will be — I’ll be finding out soon! If they are different, our marketing strategies may vary greatly too. Here is mine:

To publish stories that excite me, and that I believe will be desirable to readers world-wide and be commercially viable. I will produce story content which has the potential not only to be a physical and electronic book, but which can be translated into other media, such as film, apps and computer games in order to reach new audiences and provide different revenue streams. I will work hard at making new readers aware of my stories, build the trust of my existing readers and form good relationships with suppliers and potential business partners. Because I also have a young family, and want to be a good mother, I will maintain a strict work/life balance.

This won’t stop me experimenting with my writing, but I will only publish stories through my company if they meet the requirements of my mission statement. In the future, I may find myself rejecting my own manuscript!

Kim Donovan

Author of St Viper’s School for Super Villains.


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