Think Like A Publisher #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.” You can find links to all three Here. Or click the tab at the top of the page. If you haven’t read them yet, do so now or some of this won’t make any sense.

(The first three chapters are also just launched as one book on Kindle, B&N, Smashwords, and given time will be out on all devices.  Think Like a Publisher: The Early Decisions)

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, 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.

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.

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.

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 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 pencilled 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? (grin))

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.

Coming in future chapters are how to push paper books to bookstores, how to really use price discounting as a tool to sell all your books, business planning, book averaging in a publishing company, and so much more.

Stay tuned.

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Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover photo copyright © Vladimir Melnikov/Dreamstime.com

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This series is part of the income streams for me. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

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!

Thanks, Dean

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18 Responses to Think Like A Publisher #4…Production and Scheduling

  1. Steve Lewis says:

    Dean, this is probably the post that I’ve liked best out of all of yours, even inculding the Sacred Cows. Mainly, because it connects the two worlds of writing and publishing. Because the process of writing can be such a nebulous thing, I like being able to ground the business side in hard facts. So, once again thank you, sir.

    Also, this line is probably the best thing you’ve ever written in regards to critique groups:

    “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.”

    That was my moment of Zen. Thank you. =)

  2. Ty Johnston says:

    Dean, thanks for this post. Good timing, as far as I’m concerned.

    One of my biggest troubles of late has been scheduling, for writing time and deadlines. Though I think I’ve begun to get a handle on things. The last couple of years I’ve been making the transition from writing as a hobby to my main career, and I’ve had a struggle getting over that “I’ll write when I’m in the mood.”

    Besides your own posts, what kicked this in for me were several readers contacting me to ask when book three of my latest trilogy would be available. My thinking was, “wait a sec, I just released book two in December!”

    But this is a new digital world, and readers don’t seem to want to wait (maybe they never did).

    Now I’ve got a plan, and a schedule. I’ve a project to finish up this month (only 5,000 words or so left until the end of that book three), and the first of April begins my new plan.

    I’m thinking serial fiction.

  3. Jeff Ambrose says:

    This is a great post, Dean. I’ve been trying to get more organized, and in doing so I realized I had enough stories for a fantasy 5-pk that I didn’t even know existed. So I put it together last week and it’s already sold a copy or two.

    But I never thought about looking long-term with regards to scheduling. I’ve had ideas, but nothing written down. But it makes a ton of sense. Coincidentally, I realized that my subconscious works best when it knows what it’s looking for. I’ve often thought of an idea but really had nothing at first and then suddenly, a few days or weeks later, it all seemed to come together. Getting a long-term schedule on paper — while there’s no guarantee that I’m going to meet it 100% — will certainly help my creative self focus on the project I want to focus on.

  4. Ken says:

    The part about using deadlines to drive your writing really resonated with me.

    All work expands to fill the space allocated to it.

    As a beginning writer I am using the WotF Contest as a quarterly genre deadline.

    Speaking of which, I have a deadline to hit

  5. EF Kelley says:

    Thanks for the information, Dean. I’ve noticed that everything seems to take about 20% longer than I intended. Maybe it’s time I started factoring that 20% in.

  6. ari says:

    Is it possible to affect publishing scheduling on electronic books? It just seems like it would be clever to have Christmas titles available on the front page of “just e-published” with Christmas imagery; follow this with a New Year’s glitter and tinsel cover, from the same series, and then loiter until February, or possibly do a mardi gras cover, so that a random reader is converted to a habitual reader.

    I know I buy Christmas paperbacks, and I look twice based on the cover. I had a seasonal job, and my one luxury for myself was a paperback romance with a Christmas cover. The story was indifferent, but the author is being pushed, and her writing was professional enough, that when she comes out with a new book, I’m likely to pick it up. And yes, she might be next to the greatest thing ever, but I won’t know- limited attention span while shopping, and it’s got to be really great, or possible. I’m poor- I don’t like gambling.

    For that matter, that’s why I don’t buy christmas mysteries- I want them to be the best face forward for a writer- a “snapshot” from a dating service- not a one-off with weaknesses for dedicated fans. I’ve been disappointed quite a bit, in that category. I’d love it to be the high- point of their writing, for the year.

    And, goodness, production counts. If I’m going to be loyal- I want a substantial universe to go romp in. At the library- I count out how many books are on the shelf by one writer- I’d like a summer’s worth of reading, or a year’s, or some big chunk of time, in that writer’s head, or in their character’s lives. So, if you’re nervous- publish! And publish again! I want at least three books, otherwise, you’re writing the greatest thing ever, I find it, and then I have a gnawing unsatisfied itch. Write your novel, and publish little stories on the side, while writing the next big book.

