“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” ―Stephen R. Covey
Do you ever feel like you’re swimming against the tide in your creative life?
As authors, we have a vast array of ways to spend our time.
Time is our only non-renewable resource. Given how precious it is, are you truly making the most of yours?
Without a properly calibrated creative compass, it’s easy to spend time on urgent, rather than important, activities.
One way to regain control and peace of mind as an author is the SWOT framework.
What is SWOT?
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
It originated decades ago from Harvard Business School and Stanford University. It has since gained popularity among businesses of all types as well as countless creative individuals.
When you understand your SWOT as an author, you can take control over your time. You can stop fighting fires, and start focusing on the things that will truly help you in the long run.
Are you ready to carry out your own SWOT analysis? Doing so will give you a strategically sound author roadmap to follow throughout your creative journey.
How to find your author strengths
The first stage in carrying out a SWOT analysis is identifying your strengths as an author.
There are two things that can jeopardize your self-analysis:
- Underconfidence. Even the most successful and brilliant authors struggle with self-belief. If you’re struggling with your strengths, seek an objective opinion.
- Overconfidence. If you know from personal experience you are prone to overconfidence, then—once again—find an objective third party to help you out.
To avoid the underconfidence or overconfidence trap, you can also ask these questions.
- What kind of praise do I receive from my writing mentors? If you are fortunate enough to have an experienced writing teacher or mentor, draw upon their informed feedback to understand your strengths.
- What do my author peers praise about my work? Hopefully, you’re not isolated as an author. If you are part of a writing community, online or offline, you can receive communal feedback on your strengths. Just make sure you pick a supportive group.
- What do my positive reviews say? Reviews are essential for authors from a sales perspective. They can also offer valuable insight into your strengths. If people are willing to pay money for your work, you should take their praise seriously.
Personally, I suggest using a mix of all of the above. The more feedback, the merrier. Try and look for patterns amidst the feedback and use these to clearly define your strengths as an author.
How to find your author weaknesses
It’s not exactly fun to analyze your weaknesses. I get it. You may well already have a strong critical inner voice. Not to mention some negative reviewers.
So do you really want to take the time to look at your weaknesses?
The answer is undoubtedly yes.
By having an objective and clear understanding of your weaknesses as an author, you will be less vulnerable to the sting of critical comments. How could a hater ever hurt you if you know yourself far better than they do?
Some common areas of improvement for authors include:
- Craft. No matter if you write on fiction or nonfiction, you can always improve on craft. Break your writing down into its component parts. For fiction authors, these may include plot, dialogue, or character. Which could you improve the most?
- Platform. A pain point for a lot of authors is building a platform. I get it. Things haven’t always been this way, and many authors prefer to focus on the work. However, it ultimately comes down to the pain of putting yourself out there versus the pain of not having an independent way to survive as an artist.
- Networking. Networking is often overlooked, mainly because time spent networking equates to time not spent writing. However, if you find the right network, the time you spend writing is likely to bear far better fruit.
- Engagement. Often, engagement is the key ingredient to turning readers into fans. By providing a meaningful experience along with great writing for your readers, you increase the odds of them eagerly awaiting your next release—and spreading the word on your behalf.
Setting realistic targets (that are under your control) will keep you sane when working on your weaknesses. Rather than obsessing over a given weakness, try and make small but steady improvements over time.
How to find your author opportunities
Failing to keep an eye out for new opportunities is one of the quickest routes to author failure. The truth is the majority of authors won’t write the next boy wizard book series that gets a Hollywood adaptation (although we of course admire JK Rowling and other outliers).
Instead, for most authors, a reliable and expanding mix of revenue streams is one of the best ways to survive as a writer. So what are some of the best opportunities to pursue?
- Scaling up. Can you do more of what’s working? This could involve increasing your own personal output, and/or hiring writers or assistants to help free up your time for high-value work that only you can do.
- Broadening. Can you move sideways from where you currently are? This could involve a fiction writer moving into a similar but different genre than they currently publish in, or a nonfiction writer creating a course to accompany their latest book.
- Services. There are so many pieces to the self-publishing puzzle. Writing, proofreading, editing, formatting—and that’s just scratching the surface. If you have experiences in any of these areas, you can make more money while serving your fellow authors.
- Marketing. Are there marketing opportunities out there you’re not taking advantage of, whether paid or unpaid? Free opportunities could include book promotion sites, and paid opportunities may include Amazon, Facebook, or Bookbub advertising.
When selecting author opportunities, avoid shiny object syndrome. It’s better to pick a few relevant opportunities with the aim of mastery than it is to dabble between this and that, without time to see results or gain useful experience.
How to find your author threats
The term “threats” may sound intimidating, but it simply refers to anything which could deter from your author success. Threats can be internal (anything within your direct control) and external (anything outside your direct control).
So what are some of the threats to be aware of as an author?
- Changes to your revenue. This is often outside of your direct control. For example, when CreateSpace merged with KDP Print this year, payment dates and rates were affected. Or remember when Audible greatly reduced royalty rates for ACX authors in 2014? Be aware of these financial threats to keep your author budget flowing smoothly.
- Moving with the times. One of the fastest paths to failure is assuming what works today will still work tomorrow. Anyone familiar with the changes in Kindle Unlimited over the years, or even SEO best practice, knows this to be the case.
- Reinventing the wheel. Too often, authors try and be too creative, as counterintuitive as that sounds. Don’t be afraid to follow a proven path. Failing to outline, ignoring book cover tropes, or attempting marketing in a way which doesn’t follow best practice are some examples of this author threat.
There’s no need to become paranoid about threats. There really is a big enough pie for everyone to grab a slice. However, ensure you don’t go hungry.
Resources for author SWOT action
Once you’ve clearly identified your own SWOT, you can use it to ensure your time as an author is spent in one of the following four beneficial ways:
- Maximizing your strengths.
- Minimizing your weaknesses.
- Pursuing opportunities.
- Protecting against threats.
If you dedicate your time to these four activities, you’ll ensure that you’re following Stephen Covey’s advice to focus on the important rather than the urgent.
I’ll now share a few resources I think will help you out in the process of carrying out your author SWOT:
- Strengths. Here are a few ways to help maximize your strengths as an author: (1) receive expert critiques from people in the industry you respect; (2) seek out advice on best practices from author communities on Facebook or elsewhere; (3) use beta readers to understand your craft strengths.
- Weaknesses. If you’re seeking to minimize your weaknesses, here’s an opportunity to learn from some of the best writers out there, plus resources on building your author brand
- Opportunities. Here’s how to repurpose your existing content, and software to conduct book market research, and tips on creating an online course.
- Threats. A few ways to counter common threats authors face: advice on goal setting to avoid standing still; tips on book budgeting for authors; how to apply the Pareto principle to ensure your time is used wisely.
It would be a pleasure to hear your thoughts. What have you found most helpful in combating your own strengths and weaknesses? What do you see as the most relevant opportunities and threats for authors in the contemporary context? Let’s chat in the comments.