Have you started writing a book, but gave up because you lost focus? Or, maybe you’re an indie author with several books in progress, but you get sidetracked with numerous book self-publishing details. How do bestselling, prolific authors so effortlessly achieve book success?

Whenever I start a book, I can’t help think about it like it’s a project. That’s because I’ve spent my career as a professional project manager rolling out corporate-wide systems.

Professional project managers have a technique whenever they start a project. It’s the first thing the experts do. They have a project vision—a grand plan. Generally called a project charter, this is a one-page document that is created before any project starts. It lays out the goals, timing, resources, cost, and scope.

In project management, there is a concept known as the triple constraint. It’s depicted as a triangle:

Consider the triple constraint when planning for book success.

Scope – The WHAT of the project (all the things you’re trying to accomplish).
Time – The schedule you’ll put into place to accomplish your scope.
Cost – How much money you’ll designate.
In the middle of these components is quality, because all of the three factors—scope, time, and cost—drive the quality of what you end up with.

Now, let’s say you estimated two weeks for your project—self-publishing your book—but it ends up taking you four weeks. Imagine the time side of the triangle gets bigger. You can’t increase one side without impacting the other sides, so your cost goes up (your time has an opportunity cost), and your quality could also be impacted.

Have you ever started a project (or been part of one) that sputtered and failed? Why was that? Were there goals in place? Was there a start and end date defined? Was the scope and budget clearly defined?

When I was a project manager in the corporate world, I saw plenty of projects fail. Early in my career, before I knew better, I led a project that tanked because the up-front planning wasn’t done.

For maximum book success, treat your book like a project. Every book should have up-front planning behind it. Below is an example of a project charter for my latest book: Author Unleashed: Simple Strategies for a Successful Book Launch.

I recommend you spend anywhere from 20–60 minutes filling this out. Trust me, it’s worth thinking these things through—particularly if you’re someone who has started a book before and never seen it through to completion. The charter can help you because it forces you to set a start and end date. Furthermore, you’re spelling out the scope—exactly what you’ll accomplish—so you don’t end up writing a book that becomes 300+ pages.

A simple project charter helps maximize your book success.

A simple project charter helps maximize your book success.

The main components in the project charter are:
-Description – The type of book you’re writing (nonfiction, fiction, genre, etc.).
-Your ideal reader – The more specific the better (good = “30 to 45 year old female entrepreneurs with kids”; bad = “women in business”).
-Problem statement – What issue does your reader have?
-Solution statement – How will you solve the reader’s problem?
-Start and end date – If you don’t know your exact launch date yet, use a target.
-Scope – What your book will cover, and what it won’t. This is important so you stay focused and avoid getting derailed.
-Budget – What are you prepared to spend?
-Resources – Who will be contributing to your book (e.g., illustrators, editors)? What aspects are you prepared to outsource?

Use your book charter for maximum book success. Hang it on your wall where you work so you have a reminder. I use my project charter as a sanity check any time I’m faced with a decision point. Several times, I’ve been halfway through writing a book only to find myself questioning the direction I’m going. How do you handle this today? If you don’t have a plan you can refer to, you may get discouraged and give up.