    FWIW, I’ve read every last single Dick Francis book. His first ten were of minor circulation, which is good, really. The heroes are a bit cold, and the writing is uneven. But the plots are amazing. And he kept writing, and some are really, really good. I don’t care if Martin Amis is nasty about his books- I like it that I get to spend time with a sensible, hard-working, competent man as he sets things right about him. I like the heroism and stoicism and decency. He wrote enough books, and earned enough to buy a plane, and then an island. What’s not to respect?

  7. DavidRM says:

    I’ve hit the point where my published list is greater than my still-to-be-published list. I’m writing to create more inventory, but I’ve been publishing faster than I’ve been writing. It’s a bit scary to put those the newer, unfinished (or least, still unpolished) works into the list. But, yeah, it does provide incentive to keep writing, to pick up the next story for editing, and so on. I have to keep the pipeline as full as I can.

    A friend of mine is at your workshop this week. Last week he built a 5-year publishing plan. You should ask him about that. He knows who he is. :)

    Me, I still need to plan the next novel I’m writing after the current one–and I’ll be finishing this one before the end of next week. It’s penciled in for publishing in late summer/early fall, after the novel I finished in January (that’s been waiting for editing). I guess I should get more definite about my schedule, for both writing *and* publishing. :)

    -David
    http://www.gunsandmagic.com

  8. John Walters says:

    Thanks for this, Dean. I too have found that schedules, deadlines, daily word count minimums, and so on are essential to steady production. One problem I have then sometimes is balancing publishing time with writing time, as I fight to make my daily/monthly/yearly writing quota and find it hard to fit in the publishing.

    One part of this post that really resonated with me is the section on “adjusting”. Having a full day job and a lot of kids I find emergencies sometimes significantly erode my writing and/or publishing time. My schedule gets tighter as I (out of necessity) add private lesson hours onto my school lessons. Then I have to rethink my writing quotas and deadlines. One thing I do is build flexibility into it. For example, if I set myself a minimum of 500 words a day, on a less busy day I can manage 1000 to 1500, so if I know a day is coming up when I will be going hard from early morning to late night with no time at all for writing, I allow myself to meet my quota the day before or after (in addition to that day’s quota) so the total weekly count is not diminished. Usually I manage far above the minimum, but I have to have an “out” if things get too hectic.

    Also, some quotas have to be temporary and adjusted according to need. For instance, I had a large inventory of stories I wanted to get out to magazines and anthologies. Marketing takes time too – everything does. So I set a goal of a story a day out five days a week and kept it up for weeks – then suddenly realized I had a story at every single market I wanted to hit, both genre and literary, and had to give it a break until I hear back from some of them.

    Adjusting is a constant process, but what I have found lately is that I am adjusting upwards more often than downwards. I want to be realistic but at the same time want to do the most I can possibly do. For example, my goal for this year (at the beginning of the year) was two books self-published; I recently upped that goal to three. By mid-year, who knows?

  9. Terry Hayman says:

    A part of me certainly responds to what you’re saying about schedules and deadlines, Dean. Hey, a big chunk of my short story inventory comes from following your short-story-a-week schedule many years back.

    But just for the sake of variety, let me offer a slacker’s approach to building an online list:

    1) Learn the process of getting your stories or books up online and into POD so that’s it’s not a huge chore every time – may take two e-books for some, ten for others.

    2) Look at your inventory of sold and unsold stories (that you’re not still sending out to pro markets) and novels at least once or twice a week, more if the mood strikes you.

    3) Put up just about anything that doesn’t reek – if you’re not sure about it, create a pseudonym and stick it up under that so you don’t lose sleep over diluting your other brand name(s).

    4) Add in a new element or two when you’re ready – e.g. hiring an editor for your unpubbed novels or dipping your toe into various promotion schemes.

    5) Treat it like candy, a job that brings in some extra bucks, a fun way of building your future.

    6) Keep writing because *eventually* you’re going to burn through your inventory and need some new stuff to put up and you’re going to be so addicted to the process by then that if you don’t have something to publish you’ll go into major withdrawal.

    All of which is a bit chaotic and disorganized, but it’s got me at 61 e-books (mostly short stories) under various names and shooting for 100. The way my life is right now, I’m finding schedules and order difficult. But damn it, I’m going to overwhelm my personal issues with numbers. This is the new version of The Game.

    • dwsmith says:

      Great suggestions, Terry. Great, all of them. And congrats on getting the 61 up. That’s great fun, isn’t it? And the big numbers seem to creep up on you if you just keep dinging along at it.

      Thanks

  10. Jacqvern says:

    Dean, only one thing:

    Can I hire you as my consultant?

    (although that would be funny, a business consultant hiring a consultant, but can I?)

    Excellent work.

    • dwsmith says:

      Jacqvern, LOL. I’m too darn busy running to keep up with my own writing and publishing. I couldn’t make enough as a consultant. (grin)

  11. I never knew that the “official” release date and the internal release date were that far apart in traditional publishing. A month? Hmmm, that’s timely information given what I’ll be planning for the summer. I’d thought — with electronic publishing — that the internal and external release dates would be identical. I need to re-think that.

