Think Like a Publisher 2014: Production and Scheduling

 As traditional publishers grab for more rights and become even more difficult to work with, more and more writers are moving to indie publishing. As they make the jump, they ask basic questions on how to do it, how to be treated with respect as a publisher, and even how to do simple things like setting up a publishing business.

And questions such as how they get their books into bookstores. You can do that. Honest. I’ll talk all about it in coming chapters.

But the key on almost everything these days is that you, the author, are starting a publishing company. An indie publisher is still a publisher, the same as any traditional publisher. Kill the term self-publishing from your vocabulary and start thinking of yourself as a business person with a business to run. A publishing business.

Think Like a Publisher 2014/2015 is an updated version of the book from about a year ago, including some of what has changed and what I have learned over the last year or more. I’m sure in another two years I’ll do another edition.

Every few days I will post a chapter for free here with a link under the tab above. The 2013 edition is still available in trade paper and electronic form. After I get done with these posts and reformatting the book, this edition will appear replacing the old one. But that will take a month or so.

And it will have a new cover. Trust me, it needs it. (grin)

Comments on each chapter are welcome and help us all learn, but keep the comments focused on the topic of the chapter, please. I’m going to cover a great deal in this book. 

I hope these chapters help you get a jump on learning how to be a publisher. And on finding an audience for your writing.

 

Chapter 4

Production and Scheduling

The first three posts in this series were designed to be a unit and help you get set up as an indie publisher. You should have a business name picked out with a web site domain reserved, understand your upfront costs and have made decisions on how to deal with those costs. Then you should have done a rough guess on income and when each project might break even.

If I had to summarize those first three chapters, I would say this: “Be prepared, set up correctly, keep your costs down, and understand the possible cash flow.”

So the next logical step is the question: “How Do I Get My Books Out To Readers?” In other words, how do I produce and distribute my book? You can’t have distribution without production, so I am starting with production right now.

The first major steps in production are inventory and scheduling.

So to really think like a publisher, you need to understand publishing lists, deadlines, and how distribution must be planned far, far ahead of the actual launching of books.

Basic Production Schedule Organization

Traditional publishers have what are called “Lists.”

Lists are basically a publishing schedule of the books being done each month and how much attention each book will get.

In traditional publishing, the list works like this: If your book is number one on the monthly list, you get better covers, better promotion, and all the attention. And more than likely your advance was higher. If your book is in the number two or three slot, you are called a “mid-list” writer.  If your book is down in the number five or six slot, good luck.

As an indie publisher, you also need to set up a publishing schedule and then, as best as possible, stick to it. And always remember one major thing:

Publishing is an industry driven by deadlines.

Trust me, if you don’t have deadlines, things will just slip by and books won’t get done or published.

Inventory

A publishing business is a business of selling product. I know, as a writer, your story is your baby, your work-of-art. But once you move it into the publishing business it is a widget (sort of), something to be sold to readers to enjoy.

You are in the sales part of the entertainment industry.

So as you start your business, you first need to know what inventory is available to you, what will be available, and what can be created.

So do an inventory. Count all your finished short stories and novels. Then count all the short stories and novels that have been published but might revert to you soon, or count stories mostly finished that would be easy to finish. Then look at your writing schedule and figure out over the next year how many stories or novels you can write.

You will come up with just a simple list. And list them by title under each category.

1) Finished Novels and Stories.

2) Stories or novels available soon. (List each with possible date.)

3) Stories or novels to be produced. (List dates for finishing…deadlines. If you have more than five or so short stories, don’t forget collections as future products.)

This total number of your inventory may surprise you, disappoint you, or scare you to death (as it did with me and Kris). But at least you have a list of inventory now.

Time In Production

In New York traditional terms, a “list” is also the number of books that can be produced every month.  They take into account numbers of employees and all that it will take to produce the number of books on the list. Traditional publishing is very good at figuring the time it will take for each step of production.

So now you need to take a hard look at how you are going to run your business.

Even if you hire everything done, it takes time. If you do it yourself, and haven’t tried it yourself yet, and maybe need to take some classes to learn, plan a lot of extra time for the first books because of the learning curve involved.

