Posts tagged indie

Think Like a Publisher: 2015… Chapter Four: Production and Scheduling


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. How you set up your own deadlines is personal to you and your writing. There are thousands of articles and blogs about this topic to help on the writing side.


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, which is back to the decisions from the first three chapters.

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 and learn.

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 per week 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.


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 or another aggregator (and out around the world) at least a month or more sometimes. They claim they are faster, but

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

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.


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.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith


The New World of Publishing: An Observation

It has been an interesting time for me and writing over the last three months that has gotten me to a spot where I can see clearly (even tired) some observations about indie publishing that without the last three months I would not have noticed. At least not now. I’ll talk about them one at a time over the next month or so.

The first observation:

The Money Doesn’t Stop

In late July and early August I worked really hard on getting some experiments ready for the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, Nevada. Book cards and the like. I had no book deadlines and the only writing I was doing for the summer and fall was the short story challenge and getting up indie published a Poker Boy novel and a thriller I had written a few years back and done nothing with. It felt wonderfully freeing.

Now understand, I am a professional fiction writer. Not having book contracts, not having deadlines used to be the most frightening thing that could happen to me. In fact, before this year, I loved having at least five and up to ten book deadlines lined up like planes on a runway waiting for take-off, as Kevin J. Anderson calls them.

In fact, on my office wall I used to have a bunch of images of jets cut out of paper and a book title written in bold on the side of each jet image. In one color ink I had book projects I was thinking of writing, in another color book projects I had under contract.

If I finished the book and turned it in I would cut off the wheels of the plane so it looked like it was flying and put the plane on another wall. At one point I had fourteen novels in the air at the same time in that period between turn-in and publication. (Those of you who don’t understand traditional publishing time, you won’t understand how that was even possible.)

If a book deadline got moved around, I would climb up on a chair and change the order of the planes on the wall on the runway. When I got a new contract, I added those planes to the line on the runway, fitting them in around the others as the deadlines allowed.

In other words, I was the flight controller for my own books. I could control that much of the business.

That system worked for me for almost a decade, letting me, at a glance, see what I had happening at a glance at my little airport-of-publishing.

Right now, if I had those planes on my wall, I would have a couple book ideas, nothing in production, and nothing in the air.

In the old days, that would have scared hell out of me, because I know how slow money comes in from traditional publishing. In fact, I would have been planning for cash shortages for at least a year out ahead.

Yet in August I felt wonderful, actually light for a change. No deadlines and money flowing fine from indie publishing. Then on the last day of the convention my friend died and every plan I had for writing changed suddenly. (I’ve talked a couple times about the mass of work and problems of that, so won’t go over that again. Just know it stopped me cold in even thinking about writing much from August 22nd to two weeks from now.)

Now, with book deadlines in traditional publishing, I would have called editors, pushed back deadlines, and really, really hurt my cash flow by doing so.

But now, without deadlines or anything at the moment forcing me to write even while in this mess, the money keeps flowing.

And except for the challenge stories, it’s all from backlist. Kris’s novels, our collections, some short novels, and a ton of short fiction. Over 200 titles up through WMG Publishing, all earning money while I deal with life issues.

I have been getting nothing new up through WMG Publishing either since the system was set up that I am the bottleneck in the process. (We will change that down the road.)

What stuns me is that the amount of money flowing in each month hasn’t gone down. In fact, it’s slowly growing. Not as fast as it was when WMG was putting up more work every month, but still growing.

So my point is on this that if you use indie publishing correctly, you don’t need book deadlines to keep the money flowing. And you don’t have to go get a day job either. The money flows from your own writing like the grand old days of royalty payments. Old-timers, remember those days? (grin)

With indie publishing, the money just keeps flowing even when you are not writing or putting up more products.

As a long-term professional fiction writer, I am stunned.


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