    As for deadlines, this seems like an absolute must for any writer who wants to be successful in the new world of direct-to-electronic. It was easy enough to procrastinate under the old model, now it’s twice as easy to procrastinate. Unless a writers gives him or herself boundaries and hard-date expectations. And sticks to them.

    We’re all broken records, Dean, so you don’t need to hear ‘thanks’ again. But thanks!

    =^)

  12. Cora says:

    I just wanted to thank you again for this great series. You’ve given me lots to think about.

    I just listed my inventory and found that I have a lot more finished and largely finished projects than I thought. Some of it is several years old and may not be salvagable, but I won’t know until I take a look at those old stories again.

    In the process, I also rediscovered a finished short story whose existence I had completely forgotten. I never submitted it anywhere, probably because my creative writing class hated it. Though it’s actually pretty good and has just gone on the list of publishable inventory.

    • dwsmith says:

      Great fun finding that, isn’t it Cora. I found a story in my first search I had no memory of writing and couldn’t find a file for at first. I have no idea why I didn’t do anything with it. Just got busy I guess. (grin)

      Brad, sometimes official dates and books arriving are even father apart than a month, but most stay within a month. But electronic takes time to get the books through all the channels, and it can take up to two months once a book is approved by you on CreateSpace to get to the Baker and Taylor and Ingrams catalogs. It goes to Amazon fairly quickly, meaning a week or so.

  13. This is a very timely post for me, as I’ve been learning the value of not only having a schedule, but also *sticking to it* over the last couple of months.

    I started into e-publishing about six months ago, posting a new short story every couple of weeks and being just tickled when they actually startd to sell – and also very pleased to see how each story I put up also boosted the sale of the earlier titles. It was great fun, but I found that I was spending so much time posting all the old stuff that I wasn’t doing a lot of new writing. Fortunately, I had a couple of workshop deadlines looming, so I tossed the “publisher hat” onto a hook and dove back into the writing projects.

    So then I had the “writer hat” firmly jammed on my head, and got so engaged in the inventory-creation-joy of writing (the novel I was working on was just flowing, words pouring from my fingertips and all) that I forgot to put the “publisher hat” back on for a while, only to come up for air when the novel was finished and suddenly realize that I’d gone for weeks without posting anything new.

    Worse, I not only had no idea what I was going to post next, but I didn’t even know what I was going to *write* next.

    After a few days of dithering, I sat myself down with my inventory and a spreadsheet. My muse (a crusty, Sam Spade type – no diaphanous Greek goddesses for me!) wasn’t inspiring me toward any particular idea, so I was just going to have to figure out the next project – both to post and to write – on my own.

    I listed all my finished short stories – organized into categories of “ready to post,” “needs a quick fix or two,” “please redraft,” “never admit to having written this drivel,” etc. I also grouped the titles into their potential 3/5/10 story collections so I could see where gaps would need to be filled to make the collections complete. I identified a couple of series (which includes novels, novellas, and short stories) that I already had a story or two for and that I’d like to add more stories to, of whatever length. Stories that I’ve already posted went into the list, too, color-coded so I could identify them at a glance.

    Quite honestly, the list – and its potential – blew me away. So much so that I wandered around for a day or two just trying to tear the business hat off my head so I could put the writer hat back on.

    So now I’ve got the beginning of a plan – I have to treat myself like one of my business clients: block out part of my day/week to the publishing-side tasks, and the rest to the creative side. Create a schedule and stick to it. Apply basic project management principles: identify the projects and their respective deadlines, chart the tasks and dependencies for each, and track the effort as each project works its way through the system.

    And remember to trade *hats* regularly, so that neither side of the equation gets forgotten while I’m off dealing with the other.

    thanks, again, Dean!

    –Leigh
    http://www.leighsaunders.com
    http://www.camdenparkpress.com

  14. J.A. Marlow says:

    I’ve been keeping a ‘project file’ for a few years now. Anytime an idea goes into the active planning phase, I add it to the list. It has all sorts of columns, some to be filled in right away, others after it is finished. To the far left there is one column for the status of the story, whether that be planning, first draft, revising, copyediting, ready to publish or published.

    For me it was addictive before I started, just with ramping up. Now that I’m actively publishing, it’s even more so. The statuses of the stories in the spreadsheet are getting updated all the time.

    I just made a preliminary 2011 and early 2012 schedule, only using the work that is close to completion from that project list. Wow. And without new writing? Wow.

    This weekend I’m hoping to go back and look at my 5-year plan that I made up with traditional publishing in mind. Time to adapt it to the new world! I’m sure I’ll be muttering ‘wow’ a lot when I work through that, too.

    And the new writing? Well the muse is quite happy. Ecstatic might be a better description. I’m writing more than ever, getting ideas right and left, and wishing I could possibly live long enough to write and publish all of them.

    It’s a great time to be a writer.

  15. Pingback: Writers Becoming Their Own Publisher « Notes from An Alien

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