At the monthly Maryland Romance Writers meeting a couple of weeks ago, the featured speaker was our own Mindy Klasky, delightful author of some of the first light paranormal romances I ever read, which still have a fond place in my heart, plus overachieving publisher of no fewer than NINE novels last year in her sports-themed Diamond Brides series. Nobody better to talk to us about how to effectively plan, both strategically and tactically, a writing career and a book launch.

Mindy, like me, is a lover of spreadsheets (have you seen my holiday organization spreadsheet?). She’s channeled her spreadsheet love into an effective tool for building a writing career. As someone who has both published with major publishing houses and self-published, she’s familiar with all the milestones involved in a book launch and has created a tactical guide for herself for every book she writes, based on publication date and containing dated milestones from initial draft through editing, pre-release promotion, and post-release marketing. It’s super impressive and she was kind enough to give us all access to a template for it, because she’s great.

But I’m, uh, not there yet. Understatement of the year, from the girl who did not meet her word count goal last week! So I filed the tactical plan away for future use and paid rapt attention to Mindy’s tips on strategic planning.

What’s the difference? A tactical plan has specific milestones; it’s a project management plan with a start date and an end date. A strategic plan is more about goal setting; you have a goal, whether big or small, and you’re addressing the strategies you’re going to use to achieve it, and the steps involved in each strategy.

Mindy’s strategic plan looks startlingly like one of those numbered and lettered essay outlines we all learned to create in high school. Her first item is her goal – and she told us to be specific about it. Want to make a living as a writer? Identify how much money you actually need to make to make that happen. Once you have a specific enough goal, you can really delve into ways to make it happen. Without it, you’re just daydreaming.

Underneath her goal, she’s identified her own strategies: publish Series 1, write Series 2, re-release backlist stories, write nonfiction. Each strategy, once identified, then breaks down into simple steps. Whatever the goal at the top might be – weight loss, writing, getting a new job, etc. – you know that there are various strategies to accomplish it. When you identify a strategy and write it down, it’s then much easier to ask yourself what exactly you have to do to pursue that strategy.

Mindy told us that she always has two important strategies towards the end of her strategic plan: the backup plan strategy and the failure option. The backup plan is the really un-fun thing that you don’t want to pursue but you know will work – in her case, it’s going back to her roots as a law librarian and developing a planning tool for that industry on a freelance basis. In a job-seeker’s case, it might be taking a less-than-ideal job to pay the bills while they continue to pursue their dream job. The failure option is crucial: what do you do when you don’t meet your goal? If you don’t make the money you need to survive as a writer; if you don’t get a job; if you don’t become a movie star. What do you do? You can’t dissolve into chaos if it doesn’t work out; you’ve got to regroup and figure out what to do next. You can do this in advance as part of your strategic plan; write down what you will do in case of utter failure, and the comfort of knowing that you know what you’ll do if you fail will stop you stressing out about failing. Then you can spend all that time succeeding instead!

Mindy’s talk was so helpful in so many ways. I’m looking forward to taking baby steps towards my own strategic plan (my goal might be small, but it’s still a goal!). And I’m determined to grow enough as a writer that my goals can get bigger and bigger.

Incidentally, Mindy has a book on writing coming out this May – The Rational Writer. I’ll be picking it up for sure.