Here we go with Chapter Four, the first of the production and sales chapters.
It’s been some time since I wrote the first version of Think Like a Publisher. Since I wrote those first chapters, Scott William Carter and I have taught three workshops by the same name, plus an advanced workshop helping indie writers make more money from their books. This fall I will be teaching a POD workshop on all the aspects of designing and selling paper books. (Watch for the announcement.)
And during those workshops and from comments and from hundreds of sources I learned a ton more information.
Plus the publishing company I helped start (WMG Publishing) now has a full-time employee and has published over 240 different book titles.
And the overall publishing business has changed as well. Amazing numbers of changes, actually.
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.
An indie publisher is still a publisher, the same as any traditional publisher.
Think Like a Publisher 2012 is an updated version of the book from over 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 a third edition. Some things are changing that fast.
As time allows, I will post a chapter for free here with a link under the tab above. But the entire 2012 edition is now available in both trade paper and electronic editions in all electronic bookstores (Kindle, B&N, Smashwords and so on) if you want to jump ahead of these posts. (B&N link also has the paper version through Barnes & Noble.com) Make sure you get the green cover. The red cover is the first edition.
Comments on each chapter are welcome and help us all learn, but keep the comments focused on the topic of the chapter, please.
I hope these chapters help you get a jump on learning how to be a publisher.
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.
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, 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, 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.
Here are the general categories you need to take into account when figuring production time.
— Proofing time?
— Electronic formatting time?
— POD formatting time?
— Finding art time?
— Cover formatting time?
— POD cover formatting 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!, 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 through iPad, Kobo, and so on.
So your publication date for your internal business use is when you launch it on Kindle, Smashwords, 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 and I’ll talk about that later as well. But now, 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.
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.
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.