After you have done a few books, got a few things up electronically, you will have a pretty good idea on how long each step will take with your own work and writing schedule.

And then don’t forget to add in getting the books and collections into paper as well. Another calculation that will take some time to figure.

Here are the general categories you need to take into account when figuring production time.

Manuscript Preparation:

— Proofing time?

— Electronic formatting time?

— POD formatting time?

Cover Preparation:

— Finding art time?

— Cover formatting time?

— POD cover formatting time?

Launching Time:

—  Electronic Launching?

— POD Launching, including proofing time?

A couple of hints. Try a couple of short stories electronically first to get the hang of this and figure out your times. And POD times will always be factors longer, so maybe wait on POD until you get comfortable with doing much of this.

But don’t put them off too long. Paper versions are critical to reaching as many readers as possible.

Putting a Publishing Schedule Together

So now you have an inventory and a rough idea how long each project will take to complete and get published.

So take into account the amount of time you want or can afford to spend on this kind of publishing business, then just do a publishing schedule. Some writers I know just set aside one day as a “publishing” day.

Set the date for publishing each title.

If you have a lot of inventory and not a lot of time, this schedule might be a couple years long. If you have little inventory and more time, you may only have a few months of schedule. And then planned books to fill spots on out.

Add in a little extra time for each project.

And then act like that is a concrete deadline.

Writers in general hit deadlines, but there are always a few writers who think it is all right to miss a deadline by a year and still expect their book to be published. And then they get upset when the publisher kills their contracts and asks for their money back. This is a business, a deadline-driven business, so act like a publisher and treat your deadlines like that as well.

Adjusting

Just as traditional publishers, don’t be afraid to adjust at the end of every month. If things are taking longer, which they will at times, adjust the deadline and shift all deadlines at the same time. But be warned:  Too much shifting will really get discouraging.

Say you did a publishing schedule for the next twelve months and wanted to get up two stories or novels or collections a month. You think that in one year having twenty-four projects up electronically and some into paper would be great for your business and your projected cash flow.  And honestly it would be.

But then you start slipping deadlines and not giving the deadlines the attention a regular publisher would give them. And you discover at the end of the year you only have ten items up. You will get less than half the income and now you still have a half-year of inventory to put up that should have already been up. Not fun.

So when you set the deadlines, be realistic, don’t be afraid to adjust, don’t get in a hurry, but at the same time do everything in your power to not miss a publishing deadline.

In other words, act like a business.

Time in the Channel

Okay, realize that if you have an internal business publication deadline, don’t announce the exact date because it takes days for a book to come live on Kindle and PubIt and Kobo and iBooks, a month of time at least for any POD with proofing, and such. And to get through Smashwords (and out around the world) at least a month or more sometimes.

So your publication date for your internal business use is when you launch it on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, iBookstore, and PubIt!.

However, for the public announcement, you would be better served to announce a month later. That’s how most traditional publishers do it as well. Books are often in stores weeks ahead of the official publication date. Distribution takes time. When setting deadlines, keep that in mind.

Why Deadlines Are Important

I’m going to talk a lot about this in later chapters, but for the moment, just understand that a deadline on a book being published allows you to announce the book out ahead. And do promotion on the book ahead of time. And get readers interested and expecting a book to arrive at a certain time. As readers, you all understand how this works. “Coming In May” is a powerful promotional tool, especially for a sequel to a book.

And preorders on books means your book can be selling far before your official publication date.

Using Production Deadlines in Your Writing

This is a wonderful new aspect of this indie publishing. You can set publication deadlines for a book far, far before you are finished with the book.

Of course, this is normal in traditional publishing. Publishers often buy two or three books at a time from an author. And when they do, they have book #2 and book #3 already penciled into a publication schedule down the road.

As an indie publisher, you can use your own publication deadlines to help drive yourself to finishing and releasing books.

Many beginning writers can’t seem to finish a project, or when they finish it they spend years rewriting the poor thing to death and having workshops turn it into a monster with an arm sewn onto the forehead.

Having a publication deadline will do wonders for getting you to write, finish what you write, not rewrite, and get it out to readers. (Wait, those sound like Heinlein’s Rules, don’t they?)

Also knowing a book has a hope of getting read by readers and making you some money does wonders for pushing a writer to write and finish.

So, when setting up your publication schedule, look not only at your existing inventory, but slot in an unfinished novel or two. That gives you a firm deadline and not only will your publishing company help you make money and find readers, but it will also drive your writing.

Summary

Count your inventory, figure your future inventory, figure your time, figure how much time it takes for each step of each project, and then think like a publisher and set a publication schedule.

And maybe use that schedule to help you finish new books as well.

Deadlines drive everything in publishing. And all deadlines are set by publication schedules.

Think like a publisher and set the schedule.

You will be stunned at how much of a difference it will make for your publishing company.

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Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith

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This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’ve talked about the Magic Bakery a few times in various posts, but just think of this column as a pie and I am allowing samples of the pie here. Understanding the Magic Bakery is critical to making good money as a publisher. Magic Pies are copyright. So I will talk about it in these chapters coming up as well.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Tip Jar: Go To Paypal

 

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10 Responses to Think Like a Publisher 2014: Production and Scheduling

  1. Vera Soroka says:

    This is where I struggle. I can write the stuff but when it comes to organizing it for publication, I turn around in circles. I procrastinate and nothing gets done. I know you said to set up a day for publishing but I can’t seem to do that for some reason. I think fear and anxiety plays a part in it and I know when I’ve published that first project I’ll step back and think that wasn’t so bad. I lived.
    I have three novellas and two short stories that all go together. The first one is almost ready but again I have been procrastinating on it. Why can’t I get it out the door? Focusing is such a huge issue for me. I need to somehow figure this out, I know or I will get no where.
    Great post on reminding me of what I have to over come.

    • dwsmith says:

      Vera,

      Always remember when coming down to fear that if you publish a book they can’t come to your house and shoot you. At least not at the moment in this country. So if you get that in perspective, putting out a book has nothing to fear. Set a schedule, hit and release and do it for the next book. And don’t watch the sales numbers. That’s step two problem in what you are fighting. Release and repeat and get back to the fun stuff of writing.

      • Cristina Delarosa says:

        You are completely right about this, Dean.

        I finally published my first short story at the beginning of the month (more in the pipeline) and resolved not to check for sales until I was getting the next one up.

        I had to log into Amazon for something else today and, wouldn’t you know it?, a sale. I thought for sure it would be months (with a lot more titles available) before I had any sales.

        Now back to writing. Thank you for all of your blog posts, but especially this series, Dean.

  2. J.A. Marlow says:

    I hope Dean doesn’t mind…

    I created a spreadsheet to help with the writing and publishing planning, as part of my own business plan. I just recently shared it on my website, for any other writer to use that may like to use it. I adjust it at least every year and quarter as a part of my business plan (I like having so many ways to sort the plans). It’s up in Excel and Open Office formats, and instructions are included.

    It’s the first entry under the “Free Writing Spreadsheets” section: http://jamarlow.com/freebies/

  3. Jim Johnson says:

    Great information, as always. I would note, though, that it’s possible to do too much planning. I got caught in that late last year. I was so focused on the mid to long term plans and production schedule and ideas for my company and my writing that I ended up creating this gigantic elephant, and got caught up in the spin of ‘how am I going to get this all done?”

    Once I stepped back and realized that I had lost sight of the actual writing, I started eating that elephant one little bite at a time. So, I’d say, plan, but don’t forget that you need to be writing too. Balance.

  4. Coming from a background in journalism I’m well acquainted with deadlines and scheduling. A year or two at a wire service or newspaper will kill the myth of writer’s block too. If you have to get 800 words done and fact checked in the next hour or there will be a white space in tomorrow’s edition you discover that writer’s block is another name for laziness really quick!
    I have a question. I’m launching two fiction series this year (one post-apocalyptic, another military) and I was wondering what you’ve found to be the optimal time between books.

    • dwsmith says:

      New world, as fast as you can write them, Sean. No real optimal time in this new world. When a reader finishes a book they like, they want the next one.

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